Will the real Damian McBride please stand up?

There is a thing in psychology, which I believe gets taught pretty early on in undergrad courses, called “the fundamental attribution error“. Wikipedia describes it as “the tendency to overestimate the effect of disposition or personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in explaining social behavior”, but basically what it means is: when you…

Depression is a circuit disorder, not a character flaw

I’ve written a piece in today’s health pages about deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment for depression, in which electrodes are placed at specific points in a patient’s brain, attached to a battery in the chest: it acts, roughly speaking, as a pacemaker for the brain, regulating the hyperactive “sadness” circuits. It’s a fascinating and promising…

Mary Anning, Dorset’s semi-forgotten heroine of science

I’ve got a piece in the science pages today, about the great amateurs of science. I wanted to talk a little more about one of them, the amazing Mary Anning. The cliffs between Lyme Regis and Charmouth, in western Dorset, are made of an extraordinary limestone-and-shale substance, called “Blue Lias”. It was laid down 200…

‘I’m sorry, Mr Shakespeare, you’ve failed your Key Stage 2 grammar test’

Awful, embarrassing news about our education system from the grammar blogger David Crystal. (Spotter’s badge to the estimable John E McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun.) Asked to include an “appropriate” adverb in the phrase “The sun shone ________ in the sky”, children were marked down for using “bright” and “dutifully”. Crystal points out, rightly and…

Ed Davey: ‘I’ve been fracking responsible’

Ed Davey, take a bow, for issuing the single worst joke ever made in a political speech, and that is a strongly contested field. The offending item: “I’ve been cautious on shale gas. I’ve been fracking responsible.” Mercifully even the delegates at the Lib Dem conference thought it was awful; it was met by groans…

Evolution – it’s not over yet

From Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph: Sir David Attenborough has claimed that the process of natural selection has stopped. Tom Chivers suggests otherwise Like every other species on Earth, Homo sapiens is the product of more than three billion years of evolution: random, blind changes put through the filter of natural selection, leading from one simple original form to…

Drug user apologises for ‘playing football’: ‘Now I know the risks, I’ll stick to laughing gas’, says Kyle Walker

Kyle Walker, the Tottenham Hotspur and England right-back, has apologised for being photographed apparently taking nitrous oxide, or laughing gas – the only drug which you take by repeatedly sucking on a balloon. After the inevitable won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children backlash, he issued a statement saying: “Now I know the health risks, it was poor judgment on my…