I’m a freelance science writer. Until January 2018 I was science writer for BuzzFeed UK; before that, I was a comment and features writer for the Telegraph, having joined in 2007. My first book, The AI Does Not Hate You: The Rationalists and Their Quest to Save the World, for Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is due to be published in June 2019. Since leaving BuzzFeed, I’ve written for the Times, the i, the Telegraph, UnHerd, politics.co.uk, New Scientist, CNN, and elsewhere.
Dominic Cummings and I share some interests, to my slight chagrin. Both he and I are big fans of the nerdy, abstruse bit of the internet filled with people who are sometimes called “Rationalists”. Read more on Unherd.
There’s no evidence that social media is to blame for an increase in teen deaths
There’s this trick that climate deniers used to use. They used to say “there’s been no warming since 1998”. And in a weird way they were right: looking at global atmospheric surface temperatures, none of the years that followed was as hot as 1998.
But they were cheating. They picked 1998 deliberately since it was an outlier – an El Niño year much hotter than the years around it. If you were, on the other hand, to measure from 1997 or 1999, then there were lots of much hotter years on record; and the clear trend was that later years, on average, were hotter than earlier ones. It was a wobbly, noisy line, with some outliers, but the average temperature really was going up, and the only way you could hide that trend was by cherry-picking statistics.
I was thinking about this as I read the Sunday Times splash this week, which (using as-yet unavailable data from the Office for National Statistics) claimed that the “suicide rate among teenagers has nearly doubled in eight years”. It expressed concerns that we are raising “a suicidal generation”.
New biomedical techniques, like next-generation genome sequencing, are creating vast amounts of data and transforming the scientific landscape. They’re leading to unimaginable breakthroughs – but leaving researchers racing to keep up.
Sure, the Remain-Leave argument can get pretty angry. The rows between Labour and Conservatives, too, and the respective supporters of Israel and Palestine. But the deadliest and most intractable fight of all is between people online and their completely made-up imaginary opponents.