Editor's note

We’ve put various strange phenomena under scrutiny this week as part of our constant quest to understand the world.

First up, the baffling concept of altruism is under the microscope. Humans and animals are often driven to help others, even if it comes at a cost. This is a real head scratcher in evolutionary terms, since we’re only meant to do things that help ourselves and our kin survive. But could there be a genetic reason behind our drive to lend a hand?

Scientists are known for basing their conclusions on solid evidence. So how can we explain the fact that so many physicists say most of the universe’s mass is made up of a substance that cannot be seen or detected? Doesn’t that bother them? One of them explains why dark matter really is a thing.

If all this is not curious enough, we thought it would be interesting to investigate curiosity itself. Is it a personality trait? What is happening to our brains when we get curious about a topic? And can we harness that process to become better learners?

Also this week, Margaret Atwood published the long-awaited sequel to her classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale and Donald Trump lost another top adviser. And by the way, it’s easy to forget, but there are actually 27 other nations involved in Brexit negotiations – not just the UK.

Laura Hood

Politics Editor, Assistant Editor

Walter Mario Stein/Shutterstock

Where does altruism come from? Discovery of ‘greenbeard’ genes could hold the answer

Laurence Belcher, University of Bath; Philip Madgwick, University of Bath

A thought experiment from Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene turned out to be a more realistic explanation for altruism than he expected.

The universe is home to a dizzying number of stars and planets. But the vast bulk of the universe is thought to be invisible dark matter. Illustris Collaboration

Why do astronomers believe in dark matter?

Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

Why do astronomers believe there's dark matter when it cannot be directly detected? Let's look at the evidence, and see what dark matter's presence means for our universe.

Inside the Royal Albert Hall at the Last Night of the Proms. Yui Mok/PA Archive/PA Images

Last Night of the Proms: flags and fanfare can’t hide the divisions in Brexit Britain

Simon Keegan-Phipps, University of Sheffield

Land of Hope and Glory seems somehow inappropriate given the current state of British politics.

Janine, a Handmaid, in series three of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sophie Giraud/Channel 4

Review: The Testaments – Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

Susan Watkins, Leeds Beckett University

The author has returned to Gilead, 35 years after the original novel was published.

What do you have for me Mr Johnson? EPA

Brexit: what will the EU’s next move be?

Magdalena Frennhoff Larsén, University of Westminster

All the drama has played out in the UK lately – with very little regard for whether any of the options under discussion would be acceptable to the EU.


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