Mum and me, somewhere in Kruger National Park in about 2001.

I wrote the following in 2012, about a year after my mother, Patricia (Patti) Elaine Brooks died.  I revisited it today, on the fifth anniversary of her departure, and it seemed a worthwhile time to share it. Perhaps because I lived on another continent from her for 15 years before she died,  I haven’t had to… Read More

1960 Le Lac des cygnes ballet - Jean-Paul Andreani and Claire Motte performing on stage at Opera de Paris.  Credit: Christjeudi10, Wikimedia commons

How do sex differences arise? Few questions animate as much disagreement and contention, in everyday society and in academic study. For as long as the question has been asked, the answers have fallen between two extremes: sex differences arise innately, or they come from social experience. That same polarity defines much of the study of… Read More

How clean is that finger, Donald?

Move over Nate Silver! The statistician and author of The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t may have called 49 out of 50 states right in the 2012 US Presidential election. But today I note that my predictions for the 2014 mid-term elections were 100 percent correct. Mostly,… Read More

Shhhhh! Ashley Madison screenshot.

Today, millions of very nervous adults are furtively checking sites like “Have I been Pwned” to check if their account details at Ashley Madison have been leaked. Others are checking if their partners or acquaintances had accounts. The hacking and subsequent release of data from the world’s biggest infidelity-focussed dating service continues to reverberate, provoking… Read More

Sing your little heart out, Mr Superb Fairy Wren. And set your alarm clock early. David Cook/flickr, CC BY-NC

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Before morning has broken, and some time before blackbird has spoken, songbirds rise for sex. And a clever new experiment reveals just how important it is for male songbirds not to sleep in. A great many species of songbirds nest in pairs, presenting to the world… Read More


By any metric, Garrett Hardin’s The Tragedy of the Commons article in Science, a copy of his address as 1968 president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, rates among the most important in the history of ecology. Hardin’s thesis builds around the metaphor of the commons, a pasture open to all, on… Read More

“Spoiling for a Bar Fight” Jonathan Cohen/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Is alcohol-fuelled violence caused by the booze itself or by the macho culture in which the drinking occurs? If we are to believe a recent study commissioned by the alcohol company Lion, it’s the culture that’s to blame. That’s a rather convenient conclusion for the alcohol industry. But it hinges on a fallacy and has… Read More

Boticelli's "Birth of Venus" c. 1486.

Many scholars of Renaissance art tell us that Botticelli’s Birth of Venus captures the tension between the celestial perfection of divine beauty and its flawed earthly manifestation. As classical ideas blossomed anew in 15th-century Florence, Botticelli could not have missed the popular Neoplatonic notion that contemplating earthly beauty teaches us about the divine. Evolutionary biologists… Read More

Two left hands make a heart. Source: Leon Brocard/Flickr

Are people naturally monogamous, polygamous or promiscuous? It’s one of those questions that most people feel quite confident in answering. Ask a few people and you’re likely to come up with a variety of contradictory answers, each delivered with considerable confidence. But the question is far more slippery than it first appears. I will return… Read More