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Why mRNA vaccines could revolutionise medicine

Almost 60 years ago, in February 1961, two teams of scientists stumbled on a discovery at the same time. Sydney Brenner in Cambridge and Jim Watson at Harvard independently spotted that genes send short-lived RNA copies of themselves to little machines called ribosomes where they are translated into proteins. ‘Sydney got most of the credit,

City of gold: Peter Ackroyd on the undimmed spirit of London

The silenced city has been, for some, uncanny. Deserted evening streets, darkened pubs, shut shops and the absence of fellow footsteps might suggest that some essential spirit has fled. Yet this is exactly the wrong way to look at it, says the novelist, historian and biographer Peter Ackroyd. For him, both lockdown and winter provide

The wonderful ghosts of Christmas past

The past shifts about like clouds, now dense, now parting for a memory to shine out, perhaps randomly, but bright as the sun. Here is the Sheffield Christmas when I was four and slept in Great-Aunt Florence’s room, on an eiderdown beside her bed, in the terraced house that smelled of coal smoke — the

How to find hope in a year filled with despair

This year we might sing the words ‘Tidings of comfort and joy’ to one another with poignancy. ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ differs from many other well-loved Christmas carols in one respect: despite being a hopeful song, it’s written in a minor key. There is a sense of melancholy, perhaps a touch of darkness; a

Building Sizewell C would be a nuclear-sized disaster

I love Suffolk. This Christmas I will be there with my family and we’ll almost certainly walk up the coast, joining dog-walkers, bird-watchers, hikers and even swimmers in one of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of the UK. The secret of Suffolk is its relative inaccessibility. No major motorway connects it and once you

The insidious attacks on scientific truth

What is truth? You can speak of moral truths and aesthetic truths but I’m not concerned with those here, important as they may be. By truth I shall mean the kind of truth that a commission of inquiry or a jury trial is designed to establish. I hold the view that scientific truth is of

The highlights of history: a Spectator Christmas survey

Emily Maitlis Six years ago I took my son, Milo, to Bucharest for his birthday. In the baking July sun, seeking shade, we crouched on the kerb in front of the presidential palace. And I played him the footage of the crowds on that bitter December morning of 1989 as Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife

A singular mind: Roger Penrose on his Nobel Prize

Sir Roger Penrose was at school when he realised that his mind worked in an unusual way. ‘I thought, maybe when I go to university, I’ll find people who think like me,’ he tells me, at the beginning of what was to be a fascinating conversation, stretching long into the afternoon. ‘But it wasn’t like

Why Britain chose Brexit

None of us will easily forget the emotional response to the Leave vote in 2016, the national and international lamentation and the angry reproaches and insults, heaped on the majority: they were ignorant losers, white, old, xenophobic and stupid, ‘gammon’ who would be better dead or disfranchised. But leave aside the arrogance and snobbery; more

Theresa May’s recipe for Christmas cake

This recipe was given to me years ago by an old friend — hence the imperial measurements — and I have been making it ever since. Sadly, since my diabetes, I can’t really eat it any longer although I still make it for my husband and for friends (although not this year, I’m afraid, due

The anxieties that long ago shadowed Christmas are back

Christmas has been given the green light by the government this year less because it marks the birth of Christ than because retailers and the hospitality industry desperately need it to go ahead. Other feast days in the Christian calendar still belong to the church. Christmas is the feast day that a fundamentally secular nation

Why AI will never write a great song

Two years ago, the songwriter Nick Cave told his fans that he’d speak to them directly — not through an interviewer. ‘This will be between you and me,’ he wrote. The letters he has received and the answers he has given are collected online in The Red Hand Files. Here is a selection of the

The ideological bankruptcy of modern monetary theory

If you can’t explain something, try an abbreviation. The latest in economics is MMT — Modern Monetary Theory or, in other words, a magic money tree. It’s a simple idea. It costs almost nothing to print money: the cost of printing banknotes is negligible compared with their face value, and even lower when the Bank

How Korean cinema mastered the art of horror

There is a moment in the Jung brothers’ 2007 ghost film, Epitaph, when a young doctor in wartime Korea realises that the wife he adores does not have a shadow. He is entertaining her with a shadow puppet show in their home when he notices the aberration. ‘Walk to me,’ he says as he waves

I Live Here Now: a short story by Ian Rankin

Ever since his daughter’s death, John Bates had all but given up. Eunice had been 17, bubbly and surrounded by friends, keen to leave school behind to study history at university. She’d been a passionate cook and hockey player, not yet ready for a steady boyfriend, and loved absolutely by both her parents. But then


Quentin Letts: The unstoppable rise of June Sarpong

Eton’s free-speech rumpus must surely become a David Hare play, Goodbye Mr Had-Yer-Chips, starring Jeremy Irons as the headmaster and Maxine Peake as the staff member who sneaks on the English beak teaching non-feminist critical thought. Like most attempts at suppression, Eton’s will be counter-productive. Teenage boys adore political martyrdom. Eton’s top man, Simon Henderson,

Wallace Arnold: Pity the hard-pressed Snuff Community

Could it really be 40 years since one was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature? Borne up the stairs on the shoulders of John Julius Norwich and Sir Roy Strong, I was inducted by Lady Antonia Fraser and the late Paddy Leigh Fermor, resplendent in their ceremonial robes. Meanwhile, I myself was

Joan Collins: The politics of Christmas trees

To say that the past nine months have been tough is like saying a hurricane felt like a spring shower. For many people it must have been utter hell, particularly those who own hospitality businesses. I simply cannot imagine how they could plan and manage ahead when our government refused to give anyone a clue

Cressida Bonas: My perfectly imperfect lockdown wedding

I had a lockdown wedding. A 30-person, socially-distanced, sanitised church service was organised in under two weeks. Restrictions meant no hymns, no wind instruments and no speaking too loudly. A disappointment for a musical family. Not what we’d envisaged, but a more intimate and special day than we could ever have imagined. Imperfect yet perfect

Notes on...

The many uses of frankincense and myrrh

‘And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.’ About 15 years ago, a colleague at Cambridge was returning from a visit to Yemen.