The World Health Organisation has lost all credibility

Let’s be honest: is there anyone out there who has faith in the ability of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to tackle a future pandemic? Any lingering hope that the WHO might be an organisation fit to be trusted with global heath concerns has pretty well evaporated with the election, by acclamation, of China as one of the 12 members of its executive board on Friday.  It is true, of course, that an international body must have representation from all over the world if it is going to win the near-universal cooperation it needs in order to operate. It can’t be led entirely by western democracies and wealthy South Asian

Netflix’s Barbarians taught me those Romans had it coming

Of all the times and places to have been on the wrong side of history, I can’t imagine many worse than to have been a Roman legionnaire in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 AD. It was the Romans’ Isandlwana — a devastating defeat inflicted by native forces on what was theoretically the world’s most sophisticated, best trained, and almost insuperable military power. Over the years since I first learned about arrogant, tricked, doomed Roman commander Varus and his three legions (about 20,000 men, almost none of whom got out alive), I’ve often mused pityingly on how it must have felt: trapped in the gloomy forest,

Tree-ring analysis has solved many historical mysteries

History is only as good as its sources. It is limited largely to what has survived of written records, and in prehistory to random fragments unearthed by archaeologists and paleontologists. Climate history is no different. As the effects of global warming accelerate, it becomes ever more urgent to reassemble what we can of the atmospheric conditions of the past to gather evidence from wherever it may be. Glacial ice cores are one place, with their frozen snapshots of long-ago air and traces of ash and pollen and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide or methane. Other climate proxies include the annual accretion of stalagmites, the growth of corals and the