Tom Chivers

Where will our inventions lead?

When reviewers say that some new book reminds them of some famous old book, it often ends up as a blurb on the paperback edition, so I want to be clear: when I say that George Dyson’s Analogia reminds me of Robert Pirsig’s New Age classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I do

How close is humanity to destroying itself?

Humanity has come startlingly close to destroying itself in the 75 or so years in which it has had the technological power to do so. Some of the stories are less well known than others. One, buried in Appendix D of Toby Ord’s splendid The Precipice, I had not heard, despite having written a book

How to message a Martian

Apparently the first audio message broadcast into space with the ostensible purpose of communicating with aliens was the sound of vaginal contractions in ballerinas. According to Daniel Oberhaus’s Extraterrestrial Languages, the artist Joe Davis beamed the information from an MIT radar installation towards the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani in 1985. A USAF colonel

Bad news for the lazy – jogging isn’t actually bad for you

There’s nothing the health editors of the nation love more than a counter-intuitive story. We’ve been over the red-wine-is-good-for-you, chocolate-is-good-for-you ones before (which tend to fall at various points on the spectrum between ‘sort of true but misleading’ and ‘downright false’). But there is the reverse kind of stories, too: the ‘exercise is actually bad

No, cats did not smell your cancer

No, they bloody didn’t. They just didn’t. ‘Cats detected my cancer’, reads a headline on Mail Online. But, let’s face it, they didn’t at all. The ways in which this story is nonsense are obvious. Stephanie Doody, the woman in question, says (and, I’m sure, believes – and may even be right) that her three

The Daily Mail is wrong — homeopathy can’t cure Ebola

Normally this blog is about relatively silly things, I’m happy to admit. Is red wine good for you? (No.) Are high heels good for you? (No.) I mean, it’s worth debunking that sort of nonsense when newspapers print it, but I don’t pretend that I’m fighting some moral crusade. Most of the time, anyway. But

Should old people start wearing stilettos?

It must, I sometimes think, be exhausting, if you actually take health advice from newspapers; diligently eating eggs one week but not the next, avoiding mobile phones in case they irradiate your gonads, avoiding all foreign-looking people in case they’ve got that Ebola. I thought this particularly the case this week when I read the

How does naturopathy work? A bit like a flying vacuum-cleaner to Mars

Every so often you read a piece about alternative medicine that asks: how does it work? How does homeopathy work, how does acupuncture work, etc. There was a piece in the Telegraph recently that asked: how does naturopathy work? There was a complicated answer about ‘healthy electromagnetic frequencies’ and so on; ‘bioresonance’, ‘modalities’, and a

The idiot diet – nonsense vs common sense in ‘Paleo’ nutrition

Looking for real power? Get a jump-start on the future of global fuel at The Spectator’s energy conference on 1 December. Tickets are still available here. There’s a great New Yorker cartoon – two cavemen, sitting in a cave, looking suitably homo habilis or something, all sloping foreheads and protruding jaw. The caption reads: ‘Something’s just not right –

The limits of ‘superfood’ – debunking broccoli

Over in my day job, I recently wrote a piece about ‘superfoods’ and the myths that a particular kind of food can protect you from illnesses. The only food advice for which there is consistent evidence is that you should eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables; all this stuff about how

Winter is coming: do you really need a flu jab?

Winter is coming. You can tell because the days are drawing in, the light has that autumnal greyness, and the first bloody advent calendars are in the shops. Also, those of us who are old, pregnant or still in nappies are reminded reminded to take our flu jabs. The Telegraph, among other outlets, is reporting