Why the Brits are way more up-to-date than Americans on science and technology.

What Slate writers are reading.
June 21 2008 9:12 AM

Yummy Mummys, Mongoose Mine-Detectors, and Leg-Lengthening Surgery

What the Brits are reading about science and technology.

Science news sites

If you ever tire of reading about what Barack Obama ate for breakfast or who's on John McCain's short list of female Hispanic governors under 30, I recommend a stroll into the wonderful world of science. Discoveries and technologies are unfolding at breakneck speed, transforming how we live, what we think, and who we are. Cloning, artificial intelligence, and cyborg limbs are just a few of these developments. The best place to read about them is at Slate's "Human Nature" portal. But the second-best place isn't in the United States; it's in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, the Internet will take you there.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Six weeks ago, news broke that researchers had created the first genetically modified human embryo. Was it on CNN? The New York Times? No, it was in the Times of London, which, like every major British newspaper, maintains a special online section devoted to science. British editors and readers follow science in a way that too many Americans don't. By the time Americans realize what's going on, technology has run them over and moved on.

A good example is surveillance. With more than 4 million security cameras, Britain is probably the world's most closely watched society. Its people are simultaneously nosy and alarmed by invasions of their privacy. That's why you can read about mandatory breathalyzers on BBC News, airport face-recognition scanners in the Guardian, and lie-detecting brain scans in the Daily Telegraph. Or you can wander over to New Scientist to monitor corporate development of eye-tracking technology that will record what you're looking at in shop windows.

Brits love their robots. The Guardian has updates on robots with personalities and robots modeled on human brains. The Daily Telegraph has a report on child care robots—already being tested in American schools, the paper says—that pacify children so effectively that parents and teachers may be tempted to relinquish children to them. New Scientist has the goods on the latest military doodads: a robot urban-infiltration contest, iPhones that operate battlefield drones, and a cyborg land-mine detector consisting of a mongoose connected to a robot. Animals are just another expendable machine.

Then there's all the news that's just plain weird: New Scientist on rats that eat their young; the Daily Telegraph on worms that eat their mothers' skin; the Independent on commercialized dog cloning; BBC News on a family that walks on all fours; the Guardian on stranded island mice that evolved into oversize carnivores; and the Daily Mail on surgery that makes people taller by adding 2 inches to the tops of their heads.

Did I mention odd sex practices? The Brits can't get enough of them, yet they're wonderfully rational about it. The latest uproar is over first-cousin marriages in some immigrant communities (never mind that Charles Darwin did it, too). In contrast to the pious calls for prohibitive legislation that we'd surely have heard from Congress under similar circumstances, the British press actually looked at the genetics of cousin marriage. And the answer seems to be that education and genetic screening are a better way to go.

When you've had your fill of our British cousins, click over to Agence France-Presse, the wire service that tells you what's going on in the rest of the world. There, you can find out about trends bubbling out of faraway continents. Nipple and genital piercings? Australians have already begun to ban them for minors. Cosmetic surgery for kids? A crackdown is under way in Germany. Dog-meat restaurants? South Korea is making peace with them. Performance-enhancing Olympic swimsuits? Japan is hard at work. Genetic modification of animals? Malaysia is planning it for mosquitoes. Commerce in human organs? It's standard practice in Filipino slums. Condoms and drug syringes? They're already being offered through vending machines … in Iran.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to BBC News to read about the latest leg-lengthening surgery. It's positively mind-stretching.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Washington Post.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 29 2014 10:00 PM “Everything Must Change in Italy” An interview with Italian Prime Minster Matteo Renzi.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 29 2014 1:52 PM Do Not Fear California’s New Affirmative Consent Law
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 29 2014 12:01 PM This Is Your MOM’s Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.