Subjects report that the experience is not dream-like, but feels ‘realer than real’. Photograph: Getty

Does it show the existence of life after death or can science explain it?

Galileo Galilei’s signature is seen on a document displayed during the exhibition “Lux in Arcana, the Vatican secret Archives reveals itself” at the Capitoline Museums in Rome in 2012. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

Conventional account ignores gaps in scientist’s evidence to Catholic Church inquisition

A 17th  century representation of the world system of Copernicus), father of modern astronomy. Photograph:   Time Life Pictures/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The major discoveries of the Scientific Revolution were made in universities strongly supported by the church

Pavlov sounded a metronome as he gave a dog food. After a while the dog salivated on hearing the metronome, even when no food was present. Photograph: Nick Vedros/Image Bank

Discovery of conditioned reflex played large role in development of behaviourism

Schematic of the central region of a black hole showing infalling material (yellow) and a powerful jet of outflowing material (white). From Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

String theory is beautifully explained by Brian Greene in The Elegant Universe

Ability to alter genetics of embyros remains limited but progress will bring big questions

Life expectancy is growing fastest in emerging markets where the number of people aged 60 years and over is double that in the developed world. Photograph: PA Wire

In advanced economies today 75-year-olds have the same mortality rates as 65-year-olds in 1950

Thousands of people marched in anti-government protests in Budapest in 2018 over limits on academic freedom under Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government. Photograph: Marko Drobnjakovic/AP.

Academic freedom thrives on diversity and encouraging contrasting ideas

Tony McGrath (76) cocooning at his home in Drumcondra, Dublin. Photograph: Fran Veale

Telling healthy older people to lock themselves away has been counterproductive

Monarch butterflies make Herculean migratory trips each autumn, travelling more than 3,500km from eastern Canada and the northeastern US to Mexico.

Dramatic fall in monarch numbers has been widely blamed on Roundup weedkiller

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, ie can transfer to people from animals. It is thought SARS-COV-2 that causes Covid-19 originated in bats. Photograph: Getty Images

William Reville: Antibiotics do not work against coronavirus because they are designed to fight bacteria

Air traffic controllers have a very high cognitive ability called situational awareness. File photograph: Alan Betson

You can only become a critical thinker in areas where you have deep knowledge

The body must work to maintain the multitasking brain we developed over long evolutionary time and if the brain is not actively exercised on an ongoing basis its capacity tends to decline. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Continuous, lifelong exercise is the antidote to gradual decline in cognitive capacity

Fire and Rescue personal run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19th, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: David Gray/Getty Images

Reducing the fuel load is one immediate step we can take to tackle wild fires

Albert Einstein. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

William Reville: We have good reason to be proud of our European heritage

Our Milky Way galaxy is at least 10 billion years old and 1000,000 light years across, contains up to 300 billion stars and more than 10 billion planets with temperate, possibly life-friendly surface conditions. Photograph: Babek Tafreshi/SSPL/Getty Images

One possible reason Earth has not been visited by aliens is that we’re a lonely planet with few other inhabitable neighbours in ou(...)

Sir Alexander Fleming,  discoverer of penicillin, studying  mould cultures at  his laboratory  in London. Photograph:   Peter Purdy/BIPs/Getty Images

Fortunate unplanned discoveries include penicillin, Viagra, x-rays, radioactivity and microwave ovens

William Harvey demonstrating the circulation of the blood. Photograph: Getty

Englishman defied popular wisdom with his research of blood circulation system

Traditional burial remains the choice for dealing with the majority of deaths (almost 80 per cent) in Ireland. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

A new, greener, option for disposing of human remains is to turn the corpse into a compost suitable for fertilising garden soil

By the horns: mathematician Bruce Boghosian of Tufts University and others have developed a mathematical model that accurately reproduces real-life wealth inequalities in a wide range of free-market countries

So much for notion that redistribution of wealth is soft-hearted generosity pandering to the lazy

Jazz hands: what is actually needed instead is the fostering of psychological resilience. Photograph: iStock

Young people must learn to be resilient rather than avoid stressful situations

A processed food is a natural food that has been treated to enhance a particular quality, eg smoking meat to add flavour and extend storage life, adding sugar or salt to enhance flavour. Photograph: Getty Images

There is a hypothesis that eating ultraprocessed foods can disrupt signals between the gut and the brain, encouraging us to keep e(...)

Ireland hooker Rory Best. Photograph:  Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

Having a positive attitude about yourself can help you to perform better under stress

The age group 18 to 22 is the loneliest sector of all. Photograph: iStock

A weakened sense of identity is contributing to a surge in loneliness and depression

Francis Crick and James Watson made the greatest biological discovery of the 20th century when they solved the structure of DNA.  Photograph: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives/The New York Times

From cells and DNA to cloning and biochemistry, here are life’s milestones

An activist wears a mask of US President Donald Trump during a demonstration against the ending of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in front of the American Embassy at Pariser Platz in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Omer Messinger/EPA.

Recent articles highlight deficiencies in system used to protect against nuclear attack

Prof David McConnell’s accusation that I am attempting to “take science down a peg or two” is simply wrong and also unfair

What I said was inaccurately portrayed and my intentions misinterpreted

‘There is evidence that dogs are genetically programmed with an exaggerated motivation to seek out and maintain social contact with humans.’ Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Dogs give us great pleasure and companionship, they give us the precious gift of unconditional love and they teach us to appreciat(...)

A newborn baby girl named Danica Camacho, the Philippines’ symbolic “seven billionth baby” who was part of the United Nations’ seven billion global population projection, in Fabella Maternity Hospital Manila on October 31st, 2011. The UN had predicted the world’s population would reach seven billion on October 31st, 2011. Photograph: Reuters/Erik De Castro

If we were to accept the argument and act ‘morally’, the world’s population would die out – as a solution to climate change, it se(...)

Isaac Newtown: ‘Naturalists were wrong to use the slave ships to collect their samples,’ writes William Reville.

Naturalists in need of samples took advantage of the routes taken by slave ships

The first-ever photograph of  a black hole, taken using a global network of telescopes, conducted by the Event Horizon Telescope  project. Photograph: Reuters

The embarrassing gap in science’s understanding of the universe may soon be filled

Charles Darwin discovered natural selection.

Life on other planets may not be carbon- and water-based but the familiar principles of natural selection will almost certainly ap(...)

‘Why do prominent scientists such as Richard Dawkins still campaign to replace religion with science?’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Promoting science to replace religion often has the opposite effect, and scientists would be well-advised to stop picking futile f(...)

Plants are easily the dominant life form on Earth, constituting 80% of total biomass. Humanity barely registers in comparison. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Incredibly versatile life forms that dominate the planet deserve greater respect

Animals that pass the mirror test have large brains relative to body size and have higher levels of empathy and social awareness. You might wonder about ants passing the test, but the brains of some ant species constitutes 15 per cent of body mass

Only a handful of species have been shown to possess the ability of visual self-recognition

The adult intestine hosts about 1.2kg of bacteria and many of these microbes are essential for good health. Graphic: Getty Images

Data is piling up but a theory with which to interpret it remains to be developed

The new research is the work of a company called Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd, based in Ness Ziona, Israel. Photograph: VVG/Science Photo Library

Company’s efforts to address issues around cell mutations met with scepticism

Declining birth rates are no longer confined to the western world. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters

William Reville: As populations age and are not replenished, societies could be strained

 We are fortunate to be meat-eaters because meat drove the evolution of our large brains and complex bodies. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Our diets may be bad for our health, but a vegetarian world would create new problems

Our sedentary lifestyle, 5000 or less steps per day, is correlated with a spectrum of diseases; cardiovascular, diabetes and more. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Understanding the difference explains why modern lifestyles damage our health

Pills or placebo? Science may not be the only way to understand illness and healing and that the placebo effect is a biological response to the act of caring –  the rituals involved trigger specific neurobiological pathways that modulate body sensations, symptoms and emotions

Research points to biochemical basis for perplexing but powerful medical treatment

Sir Roger Scruton believes heresy is central to understanding the erosion of free speech

Bowing to fear of causing offence undermines fundamental principle of free enquiry

Lava erupts near Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano. Experiments show that hot spring pools can sequester simple biological chemical building blocks into membrane-enclosed compartments. Photograph: Armann Hoskuldsson/Reuters

Confirmation of hypothesis could guide exploration for life on other planets

Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, proposed eugenics as a science in the late 1800s

William Reville: Social pressure on parents to go along with genetic enhancement of offspring would be great

Many critics now blame this self-esteem movement for producing a generation of emotionally fragile young adults. Photograph: iStock

William Reville: The misguided US self-esteem fad lingers on this side of the Atlantic

Surprisingly for a scientist, Richard Dawkins supports his charge on the long-term psychological damage of a religious upbringing with little more than anecdotes. Photograph: Alan Betson

Harvard study indicates religious upbringing helps adolescents navigate life’s challenges

Life began on Earth early, about 3.4 billion years ago. Photograph: Getty Images

The Milky Way is extremely unlikely to contain another technological civilisation

The dominant male in a gorilla group services a harem, hogging all the sex with all females in the group and denying the subservient males any “look-in”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Balance of evidence indicates we are biologically inclined towards monogamy

There has been a recent explosion of “predatory” science journals that aggressively solicit research papers from scientists who pay to have the papers published.

William Reville: Predatory journals can contaminate scientific literature

The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 paved the way for the development of sophisticated gene-editing techniques. Photograph: Getty Images

Despite ethical unease, germ-line modification will surely find mainstream acceptance

 Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can renew themselves through cell division and, under certain circumstances, can develop into differentiated organ-specific cells. Photograph: Getty Images

Scientists hope to use pluripotent stem cells to replace organs that have failed

Senator David Norris, then Green Party leader Trevor Sargent and Marian Harkin MEP at the GM-free Ireland Network protest rally outside Leinster House, Dublin, in 2006. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Green criticism has undermined public and political confidence in GMOs but science proves they are no riskier than more traditiona(...)

 Ireland recorded 392 suicides last year. Photograph: iStock

We have been surprisingly passive in Ireland in responding to issue

   The first exoplanet transit was detected in 1999 and within 10 years more than 100 exoplanets had been detected. Photograph:   Stocktrek RF/Getty

The discovery of extra-terrestrial intelligence would be truly transcending

The scientist David Goodall (104) at a press conference a day before his assisted suicide in Switzerland, last month. Photograph: Georgios Kefalas/Keystone via AP

Do you agree that all lucid adults should have the legal right to end their own lives?

Research indicates about 60% of premature deaths can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyles and are therefore preventable.

Five lifestyle practices can dramatically lower mortality rates, research shows

Other well-regarded studies have reported that drinking one to two units of alcohol a day markedly protects against death from cardiovascular disease. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire

Health researchers should tread carefully to avoid the alcohol-guidelines morass

Prof Richard Dawkins and physicist Stephen Hawking are dismissive of philosophy. Photograph: Alan Betson

Science’s success in understanding the natural world motivates some scientists to claim that it is all-powerful and will eventuall(...)

Paul Kammerer: Future investigation may conclusively exonerate him which would make a nice end to his story

Recent re-examination of his work suggests that he may have discovered epigenetic inheritance, a phenomenon not recognised until l(...)

The Ministers for Health and Children respectively, Simon Harris, TD, and Katherine Zappone, TD, at the launch of ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland - Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025’. Pictured with the ministers are Bisi Atelade (11), from St Audoen’s NS and Charlie McCormack (10) Talbot SNS. Photograph: Dave Meehan

‘Quite simply, we have found support for the existence of internal bathroom scales’

The formula for optimum distribution of funding between basic and applied research is not being applied at present

Pollination is necessary for plants to reproduce and the honey bee is a pollinator
To bee or not to bee

‘Much more attention must be paid to how beehives are deployed and account must be taken of the effect on local pollinators’

Head of US EPA Scott Pruitt fails ‘the BS test’.

Science is not immune to allure of BS, and we’re not as good at detecting it as we think

Irish philosopher George Berkeley, the Bishop of Cloyne and a noted metaphysician who declared: ‘To be is to be perceived’. Image: Hulton Archive

The old answer to the problem of how the world existed before the advent of conscious observers was that God was watching it

Flowers pictured where people store their relatives ashes after cremation in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

We should not allow cremation to drive cemeteries out of existence and to hide death from us

‘Judgement’ by Rowan Gillespie, at Sutherland School of Law in UCD. Photograph: David Sleator

Higher education is to broaden horizons, not to simply embrace a homogenous view of the world

’Environmental activists are particularly prone to such emotionally driven thinking.’ Photograph: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Many people have a deep-seated and powerful emotional need to support their favourite ideology or worldview

Young scientists engage in participative science at the launch of this year’s Galway Science and Technology Festival. Photo: Andrew Downes

National Children’s Science Centre is aimed at stimulating children’s natural curiosity and encouraging them to explore and discov(...)

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency should not be condemned as a climate change ‘denier’. Photograph: Bloomberg

Since emotion plays a large part in motivating those who reject the consensus, then science communicators should also use emotion (...)

Can automatic vehicles make morally appropriate choices? Photograph: iStock

William Reville: As software improves, the supremacy of such vehicles will become clear

Philosopher Roger Scruton:  uses soccer as an analogy to illustrate his point on the primary objective on education

Schools are viewed as instruments of social engineering as much as institutions for the transmission of knowledge

A more accurate read is now possible on declining sperm counts. Photograph shows the beginning of fertilisation as a single sperm combines with an ovum

Scientist warns continued sperm count decline in men ‘may lead to human extinction’

Further indication of how climate change is intensifying storms; the remnants of Wilson’s Bridge in Swan Park, Buncrana, Co Donegal, after extreme floods in August. Photograph: Peter Murtagh

Why the changes to human behaviour necessary to ease climate change will have to be directed by government

The message has been sold successfully to women that they can have both successful careers and flourishing families

A formula must be devised to ensure women are not handicapped in the promotion stakes because of time devoted to having and raisin(...)

US president Donald Trump winces while delivering remarks on the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. Public perception of the flawed character of politicians is one of the strongest causes of voter detachment from politics. Photograph: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

William Reville: Why politicians should increasingly justify policies on moral rather than economic or electoral grounds

Fake story was written in the jargon typical of gender studies papers

William Reville: Reputable social science journal fell for paper ‘deliberately constructed to be complete, comical nonsense’

Milo was born in September 2005, so he died just short of his 12th birthday

We were unprepared for the level of grief that struck us after Milo died

Stanley Milgram’s results indicate that most of us would follow orders to do terrible things, just as the Nazis did; surely a poignant result for Milgram, a son of Jewish immigrants

Alarming findings by Prof Stanley Milgram of Yale University have since been confirmed in many studies

Auschwitz: the SS doctor Fritz Klein, asked about his Hippocratic oath, said, “Out of respect for human life I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.” Photograph: AP

Notions of ethnic purity and exclusion are still with us. We must remain vigilant

A watch tower in Camp X-Ray, the first detention facility to hold ‘enemy combatants’ at the US Naval Station on  in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than 80 per cent endorse torture if they are personally close to the victims

Scientist and investor Yuri Milner  speaks during the New Space Exploration Initiative ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ announcement  last year in New York. Photograph: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The Breakthrough Starshot programme is the brainchild of Yuri Milner, Russian-born Silicon Valley billionaire-physicist

Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight, even though they are clearly underweight. Photograph: iStock

William Reville: Although anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, the statistics are encouraging

Global warming: 50 per cent of the public think the Earth is getting warmer mainly because of human activity while 87 per cent of scientists do

A push to dispel suspicions of things such as pesticides has had little effect

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein in 1944: his theory of general relativity describes how the large-scale universe works in terms of space, time and gravity. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Some physicists claim the universe sprang spontaneously out of nothing at all about 13.5 billion years ago

A widely cited 2013 study  estimates that 47 per cent of American jobs are at high risk of being computerised soon

It was feared ATMs would displace bank tellers. However, deployment of ATMs reduces bank running costs, allowing banks to open mor(...)

Tanzania, Africa: life for these  Hadza hunter-gatherers can be very physically demanding

William Reville: Studies show hunter-gatherers burn no more calories a day than sedentary office workers

1948: A classroom scene during a maths lesson. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

We need to combat technology-induced lazy brain syndrome caused by texting and calculators

How did we lose the will to replace ourselves and, knowing the demographic consequences of losing that will, can we reclaim it?

Handlers bathing a horse in the Caribbean Sea near Bridgetown, Barbados. We must now extend the range of the water cycle to include the mantle of the Earth. Photograph: Reuters/Adrees Latif

William Reville: The discovery of vast reservoirs of water deep within the Earth is an example of the power of science to excite w(...)

Collision of a 10km-wide asteroid with Earth 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs but a future collision with an even smaller asteroid could have disastrous consequences for humanity. Image: iStock

David Grinspoon’s new book highlights the self-imposed and natural threats to survival

The general public distrusts much of science-based technology such as genetic modification. Above, a protest against biotech giant Monsanto in Costa Rica in May. Photograph: Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images

Public control could allow ideological or economic forces to distort a rational agenda

An Indonesian man, Mbah Gotho, aged 146, is the oldest human in world history. Photograph: Dasril Roszandi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If it were possible, would it be desirable

A photographer takes pictures of the reconstruction of Neanderthal man’s ancestor displayed in Halle, eastern Germany. Photograph: Sebastian Willnow/AFP/Getty Images

William Reville: One theory proposes that they were assimilated into modern human stock by interbreeding

Photograph: iStock

A controversial study of sexuality and gender claims to focus solely on the scientific evidence

Down syndrome births account for about one in every 546. Photograph: iStock

How do people with Down syndrome feel when they hear predictions of the elimination of their kind?

Our closest animal relatives are the great apes – chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas

Since 95 per cent of human DNA is identical to that of a chimpanzee, do chimps have a sense of morality?

Erik Zackrisson’s study indicates there are far fewer places than we thought where life such as ours could evolve. Photograph: iStock

A computer model has found Earth to be uniquely suited to life among 700 million trillion terrestrial planets

BabyPod is designed to make the unborn baby smarter by playing music through the mother’s vagina

Despite an industry around it, no research data shows that playing music to babies in the womb will boost IQ

Conceptual computer artwork representing the origin of the universe. File photograph: Science Photo Library

Three different hypotheses of dark energy predict different futures for our universe

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