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How Brexit has changed the mental map of Britain
Artistic and statistic cartography projects show the U.K. divided like never before.
- Stumbling from one Brexit delay to the next, Britain is paralyzed by its political division.
- Stark new work by Anish Kapoor reflects on the U.K.'s deep internal divide.
- "Archipelago maps" show Britons living in two separate countries — much like Americans.
March 29th was supposed to be Brexit Day. As clocks struck 11 p.m. across the U.K., the country should have departed from the European Union. Instead, Britain became a country-sized version of Schrödinger's cat: nobody knows anymore when — or if — the U.K. will actually leave the EU.
Following two years of arduous negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May finally managed to work out a Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels, only to prove unable to get that deal okayed by her own Parliament. This forced her to ask the EU for an extension of Britain's exit.
With April 12th the new deadline, Parliament took control of the issue. But the House of Commons couldn't muster a majority for any of the eight options it considered. Only yesterday, the PM admitted yet another defeat: she asked the EU for another extension, and implored Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, to work with her toward a solution — angering the right wing of her own Conservative Party.
A fault at the heart of Britain
Whose fault is this? Image source: The Guardian / Anish Kapoor
Few expect that a solution is close at hand. Faced with the biggest crisis since the Second World War, the British political class has failed to rise to the occasion.
As former Conservative parliamentarian Ann Widdecombe commented on BBC's Newsnight earlier this week, "We've got the worst prime minister since Anthony Eden (…) the worst leader of the opposition in the entire history of the Labour Party (…) and the worst Parliament since Oliver Cromwell."
To put that into context: Eden was prime minister in the 1950s, the Labour Party was founded in 1900, and Cromwell dissolved the so-called Rump Parliament by force in 1653.
Britain's current political paralysis reflects the deep divisions between "Leavers" and '"Remainers." This recent work by Anish Kapoor translates the political into the geological: Brexit as the fault that's literally tearing Britain in two. Created for the Guardian newspaper, the work's title refers to the nonsensical terrors contained in nursery rhymes: A Brexit, a Broxit, We All Fall Down.
The artist has updated a tilted orographic map of the Britain and Ireland by adding a violently red gash across the length of the British mainland — roughly from Glasgow in Scotland down to the Mid-Sussex town of Haywards Heath.
Overnight, an impenetrably dark chasm – the artist has a copyright on Kapoor black – has overtaken the familiar landscape and consumed Britain's spine. The wound on the map seems to be pushing apart what remains of the island in two opposing directions, similar to what the Great Rift Valley and the San Andreas Fault are doing to East Africa and California, but at a much slower pace.
The work thus suggests that Britain's deep divisions lead not just to paralysis, but eventually to a disruptive cataclysm.
One suggested solution to end the current deadlock would be to have another referendum. That's anathema to Leavers, who see it as a ploy to reverse the outcome of the first one. Remainers argue that only now do voters know enough about Brexit — talked to death in the years since the referendum — to make an informed decision.
Most Remainers indeed hope for a different outcome, but opinion polls show strong continued support for Leave, suggesting the divide is not merely one of mere political opinion but of a more fundamental cultural outlook. That's not unlike the divisions between Democrats and Republicans, charted as two distinct archipelagos by Tim Wallace for the New York Times straight after Trump's shock election victory (see also #810).
Scotland, Remain UK's mainland
Scotland is definitely part of Europe, the rest of the UK: not so much.
Image: ESRI UK
These maps were developed by the UK division of ESRI, the California-based supplier of GIS software, web GIS and geodatabase management software. They asked themselves the question: What would the UK look like if one only kept the land areas that voted Leave or Remain?
Based on the referendum results and electoral maps, they answered that question: as two very strange and distinct groups of islands. As with Tim Wallace's original maps (not to mention the earlier example of a Palestinian archipelago – see #370), the design team decided also to provide some names to the new geographic features on the map.
Scotland is the main island of the Remain Archipelago. The next-biggest islands are the larger, southern and western portions of Northern Ireland, and a similarly-sized but much more populous one in southern England, containing London, Brighton and Oxford. Apart from a sizeable chunk of Wales, all the other Remain islands are fairly small (and mainly urban): Norwich, Liverpool and Manchester Islands, to name but a few.
England is Leave-land
The pro-Leave bits of the UK: mainly England, plus bits of Wales and Northern Ireland. Image source: ESRI UK
Because of Scotland's absence, the map of the Leave Archipelago can zoom in closer on England, where most of the action is. Interestingly, Leave Land is mostly a contiguous zone, as Trumpistan was in Tim Wallace's maps. This indicates that Leave was favoured by the larger, more rural districts of England.
Whether artistic or statistic, these maps by Anish Kapoor and ESRI UK show a nation beaten out of shape by its deep political and cultural divisions. Neither project reflects the geographic or cartographic state of things, of course. But if, as some predict, Brexit will reawaken calls for Scottish independence, Britain's exit from the EU could end up altering the actual map of the U.K.
Strange Maps #969
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.
- There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
- "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
- "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>