London's a shallow Christian sea with islands of other faiths​

Although London is predominantly Christian, this map shows an archipelago of different faiths throughout the city.

Religions are universal and transcendent, but they're also local and personal. This map shows where in London religious people live—quite often, very close to other people of the same faith.


Each dot on the map represents a single religious person. The different colors correspond to that person's faith. Blue is for Christian, turquoise for Muslim, and yellow for Jewish. A purple dot represents a Hindu, an orange one a Sikh, and a green one a Buddhist (red is for "other").

This map was created by cartographer Ben Flanagan, who chose the dot density method to illuminate the clustering of certain faiths in certain areas: "Dot density maps are really effective at normalising data by geographic area. This is because places with fewer people fade away, while densely populated areas become more prominent."

As the map suggests, Christianity is still the biggest faith in London. But Greater London is the least Christian region in the UK: less than half (48.71%) of all Londoners are Christian. London does have the country's highest percentage of Buddhists (1.01%), Hindus (5.05%), Jews (1.84%), and Muslims (12.56%). However, the Midlands has more Sikhs (2.39%) than any other region.

So, if London still looks like a Christian sea, it's a fairly shallow one—and dotted with large islands and archipelagos peopled by other faiths.

Map of London, color-coded by religion (Ben Flanagan).
  • Greenwich has the highest share of Buddhists (1.66%), while Havering has the lowest (0.32%). The most Buddhists live in Barnet (4,521)—a relatively small number, so it's pretty hard to observe those green spots.
  • London's most Jewish boroughs are Barnet (15.18%), Hackney (6.28%), and Camden (5.10%)—the three yellow centers in the north. The least Jewish borough is Bexley (0.10%). Barnet also has the highest number of Jews (54,084), and Bexley the lowest (234).
  • Hounslow is the Sikh capital of London in relative terms (8.96%), while neighboring Ealing has the most in absolute terms (26,778); both are clearly visible on the map.
  • In Harrow—the pink spot in the northwest—just over 1 in 4 is Hindu (25.27%). Harrow also has the highest number of Hindus in absolute terms (60,407, followed by neighboring Brent, with 55,449). Hackney is the least Hindu borough of London (0.64%).
  • Tower Hamlets is London's most Muslim borough (37.84%), followed by Newham (31.97%), Redbridge (23.30%), and Waltham Forest (21.89%)—together forming the turquoise area in the northeast. In absolute figures, Newham (98,456) is ahead of Tower Hamlets (96,157), Redbridge (64,999), and Brent (58,036). Islam is an inner-city faith in London. The least Muslim boroughs are all on the outskirts: Havering (2.04%), Bexley (2.43%), Bromley (2.53%), and Richmond (3.28%).
  • Blue may be everywhere, but it is deepest in Havering, the borough furthest east in London, and with the city's greatest concentration of Christians: 66%. Croydon, on the other hand, has the highest number of Christians (205,022). Tower Hamlets has London's lowest percentage of Christians (29.55%).
  • Not shown on this map are the third of Londoners who indicated in the 2011 Census that they had no religion. The tiny City of London, a.k.a. the Square Mile, is London's central business district. It is almost entirely dedicated to the business of making money, with no more than 7,375 permanent residents. Those also happen to be the most godless bunch of Londoners (34.20%)—although Islington (32.98%) and Camden (29.08%) come a close second and third. Overall, 12 of London's 32 boroughs have more than a quarter of irreligious inhabitants. Just two have unbelievers in the single digits, and then only just: Newham (9.54%) and Harrow (9.57%).

Mr. Flanagan repeated the method for other areas of the UK, including Manchester, Yorkshire, and Tyne and Wear. See more of his work here.

Strange Maps #938

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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