How do you judge the risks and benefits of new medical treatments, or of lifestyle choices? With a finite health care budget, how do you decide which treatments should be made freely available on the NHS? Historically, decisions like these have been made on the basis of doctors' individual experiences with how these treatments perform, but over recent decades the approach to answering these
questions has become increasingly rational.
Infectious diseases hardly ever disappear from the headlines — swine flu is only the last in a long list containing SARS, bird flu, HIV, and childhood diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. If it's not the disease itself that hits the news, then it's the vaccines with their potential side effects. It can be hard to tell the difference between scare mongering and responsible reporting,
because media coverage rarely provides a look behind the scenes. So how do scientists reach the conclusions they do?
One of the greatest advances in the biomedical sciences has been the unravelling of our genetic code. This new understanding sheds light on what makes organisms function and how they are related to each other, helps to combat diseases, and to convict criminals. But it also poses great mathematical challenges: the genetic revolution is an information explosion which can only be tamed using mathematical methods.
Maths is all about patterns and rhythms, so it's no surprise that there's plenty of maths in art. Whether it's the visual or the performing arts, maths can be a tool, an inspiration, or simply something that's naturally contained within the structures and patterns.
The year 2009 was International Year of Astronomy, and to celebrate, we asked you what you'd most like to know about your Universe in a series of online polls. You came up with seven questions, which we put to world-leading astronomers and cosmologists. Find their answers in seven articles, as well as some podcasts.