Meet the emperor of the electrodes

Image from the Vieux Carre Courier

Image from the Vieux Carre Courier

I've been working for a while on a long read for Mosaic, the Wellcome Trust's weekly online magazine, about a guy called Robert Galbraith Heath. It's an extraordinary story that has gripped me ever since I first heard of it.

The story starts with a scientific paper in 1972, which describes (in astonishing and unsettling detail) how Heath, a scientist in New Orleans, attempted to cure a gay man by implanting electrodes into his skull and stimulating the pleasure centre of his brain. He and his team were so pleased with the results that they got approval to bring a prostitute into the laboratory - monitoring the patient's brain patterns as the two of them made love.

This was strange enough. But when I started looking into Heath, I realised that this was merely the tip of an iceberg of weirdness - that over the decades, he had done some of the boldest, strangest and least ethically justified experiments you can imagine, on both humans and (as the picture above shows) animals. Stranger still, his work appeared to be largely forgotten.

The piece is online here - I hope you find the story as fascinating, alarming and in places downright disturbing as I did while researching it. It's released under Creative Commons, which means that anyone is free to republish it as long as they link/credit back to Mosaic...

Technical difficulties

Eager readers may have noticed that I haven't updated for a while. This is partly due to an insanely busy schedule, and partly due to the fact that my hosting service has taken to killing my half-written updates at seemingly random intervals, invariably a few seconds before I remember to hit the 'save' button.

So, in lieu of the beautifully crafted thousand-word exploration of the process of publishing a book (which I'll rewrite once I've stopped crying), here's a brief highlights reel. I've written half a dozen pieces on British politics for Politico Europe, book reviews for the Telegraph of 'This Is London' and 'Comrade Corbyn' (both well worth reading, incidentally), pieces for CapX on Brexit, the NHS, immigration and the Sex Pistols. This last week has been particularly crazy: among other things, I've written on the Zika virus for the Wellcome Trust, Apple vs the FBI for the Telegraph, Britain's problems building tech giants for the FT and Facebook Instant Articles on Medium

Looming behind it all, however, has been THE BOOK. As of today, we've finalised the contents and cover, sent preview copies to various eminent figures and got them to say nice things, arranged various articles to coincide with publication, and I've even booked a venue for a party. (I say we because most of this has been taken care of by the team at Bloomsbury, who are immensely experienced at easing panicky novices through the process.) I've still got no idea how it will be received. But I want to be able to tell myself I did everything I could to give it the best chance to find an audience. More on that - much more - as publication date approaches...