Modern Ideas About Genes Were Conceived in 18th Century Asylums

Long Before Mendel Bred His Peas, Doctors Claimed Heredity Explained Madness

Sitting at my desk, reading the archived pages of an old British anthropological journal, an entry from 1899 caught my eye. The police at New Scotland Yard had a “Central Metric Office?” The text seemed to imply as much. As a historian of information, calculation, data, and statistics, I understood that faith in data predated the creation of Google, Facebook, and Amazon by hundreds of years. Still, it was hard to imagine a 19th-century police force creating an office devoted to numbers and measures.

My doubts, as it happened, had some …

Were Mr. Darcy and Boo Radley Anti-Social Misfits—or Autistic?

How Fiction Can Reframe a Misunderstood Mental Condition

Is autism cool?

It is in literature, as novels featuring characters on the autism spectrum have become so frequent that they’ve spawned a new genre: “autism lit,” or “aut lit.”

Many of …

Paranoids in the Age of Digital Surveillance

How Delusions Change With Technological Advancement

Do you ever get paranoid about a creep hacking your computer webcam? Or being monitored by some government agency, foreign or domestic? Having someone take a surreptitious photo of you …

The Art of Being “Ugly”

Cosmetics Became a Surprisingly Positive Part of My Recovery From an Eating Disorder

There’s an Elizabeth Taylor quote I wrote inside my journal in high school. It’s the kind of quote you see printed on tacky spiral notebooks, bordered by rhinestones and paired …

Are All Terrorists Crazy?

From the French Reign of Terror to the Sydney Siege, Madness Is Too Easy of an Explanation

Each time a terrorist act occurs in the world, the specter of madness looms on the horizon.

On October 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally wounded a soldier on Parliament Hill …