The best WIRED long reads of 2019

It’s time to relax and do some reading. While you’re waiting to tuck into some turkey, put your feet up and settle into some of the best long reads we’ve published this year.

Here is a selection of our best long form journalism from 2019. Not enough? You can find even more of our in-depth journalism in our long form archive. And we’ll be back in 2020 with more stories about how science and technology are changing our world, for better or worse.

A vaccine for Alzheimer’s is on the verge of becoming a reality

Samples in United Neuroscience’s laboratory

Alzheimer’s robs patients of their memories, as plaque builds in the brain, fibres get tangled and connections are lost between nerve cells. When Mei Mei Hu realised her mother, Chang Yi Wang, had created a completely unique vaccine to prevent the disease, she urged her to set up a new company. At United Neuroscience, the mother and daughter duo have combined their scientific and consulting knowledge to find a potential cure that has long eluded researchers. And Alzheimer’s isn’t the only disease in their sights – cancer and HIV are next on the list.

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This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It’s time we all listened

Matt Holyoak

Economist Mariana Mazzucato has demonstrated that the real driver of innovation isn’t lone geniuses but state investment. Her work to break down tired myths about innovation is now informing governments around the world. She’s currently working with the UK government, EU and UN to apply her moonshot approach to the world’s biggest challenges.

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How SoftBank ate the world

In 2010, SoftBank Group CEO Masayoshi Son unveiled his 300-year vision for the future. The company’s $100 billion investment arm, the Vision Fund – is the biggest tech fund in history

Ryan Pfluger / August

SoftBank is taking over tech one company at a time, with Masayoshi Son as its leader. In 2017 he compared the company to the gentry of the Industrial Revolution – the powerful, monied few who funded huge technological and societal changes. Softbank owns stakes in Uber, WeWork and Sprint, among others, and while it may not be a household name like Google or Microsoft, Son has been striving for decades to make it the biggest company in the world.

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The impossible fight to save Jakarta, the sinking megacity

A Jakarta resident wades past a flooded mosque near the waterfront

Christoffer Rudquist

Jakarta, one of the world’s fastest growing megacities, has a problem: it’s sinking. Taking clean water from the underground reservoirs that prop up the city means it is slowly collapsing into the mud. The number of people in the city and the timescale needed to solve the problem means that authorities are scrambling to save the Indonesian capital. But the desperate efforts could come too late.

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How one teenager became the voice of the planet

16-year-old Greta Thunberg has mobilised millions of young people to demand action on the world’s climate crisis

AORTA

Greta Thunberg has become the face of the climate crisis protest movement, travelling across the world to urge those in power to act decisively before it’s too late. Despite her 3.7 million Twitter followers and nine million Instagram followers, the 16-year-old doesn’t see herself as a celebrity. “I just hope that this movement will continue and we do something about the climate – because that is the only thing that matters.”

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The disturbing return of scientific racism

Angela Saini’s new book, Superior, exposes the re-emergence of dangerous race science based on genetics

Sebastian Nevols

In the world of genetics, race has long been a factor that scientists have tried to pin down. Some have tried to say that certain races are less intelligent, or more adept at certain tasks. And when a study is published appearing to corroborate such claims, racists eat it up. We keep looking into race, but find very little. In this edited extract from her book, Superior, Angela Saini examines the dangerous belief that with enough data, science could take race – a set of categories invented by the powerful to control the weak – and somehow make it real.

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The dodgy, vulnerable fame of YouTube’s child ASMR stars

Makenna Kelly, 13. Her YouTube channel, Life With MaK, has nearly 1.4 million subscribers

JUCO

Makenna Kelly, a 13-year old YouTube star, gets sent money to eat cookies, drink milk and tap on objects for money. $50 buys a ten minute video, while $30 gets you five minutes. It’s all in the name of ASMR – the euphoric feeling people get from certain audio stimuli. But videos like these are controversial. Is it right for children as young as five to make videos that give adults “brain orgasms”?

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How an alien-hunting Russian billionaire is helping crack one of the Universe’s biggest mysteries

When the first Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs were detected by a physics student, it seemed like an incredibly rare phenomenon. Now astronomers agree that one probably happens every second. Thanks to Yuri Milner, a US-based Israeli-Russian billionaire, and his obsession with finding extraterrestrial life, one of the most complex and far-reaching scans has received much-needed funding.

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The climate crisis has sparked a Siberian mammoth tusk gold rush

Amos Chapple / Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

As global temperatures rise, Siberia is melting. Amongst the thawing tundra, hunters are searching for tusks. China banned the import and sales of elephant ivory in 2017, but finding long-dead mammoths provides a loophole. While it may seem like a safe option, encouraging ivory sales is fraught with risk.

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Inside DeepMind’s epic mission to solve science’s trickiest problem

DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis

Jason Madara

DeepMind’s algorithms have conquered games. Now they’re taking on something much harder: science. In September we profiled the Google-owned artificial intelligence firm as it sets its smarts on protein folding, which biologists consider to be the building blocks of life. As it continues to pursue its stated mission to “solve intelligence”, we go inside the secretive London firm to explore exactly what it’s up to.

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