Male allies sought for battle against female discrimination

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In international development, focusing on eliminating discrimination against women and girls has never been more popular. We’re told that the recipe for development is simple: empower women and girls.

UN Women promotes female empowerment as “essential to build stronger economies, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities”. The World Bank sees empowering women as a path to achieving economic stability. The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect, a movement about “leveraging the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, their countries and the world”, describes them as playing “a crucial role in solving the most persistent development problems facing the world today”.

This identification of girls and women as the key to development work was progressive when it evolved during the 1970s.

At the forefront of this shift was economist Ester Boserup, who pointed out that the majority of unpaid agricultural work in developing countries was done by women.

Given this, she argued that the lack of attention paid to women’s issues was not only an issue of gender inequality but also a hindrance to economic development. In 1995 participants at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing declared “the advancement of women and the achievement of equality between women and men are a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and should not be seen in isolation as a women’s issue”.

The enunciation of the role of girls in development is more recent. It became visible in the mid-1990s with increased campaigning around gender equality in access to education. But rather than solely an issue of social justice, investment in girls – and women – came to be seen as producing high returns on family, community and national well-being.

Unfair burden

That greater attention has been paid to the situation of women and girls, as well as their contributions, is certainly something to be celebrated.

But by now it’s time to question if the pendulum has swung too far. And to ask whether it might be unfair to place the burden of development on just one half of the population – what about more male allies?

The idea that men and boys should figure in to discussions about gender inequality is not new.

The White Ribbon Campaign, which began in 1991 in Canada, is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls and promote gender equity. Recognising that acts of violence against women are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, the now global campaign sees men as a necessary part of the solution.

Other organisations – Promundo, NOMAS, Men Can Stop Rape and MenEngage, to mention just a few – have been working to engage men and boys.

UN Women’s He for She Campaign, launched in March of this year, is another more recent and noteworthy initiative. Using Twitter and YouTube as platforms, the campaign asks men to speak up for gender equality by posting messages of solidarity to the cause. Hollywood heartthrobs such as Matt Damon and Patrick Stewart, humanitarian luminary Desmond Tutu and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon are among the campaign’s supporters.

Any single one of these efforts isn’t a panacea, but they all play an important part in achieving a common goal.

Men missing in UN debate

While these groups seem to be gaining steam, their messages still need more amplification.

Men are largely missing from a major part of the debate around the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda. The set of priorities laid out in this agenda will eventually replace the UN Millennium Development Goals, known as the MDGs, a shared framework for global action and cooperation.

This framework is highly influential. International development actors push initiatives that reflect the priorities of the eight MDGs. Variants of micro-finance and conditional cash transfers – popular with all of the aforementioned crowds – are examples of widespread programmes that are used to achieve any combination of MDGs No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, which target, respectively, poverty, universal primary education, gender equality, child mortality and maternal mortality.

In line with the belief in women as the engine of development, low-income women are usually the targeted beneficiaries of these programmes. In the case of conditional cash transfers, for instance, women receive cash stipends that require them to take advantage of prenatal exams and classes on nutrition and hygiene, and for their children school attendance and regular health checks. Evidence for the success of micro-financeand conditional cash transfers in empowering women is at best mixed.

And one thing we do know at this point is this: MDG No. 3, the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, isn’t going to be met.

Two changes

To address this, we can’t keep doing the same things. We need to make two changes. First, end the relative absence of men when we talk about and structure initiatives around “gender and development.” Second, acknowledge – and learn from – the organised efforts of men who are already committed to gender equality.

Because we currently fail to sufficiently do these two things men remain largely absent from crucial debates such as the one around the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda.

That men are missing from these conversations has at least three major ramifications. First, we disproportionately burden women with responsibility for development and the reduction of inequality. Second, we foreclose opportunity for men to express that they care about their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Third, we’re missing out on the power of half of the population.

We might be several months away from ringing in the new year, but crucial conversations about the post-2015 development agenda are happening now.

This month, at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, UN Women will be pushing for the inclusion of women’s rights and gender equality. Discussions happening there, as in conference halls and meeting spaces across the globe, could be highly influential.

We are currently at a pivot point – an opportunity to shift the conversation around the achievement of gender equality and who bears responsibility for it.

Some might worry that if men join this conversation women will once again be drowned out. This is valid. Men’s voices often take over and are the loudest in policy circles, upper level management of non-governmental organisations and government everywhere in the world. But disproportionately burdening women isn’t right – nor is excusing male absenteeism.

The male-driven or male-inclusive efforts underway embrace a hard-line assumption that gender equality is not a project for half the population, but for the whole one. If we give them more attention and support that can only boost the flagging global efforts to protect, educate and empower girls and women.

*Tara Cookson [2011] is doing a PhD in Geography. She researches women’s rights and development. She has worked as a project developer with marginalised communities in Canada and Latin America. Find out more about here at This blog was first published on Picture courtesy of

Obesity crisis is not just a lifestyle issue

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The “obesity crisis” has been given much media attention in recent months for two important reasons: there are many more people who are overweight and obese now than a generation ago in most countries worldwide, and there is a rising trend that is more than experts previously predicted. The UK in particular has the highest levels of obesity across Europe which has trebled in the last 25 years, while Mexico has the highest rate of increase in levels of obesity across the globe. Carrying extra pounds has many health consequences which create a heavy burden on the individual as well as their families and society more broadly. So, there is indeed a great need to raise public awareness about the importance of keeping a healthy weight and how governments and care providers can support people in doing so.

The causes reported in the media and elsewhere often focus on an individual’s balance between the energy consumed and the energy expended. And it is the consequences for national welfare, particularly for cost-constrained healthcare systems, that place obesity and its causes high on the agenda of policymakers. However, experts and researchers in the area recognise that the causes of obesity are complex and extend beyond an individual’s lifestyle choices related to diet and physical activity. Both sleep and stress are known to influence a person’s weight, but much less attention is given to these factors and to initatives that tackle them such as stress management.

More importantly, obesity is a prime example of a social inequality in health because not all social groups have the same levels, or rates of increase, of obesity. For example, there are strong and consistent educational differences in obesity levels such that lower educated groups have a higher proportion of individuals who are obese.

Financial hardship

However, even when individuals share similar levels of education (or social class or wealth), they may differ in their experience of everyday financial troubles. One of the largest drains on disposable income, especially for older people, is paying bills and affording adequate food and clothing. Yet both policy and health research give little attention to how financial hardships may be a unique determinant of obesity.

Recent research on British adults aged 50 and over showed that different types of financial hardship were more strongly correlated with the likelihood of obesity than education, social class or home-ownership. Findings also showed important differences between women and men in which type of financial hardship was most related to which type of obesity. In women, both body mass index (general obesity) and waist circumference (central obesity) were most likely to be highest when they reported the greatest level of difficulty paying bills. In men, greatest difficulty paying bills was most strongly related to a higher odds of general obesity while having less than enough money for needs was most strongly related to a higher odds of central obesity. Moreover, among adults employed in the British civil service, women but not men were more likely to gain excess weight (≥5 kg) when they experienced insufficient money for food or clothing at least twice or more over 11 years, after considering their education, employment grade and home-ownership. This study also found the relationship between financial hardship and excess weight gain remained robust to possible explanatory factors such as diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption.

Overall, current evidence indicates that public health policies need to consider the role of different types of financial hardship as part of strategies to support women’s and men’s effort to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. The research suggests, furthermore, that strategies to tackle obesity must address additional pathways of influence beyond energy balance.

Difficulty paying bills or frequently insufficient money for food or clothing is a bigger problem than simply an everyday financial trouble. A recent Science article indicates that financial concerns block cognitive function among poor individuals and that the impact of consuming more mental resources was comparable to losing a full night of sleep. Thus a considered approach to novel interventions could have significant health benefits.

*Annalijn Conklin [2011] has completed her PhD in Medical Science at the MRC Epidemiology Unit. Picture credit: and Stuart Miles.

The need for an Afghan voice in reform


The Western World is aware that international assistance is required to help rebuild less developed countries – providing institutional reform and capacity building that will, in turn, create a more democratic state. Unfortunately, there is a lack of awareness of what it takes to make these systems work in the different cultural settings. This is especially the case with Afghanistan, which is years behind in progress due to 35 years of conflict, and which struggles to maintain the proper equipment, electricity, literacy and so on needed for success.

Afghanistan is going through a critical period with the combination of the military drawdown and a transition to a new government leader. Therefore, international donor approaches should be realigned to coincide with this changing environment. In order to do this, it is important to speak with the Afghans who will, ultimately, be responsible for protecting their citizens and providing justice on a daily basis. In a recent report by USIP titled Rethinking Afghan Local Governance Aid After Transition, Francis Brown (2014) suggests that now is the time to reconsider donor approaches in order to ensure a successful transition in Afghanistan. In this report, Brown emphasises the need not only to re-examine top-down approaches in international aid, but to also consider bottom-up approaches simultaneously. It is the bottom-up approach, which the international community should recognise is the key to understanding the culture and what is needed for reform measures to be effective. Many scholars have studied the country – they understand the politics, they understand the culture, and they make recommendations for change. However, there may be a difference in the goals of the international community and those of the Afghan people.

For this reason, I have dedicated the last year of my life to understanding perceptions of the criminal justice system in Afghanistan from the perspective of those who are directly involved in the training – including Afghan trainees in criminal justice and their Western trainers. My research involves taking a closer look at criminal justice training programmes in Afghanistan, specifically police officers, lawyers and judges in training. I want to understand what the Afghan trainees believe to be the root of the problem and what they feel is needed most by the international community rather than how Westerners evaluate this. Therefore, I conducted interviews with Western trainers and I arranged for structured interviews in a written format to be distributed throughout Afghanistan, where Afghan trainees would be given an opportunity to speak their mind. I created questions about the rapport and the usefulness of the training and provided them with an opportunity to open up, and anonymously report what they felt was useful and what was lacking in the training and mentoring programmes. I posed questions such as ‘What do you see in the value of international aid?’,What are the challenges you face in delivering justice?’ and ‘What recommendations do you have in order to overcome these challenges?’. 

Tailoring training needs

With this research, I want to understand what prevents reform in transitional countries, such as Afghanistan, from progressing. If the international community opens the channels of communication with the individuals who are perhaps not the decision-makers or the leaders of the country, but rather the ones who are providing justice on a day-to-day basis, perhaps training and reform measures can be tailored to fit the needs of their local community and culture.

After hearing from numerous Afghans in the criminal justice sector and from their Western mentors, it is clear that it will take more than money, education, security and training to overcome the issues facing their criminal justice system. While this is, of course, a good start, successful reform requires participant buy-in. The individuals responsible for helping their country progress must first understand the importance of reform, and contribute to it by speaking up about their needs – whether it is based on training methods, topics or the cultural/religious needs for reform.

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to talk with numerous individuals involved in the criminal justice reform and even more privileged to have been able to obtain the thoughts and perceptions from many Afghan trainees – including police officers, lawyers and judges. I hope research of this sort can be expanded to other areas of reform and spark interest in the international community to seek out more answers from the bottom.

*Lindsey Murray [2013] has been studying an MPhil in Criminological Research. Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono and

Embryonic knowledge


How does biology intersect with society? A pioneering inter-disciplinary project at Arizona State University is looking at the issue from the perspective of embryo research.

The Embryo Project, directed by Jane Maienschein and Manfred Laubichler, brings together researchers from a variety of disciplines who look at the history, science and various issues surrounding the growing fields of embryology, development and reproductive medicine. The goals of the project include: university education, research and public outreach. One of the major products of the EP is the Embryo Project Encyclopedia. This was the major focus on my recent time at ASU as a visiting scholar and fellow of the project.

The EP Encyclopedia is an online open access encyclopedia with an enormous selection of what are called “found objects” such as photographs and lecture slides. Additionally, it contains thousands of vigorously reviewed articles on topics such as people, technology, concepts, law, you name it, of importance to embryology, development and reproductive medicine. The target audience of the EP Encyclopedia are those with a ninth grade to undergraduate level education. Importantly, articles are written in an accessible way, making science and other technical concepts clear – even to those without a science background.

My time at ASU was spent working amongst a group of individuals from a large variety of backgrounds. Among the five visiting scholars alone, there were backgrounds in history, biology, philosophy and sociology. I was drawn largely to the reproductive medicine emphasis of the project because of my PhD research on assisted human reproduction. My PhD research on Assisted Human Reproduction has made me acutely aware of the importance of understanding the social and regulatory implications of developing science and surrounding technologies. My time at ASU certainly opened my eyes to a new range of perspectives on this interaction. I have begun to consider other issues at this intersection for which the sociology has yet to be explored. For instance, it further peaked my interest in the sociological implications of new technologies of AHR such as oocyte cryopreservation (or egg freezing), a technology that is rapidly growing in popularity since the American Society for Reproductive Medicine declared it to be no longer experimental in 2012. Other issues include the use of embryos or humans eggs for research, such as cloning.

During my time at ASU, I learnt how to write for the EP Encyclopedia, reviewed preliminary drafts of other scholars’ articles, took a course on the review and editing process of the articles, and learnt how to put a reviewed article on the web. My first EP Encyclopedia article was an entry on the Canadian Assisted Human Reproduction, 2004, a piece of legislation that is a predominant focus of my PhD research. Needless to say, writing a comprehensive and accessible EP Encyclopedia article is no easy task. Writing an article requires extensive research. Difficult scientific, legal, and other concepts and processes need to be broken down and articulated in a manner that is accessible to individuals who are not experts in the area.

The past few decades have witnessed much technological advancement in the fields of assisted reproduction, development and embryology. It is crucial for informed public opinion and policy-making that these advances are recorded accurately and that the information is widely accessible. The Embryo Project Encyclopedia is as a useful tool towards achieving these goals.

You can browse the Embryo Project Encyclopedia online here.

*Katie Hammond [2011] is doing an MPhil in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies. Picture credit: and dream designs.

When impact is more important than invention

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Everyone wants to be an “inventor”. Few want to be a “developer”.

At an organisational level, acquisition of start-ups by large corporations to take on commercialisation of clever ideas too expensive to innovate in-house, is common. Despite the immense number of developers in industry, at an individual level the “inventor” title seems to come with more respect than the “developer” title, especially in the media.

In our society, hype around underdeveloped potentially breakthrough technology is pervasive, but in my view there is a gap in support for translation of these inventions into feasible, life-changing products by developers.

I have personally witnessed a lack of appreciation for the clever ideas and the huge time commitment required to make the pivotal, sometimes incremental changes required to launch a technology from bench to market, and a lack of resources to do so. This is especially true for resource-limited environments, where existing technology modified appropriately could radically improve quality of life for a portion of society. 

I would challenge scientists and engineers to pursue the unpopular task of innovating feasible improvements for existing technology to reach those in need rather than invest time in inventive but low-impact ideas. I encourage a shift of focus from being novel to being high-impact. This may sometimes mean supporting an existing project rather than pioneering a new one. 

Time investment should emulate financial investment trends

Everyone exercises extreme caution regarding financial spending, be it at an individual, organisational or governmental level.

Investors critically perform due diligence on market size and potential impact before financially investing in businesses. In the philanthropic realm, platforms which add transparency to the charity process are becoming increasingly popular because they allow donors to see how their funds can make the most impact.

At the most recent Global Scholars Symposium, I attended a talk by Dr Toby Ord, Founder of Giving What We Can, an organisation of individuals who pledge funds for high-impact charities. He discussed impact maximisation via philanthropic financial investment. He noted that for the price of training one guide dog and blind handler in a developed country, trachoma reversal surgeries could be performed to reverse blindness of 2,000 people in Africa.

This type of appraisal of health interventions via comparison of costs per health benefit, known as cost-effectiveness analysis, is a strategy which is becoming increasingly popular in informing health policy decisions. In the United Kingdom, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence uses cost-effectiveness analysis to make new drug recommendations to the National Health Service. Globally, cost-effectiveness analysis is used by the World Health Organisation CHOosing Interventions that are Cost Effective (WHO-CHOICE) project, to guide health policy makers.

Why aren’t analogous impact assessments crucial to time investment decisions in research?

Unlike financial investment, time investment towards research is not driven directly by estimated impact. It is driven by curiosity.

Research often focuses on proof-of-concept work and discovery, frequently with expanding scientific knowledge as the primary aim. “Impact” in an academic research context usually is measured as an “impact factor”, a metric which reflects the citation record of a journal, a study or a researcher. This may or may not correlate to the magnitude of impact the work can make in a field or on society. Even in application-oriented research, the purpose is not to commercialise a product. It is to think of one.

Therefore, I believe more “developers” as I have branded them, individuals who optimise but do not necessarily invent products, are needed to translate the proof-of-concept work from research into applicable but high-impact technologies. These developers should be mindful of how they invest their time, just as they are with their money, striving to contribute to projects which are the most influential.

Biomedical inventions especially need optimisation to maximise impact

Many effective medical technologies or therapies are too costly for all contexts.

Sometimes commercial viability of biomedical inventions or therapeutics exists only in developed countries, even though minor product optimisations could increase access to life-saving medical care in resource-limited settings through cost reduction and functionality additions.

For example, the global infant mortality rate exceeds 4.8 million annually, yet many leading infant mortality causes are largely preventable with safe and easy to administer existing medications. At the University of Cambridge Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology in collaboration with JustMilk, we are developing a non-invasive device for delivering life-saving nutrients and medications to breastfeeding infants. The single-use device*, worn by a mother during breastfeeding, releases therapeutics into milk as the infant feeds. Refrigeration, potable water, and sterilisation facilities are not required, and therefore the device has the potential to increase global access to existing paediatric medications.

Analogous technologies, those which capitalise on existing methods of increasing quality of life, are in need of individuals to invest time in supporting their commercialisation into resource-limited settings.

Many brilliant ideas are lost in translation from invention to product due to lack of support post-discovery. Iteratively improving and developing a technology so that it is effective in practice and not just principle takes time and insight. I encourage scientists and engineers to strive to invest their time as carefully as they would their money, to increase impact of promising technologies through development and optimisation. I also encourage society to recognise and support these contributing developers as world-changing innovators.

*Rebekah Scheuerle [2013] is doing a PhD in Chemical Engineering. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Saving Lives at Birth partnersJustMilk, or the University of Cambridge. Picture credit:

*This product is made possible through the generous support of the Saving Lives at Birth partners: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK Government.

Redefining rare disease


Rare disease is commonly defined strictly by its prevalence in a given population. For instance, a disease is considered rare if it affects less than one in 1,500 individuals in the United States or one in 2,000 in Europe. However, the current definition of disease rarity is not only overly simplistic, but also an obstacle to understanding uncommon health conditions. A closer look at just one rare disease reveals a need to question the definition of disease rarity and be mindful of its limitations.

Infection versus disease

Perhaps no other rare disease has been as oversimplified as toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. When a pregnant woman acquires this parasite for the first time during pregnancy, it can be transmitted to her foetus congenitally. This mode of transmission results in severe defects in the eyes and brains. Because congenital toxoplasmosis only affects one in 5,000 newborns in the US by some estimates, it is considered a rare disease.

Although toxoplasmosis may be rare, its disease-causing agent is not. In fact, over two billion people worldwide, including a quarter of the American population, harbour the parasite. What becomes apparent is that the current definition of rare disease makes an implicit distinction between infection and disease since infection by a disease-causing microbe does not automatically engender disease. However, while largely dormant, innocuous and asymptomatic in healthy adults, the T. gondii parasite may take advantage of a weakened immune system, emerge from quiescence and cause opportunistic infections, which ultimately result in full-blown toxoplasmosis. Even though the majority of the two billion infected individuals are healthy, they remain susceptible to T. gondii infections. It turns out that the T. gondii parasite may also affect infected individuals’ behaviour and personality. Recent studies suggest a causal relationship between dormant T. gondii parasite and psychological disorders, including schizophrenia.

By neglecting all of this, current ideas of what it means for a disease to be rare impedes our appreciation of the complexity and magnitude of the disease.

Limitations of the current understanding of rare disease

Moreover, basing decisions about the prevalence of a disease solely on how it affects the human population may downplay the problems it causes by failing to take into account its pervasiveness in other species and understating its true economic cost to society.

Toxoplasmosis, for example, affects nearly every warm-blooded animals, including all commercial livestock. It is the leading cause of abortion in sheep and goats. In 1996, toxoplasmosis alone cost the American agricultural industry $7.7 billion, an amount representing 10% of the country’s agricultural Growth Domestic Product at that time.

There may be more to a rare disease than meets the eye so it is imperative not to confine our perception of an uncommon health condition solely to the number of patients who have the disease and be aware of the complexity, magnitude and the true economic cost of that disease.

*Bo Shiun Lai [2013] is a Gates Cambridge Scholar pursuing a PhD in Pathology at the University of Cambridge. He helped develop a new paradigm that can deliver antiparasitic agents across multiple membrane barriers and published his findings on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Picture of cerebral toxoplasmosis courtesy of Jensflorian and Wiki Commons.


The public and private Isaac Newton


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In November of 1690, Isaac Newton sent a long essay to his friend, the philosopher and radical thinker John Locke. In it, Newton set forth the reasons he thought scripture had been corrupted over the centuries – and for his own disbelief in the Trinity, a key tenet of Anglicanism. He asked Locke to see about translating the work into French and having it published – anonymously – on the Continent. The contents of the essay were so controversial that Newton dared not attach his name to it.

The episode was unique. Never again would Newton come as close to publishing such sensitive material about his dramatically unorthodox religious beliefs. But the episode was also indicative of Isaac Newton’s lifelong relationship with publication. Never able merely to reject print culture outright – the rewards of priority, communication and prestige were too great for that – Newton was nevertheless intensely averse to the lack of control that accompanied publication.

Through a long and surprising series of events, Newton’s private papers, (including the original draft of the essay he sent to Locke) have survived to the present day. In The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts, I tell their story for the first time. Throughout the course of the nearly three centuries since Newton’s death, the papers have been examined only briefly and intermittently by a handful of people. Through a combination of suppression, neglect, and confusion, the complex, disordered papers were cloaked in mystery until very recently. Now the Newton Project has transcribed nearly 6.5 million words of the writing, including nearly all of his most private religious works. What was once private has become radically public.

The private Newton

What are we to make of the availability of this new material? Since these writings were largely inaccessible until now, how can we relate them to the much more public image of Newton, created in part by his two great publications, the Principia and the Opticks?

These questions have challenged scholars since the papers started to become available in the 1960s. Some have sought to unify the archive, seeking to make connections between the science and the non-science. Others have opted for a Newton of many parts, each free to pursue distinct projects. Such differences of analysis are partly due to changing historical tastes. In this sense, each generation gets the Newton it requires – or deserves. As further research is done on the papers, new arguments will undoubtedly be made about how to understand their contents. The drive to understand the inner world of a man as creative and intellectually important as Newton remains strong.

Newton’s attitude towards publication is one thread that can be used to stitch the archive together, should we wish to do so. Newton despised dispute. Once he had convinced himself that his answers to a question – whether of scientific, mathematical, or theological nature – were correct, he was loath to enter into a debate in order to prove it to others. Once his words were published, there was little he could do about how they were interpreted. Consequently, he was often very reluctant to make anything public.


The treatise that Newton sent to Locke was never published during his lifetime. A few months after he sent it, Newton had an abrupt change of heart. ‘I design to suppress them,’ he explained, begging Locke to stop the translation and printing of his words. He had decided that the contents of the essay were too heretical to risk making public in any form.

Newton was right to be wary. Though Locke returned Newton’s own copy of the essay, the translator retained a copy from which several subsequent copies were made. These circulated throughout the 18th century, and Newton’s own name was attached to an unauthorised and inaccurate publication of the entire essay in 1754.

Newton’s reluctance to publish did not only apply to heretical religious beliefs. He published very little of his mathematics during his lifetime. Had he been quicker to do so, he would have avoided the contentious priority dispute with Gottfried Liebniz over the discovery of the calculus. With his natural philosophy and his optics, Newton was more open, but only when friends and supporters convinced him it was in his interest to be so. If Newton had his own way, he would most likely have communicated his scientific discoveries sparingly, in manuscript rather than print, and only to those he deemed friends.

Would Newton be horrified to know that his most private thoughts are now accessible to anyone online? Probably. But he had himself taken care to save these papers throughout his long life. He believed that the day would come when his version of Christianity would be revealed to the masses as the true religion. Perhaps he hoped that then his papers would be able to be freely read and distributed. Theologically speaking, that day has not come, but what has arrived is the moment when Newton’s private beliefs – though still vexing and difficult to understand – are a part of his public image.

*Sarah Dry [2003] did a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science. Her book The Newton Papers: The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton’s Manuscripts is published this month by Oxford University Press. Sarah Dry blogs at