The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are in a critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, UK, following exposure to an unknown nerve agent. Several locations in the city have been cordoned off and decontaminated since the pair were found unconscious on a park bench on March 5. But what are nerve agents exactly and how do they affect the body?
The first nerve agents were invented by accident in the 1930s when researchers were trying to make cheaper and better alternatives to nicotine as insecticides. In their search, German scientists made two organic compounds containing phosphorus that were very effective at killing insect pests. However, they soon discovered that, even in minuscule amounts, the substances caused distressing symptoms in humans exposed to them.
The two substances – too toxic to be used as commercial insecticides in agriculture – became known as tabun and sarin. The research was handed over to the Wehrmacht (the Nazi armed forces), which evaluated them as weapons and began constructing plants to manufacture them. The sarin plant was not operational by the time the Third Reich collapsed, but fell in to the hands of Soviet forces that overran Poland and Germany.
Cognitive bias occurs when we make subjective assumptions about people or situations based on our own perception of reality. This can lead to irrational decisions and judgement calls that affect those around us. They can alter the way you see everything without you even realising it.
Identifying the problem is the first step towards rational thinking. Here are 24 distinct biases that you need to be aware of - from "declinism" (believing the past was better than the present) to "fundamental attribution error" (judging others on their character but yourself on the situation).