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Christopher Columbus may have brought syphilis to Europe after all. EO Wilson changes his mind on group selection. Plus, climate lessons from 90m years ago—or not

By Philip Ball   February 2008

Where did syphilis originate?

Blaming America for the woes of the world is an old European habit. Barely three decades after Columbus’s crew returned from the new world, a Spanish doctor accused them of bringing back the new disease that was haunting Europe: syphilis. All social strata were afflicted: kings, cardinals and popes suffered from it alongside soldiers. Treatments were fierce and of limited value—inhalations of mercury vapour, for instance, had side effects as bad as the symptoms.

But during the 20th century it became fashionable to doubt the new-world origin of syphilis: perhaps the disease was a dormant…

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