Big Question

The Big Question: How many of the paintings in our public museums are

The National Gallery is just about to mount a major exhibition about faking in art. It reveals in the course of the exhibition that the gallery itself has been duped again and again in the past. A work said to be by Botticelli, for example, one of a pair purchased in the third quarter of the 19th century, was later discovered to be the work of a pasticheur, painted in the style of Botticelli. Works by other old masters have been proven to be by studio assistants, friends of the artists, or even by fakers who may have lived hundreds of years later.

The Big Question: What is legal aid and should we be providing so much

On Monday, it was announced that three former Labour MPs – David Chaytor, Jim Devine and Elliot Morley – had won the right to receive legal aid to fight charges of false accounting relating to their parliamentary expenses. The news thrust MPs' expenses back into the spotlight and did no favours to the legal aid system, so often the butt of politicians' ire.

The Big Question: Why is Wagner's legacy proving so bitter both to

On Sunday a memorial service will be held in Bayreuth in Germany for Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, who died on 21 March aged 90. Wolfgang Wagner ran the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth, the annual celebration of his grandfather's operas, from 1951 to 2008. Now it has been revealed that his son, Gottfried, has not been invited to the memorial service – the latest twist in a long-running family feud – and the German Chancellor and Wagner-lover Angela Merkel may be called on to intervene.

The Big Question: Who are the Naxalites and will they topple the

Earlier this week, at least 76 Indian paramilitaries on a four-day patrol were killed in a co-ordinated ambush by hundreds of insurgents in dense jungle in the central state of Chhattisgarh. It was the deadliest single strike against government forces in a bloody insurgency that has stretched for more than four decades and in which at least 6,000 people have lost their lives. The authorities appeared deeply shocked by the ambush, in which the rebels used a combination of automatic weapons and landmines. A further 50 troops were injured in the incident, which experts said showed an intelligence failure by government forces. "This shows the true nature of the [rebels] and their brutality and the savagery they are capable of," said India's home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram.

The Big Question: Should the United States name China a currency

The reason why the US Treasury is even thinking about this dreaded term is because China has effectively kept its currency, the renminbi or yuan, pegged against the US dollar since July 2008, despite having allowed it to appreciate by about 21 per cent against the dollar over the previous three years.

The Big Question: Is Iraq on the road to democracy?

Iraqis went to the polls on 7 March to choose a 325-member parliament to replace the one elected in 2005. The results have only recently been announced and are being challenged by the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It is expected to take four or five months to produce a new government and violence has not diminished. Bombings in Baghdad on Sunday killed 41 people and wounded a further 437.

The Big Question: Are efforts to tackle home-grown Muslim extremism

A cross-party committee of MPs have just finished a six-month investigation into Prevent, the government's anti-radicalisation programme, and have decided that it is doing exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do. Prevent is supposed to help British Muslims stand up to the small number of extremists in their midst and encourage those who might be tempted by terrorism to turn their backs on it. But a report published this week by the MPs found that it was, in fact, doing more harm than good.

The Big Question: Is Google right to abandon its search engine in

This week Google carried out its threat to abandon its Chinese-language search engine in China,, transferring it instead to Hong Kong, which is a Special Administrative Region of China since the handover in 1997 and does not have to obey Chinese censorship rules. Predictably, mainland Chinese users are not able to access the site easily.

The Big Question: Should pre-election giveaways feature in Mr

The Chancellor has been presented with a modest windfall of £8-12bn from higher-than-expected tax receipts, thanks to the rally in share prices, lower borrowing and lower-than-expected unemployment reducing the cost of the jobless. So in spite of predicting in last year's Budget that Britain's economy faced the worst year since the Second World War, Darling could afford a flutter with his windfall.

The Big Question: Is Britain's international ranking in higher

For the first time since Labour came to power university budgets are being cut. According to allocations this week from the Higher Education Funding Council (Hefce), the body that handles university funding in England for the Government, three-quarters of English universities are facing real-term cuts as a result of the squeeze on public finances. The total higher education budget of £7.3bn for the academic year beginning in the autumn of 2010 is being slashed by £573m. This week's allocations show some universities doing worse than others – among the biggest losers are the London Business School, which is losing 14 per cent (when inflation is taken into account), and Reading, which faces a 7.7 per cent cut in cash terms. But Worcester University is a big winner; it has been given the biggest increase, of 13 per cent in cash terms, because of rising student numbers.

The Big Question: Should 12, rather than 10, be the age of criminal

The new Children's Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, said at the weekend that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to 12. She told The Times: "The age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10 – that's too low. It should certainly be moved up to 12. In some European countries it's 14. People may be offenders, but they are also children. Even the most hardened of youngsters who have committed some very difficult crimes are not beyond being frightened."

The Big Question: Is healthcare reform going to break the Obama

Mr Obama has said he wants a final up-or-down vote on a measure to reshape US healthcare, a goal which has defeated every American president since Harry Truman, and with the approach of November's mid-term elections, the stakes grow higher by the day. Healthcare reform has turned into an acid test for the country's entire political system. As Mr Obama put it this week: "At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem."

The Big Question: Is Britain's cocaine problem out of control, and

A report released by the Home Affairs Select Committee suggests that cocaine is now seen as socially acceptable in Britain and that while much is being done to tackle the supply side of the cocaine industry not enough is being done to address the spiralling demand. The report by MPs came a day after a separate NHS report identified a worrying increase in hospital admissions relating to cocaine use among teenagers.

The Big Question: Why the concern over the conduct of the press, and

Because MPs on the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMS) yesterday published a report calling for wide-ranging reform of the way the press operates, including demands for major changes to the libel laws and recommendations relating to an individual's right to privacy.

The Big Question: What do we know about the human brain and the way it

Scientists this week announced that they had succeeded in communicating with a man thought to be in a vegetative state, lacking all awareness, for five years following a road accident. Using a brain scanner they were able to read his thoughts and obtain yes or no answers to questions. They asked him to imagine playing tennis if he wanted to answer yes and to imagine walking through his home if he wanted to say no. By mapping the different parts of the brain activated in each case with the scanner, the scientists were able accurately record his reponses.

The Big Question: How badly will £900m cuts damage the quality of

On a quiet day just before Christmas the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, announced cuts in university spending. This amounted to £518m being lopped off higher education funding next year (2010 to 2011). There was an outcry from vice-chancellors, students, lecturers and opposition MPs, and the Russell Group of research-intensive universities did a fast calculation, adding in some other cuts already announced (£600m in the pre-Budget report, plus a further £180m of "efficiency savings, for example), and came up with the figure of £900m. Michael Arthur and Wendy Piatt, the Russell Group's chairman and director-general respectively, said such "huge" cuts could lead to the closure of 30 universities. On Monday Higher Education Minister David Lammy said universites need their own sources of income.