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: 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: Why does the conflict between Russia and Chechnya

On Monday, 39 people died after two female suicide bombers, believed to be from Russia's troubled North Caucasus, blew themselves up on the Moscow underground. Russian intelligence believes that other suicide bombers, members of the same group, are out there, waiting to launch equally bloody and symbolic attacks on prestigious sites close to the Kremlin. Their leader, Doku Umarov, claimed responsibility.

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 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 legal-high drugs such as mephedrone now be

Two teenagers from Scunthorpe, Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, died on Monday, apparently after taking mephedrone. Police are investigating whether they were taking other drugs. Their deaths have focused attention on the perils of so called "legal highs", chemical and herbal preparations sold on the high street and over the web which are claimed to have effects similar to illegal drugs of abuse but have not been specifically banned.

The Big Question: Why are Thai protesters giving blood, and when will

In recent days, the streets of Bangkok have been swamped by tens of thousands of boisterous red-shirted protesters who say they are marching to save Thailand's democracy. As the so-called Red Shirts have filled the streets of the Thai capital they have been noisy but overwhelmingly peaceful. They have now started collecting blood – asking for 20 teaspoons from each demonstrator – and splashing it on the floor outside the Prime Minister's office. Health officials argue such a large amount of donated blood could be put to good use medically.

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: Should we act to eliminate the risks in using social

On Monday, Peter Chapman, 33, was sentenced to a minimum of 35 years in prison for the murder of Darlington teenager Ashleigh Hall. Chapman, a convicted sex offender, was "very active" on a stolen black Acer laptop in the period leading up to the murder; it later transpired that he had used the social networking website Facebook in order to choose his victim. While websites such as Facebook usually play a passive, benign role in crimes that headlines might suggest are entirely attributable to them, this is one case where the death of a young woman was indeed caused by the ease of constructing a false Facebook identity, coupled with a tragic ignorance of the signs we should all look for, and the rules we should all follow.

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 Wayne Rooney now the best striker in world

Manchester United had never beaten AC Milan, the seven-times European champions, on their own ground, the San Siro, until Tuesday night when Rooney, now 24, carved apart one of the great defences in world football to score twice in a 3-2 win. In the past month he has scored four times against Hull, struck the winner against Manchester City in the Carling Cup semi-final and swept Arsenal aside on their own pitch. He is the one Englishman who would qualify automatically for a World XI in any interplanetary Champions League.

The Big Question: What's gone wrong in Kenya, and is the peace deal

Kenya's President, Mwai Kibaki, and Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, have had a very public falling out over the latter's attempt to suspend two cabinet ministers suspected of involvement in serious corruption. The duelling partners in Kenya's peculiar power-sharing government have been squabbling nearly constantly since their shotgun marriage in early 2008. The newspapers in Nairobi chart the daily theatre of scandals, arguments and reconciliations in the bloated unity government.

The Big Question: What's the truth behind the fate that befell the

In January 1945, some 10,000 Allied prisoners of war were evacuated from the prison where the escape made famous in the film The Great Escape had taken place the year before. They were forced on a trek west on Hitler's orders to escape the Russians to the east. This week, veterans of the so-called Long March, and their relatives, are to recreate their ordeal as a training exercise in survival for today's young RAF softies, whom they suspect of being insufficiently schooled in the rigours of getting back to Blighty through a hostile environment in a harsh winter. The escape officer is Dr Howard Tuck, a Cambridge historian, born long after the end of real hostilities.

The Big Question: What is the Tea Party movement, and could it change

Scott Brown, the shock Republican winner of this week's election in Massachusetts to choose a successor to the late Senator Edward Kennedy, is America's latest political sensation. But the most significant recent development in US politics is the emergence of the Tea Party movement, a populist organisation that contributed to Brown's victory, and which could reshape the country's political landscape at November's mid-term elections here.

The Big Question: Should the BBC drop the Met Office as its official

Rather than renewing its current weather forecasting contract with the Met Office automatically, when it expires in April, the BBC is putting it out to tender – for the first time since 1922, when national broadcaster and national forecaster first became partners. No one on either side says how much the contract is worth.