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: 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 Google right to abandon its search engine in

This week Google carried out its threat to abandon its Chinese-language search engine in China, google.cn, 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 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: Are we heading towards a hung parliament, and how

Until the end of January all opinion polls were telling us that the Conservatives were heading for decisive victory at the general election, likely to take place on 6 May. But in the past four or five weeks, the gap between the main parties has been narrower. Judging by the current polls, it appears that the Conservatives will be the largest party in the new Parliament, but will not have enough MPs to control it outright.

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 the Yorkshire Ripper going to be released early

The serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, who was given 20 life sentences in 1981 for murdering 13 women – he was known as the Yorkshire Ripper because he mutilated his victims' bodies with a sharpened screwdriver – has applied to the High Court for a ruling on how much longer he must serve in jail.

The Big Question: Does lobbying threaten to drag politics further into

David Cameron this week warned that political lobbying was about to produce the next big scandal unless there was more transparency, arguing that it was "an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money".

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.