Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

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: 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 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: 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: Is Google gaining a monopoly on the world's

It is the nagging fear that has just been given voice in a Manhattan courtroom. Dozens of Google's opponents lined up to damn the internet pioneer as monopolistic, rapacious, and contemptuous of laws that protect copyright and protect consumers from dominant corporations. Google's response could be summed up as: "Who? Us?"

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 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: Are we heading towards a 3D screen future?

The technology is suddenly everywhere – heralded as the future of television and transforming cinema-goers' experience. This week rugby sponsors O2 announced that England's upcoming Six Nations matches with Wales and Ireland would be beamed live in 3D to 40 Odeon and Cineworld cinemas nationwide next month. Meanwhile James Cameron's Avatar is proving the most successful 3D movie ever made, with takings that have topped over $1bn, and Pixar's Up took $680m globally. In 2010 around 20 out of 170 movies will be made in 3D, double the number from last year. A 3D animated remake of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is also in the pipeline. At last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas all the major TV manufacturers unveiled 3D sets. BSkyB plans to launch a 3D channel later this year.

The Big Question: Do juryless trials risk obscuring the transparency

This week Britain's first crown court criminal trial to take place without a jury in more than 400 years started at the Royal Courts of Justice. The case, involving four men accused of a £1.75m armed robbery, is being heard by a judge, sitting alone, who will decide upon the men's guilt or otherwise.

The Big Question: What does an abusive email tell us about the state

Tom Hicks Jnr, a director of Liverpool FC and the son of the club's co-owner, Tom Hicks, sent an abusive email to a Liverpool fan, Steve Horner after Mr Horner had emailed him on 9 January, copying in a link to an article in the Liverpool Echo that discussed Liverpool's debts.