Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Why you can’t take a pigeon to the movies

Films trick our senses in many ways. Most fundamentally, there’s the illusion of motion as “moving pictures” don’t really move at all. Static images shown at a rate of 24 frames per second can give the semblance of motion. Slower frame rates tend to make movements appear choppy or jittery. But film advancing at about 24 frames per second gives us a sufficient impression of fluid motion.

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Microbes matter

By John Archibald
We humans have a love-hate relationship with bugs. I’m not talking about insects — although many of us cringe at the thought of them too — but rather the bugs we can’t see, the ones that make us sick. Sure, microorganisms give us beer, wine, cheese, and yoghurt; hardly a day goes by without most people consuming food or drink produced by microbial fermentation.

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Bioscience, flies, and the future of teleportation

By William Hoffman
In pondering how rapidly animal, plant, microbial, viral, and human genetic and regulatory sequences travel around the world over wireless and fiber optic networks, I’m transported back to the sci-fi movie The Fly I watched as a boy. Released in 1958, the film was based on a story George Langelaan published in Playboy.

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Animals could help reveal why humans fall for illusions

By Laura Kelley and Jennifer Kelley
Visual illusions, such as the rabbit-duck (shown below) and café wall are fascinating because they remind us of the discrepancy between perception and reality. But our knowledge of such illusions has been largely limited to studying humans.

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Tracking down a slow loris

By Mary Blair
Slow lorises are enigmatic nocturnal primates that are notoriously difficult to find in the wild. The five species of slow loris that have been evaluated by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species are classified as threatened or critically endangered with extinction. So, how did one end up recently on the set of Lady Gaga’s music video?

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The Man in the Monkeynut Coat and the men in the yellow jerseys

By Kersten Hall
It is a safe bet that the name of Pierre Rolland rings very few bells among the British public. In 2012, Rolland, riding for Team Europcar finished in eighth place in the overall final classifications of the Tour de France whilst Sir Bradley Wiggins has since become a household name following his fantastic achievement of being the first British person ever to win the most famous cycle race in the world.

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Coral reef stresses

By Charles Sheppard
Coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystem in the sea. In some ways they are very robust marine ecosystems, but in other ways, perhaps because of their huge numbers of species, they are very delicate and susceptible to being damaged or killed. On the one hand, healthy reefs are glorious riots of life, and marine scientists have spent several decades unravelling the complicated ways in which they work. On the other hand, at least one third of the world’s reefs have already died – gone for ever in terms of human lifetimes at least – even when the cause of their demise is lifted.

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Investing for feline futures

By Rachael A. Bay
For tigers, visiting your neighbor is just not as easy as it used to be. Centuries ago, tigers roamed freely across the landscape from India to Indonesia and even as far north as Russia. Today, tigers inhabit is just 7% of that historical range. And that 7% is distributed in tiny patches across thousands of kilometers.

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Faith and science in the natural world

By Tom McLeish
There is a pressing need to re-establish a cultural narrative for science. At present we lack a public understanding of the purpose of this deeply human endeavour to understand the natural world. In debate around scientific issues, and even in the education and presentation of science itself, we tend to overemphasise the most recent findings, and project a culture of expertise.

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Climate change and our evolutionary weaknesses

By Dale Jamieson
In the reality-based community outside of Washington D.C. there is a growing fear and increasing disbelief about the failure to take climate change seriously. Many who once put their faith in science and reason have come to the depressing conclusion that we will only take action if nature slaps us silly; they increasingly see hurricanes and droughts as the only hope.

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Gene flow between wolves and dogs

By David Tarkhnishvili
Rapid development of molecular genetics in recent decades has revolutionized our understanding of life and the natural world. Scientists in the 1970s suggested that the grey wolf might be the sole ancestor of domestic dogs, but it was only in 1997 that Carles Vilà, Peter Savolainen, Robert Wayne, and their co-authors provided the conclusive evidence on this based on the analysis of molecular genetic markers.

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Looking forward to the Hay Festival 2014

By Kate Farquhar-Thomson
Every year since I can remember, I find myself in England’s famous book town for the excellent Hay Festival. Now in its 27th year the eponymous book festival can be found nestling under canvass for 11 days in the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

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Why do frogs slough their skin?

By Rebecca Cramp
In recent decades, the extraordinarily rapid disappearance of frogs, toads, and salamanders has grabbed the attention of both the scientific community and concerned citizens the world over. Although the causes of some of these losses remain unresolved, the novel disease chytridiomycosis caused by the skin-based fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), has been identified as the causative agent in many of the declines and extinctions worldwide.

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Arbor Day: an ecosystem perspective

By Frank S. Gilliam
I would like to suggest that as we, as responsible citizens, observe Arbor Day 2014, we also begin looking at forests as more than simply numerous trees growing in stands. Rather, we need to look at forests as ecosystems that are not only important in and of themselves, but also provide essential functions—so-called ecosystem services—to sustain the quality of human life.

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The amoeba in the room

By Nicholas P. Money
The small picture is the big picture and biologists keep missing it. The diversity and functioning of animals and plants has been the meat and potatoes of most natural historians since Aristotle, and we continue to neglect the vast microbial majority.

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Earth Day, 44 years on

By Ellen Wohl
The 1960s are famous for many reasons: the civil rights movement, the first moon walk, the Cuban missile crisis, rock and roll. The 1960s were also a period when awareness of environmental degradation spread to society at large.

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