Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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“True” stories of the obesity epidemic

“Eat right and exercise”: amid the cacophony of diet fads and aids, conflicting reports regarding what causes obesity, and debate about whether and what kind of fat might be good for us after all, this seems like pretty sound and refreshingly simple advice. On the surface, it is: it’s hard to argue against good nutrition or circulation. But dig a bit deeper and it’s a veritable political and cultural minefield.

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Health inequalities call for advocacy and public engagement

What role, then, might evidence play in policy development around health inequalities? Perhaps it’s time to move beyond the idea of evidence-based policy to start focusing on how different kinds of actors employ evidence in policy debates. This includes understanding how interests that can run counter to public health, such as unhealthy commodity producers like the tobacco industry, engage with policy debates about health inequalities.

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World Internet Day: A reading list on older adults’ internet use

The internet is arguably the most important invention in recent history. To recognize its importance, World Internet Day is celebrated each year on October 29, the date on which the first electronic message was transferred from one computer to another in 1969. At that time, a UCLA student programmer named Charley Kline was working under the supervision of his professor Leonard Klinerock, and transferred a message from a computer housed at UCLA to one at Stanford.

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Place of the Year 2016: behind the longlist

We continue our reflection on 2016 with a more in depth look at the nominees for Place of the Year. Previously, we introduced our readers to the nominees simply as a list. Now, we’d like to go a bit more in-depth with each of the nominees.

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Australia in three words, part 3 — “Public servant”

‘Public Servant’ — in the sense of ‘government employee’ — is a term that originated in the earliest days of the European settlement of Australia. This coinage is surely emblematic of how large bureaucracy looms in Australia. Bureaucracy, it has been well said, is Australia’s great ‘talent,’ and “the gift is exercised on a massive scale” (Australian Democracy, A.F. Davies 1958). This may surprise you. It surprises visitors, and excruciates them.

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Will print die?: When the inevitable isn’t

Mark Twain is reputed to have quipped, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Such hyperbole aptly applies to predictions that digital reading will soon triumph over print.
In late 2012, Ben Horowitz (co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz Venture Capital) declared, “Babies born today will probably never read anything in print.” Now four years on, the plausibility of his forecast has already faded.

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The power of volunteering: you make me happy and I make you happy

Millions of people across the world work for voluntary organisations and invest their abundant energies into helping their communities. Historically, establishments of voluntary organisations date back to at least the nineteenth century, when some of the world’s largest voluntary organisations, such as the Red Cross, were established to help people in need for free. To date, volunteer work remains a popular activity among the public worldwide.

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Witches, werewolves, and Christmas

In Hamlet, Marcellus, referring to the royal ghost, says: “It faded on the crowing of the cock. Some say that ever gainst that season comes wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, this bird of dawning singeth all night long, and then, they say, no spirit dare walk abroad, The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallowed and so gracious is that time.”

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How Americans found information before the Internet

How was information used before the age of Google? Cookbooks showed people how to make new dishes; instructions packed with disassembled toys carried the terror-filled message “some assembly required” and ensured hours of labor on Christmas Eve for millions of parents. Today, people “Google”, but this kind of information gathering has occurred since the seventeenth century.

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Barriers to sexual freedom in assisted living

The baby boom generation came of age at a time that pushed boundaries of sexual freedom. Changes in attitudes and behaviors about sexuality were framed by the sexual revolution, women’s rights, gay rights, and the birth control pill. Decades later, the first wave of this generation is now turning 65. While most boomers still have a decade or more before they consider moving into assisted living facilities, a study suggests that sexual freedom is difficult to come by for those who currently reside in a structured environment such as assisted living.

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Tightrope walking: The future of political science

Imagine standing at the edge of a precipice. A combination of forces are pushing at your back, biting at your heels and generally forcing you to step into an unknown space. A long thin tightrope without any apparent ending stretches out in front of you and appears to offer your only lifeline. Doing nothing and standing still is not an option. You lift up your left foot and gingerly step out….

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Human-animal chimeras and dehumanization

The US government recently announced that it was lifting its moratorium on funding certain experiments that use human stem cells to create animals that are partly human. At present scientists are only interested in creating entities with some human qualities, but which remain “mostly” animals. For example, some scientists want to create a chimeric pig with a human-enough heart to transplant into a human. Distinguishing between humans and other animals is common in most cultures.

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Genome editing’s brave new world

“O, wonder!/How many goodly creatures are there here!/How beauteous mankind is!/O brave new world,/That has such people in’t!” Shakespeare’s lines in The Tempest famously inspired Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, first published in 1932. Huxley’s vision of the future has become a byword for the idea that attempts at genetic (and social) engineering are bound to go wrong. With its crude partitioning of society, by stunting human development before birth, and with its use of a drug – soma – to induce a false sense of happiness and suppress dissent, this was the opposite of a ‘beauteous’ world.

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The quest for order in modern society

Opening the morning paper or browsing the web, routine actions for us all, rarely if ever shake our fundamental beliefs about the world. If we assume a naïve, reflective state of mind, however, reading newspapers and surfing the web offer us quite a different experience: they provide us with a glimpse into the kaleidoscopic nature of the modern era that can be quite irritating.

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Why the science of happiness can trump GDP as a guide for policy

For centuries, happiness was exclusively a concern of the humanities; a matter for philosophers, novelists and artists. In the past five decades, however, it has moved into the domain of science and given us a substantial body of research. This wellspring of knowledge now offers us an enticing opportunity: to consider happiness as the leading measure of well-being, supplanting the current favourite, real gross domestic product per capita, or GDP.

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Influencing social policy in the public interest

How can psychologists and other social scientists interested in making a difference become more fully and effectively engaged in the policy world? To address this question, in-depth interviews were conducted with 79 psychologists who were asked to describe their policy experiences over the course of their careers, with particular focus on a major policy success.

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