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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Science & Medicine

Mental disorder or something magical?

Each generation finds their own way of understanding mental distress. The ‘shell-shocked’ soldiers of World War I were understood at the time to be of weak character, although now we might diagnose them with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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A Sand County Almanac at 75: the evolution of the land ethic

A lot changes in 75 years. In 1949, when Oxford University Press published Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac with “The Land Ethic” included, there were about 2.5 billion people alive on Earth. The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was just over 310 parts per million. The average global temperature was 0.6 degrees Celsius below the average for the twentieth century.

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Is humanity a passing phase in evolution of intelligence and civilisation?

In light of the recent spectacular developments in artificial intelligence (AI), questions are now being asked about whether AI could present a danger to humanity. Can AI take over from us? Is humanity a passing phase in the evolution of intelligence and civilisation? Let’s look at these questions from the long-term evolutionary perspective.

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The hidden toll of war

During war, the news media often focus on civilian injuries and deaths due to explosive weapons. But the indirect health impacts of war among civilians occur more frequently—often out of sight and out of mind.

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Who do you think you are? Genetics and identity

Ethnicity and ethnic identity have been recently brought to the fore in the Western world. One important reason is that immigration and globalization have resulted in a variety of clashes among different groups in very different contexts. However, there is another reason: DNA ancestry testing.

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Beyond God and atheism

One of the most remarkable findings of recent science is that the fundamental constants of nature appear to be fine-tuned for the existence of life. Some think the fine-tuning of physics points to a God, who set the numbers to ensure life comes about. Others think it points to a multiverse: if there are enough universes with enough variety in their laws of nature, then it becomes statistically likely that at least one with be right for life. I think there are big problems with both these options, and we may need more radical solutions.

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Of language, brain health, and global inequities

One of the greatest public health challenges of our century lies in the growth of neurodegenerative disorders. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and frontotemporal dementia stand as major contributors to disability and mortality in affluent and under-resourced nations alike.

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Scientific writing as a research skill

Scientific papers are often hard to read, even for specialists that work in the area. This matters because potential readers will often give up and do something else instead. And that means the paper will have less impact.

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How can business leaders add value with intuition in the age of AI? [Long Read]

In a speech to the Economic Club of Washington in 2018, Jeff Bezos described how Amazon made sense of the challenge of if and how to design and implement a loyalty scheme for its customers. This was a highly consequential decision for the business; for some time, Amazon had been searching for an answer to the question: “what would loyalty program for Amazon look like?”
A junior software engineer came up with the idea of fast, free shipping. But a big problem was that shipping is expensive. Also, customers like free shipping, so much so that the big eaters at Amazon’s “buffet” would take advantage by free shipping low-cost items which would not be good for Amazon’s bottom-line. When the Amazon finance team modelled the idea of fast, free shipping the results “didn’t look pretty.” In fact, they were nothing short of “horrifying.”

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