Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Science & Medicine

Using math to understand inequity

What can math tell us about unfairness? Bias, discrimination, and inequity are phenomena that are deeply complex, context sensitive, personal, and intersectional. The mathematical modeling of social scenarios, on the other hand, is a practice that necessitates simplification. Using models to understand what happens in our social realm means representing the complex with something much […]

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Does Consciousness Have a Function?

Perhaps, the most fascinating question about consciousness is the Hard Problem. It’s the problem of explaining why and how subjective experiences arise from complex electrochemical interactions happening in the brain. It is Hard because the working of the brain should be fully described in term of physical interactions, leaving no room for subjective experiences to fit within our current views of the physical world.

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Why doctors are like pilots

A recent analysis of the Boeing 737 Max disasters concludes that while technical malfunctions contributed to the crashes, “an industry that puts unprepared pilots in the cockpit is just as guilty.” Journalist William Langewiesche uses the term “airmanship” to encompass an array of skills and experience necessary to the safe and effective guidance of an airplane. “It includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia and wings. Airplanes are living things.”

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How to write about science or technology clearly

Today, English is the international language of science and technology. People around the world read and write science or technical articles in English. A clear writing style helps to make your work easier to read, both for the colleague down the hall, and the one on the other side of the world. One key to […]

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The problem of consciousness

Many people find consciousness deeply puzzling. It is often described as one of the few remaining problems for science to address that is genuinely deep—perhaps even unsolvable. Indeed, consciousness is thought to present a challenge to the prevailing scientific image of the universe as physical through-and-through. In part this puzzlement arises because people are (at […]

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A Job I Never Expected

In her late eighties, my mother begins to lose her grip. Checks bounce. Bills are misplaced and go unpaid. Bottles of Grey Goose vodka appear more frequently in her recycling bin. Afraid for her safety, friends begin putting her in a cab after they finish playing bridge. Soon she is dropped from the group.

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Why the holidays are the loneliest time for seniors

The winter holidays are a time to celebrate family, friends, and community. But for the millions of older adults worldwide who have no family, few friends nearby, or are lonely and socially isolated, December is far from the most wonderful time of the year. A survey carried out by AARP in 2017 found that 28 percent of […]

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AI is dangerous, but not for the reasons you think.

In 1997, Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, the reigning world chess champion. In 2011, Watson defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, the world’s best Jeopardy players. In 2016, AlphaGo defeated Ke Jie, the world’s best Go player. In 2017, DeepMind unleashed AlphaZero, which trounced the world-champion computer programs at chess, Go, and shogi. Perhaps computers have moved so far beyond our intelligence that we should rely on them to make our important decisions. Nope.

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Why scientists should be atheists

My friend and colleague George asked me, “Do you think a scientist can be an atheist?” I replied, “Not only can a scientist be an atheist, he should be one.” I was teasing because I knew what response George wanted to hear and this was not it. Sure enough, he shook his head. The only logical position that a scientist can take, he said, is to be an agnostic because we can never know the answer to the question of whether God exists or not.

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The Oxford Place of the Year 2019 is…

After a close round of voting, the winner of our Place of the Year 2019 is the atmosphere! While the global conversation around climate change has increased in recent years, 2019 set many records – this past summer tied for the hottest one on record in the northern hemisphere, continuing the trend of extreme weather set […]

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How to address the enigmas of everyday life

Here are some hard questions: Is the value of human life absolute? Should we conform to the prevalent values? The questions are hard because each has reasonable but conflicting answers. When circumstances force us to face them, we are ambivalent. We realize that there are compelling reasons for both of the conflicting answers. This is not an abstract problem, but a predicament we encounter when we have to make difficult decisions whose consequences affect how we live, our relationships, and our attitude to the society in which we live.

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Why young people suffer more from pollution

Around the world, young adults are voicing concern that the climate is in crisis and are correctly describing this as an intergenerational inequity. The adults who determine the quality of our air are continuing to burn fossil fuels, which release the pollutants that science shows could negatively and dramatically alter planetary conditions as early as […]

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The truth about ‘Latinx’ [a revision]

In recent years, the term Latinx has become popular in academic settings in English to designate a group of people without reference to gender, which is designated by -o and -a endings in some Romance languages. While academics and Twitter users have begun to use the term, only 2% of the U.S. population actually identifies with this word. Latinx has become so widely used that Elizabeth Warren has taken to using it on the campaign trail.

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Connecting families through open adoption

The term “open adoption” is unfamiliar to much of the general public, and yet it describes the reality of adoption today. These are adoptions in which there is some contact or exchange of information between birth families and adoptive families, before or after the adoption. With growing awareness of the benefits of openness for children […]

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Announcing the shortlist for the Place of the Year 2019

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of you voted on our eight nominees for Place of the Year 2019. While competition was fierce, we have our final four: New Zealand, Greenland, the Palace of Westminster, and the Atmosphere! But which one is most emblematic of 2019? Which location has truly impacted global discourse? Refresh your […]

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