Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Science & Medicine

Digging for the truth?: Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland

In the summer of 2014, reports that a ‘septic tank grave’ containing the skeletal remains of ‘800 babies’ was discovered within the grounds of a former home for ‘unmarried mothers’ in Tuam, County Galway, featured prominently as an international news ‘story.’ Interest in the issue was prompted by the tireless and tenacious work of a local amateur historian, Catherine Corless.

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Are the microbes in our gut affecting how fast we age?

The collection of microbial life in the gut, known as the microbiota, may be considered an accessory organ of the gastrointestinal tract. It is a self-contained, multi-cellular, biochemically active mass with specialized functions. Some functions are important for life such as vitamin K synthesis, an essential molecule in blood clotting. Others are responsible for training and maintaining a healthy immune system or digesting indigestible food products such as insoluble fiber.

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Resisting change: understanding obstacles to social progress

The People’s Climate Movement, made up of dozens of organizations working to fight the climate crisis, held their first march in September 2014. On Saturday, 29 April, activists will once again march to demand climate action. As they protest the Trump administration’s drastic approach to climate change, the People’s Climate Movement will aim to “show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet.”

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Seeing a cat with photons that aren’t there

Quantum mechanics allows some mind-bending effects. A recent paper shows us how to make an image of the silhouette of a cat using a set of photons that had never interacted with the cat object. The photons that had actually interacted with the cutout, and carried information about it, had even been discarded. The explanation depends on the ideas of quantum superposition and interference; the trick is in transferring quantum information from one set of photons to another.

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Earth Day 2017: reading for environmental & climate literacy

Earth Day is celebrated globally on 22 April in support of environmental protection. The theme for 2017’s Earth Day is “Environmental & Climate Literacy” – and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate knowledge of the environment and climate than with a reading list. These books, chapters, and articles can add to your understanding of Earth through topics such as climate change, natural phenomena, and what practical steps are being taken to help protect our planet.

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Debating the right to die

There are so many reasons why we value and promote choice and autonomy. The country and news media quite rightly protests with outrage when bad things happen to good people as their lives and civil liberties are destroyed by acts of terrorism and grievous crimes. But what about all those many people who are living a life in situations they didn’t want or anticipate?

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The mountains are calling and we must act

Muir knew that the wilds surrounding him not only fed his soul but sustain us all. Too many of our current elected officials have forgotten his lesson. They seek to sell off our public lands throughout my western home to view them as little more than sources of oil and gas, and to strip federal oversight that has kept these lands there for all of us, generation after generation.

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Gravitational waves, black holes, and astronomy without light

On 25 September 2015 scientists at the LIGO experiment detected something that no human had ever seen before: a gravitational wave. This wave was emitted by two black holes that lived and died more than a billion years ago. Each of the black holes was around thirty times as massive as our own sun, and when they merged they gave out so much energy that they temporarily outshone every star in the observable Universe put together.

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Managing stress: mind

Techniques such as mental imagery and meditation can be used to decrease your stress response. In mental imagery, relaxation is achieved by a few minutes of deep focus on a peaceful scene, often somewhere in nature. In meditation, relaxation is achieved by a few minutes of mental repetition of a word or phrase, usually in conjunction with relaxed breathing.

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The best of all possible worlds

Voltaire is known today for Candide, a short novel published in 1779. The young hero Candide travels the world in a tale littered with rape, murder, pestilence, enslavement, and natural catastrophe. Amidst this apocalyptic nightmare, Candide’s tutor Dr Pangloss maintains a philosophical detachment, arguing against all evidence to the contrary that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

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Is epigenomics the next breakthrough in precision medicine?

Epigenomics holds a lot of promise for cancer treatments, but there are still many more questions that we need to answer. How does the epigenome of a healthy person look, and how does the epigenome change as we age? How does the epigenome of a sick person differ? In the future, these important questions will be addressed by personalized epigenomics, which tries to extract information out of a comprehensive picture of a person’s epigenome.

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Why are we all so frightened?

Knowing what you should fear, and quickly recognizing the biological changes in your body that indicate fear, can save your life. This critical task is processed by a small almond-shaped structure, the amygdala, which lies deep within the bottom of the brain, not far from your ears. The amygdala receives information from many brain regions, your internal organs, and external sensory systems, such as your eyes and ears.

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On the origins of “dad bod”

A few years back the phrase “dad bod” emerged to describe men, especially fathers, who have hints of lean muscle lurking beneath noticeable body fat, perhaps particularly around their bellies. There’s increasing evidence that men in industrialized countries like the United States tend to gain weight after they move in with a partner, marry, or become parents, lending some credence to the “dad” in dad bod.

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The modern marvel of medicine

So, where does the future lie in the specialty of anaesthesia? Equipment and monitoring will become more sophisticated with the ultimate aim to minimise harm to patients. It is likely that robotics will be integrated within the patient’s surgical pathway to reduce human error and optimise efficiency of care. Newer drugs will be synthesized with fewer adverse effects and complications.

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Managing stress: perspective

Stress and anxiety are often partly a result of your perspective, or how you tend to think about challenging situations you face. You can learn to regulate stress and anxiety by changing the way you think. This is because excess worry and stress often come from overestimating the danger in a situation. This overestimation is referred to by psychologists as “catastrophizing” and can take one of two forms

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Ignorance as an excuse

Despite unequivocal scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change, many people are skeptical that climate change is man-made, or even real. For instance, lawmakers in North-Carolina passed a bill requiring local planning agencies’ to ignore the latest climate science to predict sea level rise in several coastal counties. They say that ignorance is bliss, but why would we not want to know useful information?

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