Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Do mountains matter?

Do mountains matter? Today, 11 December, is International Mountain Day, celebrated worldwide since 2003. The fact that the UN General Assembly has designated such a day would suggest a simple answer. Yes – and particularly for the 915 million people who live in the mountain areas that cover 22 percent of the land area of our planet.

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The politics of science funding

Government funding of science has become an increasingly prominent issue in the United States. Examining the current debate and its consequences, Social Problems editor Arne L. Kalleberg interviews Gordon Gauchat about his recent article “The Political Context of Science in the United States: Public Acceptance of Evidence-Based Policy and Science Funding.”

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The Hunger Games are playing on loop— And I am tired of watching

Say you wanted to take over the world—how would you do it? Let’s agree it looks much like the world we live in today, where some countries hold inordinate power over the lives of people in others; where global systematic racism, the shameful legacy of colonization and imperialism, has contrived to keep many humans poor and struggling.

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Climate change – a very difficult, very simple idea

Planet Earth doesn’t have ‘a temperature’, one figure that says it all. There are oceans, landmasses, ice, the atmosphere, day and night, and seasons. Also, the temperature of Earth never gets to equilibrium: just as it’s starting to warm up on the sunny-side, the sun gets ‘turned off’; and just as it’s starting to cool down on the night-side, the sun gets ‘turned on’.

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The magic of Christmas: It’s Santa’s DNA

Knowledge that we all have DNA and what this means is getting around. The informed public is well aware that our cells run on DNA software called the genome. This software is passed from parent to child, in the long line of evolutionary history that dates back billions of years – in fact, research published this year pushes back the origin of life on Earth another 300 million years.

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Entering an uncharted realm of climate change

This year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 11th session of the Meeting of the Parties since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, will be held in Paris from 30 November to 11 December.

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Wine and DNA profiling

In ampelographic collections, about ten living plants of each grape variety or clone are kept alive for future studies or plantings, which requires a large amount of time and money. Yet, in every collection we estimate an average of 5% of labelling errors. They can now be identified with DNA profiling and duplicates can be eliminated, thus saving time and money.

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Where did all the antihadrons go?

Describing the very ‘beginning’ of the Universe is a bit of a problem. Quite simply, none of our scientific theories are up to the task. We attempt to understand the evolution of space and time and all the mass and energy within it by applying Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. This theory works extraordinarily well. But when we’re dealing with objects that start to approach the infinitesimally small – elementary particles such as quarks and electrons – we need to reach for a completely different structure, called quantum theory.

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The antimicrobial resistance crisis: is there a global solution?

The serendipitous discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1929 positively transformed modern medicine. Fleming’s decision to spend his summer holiday in East Anglia and his casual approach to laboratory housekeeping was an auspicious combination. After his return to the laboratory he observed that an uncovered culture plate of Staphyloccocus bacteria had been contaminated.

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What to do about whooping cough?

A century ago, pertussis, or whooping cough as it is also known, was one of those infectious diseases that most children went down with at some stage. There was a lot of suffering from the severe and prolonged bouts of coughing and many deaths occurred, especially in very young children.

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The impact of On the Origin of Species

Charles Darwin was widely known as a travel writer and natural historian in the twenty years before On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859. The Voyage of the Beagle was a great popular success in the 1830s. But the radical theories developed in the Origin had been developed more or less in secret during those intervening twenty years.

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The Angelina Jolie effect

It is hard to quantify the impact of ‘role-model’ celebrities on the acceptance and uptake of genetic testing and bio-literacy, but it is surely significant. Angelina Jolie is an Oscar-winning actress, Brad Pitt’s other half, mother, humanitarian, and now a “DNA celebrity”. She propelled the topic of familial breast cancer, female prophylactic surgery, and DNA testing to the fore.

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Biodynamic wine

All vineyards and thus the wines they produce are not created equal. Two Chardonnays grown in neighbouring plots but with slightly differing soils, slopes and sun exposure will taste subtly different, even if both will still taste of Chardonnay too. This unique ‘somewhereness’ is what the French call terroir.

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How did life on earth begin?

News broke in July 2015 that the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander had discovered 16 ‘carbon and nitrogen-rich’ organic compounds on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The news sparked renewed debates about whether the ‘prebiotic’ chemicals required for producing amino acids and nucleotides – the essential building blocks of all life forms – may have been delivered to Earth by cometary impacts.

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