Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Rain explained

By Storm Dunlop
Rainfall in excessive quantities or in an unusual location may give rise to flooding – as we have seen only too frequently in Britain in the past year – but quite apart from such problems and its many other uses, water is absolutely essential for agriculture – particularly in tropical countries where the onset and progress of the monsoon is anxiously awaited, and in regions where agriculture is utterly dependent on precipitation brought by the less predictable tropical cyclones – known as ‘cyclones’, ‘hurricanes’, or ‘typhoons’, depending on their location around the world.

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What is ‘the brain supremacy’?

Q: What is the brain supremacy? A: I use the phrase ‘the brain supremacy’ to describe the increasing relevance of neuroscience. It foresees an era – whose birth is already well underway – when the balance of power within the sciences will shift from the natural to the life sciences, from physics and chemistry to the fast-moving sciences of the mind and brain.

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Five inconvenient truths about the Antarctic

By Klaus Dodds
When I wrote The Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction, I wanted the book to be something of a provocation. The aim, in short, was to highlight things that often get neglected in the midst of stories and images of past and present explorers, melting ice caps, tourists and the penguin. The reality is rather more disturbing.

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The five stages of climate change acceptance

By Andrew T. Guzman
A few days ago, the President of the United States used the State of the Union address to call for action on climate change. The easy way to do so would have been to call on Congress to take action. Had President Obama framed his remarks in this way, he would have given a nod to those concerned about climate change, but nothing would happen because there is virtually no chance of Congressional action.

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The dog: How did it become man’s best friend?

The 11th February marks the opening of Westminster Kennel Club’s 137th Annual All Breed Dog Show. First held in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is America’s second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby. The Westminster Dog Show epitomizes our long-standing tradition of domestication of dogs, but how did we arrive at such a moment in human and dog relations? The Encyclopedia of Mammals, edited by David MacDonald, offers some explanation as to how this species went from being wild prey-hunters to “best in show”, and from defending territories to defending last year’s titles.

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Examining photographs of Einstein’s brain is not phrenology!

By Dean Falk, Fred Lepore, and Adrianne Noe
Imagine that you return from work to find that a thief has broken into your home. The police arrive and ask if they may dust for finger and palm prints. Which would you do? (A) Refuse permission because palm reading is an antiquated pseudoscience or (B) give permission because forensic dermatoglyphics is sometimes useful for identifying culprits. A similar question may be asked about the photographs of the external surface of Albert Einstein’s brain that recently emerged after being lost to science for over half a century.

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Douglas Christie on contemplative ecology

There is a deep and pervasive hunger for a less fragmented and more integrated way of understanding and inhabiting the world. What must change if we are to live in a sustainable relationship with other organisms? What role do our moral and spiritual values play in responding to the ecological crisis? We sat down with Douglas E. Christie, author of The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, to discuss a contemplative approach to ecological thought and practice that can help restore our sense of the earth as a sacred place.

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Space weather

By Storm Dunlop
We are all used to blaming things (rightly or wrongly) on the weather, but now it seems that this tendency has been extended to space weather. Space weather, for those who are uncertain, describes the effects that flares and other events on the Sun produce on Earth. Consult many of the sites on the World Wide Web that are devoted to events on a particular day in history, and you will be told that on 16 August 1989, a geomagnetic storm caused the Toronto Stock Exchange to crash.

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Animal evolution: a new view of an old tree

By Peter Holland
The metaphor of the ‘evolutionary tree’ is powerful. Closely related species, such as octopus and squid, can be pictured as twigs sitting near each other on a small branch, in turn connected to larger and larger branches, each representing more distant evolutionary relationships. Every animal species, past and present, is a twig somewhere on the vast tree of life. But what is the shape of this metaphorical tree? Can we find the correct place for all the twigs, or perhaps even just the largest branches? In short, who is related to whom? To solve this would be to reconstruct the history of animal life on our planet.

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Romanticism: a legacy

By Michael Ferber
The Very Short Introductions are indeed very short, so I had to cut a chapter out of my volume that would have discussed the aftermath or legacy of Romanticism today, two hundred years after Romanticism’s days of glory. In that chapter I would have pointed out the obvious fact that those who still love poetry look at the Romantic era as poetry’s high point in every European country. Think of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Pushkin, Mickiewicz, Leopardi, Lamartine, Hugo, and Nerval. Those who still love “classical” music fill the concert halls to listen to Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, and Wagner; and those who still love traditional painting flock to look at Constable, Turner, Friedrich, and Delacroix. These poets and artists are still “alive”: their works are central to the culture from which millions of people still draw nourishment. I can scarcely imagine how miserable I would feel if I knew I could never again listen to Beethoven or read a poem by Keats.

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Can the shape of someone’s face tell you how healthy they are?

By Anthony J Lee
You can tell a lot about someone from their face, from simple demographic information such as sex and ethnicity, to the emotions they’re feeling based on facial expressions. But what about their health? Can the shape of someone’s face tell you how likely this person is to catch the common cold?

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A deep-sea microorganism and the origin of eukaryotes

By Masashi Yamaguchi and Cedric Worman
There are only two kinds of organisms on Earth: prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Prokaryotes include the Bacteria and Archaea and consist of structurally simple cells that are generally a few micrometers (1 µm= 1/1,000 mm) in size and lack a nucleus. Eukaryotes include animals, plants, fungi, etc. and consist of structurally complex cells that are nearly 10,000 times the volume of prokaryotic cells and have a nucleus enclosed by a double membrane in addition to various organelles such as mitochondria and chloroplasts.

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Mars: A geologist’s perspective

By David Rothery
So Mars is ‘Place of the Year’! It has the biggest volcano in the Solar System — Olympus Mons — amazing dust storms, and the grandest canyon of all — Valles Marineris. Mind you, the surface area of Mars is almost the same as the total area of dry land on Earth, so to declare Mars as a whole to be ‘place of the year’ seems a little vague, given that previous winners (on Earth) have been islands or single countries.

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The Brain Supremacy

By Kathleen Taylor
Ours is a world full of science. Much of that technology and knowledge, from mobile phones to the understanding of gravity, currently comes from what we call ‘the natural sciences’: those which study the material universe. In school, we learn to distinguish physics, chemistry, geology, and their natural kin from life sciences like biology and psychology. Our ideas of what science is, and indeed what we are, have been shaped accordingly. The brain supremacy, that coming era in which neuroscience will challenge physics for cultural dominance, is about to reshape those ideas as never before.

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