Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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On animals and tools

Try this experiment: Ask someone to name three tools, without thinking hard about it. This is a parlor game, not a scientific study, so your results may vary, but I’ve done this dozens of times and heard surprisingly consistent answers. The most common is hammer, screwdriver, and saw, in that order.

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Marian Stamp Dawkins on why animals matter

There is an urgent argument for the need to rethink animal welfare, untinged by anthropomorphism and claims of animal consciousness, which lack firm empirical evidence and are often freighted with controversy and high emotions. With growing concern over such issues as climate change and food shortages, how we treat those animals on which we depend for survival needs to be put squarely on the public agenda. Marian Stamp Dawkins seeks to do this by offering a more complete understanding of how animals help us.

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Art and human evolution

By Stephen Davies
Young children take to painting, singing, dancing, storytelling, and role-playing with scarcely any explicit training. They delight in these proto-art behaviors. Grown-ups are no less avid in extending such behaviors, either as spectators or participants. Provided we have a generous view of art, we all engage routinely and often passionately with it.

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Giant pumpkins

By Cindy Ott
At this year’s Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, Ron Wallace broke the world record for the biggest pumpkin yet with a specimen weighing in at 2009 pounds. Photographs of Wallace next to this colossal body of orange flesh made headlines not only in the regional Boston Globe but also the nationwide Huffington Post. Yet every year in the popular press scenes of a pickup truck with its bed filled to the brim or a grown adult comfortably nestled inside a single giant pumpkin document the variety’s comically huge size.

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Should fishing communities play a greater role in managing fisheries?

By Robert Deacon
Marine fisheries around the world are in a state of decline. Each decade the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that a larger fraction of the world’s fisheries are overexploited or depleted. Historical trends in individual fisheries have led some scientists to predict all major fisheries will be collapsed by mid-century. The economic status of these resources is even more dismal.

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The “Choice” Bazaar

Daniel Callahan
Some years ago I wrote a book on abortion that espoused women’s legal right to choose abortion, which was later cited in Roe v. Wade. It should have made me popular with feminists, but it did not and for one reason: I also argued that abortion is an ethical choice, and that not all abortions would necessarily be good choices. Trained as a philosopher, I pointed out that a traditional part of morality is deciding how to make good choices in the shaping of one’s life.

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Nucleic Acids Research and Open Access

By Richard Roberts
In 2004, when the internet was pervading every aspect of science, the Executive Editors of Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) made the momentous decision to convert the journal from a traditional subscription based journal to one in which the content was freely available to everyone, with the costs of publication paid by the authors. There was great trepidation, by the editors and Oxford University Press, that authors would refuse to do this and instead would choose to publish elsewhere.

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The myth of a constant and stable environment

By Daniel B. Botkin
Nature has always changed; even the moon’s rotation around Earth and distance from Earth have changed over the millions of years. Living things require, and depend upon, change in nature in order to survive. We have learned this from science, from geological history recorded in ancient nautilus shells to understanding radioactivity.

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Here’s to a wet New Orleans

By Christopher Morris
In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Jack Payne of Delacroix, which is a tiny fishing village in the wetlands of the Mississippi delta below New Orleans, explained to Bob Marshall of the Times-Picayune, that “Everything I rebuild will either be on pilings or wheels. It’s gotta be higher than storm surge, or something I can pull outta here. This is our future, man. We know it’s gonna happen again and again — and just get worse.”

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How the social brain creates identity

Who we are is a story of our self–a narrative that our brain creates. Like the science fiction movie, we are living in a matrix that is our mind. But though the self is an illusion, it is an illusion we must continue to embrace to live happily in human society. In The Self Illusion, Bruce Hood reveals how the self emerges during childhood and how the architecture of the developing brain enables us to become social animals dependent on each other.

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Waking the Giant at Edinburgh International Book Festival

By Bill McGuire
If it’s August, it must be Edinburgh. Doing the rounds of the UK’s book festivals is always great fun, but the Edinburgh International Book Festival is almost inevitably the annual highlight. While the book festival is exciting in its own right, this is in large part because the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe are in full spate, packing this great city with visitors from far and wide, and with acts and events that boggle even the most unflappable mind.

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Shark sensory mechanisms

By Ivan R. Schwab M.D. F.A.C.S.
Sharks always draw a crowd. We have a macabre fascination with these creatures because of their commanding presence and predatory lifestyle. Such a lifestyle demands high quality sensory systems, something sharks have had millions of years to develop.

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The tiger: a sad tale of declining numbers

International Tiger Day, also known as Global Tiger Day, is an annual celebration held annually on 29 July. The initiative of the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit, the day raises awareness of tiger conservation, promotes opportunities for discussing the tiger’s natural habitats, and encourages support for ongoing conservation efforts. Ahead of International Tiger Day this Sunday, we take a look at the threats tigers face today with n this amended extract from The Encyclopedia of Mammals.

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HIV and AIDS in Latinos

By Kurt C. Organista

30 years into the epidemic I remain struck by is how HIV continues to exploit our country’s entrenched social, cultural, and economic cleavages — almost to the point of appearing to be a homophobic, racist, sexist, and transphobic virus! Latinos now rank second to African Americans in their disproportionately high rates of AIDS cases: 50% & 20%, respectively, despite only composing 13% & 15% of the US population. Consider for example that 75% of AIDS cases in the US are among men who have sex with men (MSM), and the same is true within US Latino population.

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The water problem

By William deBuys
The dirty little secret about water in the West is that water conservation is a hoax. When we conserve water by using less, we don’t save it for the health of the watershed or put it aside in any way; we simply make it available for someone else to consume, if not today, then tomorrow in the next strip mall or housing development down the road.

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Snail attacks pencil

On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica a major predator in the community of animals living on sandy beaches is a snail, a species of Olive Shell (Agaronia propatula). This snail moves up and down the beach by ‘surfing’, extending its foot so that it is carried along in the wave swash. It is a voracious hunter and its main prey is a smaller species of Olive Shell. In its wave-washed environment it has to act quickly.

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