Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Why is Darwin still controversial?

By George Levine
How could Darwin still be controversial? We do not worry a lot about Isaac Newton, nor even about Albert Einstein, whose ideas have been among the powerful shapers of modern Western culture. Yet for many people, undisturbed by the law of gravity or by the theories of relativity that, I would venture, 99% of us don’t really understand, Darwin remains darkly threatening. One of the great figures in the history of Western thought, he was respectable and revered enough even in his own time to be buried in Westminster Abbey, of all places. He supported his local church; he was a Justice of the Peace; and he never was photographed as a working scientist, only as a gentleman and a family man. Yet a significant proportion of people in the English-speaking world vociferously do not “believe” in him.

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SciWhys: What are genes and genomes?

By Jonathan Crowe
I described in my last blog post how DNA acts as a store of biological information – information that serves as a set of instructions that direct our growth and function. Indeed, we could consider DNA to be the biological equivalent of a library – another repository of information with which we’re all probably much more familiar. The information we find in a library isn’t present in one huge tome, however. Rather, it is divided into discrete packages of information – namely books. And so it is with DNA: the biological information it stores isn’t captured in a single, huge molecule, but is divided into separate entities called chromosomes – the biological equivalent of individual books in a library.

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A look back at Snowpocalypse 2010

I was (luckily) in Seattle during the most recent 2010 snowpocalypse, when over 30 inches of snow dumped over parts of New York and New Jersey. I got my first taste of what everyone was going through by watching this incredible time-lapse video by Michael Black. I’m also very grateful to all of our Twitter followers who sent me their photos, some of which I have the privilege of displaying here. To all our wonderful readers, OUPblog wishes you a warm and happy New Year!

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Rocks alive? Yeah, right!

By Steve Paulson
Each year, I seem to have the good fortune to read one book that absolutely mesmerizes me. Last year, it was “The Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes. It’s a riveting account of how science and art converged in early 18th century England, not only shaping the Romantic movement but also launching a second scientific revolution. This year, the book has been David Abram’s “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.”

Abram is a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher…with a twist. He’s an animist. I confess, I’ve always been intrigued by animism, but I never gave it serious thought until I read Abram’s book. Sure, we may think of our dog – or even our house – as having some kind of personality or living presence. But it’s all just metaphor, right? Not according to Abram. He wants us to feel the presence of grass, wood, the wind, even the buildings we live in.

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Clarifying the Climate Conundrum

By F. W. Taylor
There are few more important issues at the present time than that of climate change – whether it is real, what we can expect to happen, when and what if anything we can do to prevent or at least ameliorate it. Climate is a ‘crossover’ topic: the facts are mostly in the domain of the scientist, and need special training before they can be understood. However, everyone faces the consequences, perhaps especially people in poor, relatively illiterate counties who already survive on the ragged edge of sustainable agriculture. Finally, if the scientists are to be believed, the politicians must act, and not just by fiddling around the edges of the problem: the changes required are almost unbelievably extensive, expensive, and disruptive. George W. Bush came across as a climate skeptic not because he didn’t believe the science (he wasn’t sure, one way or the other) but mainly because he didn’t want to stifle his nation’s competitiveness by curbing its carbon emissions on the draconian scale the green activists were calling for.

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Disproving the Notion of Random Chance in Evolution

If evolution is the opposite of Intelligent Design, can there be such a thing as non-random chance in evolution? In this passage, John C. Avise discusses how natural selection in genes is as precise as if it were planned, and further debunks the argument for Intelligent Design.

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Paarlberg and Ronald: A food fight –
part two

Part Two of the discussion between Robert Paarlberg (who recently published ‘Starved for Science’), and Pamela Ronald (author of ‘Tomorrow’s Table’). These two experts will be debating all week how to best safeguard our food supply – with the least amount of damage to the environment.

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