Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Who needs quantum key distribution?

Chinese scientists have recently announced the use of a satellite to transfer quantum entangled light particles between two ground stations over 1,000 kilometres apart. This has been heralded as the dawn of a new secure internet. Should we be impressed? Yes – scientific breakthroughs are great things. Does this revolutionise the future of cyber security? No – sadly, almost certainly not.

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The life and work of Alan Turing

Alan Turing was one of England’s most influential scientists of the twentieth century. He is best remembered as having cracked the codes used in the Enigma machines, enabling the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many important battles, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean. While this achievement which arguably helped to bring the Second World War to a quicker end has been brought to the fore through popular histories

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Suspected ‘fake results’ in science

There is a concern that too many scientific studies are failing to be replicated as often as expected. This means that a high proportion is suspected of being invalid. The blame is often put on confusion surrounding the ‘P value’ which is used to assess the effect of chance on scientific observations. A ‘P value’ is calculated by first assuming that the ‘true result’ is disappointing

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What is game theory?

Game theory is considered to be one of the most important theories not simply within the field of economics, but also mathematics, political science, biology, philosophy, and ecology, just to name a few. It has been developed over the many years since the term was first coined to what it is now: a theory used to “understand the strategic behaviour of decision makers who are aware that their decisions affect one another.”

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Mathematics Masterclasses for young people

In fact the idea really goes back to Michael Faraday, who gave Christmas lectures about science for young people at The Royal Institution of Great Britain in London in 1826. Sir Christopher Zeeman, following upon Porter’s initiative, gave the first series of six one-hour lectures (Mathematics Masterclasses) to young people at The Royal Institution in 1981, about “The Nature of Mathematics and The Mathematics of Nature”.

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Coincidences are underrated

The unreasonable popularity of pseudosciences such as ESP or astrology often stems from personal experience. We’ve all had that “Ralph” phone call or some other happening that seems well beyond the range of normal probability, at least according to what we consider to be common sense. But how accurately does common sense forecast probabilities and how much of it is fuzzy math? As we will see, fuzzy math holds its own.

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Prime numbers and how to find them

Prime numbers have now become a crucial part of modern life, but they have been fascinating mathematicians for thousands of years. A prime number is always bigger than 1 and can only be divided by itself and 1 – no other number will divide in to it. So the number 2 is the first prime number, then 3, 5, 7, and so on. Non-prime numbers are defined as composite numbers (they are composed of other smaller numbers).

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Opening the door for the next Ramanujan

It is still possible to learn mathematics to a high standard at a British university but there is no doubt that the fun and satisfaction the subject affords to those who naturally enjoy it has taken a hit. Students are constantly reminded about the lifelong debts they are incurring and how they need to be thoroughly aware of the demands of their future employers. The fretting over this within universities is relentless.

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The historian and the longitude

If a social conversation turns to the history of navigation – a turn that is not so unusual as once it was – the most likely episode to be mentioned is the search for a longitude method in the 18th century and the story of John Harrison. The extraordinary success of the book by Dava Sobel has popularised a view of Harrison as a doughty and virtuous fighter, unfairly disadvantaged by the scientific establishment.

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In defense of mathematics [excerpt]

Once reframed in its historical context, mathematics quickly loses its intimidating status. As a subject innately tied to culture, art, and philosophy, the study of mathematics leads to a clearer understanding of human culture and the world in which we live. In this shortened excerpt from A Brief History of Mathematical Thought, Luke Heaton discusses the reputation of mathematics and its significance to human life.

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Alan Turing’s lost notebook

Alan Turing’s personal mathematical notebook went on display a few days ago at Bletchley Park near London, the European headquarters of the Allied codebreaking operation in World War II. Until now, the notebook has been seen by few — not even scholars specializing in Turing’s work. It is on loan from its current owner, who acquired it in 2015 at a New York auction for over one million dollars.

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Really big numbers

What is the biggest whole number that you can write down or describe uniquely? Well, there isn’t one, if we allow ourselves to idealize a bit. Just write down “1”, then “2”, then… you’ll never find a last one.

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A person-less variant of the Bernadete paradox

Before looking at the person-less variant of the Bernedete paradox, lets review the original: Imagine that Alice is walking towards a point – call it A – and will continue walking past A unless something prevents her from progressing further.

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Is elementary school mathematics “real” mathematics?

When people think of elementary school mathematics, they usually bring to mind number facts, calculations, and algorithms. This isn’t surprising, as these topics tend to dominate classroom work in many elementary schools internationally. There is little doubt that elementary students should know the multiplication tables, be able to do simple calculations mentally, develop fluency in using algorithms to carry out more complex calculations

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Measuring up

My first degree was in mathematics, where I specialised in mathematical physics. That meant studying notions of mass, weight, length, time, and so on. After that, I took a master’s and a PhD in statistics. Those eventually led to me spending 11 years working at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, where the central disciplines were medicine and psychology. Like physics, both medicine and psychology are based on measurements.

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Very short facts about the Very Short Introductions

This week we are celebrating the 500th title in the Very Short Introductions series, Measurement: A Very Short Introduction, which will publish on 6th October. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make often challenging topics highly readable. To mark its publication editors Andrea Keegan and Jenny Nugee have put together a list of Very Short Facts about the series.

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