Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Science & Medicine

Is motion an illusion of the senses?

According to Aristotle, Zeno of Elea (ca. 490 – ca. 430 BCE) said, “Nothing moves because what is traveling must first reach the half-way point before it reaches the end.” One interpretation of the paradox is this. To begin a trip of a certain distance (say 1 meter), a traveler must travel the first half of it (the first 1/2 m), but before he does that he must travel half of the first half (1/4 m), and in fact half of that (1/8 m), ad infinitum.

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Accept death to promote health

We all die and, despite some fanciful ideas to the contrary, we will, as a species, continue to do so. Our daily routines tend to distract us from this fact. However, because death is inevitable, we need to think about how we can live healthy lives, without ignoring how they end. Once we accept that […]

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There’s no vaccine for the sea level rising

We will get by the current pandemic. There will be a vaccine eventually. There will be other pandemics. Hopefully, we will be better organized next time. Waiting in the wings are the emerging impacts of climate change, the next big challenge. There will be no vaccine to stem sea level rise.

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Five questions about PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an often discussed, and often misunderstood, mental health condition, that affects up to 7% of adults during their lifetime. Here we answer five questions related to misconceptions that often prevent people from seeking care.  1. Is PTSD a veteran disease?  While a significant minority of veterans suffer from PTSD, this disorder can impact anyone who has experienced life-threatening trauma. Approximately 70% of people […]

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How understanding science can be made easy

When I was a teenager, I was awed by popular science writings. I was most affected by Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind, with its detailed and fascinating account of quantum mechanics and relativity. However, it was not an easy read and it gave only one perspective of these amazing theories. Some 30 years later […]

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Accepting uncertainty creates freedom

We all want to be in control. Our quest for control in the current atmosphere of fear has resulted in the hoarding of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks. In the illusion of control, we close our minds and our hearts to the possibility of the meaning we may discover during a time of […]

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Income inequality drives health disparities

Pretax incomes for the poorest 50% of Americans have stayed mostly unchanged for the past 40  years, widening income gaps in the country. We leave the question of why inequality matters for the economy to others. What is of concern to us is whether income inequality matters to our health, and, to the extent that […]

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Understanding quantum mechanics [quiz]

Mechanics is that part of physics concerned with stuff that moves, from cannonballs to tennis balls, cars, rockets, and planets. Quantum mechanics is that part of physics which describes the motions of objects at molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic levels, such as photons and electrons. Although quantum mechanics is an extraordinarily successful scientific theory, on which […]

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How an unlikely pair became legendary molecular biologists

In 1962 the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded jointly to John Kendrew (1917-1997) and Max Perutz (1914-2002). They were the first scientists to accurately describe the three-dimensional structure of proteins. Enzymes, hormones, and antibodies are only a few examples of the many kinds of proteins present in all living organisms and knowledge of their […]

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Eat your oats

Old Fashioned, quick, instant and steel cut are all examples of oat varieties. Is one type of oat more nutritious than the other? No. All varieties of oats provide similar amounts of nutrients, calories, and fiber; a nutrient that is chronically underconsumed in the United States. Oats are an example of a whole-grain and full […]

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The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers

A growing body of evidence supports my clinical experience that younger people, high schoolers especially, are having more psychological problems during the pandemic than adults. There are many reasons for this. Adolescents are in the developmental stage of forming a new social world away from their parents. Social needs tend to dominate their lives and yet currently […]

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Why politics is so polarized, even though Americans agree on most key issues

In 1971, Jerry B. Harvey created “The Abilene Paradox” to describe a pernicious failure: mismanagement of agreement. The late professor and management consultant posited that “the inability to cope with agreement, rather than the inability to cope with conflict, is the single most pressing issue of modern organizations.” “Getting on the bus to Abilene,” as […]

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Seven ways to talk to terminal patients

Before COVID-19 arrived in our lives, chronic illness was considered the next worldwide pandemic. But COVID-19 did arrive and life as we knew it has radically changed. Healthcare workers, particularly nurses and physicians, are now having frequent palliative care (the area of end-of-life care that focuses on patient comfort) conversations although most are not trained […]

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Why global crises are political, not scientific, problems

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize he was awarded in 2007, Al Gore, the former American Vice President, made the claim that “the climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity.” The reason why Gore does not see climate change as a political […]

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Six ways to reduce your environmental impact

Over the last 50 years, human population has doubled, and global trade has increased ten-fold, drawing more deeply on Earth’s natural resources, warming the climate, and polluting the global environment. If current climate trends continue, a third of the global population will live in places warmer than the heart of the Sahara Desert 50 years […]

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How anti-immigration policies hurt public health

Immigration is neither a new issue nor an exclusively American one. In 2017, there were more than 250  million immigrants living worldwide, and about 2.4 million people migrate across national borders each year. Migration also occurs within national borders—it is estimated that more than 750 million people live within their country of birth, but in a […]

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