Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

  • Science & Medicine


Liar, liar, pants on fire: alternative facts

Oxford lists several definitions of belief, but here is a paraphrase of their meanings: something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion; a religious conviction; trust, faith, or confidence in something or someone. How do truths believed by individuals or groups compare with scientific truths? On the face of it, scientific observations and experiments are backed by physical evidence, repeated in many settings, by many independent observers around the world.

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Reproductive rights and equality under challenge in the US

If the Trump administration and the current Congress have their way, however, state restrictions on abortion are likely to flourish and may ultimately prevail. Far less likely, however, is careful ethical consideration of what these changes may mean. Even now, many US women find abortion beyond their reach either economically or geographically. These women and their children face what may be life-limiting challenges.

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Brain 0217

How does acupuncture work? The role of S1 remapping

Acupuncture is a medical therapy that originated in China several thousand years ago and is rooted in a complex practice ritual based on a philosophy that predates our current understanding of physiology. Despite its long history, though, the intervention itself, particularly when coupled with electrical stimulation, significantly overlaps with many conventional peripherally-focused neuromodulatory therapies.

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In war, the earth matters

Many factors influence the outcome of war. But what has soil got to do with war? I suspect few have given much thought to the influence of soil on war, or, conversely, how war influences the soil. But the role of soil in warfare can be considerable, as can the impact of war on soil, which can often leave it unusable. The most dramatic and emotive examples of the role of soil in war comes from the First World War.

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Social History of Medicine Journal Cover

What not to expect when you’re expecting

Writing in 1990 about her experience attending antenatal classes in the 1950s, British mother and childbirth activist Heda Borton recalled her husband squirming as he watched a film of a baby being born in their antenatal education class: “My husband came to the evening under protest, and sat blowing his nose and hiding behind his handkerchief.”

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Reducing risk of suicide in cancer patients

Cancer patients experience substantial psychological effects from facing death, financial issues, emotional problems with friends and family, and adverse medical outcomes from treatment. The psychological effects are so severe that some patients consider suicide. Depression is more common in people with cancer than in the general population, said Kelly Trevino, PhD, from the Center for Research on End-of-Life Care at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.

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Eating fruits and vegetables can make you more attractive

Carotenoids are yellow, orange, and red pigments synthesized by plants and algae. They are responsible for the colours in fruits and vegetables, like the redness in tomatoes. When consumed, these pigments are used by many animals to produce brightly coloured displays. Examples range from the orange patches on guppies, the pink feathers of flamingos, the yellow-orange underside of common lizards, to the orange exterior of ladybird beetles.

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9780190469412 (1)

Reality check: the dangers of confirmation bias

“Confirmation bias” is the most common—and easily the most irritating—obstacle to productive conversation, and not just between experts and laypeople. The term refers to the tendency to look for information that only confirms what we believe, to accept facts that only strengthen our preferred explanations, and to dismiss data that challenge what we already accept as truth.

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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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What is artificial intelligence?

There are many proposed definitions of artificial intelligence (AI), each with its own slant, but most are roughly aligned around the concept of creating computer programs or machines capable of behavior we would regard as intelligent if exhibited by humans. John McCarthy, a founding father of the discipline, described the process in 1955 as “that of making a machine behave in ways that would be called intelligent if a human were so behaving.”

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Paul Feyerabend and the debate over the philosophy of science

Paul Feyerabend (born 13th January, 1924, died February 11th, 1994) is best-known for his contributions to the philosophy of science, which is somewhat ironic because, I suspect, he wouldn’t have thought of himself as a philosopher of science. I don’t just mean he wouldn’t have thought of himself as just a philosopher of science. No, I mean that he thought of himself as a thinker for whom disciplinary boundaries meant absolutely nothing. In his later years, he even denied being a philosopher.

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British Medical Bulletin

The critical role of China in global tobacco control

Many might think that the best way to reduce the global tobacco epidemic is by health education and banning sales to minors – policies well-liked by teachers, parents, and governments. But these are ineffective means of reducing smoking prevalence. Surprisingly, it is a fiscal measure that is the critical and easily the most important means of improving public health, as by raising the price, cigarettes become less affordable, especially to the young.

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Do you need to “unplug” from social media? [quiz]

“Unplugging” from social media does not necessarily equate to quitting. As The Happiness Effect author Donna Freitas found out, the decision to temporarily quit social media is a common among university students. Some students quit because they feel “too obsessed” or “addicted,” while others cite online drama as their reason to take a break.

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10 things you should know about weather

From tornadoes and typhoons to deciding the best day for a picnic, the weather impacts our lives on a daily basis. Despite new techniques and technologies that allow us to forecast the weather with increasing accuracy, most of us do not realise the vast global movements and forces which result in their day-to-day weather. Storm Dunlop tells us ten things we should know about weather in its most dramatic and ordinary forms.

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Embodied Selves and Divided Minds

Where your mind goes, you go? (Part 2)

Is there some other way to resolve the duplication problem that acknowledges this insight? Remember that according to Parfit, we all agree that if my brain is transplanted into someone else’s brainless body, and the resulting person has my character and apparent memories, then this resulting person is me. But should we agree, or do these intuitions rest on questionable assumptions?

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Holistic Engagement by Loretta Plyes

Transformative social work education: the time is now

In the first week of March, hundreds of social work educators from across the US will come together in New Orleans to discuss the future of social work education at the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD) conference. It is clear that the stakes for social work education are higher now than ever before. For my students who are working in field placements, there is a growing sense of dissonance.

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