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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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On Being

By Peter Atkins
Deep questions of existence have entertained both sharp and dull minds throughout the history of humanity. Where did it all come from? What is the point of it? What happens after you die? Great mounds of implausible speculation have been tipped on these pressing questions by theologians and philosophers; whole churches have been founded as a result of the institutionalization of the answers. But all those answers were guided by speculation and sentiment and typically expressed in compelling language that captured minds but concealed emptiness. They were emperor’s new clothes with no emperor within.

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International Women’s Day: Émilie du Châtelet

By Patricia Fara
Émilie du Châtelet, wrote Voltaire, ‘was a great man whose only fault was being a woman.’ Du Châtelet has paid the penalty for being a woman twice over. During her life, she was denied the educational opportunities and freedom that she craved. ‘Judge me for my own merits,’ she protested: ‘do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that renowned scholar’ – but since her death, she has been demoted to subsidiary status as Voltaire’s mistress and Isaac Newton’s translator.

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SciWhys: What is DNA and what does it do?

Today we’d like to introduce our latest regular OUPblog column: SciWhys. Every month OUP editor and author Jonathan Crowe will be answering your science questions. Got a burning question about science that you’d like answered? Just email it to us, and Jonathan will answer what he can. Kicking us off: What is DNA and what does it do?

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Quantum Theory: If a tree falls in the forest…

Philosophers have long argued that sound, colour, taste, smell and touch, exist only in our minds. We have little basis for our assumption that these qualities represent reality as it really is. So, if we interpret the word ‘sound’ to mean a human experience, then the falling tree really is silent.

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Entropy: Should we just go with the flow?

By Jonathan Crowe
It began with the sound of a tyre rim grinding on the surface of the cycle path I’d been travelling along, and a sudden sensation of being on a bike that was moving through treacle rather than through air. My rear tyre had punctured and, not for the first time of late, I found myself resenting the seeming futility of life: of having the bad luck to get the puncture, of having to spend time and effort buying and fitting a new inner tube – of my life being enriched not one iota by the whole experience.

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Books by the Numbers

By Dennis Baron


People judge you by the words you use. This warning, once the slogan of a vocabulary building course, is now the mantra of the new science of culturomics.

In “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books” (Michel, et al., Science, Dec. 17, 2010), a Harvard-led research team introduces “culturomics” as “the application of high throughput data collection and analysis to the study of human culture.” In plain English, they crunched a database of 500 billion words contained in 5 million books published between 1500 and 2008 in English and several other languages and digitized by Google. The resulting analysis provides insight into the state of these languages, how they change, and how they reflect culture at any given point in time.

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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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Linked Up: William Carlos Williams, Goats, NASA

Yesterday, I tried to start a #mathbattle on Twitter, but it proved too geeky to take. (Go figure.) I was having a nostalgic moment, remembering back in middle school when we had to write date equations. Everyday. Because each day, my friends, is different. A new day, full of new possibilities, opportunities, and numbers. Today is 7/30/2010. That means two things:

1) It will be August very, very soon.
2) We have the numbers 7, 3, 0, 2, 0, 1, 0 to work with. (Or, you can leave out a 2 and a 0. That is the cheater’s way.)

LET’S DO IT! —> 7 – ((3+0)(2 + 0)) = (1 + 0)

Yessssss. Math is awesome. Got a better equation? Prove it. Until then, here are some interesting things.

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