Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Looking at the stars

The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars were mathematically perfect orbs, made from unearthly materials. These bodies were believed to move on perfectly symmetric celestial spheres, through which a backdrop of fixed stars could be seen, rotating majestically every 24 hours. At the centre was the motionless Earth. For the Greeks, the power of reason was more important than observation.

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Can Calvinism make you happy?

“Calvinism is a bleak, oppressive form of Christianity.” The sentiment is a common one. Finding quotations like this one from John Calvin’s letter to the Catholic Cardinal Sadoleto may seem to confirm it. “Whenever I descended into myself or turned my eyes to you, extreme terror seized me, which no expiations or satisfactions could cure.” Here, we surmise, is the rotten heart of Calvinism.

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Italy and the UK decision to expand Heathrow

As Graham Ruddick put it in the Guardian on 26 October, ‘One by one, Theresa May’s government is giving the go-ahead to major infrastructure projects that will cost taxpayers billions of pounds’. By doing so, she signalled her determination to promote growth and the creation of new jobs, as well as to offset the oft predicted economic downturn following Brexit.

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The year of hating immigrants

2016 has been a year of bitter political debates fueled in large part by drastic divides regarding how immigrants affect national well-being. The US presidential race, the British Brexit vote and other challenges within the European Union, and growing competition against the otherwise durable German Chancellor Angela Merkel all display deeply rooted fears of inadequately controlled immigration.

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Trump: An (im)probable victory

As Americans adjust to the idea of President Donald Trump, many are looking at the electoral process to ask how this result came about. The 2016 American presidential election has been characterized as like none other in the nation’s history. In some senses the election was unique; for instance, Donald Trump will be the first President to assume office without ever having held a public office or having served in the military.

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Three centuries of the American presidency

The United States and its Constitution are now in their third century. The passage from each century to the next has been eventful. This review suggests an important lesson in considering the presidency in the twenty-first century: Events, the issues they generate, and the people who serve are normally more important than reforms in explaining change. Neustadt again: “The presidency nowadays [has] a different look.”

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The blessing of Babel

I am in Palermo, sitting on the floor of the puppet museum with a circle of teenagers. Around us hang gaudy, dormant marionettes of characters from the Orlando Furioso: the valiant Orlando and his horse Brigliadoro, his rival Rinaldo, his beloved the beautiful Angelica. Their stories are amazing, the stuff of epic and romance; but in fact the teenagers around me, all boys, have been through adventures no less extraordinary, though harsh and real.

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Military justice: will the arc continue to bend in a progressive direction?

Rarely has there been a time in which military justice has loomed so large, or in such diverse ways. Certainly at any given time there are likely to be one or two high profile cases around the world, but lately it has seemed that the subject is never long out of the public eye. Consider the following kinds of issues: A Russian soldier stationed in Armenia murders a local family. Who should prosecute him for the murder, Russia or Armenia?

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The irony of gunpowder

Few inventions have shaped history as powerfully as gunpowder. It significantly altered the human narrative in at least nine significant ways. The most important and enduring of those changes is the triumph of civilization over the “barbarians.” That last term rings discordant in the modern ear, but I use it in the original Greek sense to mean “not Greek” or “not civilized.” The irony, however, is not that gunpowder reduced violence.

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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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Nebuchadnezzar to Saddam Hussein: The history of the myth of Babylon

‘Babylon’ is a name which throughout the centuries has evoked an image of power and wealth and splendour – and decadence. Indeed, in the biblical Book of Revelation, Rome is damned as the ‘Whore of Babylon’ – and thus identified with a city whose image of lust and debauchery persisted and flourished long after the city itself had crumbled into dust. Powerful visual images in later ages, l perpetuate the negative image Babylon acquired in biblical tradition.

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What has functional brain imaging discovered?

Functional magnetic brain imaging (fMRI) is a method that allows us to study the workings of the human brain while people perceive, reason and make decisions. The principle on which it is based is that, when nerve cells or neurons in a particular region become active, there is an increase in the blood supply to that brain area. This can be visualized because the scanner can be sensitized to the changes in the blood oxygen level that occur when the nerve cells become active.

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Leibniz and Europe

At the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, national states were on the rise. Versailles was constructed as a stage on which the Sun King, Louis XIV, acted out the pageant of absolute sovereignty while his armies annexed neighbouring territories for the greater glory of France. At the death of Charles II of Spain in November 1700, the Spanish throne and its extensive possessions in Italy, the Low Countries and the New World passed to his grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou.

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Conditioning in the classroom: 8 tips for teaching and learning

You are probably familiar with animal learning and conditioning. You probably know that certain behaviours in your pet can be encouraged by reward, for example. You may also know something of the science behind animal conditioning: you may have heard about Pavlov’s drooling dogs, Skinner’s peckish pigeons or Thorndike’s cunning cats. However, what you may not know is that the scientific study of animal conditioning has provided psychologists with an armoury of principles about how training can be most effective.

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10 interesting facts about criminal justice

And what is the best way to ensure an easy transition for offenders that are about to be released? Julian Roberts, author of Criminal Justice: A Very Short Introduction, tells us the top 10 things everyone should know about criminal justice, and what the chances and limitations of the Western system are.

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