Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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Did you know that we’re all made of stars?

By Andrew King
What are you made of? You may never have thought about it before, but every atom in your body was once part of a star, even several stars in succession. And almost all the elements that make up your body – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and so on – would not exist at all without the stars.

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How exactly did Mendeleev discover his periodic table of 1869?

The usual version of how Mendeleev arrived at his discovery goes something like this. While in the process of writing his textbook, ‘The Principles of Chemistry’, Mendeleev completed the book by dealing with only eight of the then known sixty-three elements. He ended the book with the halogens.

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Can ignorance ever be an excuse?

By Katherine Hawley
We have developed quite a taste for chastising the mighty in public. In place of rotten fruit and stocks, we now have Leveson, Chilcot, and the parliamentary select committees which have cross-examined Bob Diamond of Barclays and Nick Buckles of G4S.

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How radioactivity helps scientists uncover the past

By Claudio Tuniz
Neanderthal was once the only human in Europe. By 40,000 years ago, after surviving through several ice ages, his days (or, at least, his millennia) were numbered. The environment of the Pleistocene epoch was slightly radioactive, the same way it is today, but this was not Neanderthal’s problem. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the arrival of a new human

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The continuing life of science fiction

By David Seed
In 1998 Thomas M. Disch boldly declared in The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World that science fiction had become the main kind of fiction which was commenting on contemporary social reality. As a professional writer, we could object that Disch had a vested interest in making this assertion, but virtually every day news items confirm his argument that SF connects with an amazingly broad range of public issues.

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What is the probability that you are dreaming right now?

By Jan Westerhoff
Most people think that even though it is possible that they are dreaming right now, the probability for this is very small, perhaps as small as winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. In fact the probability is quite high. Let’s do the maths.

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Languages, Species, and Biological Parallels

By Stephen R. Anderson
Human languages are not biological organisms, despite the temptation to talk about them as “being born,” “dying,” “competing with one another,” and the like.  Nonetheless, the parallels between languages and biological species are rich and wonderful.  Sometimes, in fact, they are downright eerie…

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Do we really need magnets?

By Stephen Blundell
Do you own any magnets?  Most people, when asked this question, say no.  Then they remember the plastic letters sticking to their refrigerator door, or the holiday souvenir that keeps takeaway menus pinned to a steel surface in their kitchen.  Maybe I do own a few, they say.

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In this ‘information age’, is privacy dead?

By Raymond Wacks
Are public figures entitled to privacy? Or do they forfeit their right? Is privacy possible online? Does the law adequately protect private lives? Should the media be more strictly controlled? What of your sensitive medical or financial data? Are they safe and secure? Has the Internet changed everything?

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From Dante to Umberto Eco: why read Italian literature?

By Peter Hainsworth
Most English-speakers who read literature have heard of Dante. Eliot, Pound and a host of other modern poets, critics and translators have made sure of that, though it’s a moot point whether many readers have followed Dante very far out of his dark wood. When it comes to other classic Italian writers, the darkness thickens.

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Michael Palin on anxiety

By Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. But what about those people for whom anxiety is an inevitable part of their working life, such as actors and presenters? How do they cope? We asked Michael Palin, member of the legendary Monty Python team and long established as one of the nation’s most cherished broadcasters, how he copes with nerves as a performer. As it turns out, the strategies he adopts can be useful to anyone struggling with anxiety. Here’s an extract from our interview.

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1940s children’s books: peeps into the past

Children’s books are like time machines. Coming across the same edition of a much-loved book from childhood can instantly transport an individual back to the moment of reading. That visceral reaction, however, is rather different from the time-travel experienced by scholars who are working with children’s books from earlier periods.

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How are cures invented?

By Jonathan Slack
When I arrived in the USA as a professor I was surprised to find how specialized American scientists are. Most US biomedical labs just seem to work on one molecular pathway or even one molecule.

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Why are Russians attracted to strong leaders?

By Geoffrey Hosking
After a decade of a chaotic but exhilarating democracy in the 1990s, Putin as president and prime minister has been restoring a strong state. At least, that is how we usually understand it. He has certainly restored an authoritarian state. On assuming office in 2000, he strengthened the ‘power vertical’ by ending the local election of provincial governors and sending in his own viceroys – mostly ex-military men – to supervise them. Citing the state’s need for ‘information security’, he closed down or took over media outlets which exposed inconvenient information or criticised his actions. Determined opponents were bankrupted, threatened, arrested, even murdered. He subdued the unruly Duma (parliament) by making it much more difficult for opposition parties to register or gain access to the media, and by encouraging violations of electoral procedure at the polls. Until recently, the Russian public seemed to accept this as part of the natural order.

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Derrida and Europe beyond Eurocentrism and Anti-Eurocentrism

By Simon Glendinning
Two months before his death in October 2004, Jacques Derrida gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde which turned out to be his last. Although he refused to treat it as an occasion in which to give what he called “a health bulletin,” he acknowledged that he was seriously ill, and the discussion is overshadowed by that fact: there is a strong sense of someone taking stock, someone taking the chance to give a final word.

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