Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

How to use maps to solve complex problems

Imagine that you’ve just been appointed the head of operations for a five-star hotel in Manhattan. Your boss calls you in her office on your first day and says: “Our biggest problem is how slow elevators are. Everyone complains about it, and we can’t have that. Speed them up.” How would you do it? Most […]

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The problem with overqualified research

Not all research findings turn out to be true. Of those that are tested, some will need to be amplified, others refined or circumscribed, and some even rejected. Practicing researchers learn quickly to qualify their claims, taking into account the possibility of improved measurements, more stringent analyses, new interpretations, and, in the extreme, experimental or […]

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Four reasons why the Indo-Pacific matters in 2020

If there is one place in the world that we need to keep our eyes on for a better understanding of the dynamics of international affairs in 2020, it is the Indo-Pacific region. Here are four reasons why. The Indo-Pacific is hard to define Politically, the Indo-Pacific is still a contested construct in the making. […]

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How old music conservatories turned orphans into composers

If you approached bystanders on a street corner in sixteenth-century Naples and asked them “What do conservatories conserve?” the likely answers would not have been “performing arts” or “rare plants.” No, you would have been told confidently that conservatories conserved orphans and foundlings. These church-sponsored orphanages practiced a kind of alchemy—they took in defenseless little […]

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Celebrating Black History Month with America’s top musicians [playlist]

Black History Month is cause for celebration and remembrance of black excellence throughout American history. This February, we’re celebrating with a playlist highlighting some of the most remarkable musicians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Beginning with ragtime pioneer, Scott Joplin, this playlist navigates through the many different musical movements created and perfected by black artists. Ragtime gave […]

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Etymological insecticide

This story continues the attempts of the previous week to catch a flea. Anyone who will take the trouble to look at the etymology of the names of the flea, louse, bedbug, and their blood-sucking allies in a dozen languages will discover that almost nothing is known for certain about it. . This fact either means that we are dealing with very old words whose beginnings can no longer be discovered or that the names have been subject to taboo (consequently, the initial form is beyond recognition), or, quite likely, both factors were in play.

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The language gap in North African schools

When children start school in an industrialized country, their native language is for the most part the one used by the teachers. Conversely, in many developing countries, the former colonial languages have been proclaimed languages of instruction within the classroom at the expense of native indigenous languages. A third scenario is something in-between: The language […]

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Using math to understand inequity

What can math tell us about unfairness? Bias, discrimination, and inequity are phenomena that are deeply complex, context sensitive, personal, and intersectional. The mathematical modeling of social scenarios, on the other hand, is a practice that necessitates simplification. Using models to understand what happens in our social realm means representing the complex with something much […]

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Six books to read to understand business innovation [reading list]

According to McKinsey & Company, 84% of executives agree on the importance of innovation in growth and strategy in their organizations but only 6% know the exact problem and how to improve in innovation. As the world is moving faster and getting more complex, it is important to find ways to constantly innovate for organizations and […]

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Usage issues—How are you doing?

When people talk about grammar problems, they often mean usage issues—departures from the traditional conventions for edited English and the most formal types of speaking. To a linguist, grammar refers to the way that language is used—by speakers of all types—and the way that it works—how it is acquired, how it changes, and so on.

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Henry David Thoreau and the nature of civil disobedience – Philosopher of the Month

Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, environmentalist, poet, and essayist. He is best known for Walden, an account of a simpler life lived in natural surroundings, first published in 1854, and his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience which presents a rebuttal of unjust government influence over the individual. An avid, and widely-read, student of philosophy from the classical to the contemporary, Thoreau pursued philosophy as a way of life and not solely a lens for thought and discourse.

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How the UK is facilitating war crimes in Yemen

More than 100,000 people have died in the war in Yemen since March 2015, including over 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks. All parties to the war have committed violations of international law, but the Saudi-led coalition—armed and supported militarily and diplomatically by the United States and the United Kingdom primarily—is responsible for the highest number […]

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How far can a flea jump?

Stinging and gnawing insects are not only a nuisance in everyday life; they also harass etymologists. Those curious about such things may look at my post on bug for June 3, 2015. After hovering in the higher spheres of being (eat, drink, breathe: those were the subjects of my most recent posts), I propose to return to earth and deal with low, less dignified subjects.

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Making Shakespeare a classic

Despite his foundational status in today’s academy, William Shakespeare was not particularly welcome in the early modern English universities. In the 1570s and 1580s, just as the commercial playhouses were gaining steam in London, the authorities of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities enacted statutes banning “common stage players” from performing within university precincts. Chancellors lacked the […]

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Taking a knee: sports and activism [podcast]

In the fall of 2016, the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a firestorm when he took a knee during the national anthem. He was protesting police brutality perpetuated against African-American men, and the reaction to his simple act of dissent was immense.

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“Breath” and “breathe”

I decided to make good on my promise to complete a series devoted to a few words referring to the most basic functions of our organism. The previous posts dealt with eat, drink, and throat. Now, as promised, a story of breath is coming up. The basic word here is the noun breath; it already existed in Old English and had long æ.  The verb breathe is a later derivative of the same root; it also had a long vowel.

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