Understanding the new political turbulence
In an unpredictable political period, Professor Helen Margetts, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, and her team seek to improve methods of understanding political mobilisation in the social media age. Researchers from Oxford and University College London draw on large-scale internet data to spot patterns of behaviour in digital traces left by acts such as signing a petition, donating money to a political cause, supporting, liking and sharing. They use ‘social data science’ methodologies, including experimentation, to help understand and perhaps even predict the outcomes of this democratic turbulence.
Researching the role of genes in our reproductive behaviour
Sociogenome is a five-year project led by Professor Melinda Mills of the Department of Sociology, which studies the role of genes on the reproductive behaviour of men and women. This research is pioneering; set against a background in which social scientists have recognised the influence of social background and environment, this multidisciplinary team takes a more holistic approach in also examining the genetic influence.
Professor Mills and an international team of around 250 researchers drew on recent unprecedented advances in molecular genetics to discover an underlying biological basis for reproductive behaviour. Already they have identified 12 specific areas of the DNA sequence associated with the age at which men and women have their first child and the total number of children they will have.
‘It may soon be possible to give people information on the important question of how late they can wait to have children, based on their DNA variants,’ explains Professor Mills. ‘This discovery may also open up new possibilities for infertility treatments in the future.’
Documenting endangered archaeological sites
The Middle East and North Africa is one of the most significant regions in the world for its archaeological remains. However, many archaeological sites face increasing threats not only from conflict, but also from the effects of population increase, agricultural development, urban expansion and looting. The EAMENA project (Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa), in collaboration with the University of Leicester, uses aerial photographs and satellite imagery to record new sites and monitor threats to them. With support from the Arcadia Fund, the team has designed a searchable online database and created more than 100,000 records to improve the protection of archaeological sites in the future. The project shares these data and runs workshops to improve skills and raise awareness with the relevant authorities in each country.
Helping refugees help themselves
Work by Oxford researchers is changing the long-held view of refugees as passive victims who rely on handouts. Director of the Refugee Studies Centre Professor Alexander Betts and his Humanitarian Innovation Project team (HIP) studied refugees’ economic lives and contributions in Uganda. Their research shows that refugees actually help boost the local economy if given the chance, but if they are denied the right to work, this limits their economic activities and drains the host country. The findings have been presented to the United Nations, the World Bank, governments, NGOs and other organisations concerned with providing refugee assistance. Professor Betts and HIP won a University of Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Public Engagement with Research for this work. Foreign Policy magazine has recognised Professor Betts as one of the top 100 Global Thinkers of 2016.