Zuckerberg

Today I’m talking to Amy Tilbrook all about why lying to Starbucks is good but lying to Facebook is bad.

To hear more from Amy, join her for her show ‘When Is Lying Good?’ on the 23rd August at the New Town Theatre.

Do you lie?

All the time, Starbucks has never had my real name to put on a coffee cup.

Is lying to your mum bad?

Morally bad, or ineffective? Either way – lying to my mum is definitely bad for your health – she always knows.

Is lying to the government bad?

Yes – in both contexts.

Is lying about yourself to Facebook, or online more generally, bad?

Lets leave aside legal and ethical arguments for now.  In some circumstances lying or omitting details is way to avoid the junk mail or protect your privacy, basically a way to avoid your data being used against you.

This sounds good in principle, a few white lies don’t hurt right? However, often it is not too difficult to link supposedly different data, and fake information could have wider implications for the rest of us.

What are the consequences of lying on things which seem unimportant like Facebook?

Apart from the immediate consequences of breaking terms and conditions of service, it’s time we thought about what happens to the information we write down about ourselves. Researchers, companies and governments use data about people all the time – to make advances in healthcare, to decide policy on education and services, and for their own gain. It’s scary, but if they’re making decisions based on false evidence, then it goes a lot further than having a voucher for your least preferred brand of beans.

Isn’t lying the best way to protect yourself- both from strangers and from companies using your data?

The best way would be to never give any data out about yourself at all, but you would find it fairly difficult to navigate the world. As ever, it depends on why and how you do something. It is one method of avoiding people taking your identity or being able to search for you by name, but if you give real opinions anyway it’s not going to stop targeted advertising finding it’s way to you. Lying by fudging your details might feel like gaming the system, but it isn’t as effective at hiding people as you might think – find out more on 23rd August.

Yes or No

Can you tell I’m losing some of my earlier inspiration for these themes? Today Carol Porteous is giving me some simple answers to some not so simple
questions. To hear more from Carol join her for ‘Listening To The Public Is Dangerous!‘ on the 6th August at the New Town Theatre. 

Pineapple on pizza?

I am ok with pineapple but don’t really like ham.

Country music?

I was actually brought up with a mum who was a country music fan, so  I like “some” country music.

Is a hotdog a sandwich?

A hot dog are the furry creatures you see in Princes Street gardens panting, just kidding…. Most definitely a sandwich, but then does that make a burger a sandwich? Hmmm I will have to rethink this.

Democracy?

Democracy although something most people think is a good idea and occupying a fixed idea, that everyone has a right to vote or say in who they are governed by or represented by.  But I think how democracy is articulated by individuals and on a local level is constantly changing and evolving in response to technological and societal challenges

Engaging the public in research?

May be a way of democratising science, a space which is traditionally viewed as occupied by clever individuals beavering away to find the answer to societal issues and problems.

Why can this be dangerous?

It challenges the perceived role of researchers and scientists, who don’t always have the answers (shock horror!) and who don’t always understand the lived experiences of individuals. It is more dangerous for researchers and scientists than anyone else!

What are the benefits?

Engaging the public in science may make science more accessible and research more applicable.

Should researchers keep engaging the public in research despite the dangers?

Of course they should! It is fun and scary.

eXamples

Faye Skelton gives me some frightening examples of false confessions which led to convictions. Come and hear more from her to be truly terrified at her

Faye Skelton

show ‘Suspect Confessions’ on the 17th August at the New Town Theatre.

Are there any famous examples of false confessions?

There are many famous cases of false confessions. One of the most famous in the UK is the case of the Birmingham Six, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for a series of pub bombings in 1974 that left 21 people dead and almost 200 injured. In 1991 the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions on the basis that their confessions had been given after a series of coercive and unethical interrogation tactics had been used on them. An example of a current case is that of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of the Making a Murderer TV series. The circumstances under which Dassey confessed are troubling, and he maintains his innocence, yet the US Supreme Court has just denied his last appeal.

Did any one example particularly inspire your research?

One case that interested me growing up was that of Stephan Kiszco, who was wrongly convicted of the sexual assault and murder of 11 year old Lesley Molseed in Rochdale in 1975. Kizsco served 16 years in prison before his conviction was overturned, and again examination of the circumstances surrounding his confession are very concerning. In this case there was evidence that the police investigators suppressed evidence proving his innocence, and took advantage of his vulnerabilities.

How can we avoid more of these examples being created?

One of the key problems is that it is counter-intuitive to admit to something you haven’t done, especially a crime that could get you in to serious trouble. The vast majority of people believe that they would never do this, and so believe that innocent people wouldn’t confess to a crime. This means that if a confession is given, it can hold more sway than any other evidence presented to juries. Our own confirmation bias can lead us to discount evidence to the contrary and find issues with its reliability. There is however overwhelming research evidence showing that particular interview techniques can lead innocent people to confess, particularly children and vulnerable adults. TV shows such as The Confession Tapes are now helping to raise awareness of some of these cases so that the public are better informed of the dangers.

Who Would Win?

Today I persuade a world class academic into a few rounds of my favourite game- who would win?

To hear more from Derek Ball come to his show ‘The Spy Who Doped Me’ on the 26th August at the New Town Theatre. 

Shark or bear?

The shark but only if the bear was going for a leisurely swim.

One giant bee or thousands of bee sized tigers?

Thousands of bee sized tigers.

An athlete who’s doping or WADA?

Currently the athlete who dopes, WADA still have a long way to go, they’re trying but it’s difficult.

Why is doping a problem?

Several reasons, one is about fairness in sport, we all like to think that athletes compete on a level playing field. Secondly there are some serious health implications for athletes that dope and while they could be several years away we have a duty of care for athletes to educate and protect them.

Why do so many athletes manage to get away with it?

We don’t really know how many athletes are practicing doping but the recent watershed concerning athletes that are under a warning but which is not being pursued by their governing body is worrying. In addition, there is still a lack of financial resource for a comprehensive and uniform anti-doping system.

Is the problem only amongst athletes such as the Russian Olympic team who have state sanctioned doping, or is the issue more prevalent?

The issue is probably more prevalent, the recent ban imposed on Ryan Lochte demonstrates that even the most successful of athletes (12 time Olympic medallist) can fall foul of the rules. He has said that whatever it was that he was injecting was benign, the fact that he chose to an invasive route runs against the rules.

Is the process for doping control fool proof?

In light of the recent salbutamol case there are now questions about the process of analysis and interpretation of biological samples. The debate raises issues about what constitutes doping but also opens the possibilities of bending the rules/doping. This issue about interpretation of the results of an analysis is one of the key parts of show. I will be asking the audience to decide on how  they might avoid testing positive and how they might interpret a set of results on whether they are positive or negative.

Visit

Today I’m talking to Thomas Bak about his favourite places to visit and their attitude towards languages.

To hear more from Thomas head to his show ‘Ditch The Classroom; Speak In Tongues!’ on the 13th of August and the 16th of August at The New Town Theatre. 

Where is your favourite place to visit?

I really love remote places, giving me a feeling of being “at the end of the world”: little-visited countries like Paraguay or Mongolia, walking 100 miles through a Namibian desert or sailing 24 hours in a small boat to reach a research station on Spitsbergen/Svalbard

Where do you most want to visit next?

My dream destinations are Greenland, Ethiopia and Georgia (in the Caucasus, not the one in the US)

Is there anywhere you’ve visited which is particularly important to your research?

A lot of my research is about identifying populations which are of particular interest to answer specific questions and conducting research with them. The most important place is certainly Hyderabad in India, where thanks to collaboration with my Indian colleague Suvarna Alladi I did some of my most interesting studies on the influence of bilingualism on dementia and stroke; Hyderabad is a place which has been predominantly multilingual for centuries, so it is a perfect environment to study bilingualism which is not associated with recent migration, as it is for instance in Canada and the USA.

In Scotland, the most important place is the Gaelic college of Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, where we did studies of the cognitive effects of intensive language learning.

Does the importance of knowing multiple languages vary in different places you’ve visited?

Enormously. In many parts of India or Africa multilingualism is the rule, with people speaking two, three, four or even five languages on a regular basis. When I say in the UK that I can teach in 7 languages, people look at me like at an extra-terrestrial; in India or Namibia, this is perceived as normal.

But the difference is not only in knowing different languages, but also in the importance attached to knowing them. In Japan, many people find it difficult to speak English (or any language other than Japanese), but they make an effort to learn it. It is mainly in the UK and US that you can encounter a disinterest, sometimes even hostility against learning languages. On the other hand, if you go to the annual international polyglot conference (last year in Reykjavik, this year in Ljubljana), you will find many Brits and their knowledge of other languages is amazing!

How much importance do you think we should give to knowing multiple languages here in the UK?

I think many people assume that the fact that English became a global language means that if you speak English, you do not need to learn any other languages. In reality, the opposite is true: speaking English is nowadays a basic skill, like reading, writing and counting. It is a prerequisite to participate in the social, cultural and economic life of our world, but it is not enough. You will not impress future employers by being able to read and write, you will need more. Similarly, knowing just English won’t impress anybody. The British Chamber of Commerce is very much aware of this; it argues that the lack of knowledge of foreign languages costs British companies millions in lost business and is actively promoting language learning.

Unique

Today I’m talking to Jonathan Pettitt about what makes humans and his research unique. To hear more from Jonathan join him for his show ‘May Contain Neanderthal’ on the 25th August at the New Town Theatre.

What is the unique angle of your research?

My research is focussed on the study of nematode (roundworm) genetics; specifically on the genes that are unique to nematodes. The practical reason for this approach is that the products of such genes may make good targets for drugs to treat nematode infections in humans, animals and plants. However, I am also interested in how new genes evolve and how they become incorporated into existing genetic networks without catastrophically breaking them.

The great thing about genetics is that apart from a few idiosyncrasies, worm genetics is the same as human genetics. In many ways human genetics is pretty unremarkable (nematodes are much more successful than mammals, for instance), but I’m fascinated by what genetics can tell us about ourselves, where we come from, and possibly our future as a species.

You say that the statement “our genes make us who we are” is false, are we not unique? Does our DNA not make us special or different?

Obviously, in one sense, we are human because we have a human genetic program rather than that of a gorilla, a nematode, or a carrot. But that simple answer hides a wealth of ignorance.

There is not a simple connection between each person’s genetic make-up and their characteristics. Our genome is not a blueprint, but more like a cake recipe, or a set of origami instructions. There are 20,000 or so human genes, and each gene exists in different versions, some of which have no effect on gene activity, others have very strong effects; most gene variants have very small effects on human traits.

Building a human is a complicated business: the trillions of cells must organise themselves guided mainly by their genetic instructions, but also in many cases by their neighbours. Many cells will not perfectly execute their genetic code, which is why identical twins are not the same, and why no one is completely symmetrical: the same genetic program is running in all our cells, but chance events will shape the interpretation of this code in each case. You are unique, but only part of the reason for that is genetic.

You also mention the prospect of designer babies; will they be here anytime soon? If not, should we even be doing research into them at all since they seem the idea of human uniqueness and individuality?

Short answer to the first question – no. Our understanding of human genetics is not sophisticated enough to do anything other than make corrections to single damaged genes. And we already achieve the same outcome using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to prevent serious genetic diseases from being passed to the next generation.

Research into the genome engineering of human embryos is very tightly controlled and is largely focussed on improving our understanding human embryonic development and fertility.

There are still technical challenges associated with genome engineering technology that need to be overcome. However, I think it is almost inevitable that the technology will one day be used to improve human biology – disease resistance comes to mind, or tolerance for extreme environmental conditions. It is worth bearing in mind that evolution has already done this multiple times in the last ten thousand years in different human populations.

What will make your CODI show unique?

At the beginning of the show I want to find out people’s views of the role played by genetics in “hot button” human traits like aggression, IQ and sexuality. I will be guided by these responses in determining the direction of the rest of the show.

I also want to get across to the audience that our ignorance about how genes work to build a human (or a worm) is enormous – what we understand is dwarfed by what we don’t understand. To help with this, I’ll be bring along a scale model of the human genome.

It’s important for people to realise that making meaningful predictions from someone’s genetic code is still a long way off and may never be fully realised.

What’s something unique about you? 

At the beginning of my career in genetics, as a PhD student, I genuinely had doubts about whether I was doing the right thing, because of Gandalf from the Lord of Rings.

Experimental genetics (working with yeast, fruit flies, or worms) involves working out how genes function by systematically breaking them, and then seeing what happens to the organism with the broken gene.

At the beginning of my PhD, I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time; there is a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf chastises Saruman, saying, “He that breaks a thing, to find out what it is, has left the path of wisdom.”

When I read that, I seriously reconsidered whether I would, in fact, end up leaving the path of wisdom if I pursued a career in worm genetics. In the end, the lure of deciphering how genes work overcame any qualms I had about leaving the path of the wise. So, I guess I’m probably more Saruman than Gandalf.

Shaped

Today I’m talking to Cathy Bovill about what has shaped her reseacrh and her CoDI show. To hear more from Cathy join her for ‘Hey, You At The Back!‘ on the 4th August at the New Town Theatre. 

Which experience has particularly shaped your research?

My mother and grandmother were both activists in the women’s peace movement and this certainly influenced me to develop a strong sense of social justice when growing up. I think this has impacted on all the work I do, to ensure I maintain a strong set of values around cultural diversity, and critical pedagogy, and a strong belief in developing individual and community potential. In my current research, I witness when students become really meaningfully engaged, they are capable of amazing creativity.

Working on student engagement you must hear a lot of those experiences which have shaped teachers’ methods. Are there any which come up time and time again?

I visited Legoland in Denmark last year, and when I arrived at the front gates just before the park opened, children were running around and playing outside the entrance. Five minutes before opening, there was a palpable sense of excitement amongst the children. As the metal barrier started to rise at opening time, children were ducking underneath to try to get into the park faster. However, at 08:55 on a Monday morning outside most classrooms there is an apparent lack of this excitement. I think we have a lot of work to do to recapture the excitement of learning, the fun and unpredictability that increases curiosity. I get excited when teaching is more interactive and both teachers and students sense the increased interest and buzz about learning. A small example, is when teachers ask students to work in groups and present their work back to the rest of the class. This changes the typical dynamic of a class when the students become teachers for a while.

Or any experiences which particularly stand out?

I love the example of a Professor at Reading University who gives his students 5-6 keywords and asks his students to write their own essay title. The keywords keep the students on topic, but the freedom enables them to think about what most interests them in the subject area. They come to realise it’s quite challenging to write essay questions, but the Professor says that the students are far more engaged in writing the essays and they generally perform better because of their improved levels of engagement.

How would you like to shape the future of teaching and student engagement?

The foundation of student engagement to me is good relationships. We need staff engagement first because if teachers are not interested or don’t want to be there, how do we expect to inspire students to learn? A very engaged student once said to me, ‘we’re not unicorns living in the forest, some unique mythical and magical isolated beast…there are many engaged students just like me out there!” Teachers need to recognise the amazing ability of the majority of students and have high expectations. Teachers need to greet each new group of students they meet in the knowledge that they have an opportunity to build new relationships and that inspiring learning can happen as a result. We all remember the teachers we had that went the extra mile and demonstrated that they cared. Good quality relationships can be life changing for both staff and students.

Rid

In a period of Brexit, Trump visits and- most importantly- Three Lions making it to number one I’ve felt inspired to ask  David Mountain all about why we should get rid of patriotism. 

To hear more from David join him at the New Town Theatre on the 8th August for his show ‘The Problem With Patriotism’.

What fashion trend would you get rid of?

Anything that involves people messing around with their eyebrows.

What song would you get rid of forever?

Sweet Caroline. Just awful.

What one TV show would you get rid of?

Any show that starts with ‘The Great British…’, whether it’s baking or sewing or allotment tending. Not only are they mind-numbingly boring, but they pander to a cosy, kitschy sense of patriotism that encourages us to forget many of the problems with national pride.

Why? Is it not just a bit of fun?

Far from it – patriotism is deadly serious. And I use ‘deadly’ advisedly: patriotism is used around the world to justify and even celebrate war. Away from the battlefield, national pride is used to build support for reckless and poorly-planned gambles – Brexit and Trump come to mind – that would otherwise fail to gain traction. When the president of the United States tells us it’s unpatriotic not to applaud him, I don’t find myself laughing.

Why should we get rid of patriotism more generally?

Because it is an illogical, dangerous and unnecessary belief. In the twenty-first century humanity faces some very big problems: climate change, nuclear war, overpopulation and a whole host of other cheery concerns. We are not going to be able to tackle them if we continue to believe that our various nationalities are more important than our common humanity. Patriotism entrenches divisions, and we no longer have the time to pander to such parochialism.

What should replace patriotism?

Absolutely nothing! Nothing, that is, beyond a basic grasp of logic and compassion. One of the crucial things about patriotism is that there’s nothing worthwhile it can achieve that can’t also be achieved without it. People like to say that in a world without patriotism we would stop caring, stop paying taxes or stop obeying the law. But do we pay taxes because we love our country, or because tax evasion is illegal? You can live a decent, engaged and productive life without once feeling proud of your country

Quote

Today I talk to Neil Speirs about his favourite quote from a footballer, as he shows me that ‘Footballers Have Feelings Too’. To hear more from Neil, come along to the New Town Theatre on the 17th August and the 24th August.

Do you have a favourite quote from a footballer?

In a recent article in The Players Tribune [1], Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku very powerfully recalls the moment that he realised that his family were poor and the look on his mum’s face; ‘I knew we were struggling. But when she was mixing in water with the milk, I realized it was over, you know what I mean? This was our life.  I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want her to stress. I just ate my lunch. But I swear to God, I made a promise to myself that day. It was like somebody snapped their fingers and woke me up. I knew exactly what I had to do, and what I was going to do.  I couldn’t see my mother living like that. Nah, nah, nah. I couldn’t have that.’

Why is it important?

This great sense of loyalty, of family solidarity – of love, respect and commitment to his mother is so important to be heard coming from the mouth of a towering 94 kg top class footballer.  There was no way he wanted her to live like this, he doesn’t once mention how he wanted a better life, but rather that she deserved one.  Lukaku recalls praying in the dark at home with his brother and mum, knowing things were going to get better – but when he came home from school one day to find her crying he told her; ‘Mum, it’s gonna change. You’ll see. I’m going to play football for Anderlecht, and it’s going to happen soon. We’ll be good. You won’t have to worry anymore.’

 What can it teach us?

I suppose this teaches us about family love, it brings to light the poverty that people are subjected to experience and it outlines the absolute determination that Lukaku had to keeping his promise to his mum.  The work that he put in day by day – it didn’t come to him instantaneously, but through being committed to working hard over time.  Any young (or older) fans that hear this, will be inspired to make positive life choices, to take care of ourselves and others – and to take part in life and become who we are meant to be – regardless of where we grow up.

Amusingly Lukaku said the promise he made was that he’d play for Anderlecht by the time he was 16 – he was 11 days late in achieving that!  But he now plays for Manchester United and represents his country.

How can examples like this tie in to formal learning? 

We can learn from them.  Across the globe, footballers and other athletes have actively engaged with issues related to peace, racism and social inequities.  These voices highlight important social and political topics, which can be used as a way to engage learners with school curriculum.  This critical pedagogy strips the class anchorage from  curriculum  and makes it feel more relevant to learners – especially working-class students who are not fully participating in their education.

[1] https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/romelu-lukaku-ive-got-some-things-to-say h us)

Pet Peeves

Today I’m talking with Anna Schneider about her pet peeves and how we can go about changing them to improve everyone’s lives. 

To hear more from Anna head to her show ‘Who Do You Want To Wipe Your Bum?’ on the 5th August.

What is your professional pet peeve? 

My professional pet peeve is bad communication around important health topics. Oftentimes, taboos around our bodies and our own vulnerability keep us from thinking aloud about what we would want and need if we fell ill. This lack of communication can happen within us (not wanting to even think about it), just as it can happen between us and our loved ones. Moreover, it can also affect the help and advice we receive from health and care professionals, who are only humans that find talking about difficult topics as hard as anyone.

Can you give some examples?

Imagine your colleagues point out to you that you make more and more mistakes. You file things incorrectly, you forget about meetings. Eventually, you go to your GP, and after several tests, early onset dementia is diagnosed. Naturally, you and your family are distraught and start researching what you can do to maintain your mind’s abilities as long as you can.

Why is this a problem?

Your reaction is perfectly normal and there’s nothing wrong with any of these steps. But this imaginary you is not acknowledging the whole picture: that dementia ultimately is a life-limiting illness and you will need care. Dementia is, from a certain perspective, even a ‘polite’ illness, because it does provide you with early warning signs. While it robs you of precious years of your life, and it will eventually rob you of your identity (and most people would argue your dignity), it does give you time to realise what is happening. You thus have the chance to come to terms with your loss of ‘functionality’ and make arrangements for your care. The problem is how hard many of us find it to accept the true impact of their illness, even more so when we are still young.

How can we change things?

That’s a big question to which we can come up with many different answers, all of which may address parts of the bigger problem: badly paid carers, understaffed care facilities, no clear instructions where you want to spend the end of your life, how you want your care to be conducted, who do you want to make choices about your care when you no longer can, and many more aspects.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Fringe Festival?

I enjoy the spontaneity at the Fringe – just following recommendations by friends, seeing a fun poster and letting that make your decision for you, sitting in the meadows and being offered a free ticket! That said, the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas has a good line up – I think I’ll go and learn how we should ‘Abolish Childhood’ and ‘Stop Making Sense’. I’ll also be on the lookout for puppet shows for adults – I’m still sad that I missed the late night Muppets show a few years ago!