25 Days of CoDI: Day 16

On the sixteenth day of CoDI Angus Bancroft said to me ‘Cyber Crime Benefits Society’…

Angus Bancroft: How Cyber Crime Benefits Society


Are you in the dark when it comes to the dark net? Well just as well we have Angus here to shine some light on the matter then.

Angus Bancroft I am Angus Bancroft, a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. My research is about illicit drug use, illicit markets and cyber-crime. I research the darknet, the hidden, anonymised internet which hosts markets for illicit drugs and criminal services.


A growing trend is for illicit markets to integrate with legal services and systems. In some ways innovation on the darknet drives the production and adoption of technologies which can have a wider social use. For example, anonymous browsing technology can both enable malicious internet activity and also protect dissidents in repressive regimes.


This is my second CODI – my first was in 2014 when I talked about why people binge drink and why they don’t much care about sensible drinking advice. I enjoy CODI because of the wide range of people who come, who have different experiences and opinions on the topic – and CODI lets them talk back.


Ideas are power, and CODI gives people ideas. 


Angus’ show takes place on Friday 19th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:  http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/113/performance/1548/book-tickets


Angus Cybercrime



25 Days of CoDI: Day 15

On the fifteenth day of CoDI Rachel got me to surprise… what would I put in my archive?

Rachel Hosker: Is This Your Life?

Ever thought about your own personal archive? Ever wondered about the skeletons that might find their way into it? Or are you certain all your skeletons will die with you? Well, don’t be so sure about that, why? Well don’t just take it from us…

Rachel ArchivesTell us about yourself!

I am Rachel Hosker, Archives Manager at the University of Edinburgh. As an archivist I make the University’s rare and unique collections available to researchers and anyone who is interested. I love my job as with each day you never know what you will uncover or share working with collections that hold the evidence of real people and real life within them.

And it is the sharing them with others that makes our work truly enjoyable and exciting; especially when they surprise people or you get an unexpected reaction to a discovery!

So with the real life and real people recorded in our collections in mind, I chose my ‘Dangerous idea’, which is that we all leave a trace of ourselves in the world. Some people leave an almost complete documentary of their lives, while others leave as little as possible. But what if you were to leave an archive? Would this reflect you, your life, thoughts, personality, work, interests, and relationships? What would be destroyed and forgotten?  Would it solely leave your own perspective of yourself? What would others put in an archive about you?

Rachel Archives





So does everyone have an archive?

Some people actually want the right to be forgotten and to leave no trace, but I would suggest that would be very difficult to achieve. We all have birth and death records, some have marriage or civil partnerships recorded.  Maybe you were caught in a photograph in 1975 that was published in a newspaper or you wrote a poem for a school magazine and you certainly would have been recorded in the school registers. Maybe someone wrote a letter and mentioned you and your role in an event. The list of possibilities goes on and the potential for unknown traces to be left in archives grows and grows as you think about it.

So I will propose that no-one is immune from this, no-one can escape leaving their trace.

What I’ve also see in my work with archives is that gaps are left too.  Sometimes this is because someone purposely does not want particular mentions, opinions or evidence to survive.  Sometimes it is just due to the natural loss of items as time moves on. But people will fill these gaps, supposition will find a place and someone’s history is changed, even subtly. We’re all guilty of filling these gaps.  It is interesting sometimes finding out different people’s theories and seeing what evidence or lack of they are based on. It is like looking at one photograph to tell the whole story of an event without thinking of what was out of shot.

How are you feeling about taking part in CoDI 2016?

I hope people will join me to discuss, debate and share their thoughts and own stories on this. This will be my first Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas outing. I’m very excited to be part of this year’s line up to explore the idea of archives and the personal impact they have on all of us. So I’m hoping that this will encourage people to share some of those ‘skeletons in the closet’ or think about their ‘This is Your Life’ moment or obituary with a bit of humour in the mix!


Rachel’s show takes place on Thursday 18th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/112/performance/1552/book-tickets

Rachel Archive

25 Days of CoDI: Day 14

On the fourteenth day of CoDI, I heard Grahame sing to me…

Let’s talk about tax, babyy, Let’s talk about you and me, Let’s talk about all the good things, And the bad things that may be, Let’s talk about tax, baby. 

Okay so you know the song, but do you know the talk? No? Over to Grahame it is then…

Grahame Steven: Tax Powers? Careful What You Wish For!

Grahame steven

I’m not a fully paid up member of the academic world. I have a guilty secret. I used to work for companies in the UK, Europe and Africa. This means I view issues from a real world and an academic perspective.


Tax affects us all. Last year, I decided to look at the implications of devolving income tax powers to Scotland since it had become a big issue. I was shocked when I read the legislation. Has anyone thought this through? I puzzled about this until I heard Margaret Hodge MP tell a tax conference that since MPs rely on technical experts to create tax legislation they find it difficult to challenge their work. So the answer was no. I then considered the implications of devolving corporation tax to Scotland, which a number of MSPs are calling for. Once again, the implications were surprising.


We need an evidence based approach to making policy – just put my academic hat on – that takes account of the views of real people to create practical legislation that is seen to be fair. This is particularly important for tax legislation since devolving tax powers to the Scottish Government doesn’t just affect Scotland.


So please come along to my show since I’m looking forward to a robust exchange of views on this contentious topic.

Well, you heard the man! What are you waiting for?

Grahame’s show takes place on Wednesday 17th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/111/performance/1546/book-tickets


Grahame Tax

25 Days of CoDI: Day 13

 On the thirteenth day of CoDI, Amy got me wondering, could I write a romance novel?

Amy Burge: Can Anyone Write a Romance Novel?

Could you?

Tell us about yourself Amy…Amy Burge Romance Novel

I like to think about the past. Specifically, I’m interested in how historical perspectives can help us think differently about the way love, relationships, gender and sexuality are represented in popular literature. In other words, how can history help us change the future?

My background is in literature and gender. I completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature and followed this up with a Masters and a PhD in Literature and Women’s Studies at the University of York.

Since then, I’ve researched and published on masculinity, virginity, religion and ethnicity in various kinds of popular culture, particularly romance. In fact, I’ve just published a book comparing the way relationships between Muslims and Christians are represented in medieval and modern popular romance (Representing Difference in the Medieval and Modern Orientalist Romance).

So why romance novels?

I have a small obsession when it comes to romance novels. After completing my Masters and PhD studies in literature and women’s studies, I became fascinated with this predominantly women-authored, women-read genre of literature that out-performs pretty much every other genre literature in sales and readership. Historical, medical, supernatural, paranormal, workplace, holiday romance – every 5 seconds, a new Mills & Boon novel is sold in the UK.

In other words, everyone is reading romance.

But while romance might be the best-selling type of genre fiction, it doesn’t enjoy quite the same respect. In fact, romance is one of the most derided, mocked, misunderstood literary genres out there. This is despite the fact that it’s been around for hundreds of years (since at least the Middle Ages).

One of the main criticisms against popular romance is that it’s formulaic – the idea that the story is always the same, with a few elements changed each time. This makes it easy to claim that anyone can write a romance novel.

But can they? Could you?

How does this tie in with your show?

My show aims to introduce the romance novel to an audience who might never have even picked one up. My question for the audience is this – could we, collaboratively, write a romance novel? What would it look like? Is it really as easy as we think it is? And does the genre perhaps deserve a little more respect?

Together, over the course of the show, we’ll pick our favourite characters, setting, title, and plot to storyboard our collaborative romance novel. There might even be a dramatic reading or two. We’ll talk readership, motifs, storylines, and of course, sex.

What’s more, the first 50 audience members to sit down will receive a free romance novel, kindly donated by Harlequin Mills & Boon.

My aim is to encourage the audience to take romance seriously, just for an hour. Even if they’ve never picked up a romance novel before, I’ll encourage them to put any judgement aside, and really think about the question: “can anyone write a romance novel?”

Why did you choose to take part in CoDI 2016?

This is my first Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. I’m really excited about hearing what the audience has to say about these romance novels. Discussions about these books are often hilarious, and so I’m sure everyone will have a really good time. It’s probably clear from my research that I find this whole genre fascinating. Consequently, I’m most looking forward to hopefully persuading others that there is something to this romance thing after all.

What’s more, University English literature classrooms  don’t often discuss romance novels. In fact, I can recount numerous occasions (including in a job interview) where academics have asked me how I could possibly research these trashy, samey, formulaic books. In my experience, many of the really interesting, detailed, and productive conversations about romance novels comes from outside the university, and that’s why I chose to participate in CoDI.



Amy’s show takes place on Tuesday 16th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/110/performance/1545/book-tickets

Amy Romance Novel

25 Days of CoDI: Day 12

On the twelfth day of CoDI Matjaz said to me, ‘Let Big Brother Watch!’


Matjaz Vidmar: Let Big Brother Watch! (From Space…)


By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. […]


Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.


(From 1984 by George Orwell)


Take it away Matjaz…

By the Orwellian account above, advancing technology is, if left unchecked, a very real threat to human rights and democracy. As mentioned in my Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas show brief (bit.ly/CoDI-Satellites), satellite images now cover every inch of the world. Which leads me to the question, is this an invasion of privacy andILW2014 at ROE a major challenge to human rights, or is Big Brother really still quite controlled and tame? Is it fair to say that the majority of satellite images benefit our daily lives more than they intrude? And what is the scale and shape of their intrusion?


People’s concerns regarding the intrusive “eyes in the sky” turning to “spy” on our back yards, is what interest me. The event will explore these concerns. I hope to explain some of the technical set up of satellite observation of the Earth and the way data from “Earth Observation” is used. Such usage includes various applications related to management of the environment, natural resources, energy generation and consumption, public transport networks.

Since I am particularly interested in your views, about half of the show will be discussion based. You can ask me questions and share your opinions and ideas!

We will look into both the current cutting edge developments in Space Science, as well as technological applications and the impact they are generating in various contexts of our daily lives. Here, I will draw heavily on my research of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Space Sector. This relates scientific endeavour, technological prowess and entrepreneurial spirit, to generate an advanced Space-enabled economy for the future.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, No wait it's Big Brother ?

Though I am a Physicist by training, specialising in Astronomical Instrumentation, I am a postgraduate (PhD) student in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (stis.ed.ac.uk). I now primarily research innovation and business incubation in Space Technologies. Examples include satellites and ground-based telescopes. My research is centred on how knowledge is passed from basic research (i.e. science and engineering) into small firms all around Scotland. These firms, in turn, provide products and services to make space technology. They then use the data generated to make our lives that bit easier and richer.

But, this all sounds very serious, ‘where’s the fun?’

Fear not! CoDI’s wonderful compère, comedian Susan Morrison, will be sure to keep the entertainment coming. We may even have special surprise in store for you – a special guest of sorts!

Furthrmore I am no stranger to a bit of fun. I have done some similarly interesting stuff before! I have previously performed stand up in Bright Club (bit.ly/Bright-Club-First-Degree). Additionally I am a science communicator at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Visitor Centre. Here I am speaking to a variety of audiences about Astronomy and the emerging technologies. I assist in the running of the Particle Physics for Scottish Schools (PP4SS, UoE); assist with the delivery of Sci-Fun (UoE), Physics in the Field and Lab in a Lorry projects (IOP); and organise one off events (e.g. Falkirk and Borders Science Festivals). Additionally, I regularly deliver talks to Astronomy societies across Scotland.

Hope to see you there!

You can find more about Matjaz, his work and other things he is involved in at roe.ac.uk/~vidmar.

Matjaz’s show takes place on Monday 15th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/100/performance/1535/book-tickets

This event is part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas series (codi.beltanenetwork.org). It is a Beltane Network, Fair Play and Stand co-production for Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016. Special thanks to Graduate School of the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh and the Institute of Physics in Scotland (iopscotland.org) for financially supporting this show.

Matjaz Big Brother

25 Days of CoDI: Day 11

 On the eleventh day of CoDI, Heather and Sarah broke the news to me, that cervical cancer is history!


Heather Cubie and Sarah Howie: Cervical Cancer – You’re History!


How do you two know each other then?

Sarah & Heather

We have known each other for over 30 years and have worked together on human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and cervical cancer for the last 6 years. Both of us are working mothers and are committed to improving the health of women.

Over 30 years, not long then? So tell us a bit more about your research…

Heather is an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh and was a clinical virologist within the NHS. Sarah is Professor of Immunopathology at the University of Edinburgh where she has worked since 1982.

Before “retiring” in 2013 Heather worked in NHS Lothian where she founded the Scottish HPV reference laboratory. Heather was awarded an MBE in 2013 for her work in the health Service. Furthermore, in the same year was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Since 2013 Heather has also been running a project to increase awareness and improve treatment of women with HPV infection in the Nkhoma Hospital in the Central region of Malawi.  Sarah has been researching how the immune system is involved in chronic disease processes for many years. So when Heather proposed working together on HPV infection of the cervix and how this relates to cervical cancer she was intrigued and delighted to take part.

Understanding how a small virus with only 8 genes can cause such devastating disease is a big challenge. Helping to improve awareness as well as options for prevention and better treatment of infections is a big motivator for both of us.

A short video on this work produced in the University’s “Research in a Nutshell” series can be seen at http://www.nutshell-videos.ed.ac.uk/sarah-howie-immunopathology-of-chronic-disease/. A video of Heather and Sarah’s recent lecture in the University’s Understanding Disease series of Public Lectures can be seen at https://media.ed.ac.uk/media/1_k5ndgqet

This isn’t their first time in the lion’s den however…

Doing CODI for the first time last year was very scary. Neither of us had done a stage show since school days. Even then it hadn’t been in any other capacity than backstage helpers for our daughters shows! However all the staff and associates were amazing. Susan Morrison, The Stand comedian, who compered the show and was our No.1 prop especially! During the actual show we were really relaxed.

The audience participation was really gratifying – we had lots of excellent questions from people who were genuinely interested in the problem – men and women! This year we will be looking forward to getting the messages out to a new audience. Our aim is to improve awareness of cervical infection and disease and hopefully convince the audience that in the not too distant future cervical cancer WILL be history.


Heather and Sarah’s show takes place on Sunday 14th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:  http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/109/performance/1544/book-tickets


25 Days of CoDI: Day 10

On the tenth day of CoDI, I wondered if you can communicate with me?

Jemina Napier, Stacey Webb, Gary Quinn and Mark MacQueen: The Myth of Universal Sign Language

BSL researchers
(L to R) Mark, Stacey, Jemina and Gary

So what’s the basic idea of this show, then?

There are a lot of myths about sign language: all deaf people use it; it’s just a straight translation of English; it just involves the hands. In this show, our performers challenge the misconception that sign language is the same the world over.

Is the show only for deaf people?

Absolutely not! One of the main reasons our performers are doing this show is to raise awareness among the general population about the realities of sign language. The show will be interpreted in British Sign Language (BSL) and English.

Who are the performers?

All of our performers are researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The University has a fantastic reputation for its sign language expertise. It was the first in Scotland to offer a sign language degree, and its sign language researchers have given evidence to Parliament and appear regularly in deaf media like the The Limping Chicken.

Jemina Napier is ‘head honcho’ of the show. She is a professor (so rather successful in the academic world) and spent 15 years working in Australia before returning to the UK, where she had grown up in the British Deaf Community. Jemina has been a sign language interpreter since 1988.

Gary Quinn teaches and researches sign language. He is a big advocate of sharing his work with the wider world, as he tells you here:

One of our favourite projects that Gary’s done is coming up with signs for obscure scientific terms so that signing school children can be better taught science.

Stacey Webb is a dark horse. Prior to her academic career, she was a phone-up interpreter and dealt with quite a few risque situations!

Last but not least, Mark MacQueen. In addition to teaching sign at Heriot-Watt, Mark is an accomplished, award-winning storyteller who has worked with the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Is this the first time you’ve had a sign language show at CoDI?

Nope, quite the opposite. Heriot-Watt’s sign language team have been with CoDI from its very beginning. They have always attracted one of the biggest audiences and had great fun with their audiences. It’s from them that we’ve learned that Scotland’s deaf community are party-goers – you’ll see signing in the St Andrew Square beer garden for many hours…


Jemina, Stacey, Gary and Mark’s show takes place on Saturday 13th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/108/performance/1543/book-tickets

25 Days of CoDI : Day 9

On the ninth day of CoDI I wondered what meant more to me, my clubcard or my DNA?

Mhairi Aitken: Hands Off My Clubcard… Just Take My DNA!


About Mhairi:dna

I am a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh and work in the Public Engagement stream of the Farr Institute for Health Informatics Research (http://www.farrinstitute.org/ ). This work involves talking to people about the ways that personal data is used in health research and exploring ethical and social aspects of this.


My background is in Sociology. I studied Sociology (BA Hons.) at the University of York, following this I did a Masters (MSc) in Environment and Development at the University of East Anglia. I undertook a PhD at Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen), which examined public participation in planning processes around renewable energy developments. I have worked at the University of Edinburgh since completing my PhD in 2008.


Mhairi’s Research:

The way medical research is conducted is changing. Often ground-breaking findings are now discovered not in laboratories or hospitals but rather on computers. This research doesn’t require access to people’s organs or tissue samples but instead to their data. Data from medical records, social care records or – potentially – internet browsing history and banking transactions. When it comes to understanding patterns in health and illness, examining our data may be even more powerful than examining our bodies.

My research explores social and ethical dimensions of this new age of medical research. I am particularly interested in the implications of this for individuals’ privacy and autonomy. The latter raises questions about the extent to which individuals can be in control of their data. It also forces a reconsideration of how medical research is understood in wider society and calls attention to the need for greater public engagement in medical sciences.

Accessing or sharing individuals’ data is typically justified by references to the public interest. Potential risks to privacy are said to be balanced by potential gains in better understanding patterns in health and illness. Such gains can potentially lead to new treatments or improved health services. However – and as has been made all too apparent through the recent controversies surrounding Care.Data – this use of individuals’ data in health research can only be considered legitimate if it has public support. Therefore in my research I am exploring – and identifying – the limits of public acceptability.


Mhairi’s previous CODI show:

I took part in CODI 2014 and performed a show called “I Know What You Ate Last Summer” .  A video of that show is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wY2_vnt-hJ0

It was also reviewed in BroadwayBaby and given 4 stars: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/i-know-what-you-ate-last-summer/699353


Mhairi’s CODI 2016 show:

A bit of an intro for my show is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHR9wzB_Q5o .

Medical research using donated tissues samples or genetic data is perhaps easier to understand – it is certainly more familiar – compared to medical research using data derived from health records, or social care records. But more and more medical research is being conducted using these forms of data.


There is also significant potential value for research to use data collected by private companies – such as through Tesco’s Clubcard.

In this show I will challenge audience members to think about what is more personal: their body or their data? And whether their Tesco Clubcard should be considered more private than their tissue samples.

Clubcards, Nectar cards, Boots Advantage cards etc. hold huge amounts of information about us. The data collected show when we shopped, where we shopped, what we bought, how often we buy particular things, what brands we buy, how healthily we eat, how much alcohol we consume.


It’s not just loyalty cards, with every purchase by credit card, or carried out online, information is stored and collected. And then there is the information we post on a voluntary basis – on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites. This information paints a picture of the people we are and the lives we lead.


This data which is already collected and stored about all of us could be very valuable in enabling health research.

For example, being able to see in what parts of the country people are eating more or less healthily or drinking more alcohol, could suggest ways of targeting healthy living campaigns or interventions. If we were also able to link the information from Tesco Clubcards; or online transactions with information collected in the NHS – for example about prescriptions or patterns of health illness – we could get a far richer understanding of how lifestyle and consumption habits are impacting on health outcomes.


Joining up individuals’ Clubcard data with the details from their NHS records (in anonymous form and on a mass scale) could enable us to study links between what foods people were buying and health outcomes. Potentially it might reveal unknown links between certain products and health effects. It could also be envisaged that this joining up of information could enable health care providers to identify individuals who are leading risky lifestyles or who are not complying with advice given by their doctor. On the one hand this might be useful to enable appropriate support to be put in place. On the other hand however, we might consider this to be an invasion of privacy and policing of personal lives.


The answer to the question of what is more personal, or more private – your body or your data – may at first seem commonsense; surely everyone would prioritise their body. But through this show I aim to highlight the very personal nature of data collected and that data can say more about an individual than their DNA.

Mhairi 2014

Why Mhairi is taking part in CODI 2016:

Public engagement is central to my work – but I do it because I genuinely love it. I like to talk to different groups of people, to tell people about my research and hear what they think about this. I like being surprised and challenged by new perspectives. CODI is an opportunity for exactly that – I hope that audience members will raise unexpected questions or points that I hadn’t previously thought of. That might give me insights into areas to explore further or open up new perspectives on the subject.


Public engagement in this area is really important.

Computer power, amounts of data being collected and ease with which data-linkage can take place, are all increasing.  For this reason, it is important to stop and think about what this all means. It is important to consider what the implications are for the people whose data is used – that’s all of us. We are all at some point or another a data-point in a dataset. Whilst researchers might only see dots and numbers those dots and numbers tell stories about each of us. And each and every one of us are included within those dots and numbers. Ultimately this is data about people’s lives.


Often people initially feel that this is a subject they don’t know anything about. That changes once they hear a little and they realize it is about everyone! Everyone’s data is being collected, shared, sold and used for a variety purposes. So I believe it is important that everyone knows about this. In my work I aim to facilitate public debate and dialogue around this subject. In addition I look to find ways of feeding back public opinions to policy-makers, researchers and decision-makers, in the institutions overseeing health informatics research. This enables public views and preferences to be taken into account. Ultimately this is important for ensuring that people’s data are only used in ways which are in the public interest.


What Mhair is most looking forward to about CODI 2016:

I look forward to hearing the audience’s responses to what I say. I have held quite a lot of public discussion events relating to this subject matter. You can never predict how people are going to respond or what they are going to say. There will always be an unexpected question or an unanticipated point of view. That’s exciting! And it has the potential to open up new areas of interest or point to important new research questions.


Mhairi’s show takes place on Friday 12th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:  http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/107/performance/1542/book-tickets

Mhairi Clubcard

25 Days of CoDI: Day 8

On the eight day of CoDI, Bak proposed to me, language lessons as an alternative therapy…

Thomas Bak: Language Lessons on the NHS thomas bak

Thomas Bak reckons we should have language lessons prescribed on the NHS. Sound like madness? Well maybe we should reveal a bit more to you about the method in his madness then…

Research shows that learning languages helps us age healthily, even if we start learning them in later life. Furthermore, being able to speak two languages can delay the onset of dementia symptoms by 4-5 years (more than any available drug!) and improve how well a patient recovers their mental abilities after a stroke.

So what does this mean for you? Well Thomas answered a number of questions from the public here:


Fiona, via twitter:
Do you think the level a person speaks their 2nd language matters? Is it the learning activity creating the effect?

There are different effects at different stages of learning. Higher proficiency is better but you don’t need to be perfect.


Chiara, via email:
Speaking 2nd language delays brain ageing: is this true only for early bilinguals, or do 2nd language learners benefit too?

Most research so far has been done on early bilinguals – i.e. people who grew up with two languages from a very early age. In our studies, we found similar effects in people who learnt a second language in adulthood, but it is true that we are only just starting to explore the effect of language learning in adults.

The Lothian Birth Cohort data, which we used in our recent 2014 paper about brain ageing is a great way of doing this. As I said to Fiona, you certainly don’t need to be perfectly fluent in order to reap the benefits, and it is never too late to start!


Age UK, via email:
Should we make foreign languages compulsory in secondary education?

There certainly do seem to be advantages in terms of brain health, as well as all the cultural and economic advantages (a lack of language skills costs the UK economy billions of pounds a year!). Personally, I would say that encouraging language learning at any stage of education is a good idea. The earlier you start, the easier it is to learn. That is one reason why the UK and Scottish government’s commitment to language learning in primary schools is so important.


Vicky, via twitter:
Hi Dr Bak. What can people who don’t speak another language do? Would another skill like learning a musical instrument help?

The quick answer is yes, language learning is only one type of beneficial mental activity. There are many others, music being one. Work by Denise Park suggests that engaging in cognitively demanding, novel activities enhances cognitive function in older adults. In other words, any cognitively demanding activity can be beneficial and rewarding – learning a language is a good example, and so is learning the piano.


Fionna, via email:
Does learning a language with a different alphabet have any bearing?
Judith McClure from the Scotland-China Education Network, via email:
Does it matter how similar the two languages are? Is there any particular benefit to learning a language like Chinese, which requires you to learn a different writing system?

At present there is very little research on written language and different alphabets. A lot of work still to be done! Madeleine (from Bilingualism Matters) and I have a few papers looking at the different languages studied in research into language loss following stroke, brain injury or dementia, and there is a massive bias towards Western European languages. So the short answer is, we don’t know – but we should be trying to find out!
Regarding similarity between languages, again, the short answer is that we don’t know. One of the questions that the major EU “AThEME” project will be looking at over the next five years is the effect of learning two similar languages (e.g. English and French) compared with two very different languages (e.g. English and Chinese). So keep your eyes peeled for updates!

( Taken from Bilingualism Matters website http://www.bilingualism-matters.ppls.ed.ac.uk/dr-thomas-bak/)

It will be Thomas’ first CoDI show, and it promises to be a good one. If you’d like to learn more about alternative medications, or have a view or a question you would like to share, be sure to come along and join us!

Thomas’ show takes place on Thursday 11th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:   http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/106/performance/1541/book-tickets

Thomas NHS

25 Days of CoDI : Day 7

On the seventh day of CoDI, I heard them yell at me… Keep the Kids Out!


Jenny Wood ft Anna Gaffney: Keep the Kids OutDSC_0404

So who is this Jenny Wood? and why is she telling me what to do with my Kids I hear you ask. Or maybe you love the idea of your city no longer being littered with pesky meddling kids? Well let’s see what Jenny has to say for herself…


In August 2014, I embarked on an exciting experience into the world of performing at Edinburgh’s festival fringe. With my colleague, David, from community engagement charity PAS, we set about exploring just how to Keep the Kids Out(side)! Returning to the fringe again, myself and Anna (also from PAS) will take to the stage once more. We shall consider what our built environment says about children. Whether, and how we exclude them from the outside world, and what direction to take in the future. Do we want to keep the kids out of more things? Or do we want to encourage them to go outside and explore the real world?


We’re still to answer all the questions, and for such an important topic, we still need your help!


My research, is on children’s rights in the built environment, with a specific focus on the Scottish planning system.

Therefore I look at what I deem to be children’s participation rights in the context of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK Government ratified this in 1991, and thus has promised to meet children’s rights through a range of legislative and policy instruments.  The rights I am most concerned with are Article 12, which states that children should be heard in the matters that affect them, and their views be respected, and Article 31, which denotes that children have the right to play, rest, leisure, and access to cultural life. With this, I frame each as the right to participate in the process of planning, and the right to participate in the outcomes of planning.


Despite a purported commitment to facilitate children’s rights, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, various charities, and academic reports consistently criticise the government’s track record. Each proposes that we all need to take children’s rights more seriously. For instance, children’s play is not an unnecessary pursuit, but the foundation of all human culture! In planning for the modern demands of society, children’s needs and views are being cast aside. This even occurs when policies and practice focus on children’s lives!


What I am exploring therefore, is how the rhetoric of considering children can match up with the reality of their experiences, and produce outcomes that allow children to be children, restore them some of that freedom previous generations were allowed.


Jenny and Anna’s show takes place on Wednesday 10th August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at: http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/105/performance/1540/book-tickets

Jenny Kids