Monday, March 11th, 2013
The internet and social networking – and the unprecedented access they provide to information, ideas and each other – have revolutionised modern living. They have changed forever the way we learn, communicate and interact. For many, they have enriched and empowered us and extended and strengthened our relationships. But others worry that they undermine our capacity – and in particular that of young people – to engage with the complexities of a real rather than a virtual world, weakened our communication skills and diminished our sense of community.
Two distinguished academics, Professor Susan Greenfield and Professor Stephen Coleman, debate the issues.
Friday, November 2nd, 2012
A series of high profile and often very moving cases in recent years has made the right to die one of the most keenly contested debates of our time, raising complex medical, legal, legislative, religious and moral issues. Can helping someone to die ever be justified? If so, in what circumstances? What controls might be required to protect the rights of people making the decision to die as well as those of their family and friends and the medical practitioners and others involved in their care? If not, who has the right to condemn a terminally ill patient to prolonged suffering and how can that right be justified? What is the difference between assisted dying, assisted suicide and euthanasia and does it matter?
Sarah Wootton of Dignity In Dying and Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing Alliance make the case for and against assisted dying.
Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
Scientists have for centuries sought to increase their understanding of the natural world through experiments on live animals – and for as long, critics have argued that such experiments are cruel, unethical and unecessary. But has such research contributed to human progress, particularly in the field of medicine, which could not have been achieved through other means – and if so, can it not be justified on the basis that our needs are of greater significance than those of animals? If researchers believe, on the basis of evidence, that their experiments on live animals could help protect human lives, how can they justify not pursuing them? Or should an animal’s wellbeing never be sacrificed for a human’s? If there are circumstances in which live experiments can be acceptable, what controls are necessary to ensure their integrity?
Michelle Thew of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection debates the issues with Tom Holder of Speaking of Research.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Even before the phone hacking scandal, the subsequent commissioning of the Leveson Inquiry into 'the culture, practice and ethics of the press' and the closure of the News of the World were making headlines, the press has been in crisis. Facing ever more challenging competition from the internet and 24-hour news media, sales of newspapers have been had been declining for many years. At the same time, the public has been losing confidence in press motives and standards with, according to surveys for the Committee on Standards in Public Life, tabloid journalists consistently ranked below politicians at the bottom of the table of professions expected to tell the truth.
But this is not a new phenomenon. As long ago as 1931, the Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin castigated the press barons of his day Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, owners of the Daily Express and Daily Mail respectively, exclaiming that " what the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility the prerogative of the harlot through the ages".
If we are right to worry about press ownership and the political influence of proprietors, about falling standards of accuracy and truthfulness, about intrusion into private lives and about unethical and illegal practices, can the public's confidence be restored? Is self regulation preferable; if so, is it possible and what would a new model look like? Or is independent and enforceable regulation now inevitable and, if it is, are we effectively abandoning the long-cherished freedom of the press and placing our own rights as citizens at risk?
Lord Hunt, chair of the Press Complaints Commission and Angela Phillips, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform, debate the issues.
Thursday, March 8th, 2012
Even in times when the domestic economy is not under such pressure and public finances are not so stretched, what is the justification for overseas aid?
Does it really bring millions of vulnerable people long term relief from poverty, starvation, disease and conflict - or are those problems endemic and unalterable? Even if aid is capable of addressing these challenges, does not experience tell us that it is too often misappropriated or misspent? At best, does it not encourage dependency and prevent impoverished societies from developing their own economies? And even if it salves consciences in the developed world, is it not also often cynically exploited by donor nations as an extension of foreign policy?
Or is there evidence that aid is actually working? Are there models which not only guarantee that it can be strategically focused, adequately safeguarded and make a significant and sustainable difference where it is needed most? Should aid be regarded as investment rather than charity and can it really help poor countries become less poor, more stable and more independent? If so, what do such models look like?
Max Lawson of Oxfam and Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs bring very different insights to bear on these questions.
Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
The argument about GM technology has often been passionate and not always constructive. But the stakes are high. With food costs rising and the environmental damage of intensive farming increasing in the developed economies and with population growth and climate change making subsistence farming still more marginal in the world's poorest countries, the case for GM technology seems ever stronger. But is its promise false or even dangerous?
Does GM technology provide for more efficient and sustainable food production; if so how does it benefit producers, consumers and the environment in both the developed and developing world? Or is it a contaminating threat to conventional crops and to the environment in general as well as a pernicious means of exploiting people in poverty? Can a balance be found: is the current regulatory regime either excessive or inadequate and, if so, what safeguards might deliver the benefits of GM while minimising its risks? Or will the dangers always outweigh the benefits?
Two experts in the field join the debate.
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
There are few issues which provoke such passionate dispute as the case for and against humanitarian intervention in failed or failing states. Western powers have intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan but not in Rwanda or Darfur, in Kosovo and Sierra Leone but not in Zimbabwe or Burma, in Libya but not in Syria. Not only, despite several attempts to achieve one, have the members of the United Nations failed to build a lasting consensus on the circumstances in which it is right to intervene to protect human life, but even when the case for intervention appears unanswerable, they have been unable to agree on who should intervene and how.
The arguments about whether intervention is a form of imperialism or opportunism or whether, even with the best intentions, it creates worse problems than it is likely to solve cross ideological divides. But as as our TV screens bring us daily pictures of conflict, oppression and suffering, do we not have a responsibility to agree at last an ethical as well as practical framework for intervention?
Can intervention in sovereign states in pursuit of humanitarian objectives can ever be considered legitimate and, if so, in what circumstances? How can the motives of those proposing intervention be assessed, monitored and policed? How should the principle of humanitarian intervention be balanced by pragmatic assessments of cost and how should the degree of desirability be measured against the prospects for success? How bad do conditions have to be and what other processes have to be exhausted before intervention takes priority over sovereignty? What levels of cost and what degree of risk of failure are acceptable? How can (recent) history help establish criteria for intervention?
Two distinguished academics, Professor Malcolm Chalmers and Dr Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, address these questions.
Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Football has come a long way since the £20 a week ceiling on players' wages was lifted in January 1961. Exactly fifty years on, the game is big business; clubs are global brands and players are international icons and multi-millionaires. But has commercialisation been a force for good or ill in English football? Has it brought us better players and higher quality football with more glamour and excitement, better conditions for fans in bigger and better arenas and greater investment in grass roots football? Or has it undermined the ethos of the game, severed the link between fans and players and club and community, weakened the national team and fostered a culture of arrogance and greed? If it's good for the game, what's football's future; if not, what can be done to reverse the trend?
Friday, October 1st, 2010
With all the main parties now embracing localism in one form or another, can communities realistically be involved in shaping their services in a way which is both inclusive and affordable - or is there ultimately a conflict between, on the one hand, the aspiration to take greater local control of services and, on the other, the expectation that all needs can be met at all times according to national standards?
Does localism lead to better informed decision-making or simply create greater anomalies in which services are available and how they are provided from community to community? Does it help reinvigorate the democratic process or simply benefit the well-organised at the expense of those in greatest need? Who should arbitrate when different sets of locals' compete for the same limited resources? What does the experience of other societies tell us about the benefits and pitfalls of localism?
Ben Lucas, Director of the 2020 Public Services Trust and Dr Phil Parvin, Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University, debate.
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
For many legalising the trade in drugs would be unthinkable. But among those who have first-hand experience of combating drug misuse, there is a growing number who believe that legalisation not only offers the best means of taking organised crime out of the supply chain but would also save billions of pounds in policing costs. Other experts disagree, arguing that more accessible drugs will increase addiction, that the savings are overstated and that the drug gangs will simply undercut legal supplies in order to retain their grip on trafficking.
To what extent might legalising drugs reduce both organised and 'petty' crime; how would it save resources, including public money, and could they be better deployed in reducing drug abuse and its consequences; or, by destigmatising drugs and making them more readily available and affordable, would legalisation simply cause an explosion in dependency and its attending problems, displace criminal activities and/or create new outlets for criminals? How practical is the proposition: could the UK act unilaterally or would the whole world have to follow suit for legalsation to work? Who would gain and who would lose? Two leading experts in the field debate.