Episode 3: Michael Corballis, The Wandering Mind

Based on the ideas in Michael Corballis' book, you probably won't  read to the end of this description. Somewhere in the middle of the next paragraph, your mind will wander off. Minds wander. That’s just how it is.

Does the fact that as much as fifty percent of our waking hours find us failing to focus on the task at hand represent a problem? The Wandering Mind draws on the latest research from cognitive science and evolutionary biology, Corballis shows us how mind-wandering not only frees us from moment-to-moment drudgery, but also from the limitations of our immediate selves. Furthermore, he explains, our tendency to wander back and forth through the timeline of our lives is fundamental to our very sense of ourselves as coherent, continuing personalities.

Episode 2: Beth Shapiro, How To Clone A Mammoth

Could extinct species like mammoths or the dodo be brought back to life? Author Beth Shapiro explores the cutting edge science that is being used – today – to resurrect the past. Beth considers de-extinction's practical benefits and ethical challenges. What are the costs and risks? What is the ultimate goal? How to Clone a Mammoth looks at the very real and compelling science behind what was once thought of as science fiction.

Beth Shapiro is professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Nature and Science and was the 2009 recipient of a MacArthur Award.

Episode 1: Gavin Francis, Adventures in Human Being

We have a lifetime's association with our bodies, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. In Adventures in Human Being, award-winning author Gavin Francis leads the reader through the most intimate landscape of all: our own bodies.

Drawing on his own experiences as a doctor Gavin combines first-hand case studies with reflections on the way the body has been imagined and portrayed over the millennia. Francis leads the reader on an adventure offering insights on everything from the ribbed surface of the brain to the secret workings of the heart and the womb; from the pulse of life at the wrist to the unique engineering of the foot.

Both a user's guide to the body and a celebration of its elegance, this book will transform the way you think about being alive, whether in sickness or in health.  

Kill Chain: Drones and the Rise of High-Tech Assassins

 

Drones are widely used in the ‘war on terror’. Unmanned airplanes with hellfire missiles on board, controlled from another country,  they kill from the sky.

Drones and drone warfare are highly controversial – on ethical, legal and utilitarian grounds –  as Andrew Cockburn explains in this conversation with Craig Barfoot about his latest book Kill Chain.  Cockburn is an assiduous investigator and delivers a trenchant critique of the people he calls the ‘High Tech Assassins’.

Ian Goldin: The Butterfly Defect

Former Vice President of the World Bank and professor of globalisation at the University of Oxford, Ian Goldin talks to Craig Barfoot about the risks of Globalisation. The past 25 years have witnessed the most rapid economic and social development the world has ever seen. In our increasingly globalised world, if something happens in one place, the aftershocks move quickly around the globe. The Butterfly Defect looks in detail at the financial crisis, but transposes some of the lessons to potential crises involving pandemics, infrastructure, supply chains, ecology, environment and business systems. The question is, how do we manage complexity and prevent our hyper connected systems leading to contagion and risk? How, for example, do we ensure that airports are places for conveying people and prevent them becoming places that convey pandemics?

 

Marilyn Wedge: A Disease Called Childhood, Why ADHD Became an American Epidemic

Over the course of her career as a child and family therapist, Marilyn Wedge has witnessed an ‘astronomical rise’ in the number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Until 1995 she had hardly heard of ADHD, but over the following decades the number of children on medication for ADHD grew and grew until now 13% of boys and 5% of girls in the US – 6 million children –  are on prescription drugs (mainly Ritalin and Adderall) with that diagnosis. But this approach is not shared by other countries,  a child in the US is 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than in France, and 80 times more likely than in Finland. Dr Wedge argues that psychiatry needs to completely change it approach, and look at the child’s environment, offering help to parents to manage without medicating their children.

Dawn Field & Neil Davis: Biocode, The New Age of Genomics

This interview takes us to the heart of a new age of scientific discovery. The ability to read DNA has changed how we view ourselves. Genomics is literally changing our understanding of humanity’s place in nature. Professor Dawn Field of the University of Oxford, and Dr Neil Davies, Senior Fellow, Berkeley Institute for Data Science take us on a dazzling ride through new fields of scientific discovery. Genomes can now be sequenced rapidly and increasingly cheaply. Currently used in crime detection, in paternity suits and to identify susceptibility to medical conditions – the potential for misuse is alarming, but it also opens up unprecedented possibilities. 

Work, Sex and Power: The forces that shaped our history.

The forces that shape our history are always contentious, yet our fascination with what drives the actions of the human race is inexhaustible. In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond proposed one set of forces; Willie Thompson, in Work, Sex, and Power, suggests another trio. Deploying decades of experience as a historian, Thompson re-establishes a materialist narrative of the entire span of human history, drawing on a vast range of contemporary research. Thompson discusses and explains the foundations of social structures and themes that have recurred throughout the phases of global history in the interaction between humans and their environment. From communities of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers to the machine-civilization of recent centuries, Thompson takes us on a journey through the latest thinking in regard to long-term historical development.

Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

In 2007, Alan Greenspan, then Chairman of the US Federal Reserve was asked by the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger who, in his view, would be the next president of the United States.  He replied, “We are fortunate that, thanks to globalization, policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces. National security aside, it hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces” So, is electoral democracy compatible with the forces of global capitalism?  Or are western governments just ‘buying time’ with short term economic fixes in order to win elections, while real power lies not with the people but somewhere else entirely?  These are the questions at the heart of Craig’s conversation with German sociologist Professor Wolfgang Streeck, Director at the Max Planck institute.

Nigel Dodd: The Social Life of Money

Questions about the nature of money have gained a new urgency in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Even as many people have less of it, there are more forms and systems of money, from local currencies and social lending to mobile money and Bitcoin. Yet our understanding of what money is—and what it might be—hasn’t kept pace. In The Social Life of Money, Nigel Dodd, one of today’s leading sociologists of money, reformulates the theory of the subject for a postcrisis world in which new kinds of money are proliferating. What counts as legitimate action by central banks that issue currency and set policy? What underpins the right of nongovernmental actors to create new currencies? And how might new forms of money surpass or subvert government-sanctioned currencies? To answer such questions, The Social Life of Money takes a fresh and wide-ranging look at modern theories of money.

Karen Piper: The Price of Thirst, Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos

‘Water wars’ used to seem like the stuff of science fiction. But water poverty is creating major geopolitical upheaval right now in the real world. It contributed to the Arab Spring in Egypt, and to the growth of ISIS in Syria argues Dr Karen Piper, who teaches post colonial studies and English and is adjunct professor of geography at the University of Missouri. In this conversation about her extensively researched book, The Price of Thirst: Global Water Inequality and the Coming Chaos Dr Piper paints a disturbing picture of the world’s journey towards the ‘coming chaos’ – including dams that desiccate neighbouring countries and an International Monetary Fund that insists on developing countries handing over their water to multinational corporations who make a profit from drought.

Joel M. Hoffman: The Bible's Cutting Room Floor

Did you know that the Bible with which we are familiar is not the complete story? Or that there are mistakes in the accepted version? And did you know that Jesus had a brother, James? Craig Barfoot talks to Dr. Joel M. Hoffman, author of The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor about how some theological writings were left out for political or theological reasons, others simply because of the physical restrictions of ancient bookmaking technology. At times, the compilers of the Bible skipped information that they assumed everyone knew. Some passages were even omitted by accident! The writings not included are more numerous than those that actually made it into the bible – The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor explains how the 150 Psalms are just a ‘best of’ collection.

Katherine Freese: The Cosmic Cocktail, Three Parts Dark Matter

What is the universe made of?  What is ‘dark matter’? Why is the universe still expanding? These are just some of the questions astrophysicist Professor Katherine Freese tackles in this wonderfully accessible interview.  The ordinary atoms that make up the known universe—from our bodies and the air we breathe to the planets and stars—constitute only 5 percent of all matter and energy in the cosmos. The rest is known as dark matter and dark energy, because their precise identities are unknown. Prof Freese explains that new galaxies come about when dark matter clumps together, indeed it is dark matter that dominates structure formation rather than atoms. However, we are not sure what dark matter actually is. Prof Freese is one of the world’s leading astrophysicist, but this is an interview that the layperson can enjoy.

Ted Gurr: Political Rebellion. Causes, Outcomes and Alternatives

In which political systems are rebellions likely to be successful and in which are they likely to be unsuccessful? How effective are protest movements as alternatives to rebellions and terrorism? What public and international responses lead away from violence and toward reforms? For half a century Professor Ted Robert Gurr has conducted social science research and theorised about the causes and consequences of organised political rebellion and protest. His latest book, Political Rebellion Causes Outcomes and Alternatives is a collection of essays looking at how and why, and to what effect, millions of people – from the revolutionary movements of Latin America in the 1960s to Yugoslavia’s dissolution in wars of the 1990s, and the popular revolts of the Arab Spring – have risked their lives by participating in protests and rebellions. 

The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars and Coyotes

In the 20th Century, humans killed hundreds of thousands of wild animals as we sought to build new homes and develop agriculture.  Now the 21st century is characterised by conservation and re-wilding – but can ranchers and environmentalists, wildlife managers and animal-welfare activists, humans and animals ever really co-exist? Yes, says John Shivik of Utah State University’s National Wildlife Research Center /Predator Research in this fascinating conversation with Craig Barfoot. As the boundary between human and animal habitat blurs, preventing the war between humans and wildlife depends both on changing animal behaviour and shifting our own perceptions, attitudes, and actions. 

Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind

What makes us human? When, why and how did the human brain evolve? Professor Clive Gamble argues that it was not the tools that form the bulk of the archaeological record, but rather the social world within which our ancestors lived that drove the development of the human brain. In this conversation with Craig, he suggests that the evolution of the social brain tells us not only about human behaviour in the past but also about the importance of networking in our complex modern world. Clive Gamble  is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. His work involves the study of our earliest ancestors and in particular the timing of global colonisation. This podcast focuses on his most recent book, Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind.

Peter Smith: Understanding School Bullying

Research suggests that 10% of children are victims of bullying and 5% of children are involved in bullying others. Defined as ‘repeated aggressive behaviour intended to harm, and involving an imbalance of power’, being bullied can feel like an unending nightmare to a child who is being targeted. So who is likely to be a bully, and can we predict who is more likely to be bullied?  What are the gender differences?  And what about cyber bullying? In this podcast, Emeritus Professor Peter K Smith of Goldsmiths, University of London talks  Craig about his book, he explains what forms bullying takes and what parents can do to help.

The Son Also Rises

How much of our social status is tied to that of our parents and grandparents? How much does this influence our children? More than we wish to believe. While it has been argued that rigid class structures have eroded in favour of greater social equality, Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Risesproves that movement on the social ladder has changed little over eight centuries. In this interview, Gregory Clark, a Professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, talks to Craig about his novel technique of tracking family names over generations to measure social mobility across countries and periods.  It led him to conclude that even in countries apparently committed to equality – like Sweden and the USA – it can take hundreds of years for high status families to revert to the mean of ordinariness. 

Behind the Curve: The Science and The Politics of Global Warming

In 1958 Charles Keeling began measuring the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere – the graph of his year-on-year measurements is called ‘The Keeling Curve’. Fast forward 50 years, and we are all familiar with debates on global warming, but it is a complex, interrelated problem, with no clear end point.  Humankind seems unable to get to grips with it. We can’t afford to fail on curbing emissions, and yet failure is inevitable, we are already failing.  Dr Joshua Howe, of Reed University argues that any contribution is valuable and points to local and regional Climate Action Plans [in the UK that might be the Transition Towns movement as well as local authority environmental plans that address our moral responsibility, and enable us to take action.