Tag Archives: BBC

“Public health vs individual freedom”

This was the title of the most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast.  The programme fosters an interesting (although admittedly, at times, dry) debate about the role of the state in regulating public health and its limits.  For instance, do you have an individual right to Twinkies? Does the should the state regulate the size of sodas (NYC)?

Here is a description of the show:  

When should society step in and save us from ourselves? Our apparently insatiable appetites for smoking, drinking and eating are all in the news this week, but where and how should we draw the line between individual freedom and public health? Is it purely a utilitarian calculation; that the consequences are such a drain on the national purse that we can no longer afford the luxury of letting people do what they want? Or does that just reduce the value of our bodies to the lowest common denominator – the bottom line on a balance sheet? And even if we could afford it, should the common good outweigh individual freedom? Is expecting other people to pay for the consequences of our own behaviour immoral? And what if we could invent a cheap and effective pill to allow us to drink as much as we want without suffering a hangover, or eat what we like without the risk of diabetes? We might herald the scientific advance, but would it make us better humans? Is there something morally, as well as corporally corrupting about defiling our bodies with intoxicants and excess? Or does that sound hopelessly Victorian and censorious in an age that has come to prize self-indulgence and hedonism almost as much human rights? Are policies to control our appetites the worst kind of nanny-statism that punishes the responsible and infantilises the rest or a sensible response to a public health crisis?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor.

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February 18, 2014 · 10:55 pm

Moral Maze: Boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics

With the Sochi Winter Olympics starting later this evening, I think it is fair to say that most Westerns assume that there is symbolic value in boycotting the games in protest of Russia’s human rights violations, particularly as they relate to homosexuals.  However, the most recent episode of the Moral Maze questions this assumption and debates the moral utility of Olympic boycotts.  Several of the “witnesses” of the programme assert that Olympic boycotts are useless.  They argue that, particularly with reference to Russia anti-gay policies, gay athletes would be better served competing and beating the Russians rather than sitting out the games.  They cite Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany.  What better way to show the absurdity of Hitler’s claims of “Aryan superiority” than an African American running faster and jumping further than Nazi “uberman.”

Here is a brief description of the podcast:

Are sporting boycotts of events like the Winter Olympics effective or just empty gestures?

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February 7, 2014 · 6:08 pm

Russell Brand: Anarchist? Revolutionary?

Last October, comedian Russell Brand sparked a debate in the United Kingdom following his appearance on BBC’s Newsnight in which he calls for a radical reorganizing of the political order in the UK (and presumably the West more generally). Brand contends that the current political system has failed the populace and made traditional political participation (i.e. voting) futile. Brand states that revolution is inevitable and should be welcomed.

The interview has apparently not gained traction in the US as it has in the UK. I learned of it from the BBC’s Analysis podcast. Here is a description of the programme:

In a recent Newsnight interview, the comedian Russell Brand predicted a revolution. His comments entertained many and became the most-watched political interview of 2013. But between the lines, Brand was also giving voice to the populist resurgence of a serious but controversial idea: anarchism.

The new “anarcho-populism” is the 21st century activist’s politics of choice. In evidence in recent student protests, the Occupy movement, in political encampments in parks and squares around the world, it combines age-old anarchist thought with a modern knack for inclusive, consumerist politics.

Brand’s interview was just one especially prominent example. The thinkers behind the movement say it points the way forward. Jeremy Cliffe, The Economist’s Britain politics correspondent, asks if they are right?

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February 5, 2014 · 11:49 pm

What Is The Role of the Police?

This was question being explored on the most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast.  Given that I have been studying criminal procedure this past semester, this has been a particular relevant question.

Here is a description of the podcast:

“Plebgate”, the Hillsborough disaster, evidence of blatant fixing of crime statistics – by any standards our police have come under searching scrutiny lately and haven’t exactly come out with flying colours. So this week’s report by a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John – now Lord Stevens – on the future of policing is certainly timely. But this is more than just a debate about numbers, structures and complaints procedures, this is a fundamental question about what our police should be for. Lord Stevens says it’s time to accept that police “are not simply crime fighters”, but they should also have a “social mission” that should be enshrined in law which would incorporate improving safety and well-being within communities. We’ve come a long way since the days of the Sweeney catchphrase “get your trousers on – you’re nicked”, but do we want our police to take on the mantle of social workers as well as crime fighters? Is this mission creep by the police, or an abdication of our own responsibility? By widening the scope of what we expect our police to police are we in danger of turning them from law enforcers, in to enforcers of social norms? And that this will lead to a subjective understanding of what society regards as right and wrong and blur the moral line between what is and isn’t a crime?

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December 10, 2013 · 11:05 am

“The Morality of Remembrance”

Happy Veterans Day to all those of who have served.  In commemoration of the occasion here is an episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast elegantly entitled “The Morality of Remembrance.”  In England, their version of Veterans Day is Remembrance Day.  Where we have the yellow ribbon, they adorn the poppy flower.  

Although the debate is an English take on the holiday, many of the issues discussed apply in the American context.  For instance, what is patriotism? What should we honoring? How should we be honoring? It is interesting that in the United States the holiday is marked by a status, whether or not one is a veteran; while in England, it is about an act, remembering past wars and warriors.  In a sense, Veterans Day is simpler in the US, we know who and what to honor.  In the United Kingdom, the issue is more contested.  When the holiday is framed in terms of remembrance, the question becomes what should we be remembering? 

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November 11, 2013 · 3:05 pm

“Genetics and Education”

In a recent book, G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement, Robert Plomin and Kathryn Asbury explore the science of genetics and the potential impact of genetics on education policy.  Plomin and Asbury argue against the taboo (*eugenics*) surrounding use of genetics to inform education.  G is for Genes is the basis of  recent BBC Moral Maze debate.  


Here is a description of the podcast: 

For centuries philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the question of nature versus nurture. Increasingly and for some controversially, the science of behavioural genetics is starting to come up with some of the answers. The argument is perhaps at its most sensitive when applied to education. When it was revealed that Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s outgoing special advisor, Dominic Cummings, called for education policy to incorporate the science behind genes and cognitive development he broke a modern taboo and there was a predictable outcry. In a wide ranging paper Mr Cummings cited the work of Professor Robert Plomin who’s about to publish a book with psychologist Dr Kathryn Asbury which calls for “genetically sensitive” schooling. It’s based on a study of how genes and environment have shaped the development of over 10,000 twins who were studied from birth to early adulthood. The scientists say their work is about probability not prophecy and can be used to personalise education and create better outcomes for all, but fears of genetic determinism are deeply ingrained. How should we use genetics in education? Science is a very long way from knowing exactly which genes influence individual differences in learning but as knowledge in this field advances that time will surely come. We already use genetics to screen for various medical conditions, so why not for learning abilities? And what happens if, or when, the science of genetics becomes so powerful that we can identify different populations that are endowed with different genetic make-ups that we believe are more or less desirable? Is that just a scientific inevitability that we have to come to terms with, or does it open the door to eugenics? How should we use the science of genetics?

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November 9, 2013 · 1:15 pm

“Pornography: What Do We Know?”

That was the question being examined on the BBC’s Analysis radio programme. Here is a description of the show: 

What do we really know about the effects of pornography? 

Public debate has become increasingly dominated by an emotive, polarised argument between those who say it is harmful and those who say it can be liberating. Jo Fidgen puts the moral positions to one side and investigates what the evidence tells us. She explores the limitations of the research that’s been carried out and asks whether we need to update our understanding of pornography. She hears from users of pornography about how and why they use it and researchers reveal what they have learnt about our private pornographic habits. 

With pornography becoming increasingly easy to access online, and as policy-makers, parents and teachers discuss how to deal with this, it’s a debate that will have far-reaching implications on education and how we use the internet. 

Producer: Helena Merriman 


Professor Neil Malamuth – University of California 
Dr Miranda Horvath – Middlesex University 
Dr Ogi Ogas – Author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts 
Professor Roger Scruton – Conservative philosopher and Author of Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation 
Professor Gail Dines – Wheelock College, Boston.

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November 3, 2013 · 1:44 am