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The Why? Curve

Who are you really? Online identity wars.

Season 1, Ep. 69

Should we be able to be anonymous online? If we all knew who we were, would the conversation be more civil? Would the bots and trolls be exposed for what they are? Or would it open vulnerable people to attack - dissidents pursued by hostile regimes? Would the free speech at the heart of the net disappear? Dr Catherine Flick, reader in Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University tells Phil and Roger what works in trying to clean up the online world, and how hard it is to police especially with trans-national actors.

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  • 77. A tax cut that’s good for Britain or a last-ditch hope for the Tory party?

    Jeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn statement this week, with 110 policy measures. The most significant of those was a 2% cut in National Insurance contributions. Roger and Phil ask Simon French, Chief Economist and Head of Research at UK investment bank, Panmure Gordon, whether the main aim of the cuts was to bolster the chances of a win for the Conservatives at the next election? On this week’s podcast Simon says that, political cynicism aside, there is a need to boost growth in the economy, and administering cuts in tax through National Insurance ensures that it is the working population that benefits. But will it make that much difference, when those same people face higher tax contributions through the freezing of the income tax thresholds? A wide-ranging discussion that includes the need for more comprehensive tax reform, plus a snapshot on the economic wellbeing of Phil’s barber.
  • 76. The real bill for energy

    Drill, baby, drill - but does it make sense to hand out, every year, new North Sea extraction licences for oil and gas as the UK government has promised? Aren’t we supposed to be ending our reliance on fossil fuels? Or is it essential for energy security to harvest what we have on our doorstep? And is the cost of a more rapid transition to renewable sources of energy too high for hard-pressed families struggling to pay their bills? Phil and Roger quiz Gavin Bridge, Professor of Economic Geography at the University of Durham, and Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute, on the costs and benefits of more North Sea extraction.
  • 75. Animal Rights and Wrongs

    Should animals have rights? Should dogs and cats be able to sue you for not feeding them on time? Should farm animals be able to get an injunction to stop us eating them? There’s a growing movement to recognise that many of our fellow creatures are sentient, feel pain and loss, and therefore, perhaps, should have legal rights. But how could this work? How would it change our lives? And where do we draw the line - fairness for fleas? Justice for microbes? Phil and Roger consult Dr Stephen Cooke, associate professor of Political Theory at the University of Leicester.
  • 74. AI - technology breakthrough, or the end of humanity?

    Artificial intelligence is everywhere - and politicians and business leaders are rushing to get on top of what could be an advance bigger than the Industrial Revolution. But could it also be a risk to human life on the scale of an asteroid collision or nuclear war? Is there any practicable way to control something we barely understand? Or will caution stop us from reaping the huge benefits for universal prosperity? Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Sheffield University lays out to Phil and Roger both the risks and gains from AI.
  • 73. What is racism, and is it on the rise?

    Accusations of attempted genocide from one side of the current Middle East crisis, and furious claims of anti-semitism from the other, show how deeply perceptions of racism still inform global conflicts. But what causes racism? What is the basis of the fear and anger it creates? Has it always been part of human society? How do we deal with it in a world where borders signify less and less, and communities increasingly come from many diverse backgrounds? Phil and Roger get guidance from Professor Alastair Bonnett of Newcastle University, author of “Multiracism: Rethinking Racism in Global Context” 
  • 72. Middle East on the Brink

    It’s a dangerous moment in one of the world’s most volatile regions. How far will Israel go to avenge the brutal killings inflicted by Hamas? Will the slaughter of innocent Palestinian civilians change global sympathies? Will Israel get bogged down in a long bloody battle inside Gaza. And will Iran and Lebanon get dragged into a widening conflict that brings violence from angry Muslims onto the streets of Europe and the US? Michele Groppi of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College, London, tells Phil and Roger about what went wrong at the start of the latest violence, and what could happen next
  • 71. Keir Starmer - not enough glitter?

    Labour has a real chance of forming the next government, but does it have the sense of mission, the “vision thing” to carry voters with it? Matthew Flinders, Professor of Politics at Sheffield University tells Phil and Roger that Keir Starmer is still on course to lose next year’s election, unless he and his party can uncork some of the spirit that brought Tony Blair into Number 10 in 1997  
  • 70. Blue Yonder

    Where are the Conservatives going? Into opposition next year, almost certainly. But what sort of party will it be? Are the Tories becoming a far-right populist fringe, wedded to harsh rhetoric on immigration, culture, crime, gender and Europe? Or will a heavy defeat at the ballot box force the most successful political organisation in Europe to move back toward the centre to rebuild its attraction to voters? Phil and Roger get the views of Dr Christopher Kirkland, senior lecturer in politics at York St John University.