The Inquiry

The Inquiry

United Kingdom

One pressing question from the news. Four expert witnesses. Challenging answers.


Why Do Governments Do Stupid Things?  

Trust in government is at an all-time low in many countries. From failed healthcare policies to missed intelligence, government blunders happen often – and visibly. But successful policy-making is hard (and fixes are rarely as quick as politicians like to promise). Some argue that governments would do stupid things less often if they based their policies on the careful analysis of good evidence; find out what works, in other words, and then do that. But that’s not how most governments operate, most of the time. Why not? Presenter: Michael Blastland (Photo: a group of journalists being surrounded by the Media. Credit Shutterstock)

Why Did The Polls Get it Wrong (Or Did They)?  

Hillary Clinton lost the US election despite some polls putting her chances of winning at 99%. In the run up to the vote pollsters spent huge sums of money speaking to thousands of Americans. They were careful to collect the best possible data from representative samples, and they applied their finest statistical minds to analysing the numbers. Yet almost no-one predicted that Donald Trump would win. So – our question this week – why did the polls get it so wrong? Our expert witnesses explain why polling is getting harder, and why many pollsters weren’t – despite that – very far wide of the mark. (Photo: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump listen during the town hall debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, October 2016. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Does Anyone Still Smoke?  

Smoking tobacco is the single most dangerous voluntary activity in the world. It kills six million people a year, and if current trends continue that figure is expected to rise to 8 million people by 2030. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it'll give you bad breath, bad skin and cost you money. So why do so many of us still smoke? (Photo: A man holds a cigarette over an ashtree Credit: PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

What Next?  

On 8 November, as they stood in line to cast their votes, Americans were told by pollsters and pundits that, while close, the presidential race would be won by Hillary Clinton. As the results came in, precinct by precinct, many in the political establishment watched the unfolding story in disbelief. It was a similar feeling to that felt by many in Britain’s so-called ‘chattering class’ when, on June 24, they woke to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Both were seismic political shocks. Neither was predicted by pollsters. So – our question this week – what next? After two extraordinary electoral shocks, both of which challenge the established order, and with elections coming up in France and Germany, should we expect more? Presenter: Michael Blastland Producers: Estelle Doyle and Sarah Shebbeare Editor: Richard Knight (Photo: Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, right, greets United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage during a campaign rally at the Mississippi Coliseum. Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Was this the Most Divisive US Election Ever?  

The Clinton–Trump race has been extraordinary. Two of the most unpopular presidential candidates ever have slugged it out through a bitter campaign. They are both – for different reasons – deeply polarising figures. Hillary Clinton is viewed with suspicion by Americans who have turned against what they regard as “the elite”. Donald Trump has exploited crudely divisive, sexist, even racist, rhetoric. The tone of the contest has been ugly. But there is historical precedent for much of this – divisive policy positions on slavery or the famous attack ads of the 1960s. How should we view this campaign compared to the candidates, rhetoric, policies and media climate of past elections? (Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as she answers a question i their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Credit: Rick Wilking)

What’s the Story of Aleppo?  

We see and hear about it almost daily as news stories emerge of the hardship endured by its besieged people. After years of bombardment this once majestic place, the 'jewel' of Syria and one of the world's oldest inhabited cities, has been reduced to rubble. Thousands are dead. The residents who remain in the rebel-held parts of the city suffer from the ever-present threat of barrel bombs while the international community has repeatedly failed to find a workable solution. But why is Aleppo such an important part of the story of the war in Syria? The answer lies in Aleppo's historic role as a strategic city for so many people over the centuries, from Silk Road merchants of medieval times to the Assad regime and the forces currently battling for control of the country. Four Syrians, including one current Aleppo resident, tell us what life has been like in the city during its long and turbulent history. (Photo: A view of the UNESCO-listed citadel (C) in the government-controlled side of the divided northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Credit: Getty Images)

How Do We Fix Antibiotics  

By 2050, experts predict that drug-resistant infections will kill one person every three seconds unless the world’s governments take drastic steps now. But given the complexity of antibiotics resistance, what should their plan be? Some of the possible fixes involve changing ingrained human behaviours such as doctors’ prescribing habits and the intensive farming of animals. But other promising solutions to avert a post-antibiotics apocalypse come from surprising sources. Scientists are now hunting for undiscovered fungi in the world’s most remote places while other researchers stay in the lab deciphering the language of bacteria. (Photo: A young Komodo dragon at the Bioparco zoo in Rome. Credit: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)

How Did We Mess up Antibiotics?  

Warnings about the approaching post-antibiotics apocalypse have been sounding for years. There are now strains of deadly bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics. This means that doctors are faced with patients who have completely untreatable infections. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are dying due to antibiotic resistance - and this number is set to rise rapidly. If we carry on like this, scientists predict we will return to a pre-antibiotic era, where organ transplants, chemotherapy and C-sections are impossible. We’ve come a long way since 1928, when the famous chance discovery of penicillin led to a golden age in which antibiotics were seen as wonder drugs, heralding in an age of huge medical advances and increased human life spans. But by the 1990s we were running out of new antibiotics and infections were again a killer. How did this happen? Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: A depiction EHEC bacteria. Credit: HZI/Getty Images)

Can a Corrupt Country Get Clean?  

The International Monetary Fund says corruption siphons $2 trillion a year out of the global economy, slowing growth and fuelling poverty. Endemic corruption is very hard to deal with. But not impossible. We tell the astonishing story of one country – Georgia – which did turn itself around. At the turn of the century Georgia was one of the most corrupt states in the world. Now it is one of the cleanest. How did it do it? (Photo: Two men in suits shake hands while one puts money into the pocket of the other. Credit: Shutterstock)

Why are 10,000 Children Missing in Europe?  

Earlier this year Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, announced 10,000 children had arrived in Europe, part of the wave of migration that has swept through the continent in recent years. They had been registered and identified. And then they had disappeared. Many of these children are travelling alone. Some are as young as six years old. But the authorities across Europe – the police, the border agencies, NGOs and care organisations – have no idea where they have gone. They are at risk from trafficking and exploitation as well as the hazards of the journey across Europe – jumping onto lorries at Calais, sleeping rough in Northern European weather. Under international and EU law children should be protected. There are various systems and regulations in place to deal with unaccompanied child migrants, whether refugees or not. But the system is failing and children continue to go missing at an alarming rate. Why? (Photo: A young boy walks past the Jungle Books Cafe in the Jungle migrant camp Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Is Islamic State finished?  

Islamic State is on the run. Caught in a pincer movement in Syria and Iraq, the group has lost large swathes of territory over the past year. With its revenues and numbers of fighters also dwindling, the demise of the caliphate appears all but unavoidable. And yet many caution against writing them off too soon, pointing to the group’s proven ability to change tactics. Already, they have redirected their efforts to launching terrorist operations around the world. And their ideology is still proving an effective recruiting sergeant. Presenter: Helena Merriman Producers: Estelle Doyle and Laura Gray (Photo:Syrian soldier sets fire to an Islamic State (IS) group flag after Syrian troops regained control the previous day of al-Qaryatain Credit: JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)

Who Wins in a Cashless Economy  

The death of cash has been predicted many times over the years. But in the last decade a future without coins and notes has become a real possibility thanks to the global development and adoption of cashless systems. Some banks in Scandinavia are already refusing to accept or hand out cash. And, in nations with poor banking infrastructure, the growth of cashless has been explosive. Millions of people around the world now conduct their lives with hardly any cash at all and in terms of convenience, most of us are winners. But warnings are sounding about the driving forces behind this shift. Are we in danger of getting rid of our cash without really understanding the consequences? Presented by Linda Yueh. (Photo: View of a smartphone displaying the 'Contactless' application. Credit: Getty Images)

What’s the point of lotteries?  

It is now hard to find a country that does not have a state sponsored lottery – even the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan recently adopted one. They have famously been called a “tax for people who are bad at maths” and make little economic sense for the individuals who play. Instead, lotteries allow governments to raise much needed revenue to be spent on ‘good causes.’ But there’s more to lotteries than powerballs and million dollar prizes. Should we embrace them as a way of making life more fair? Presenter: Michael Blastland (Photo: Lottery balls are seen in a box at a Liquor store in San Lorenzo, California. Credit: Getty Images)

Can Coral Reefs Survive?  

Over the past eight months almost a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef has died – according to some estimates – because of coral bleaching, which can happen when sea temperatures rise. It's not the first time coral has bleached. It happened once or twice in the early 20th century after periods of warm weather. But, since the 1980s, coral bleaching has been happening regularly. And this year's Great Barrier Reef ‘bleaching event’ is the longest in history. Some say it signals the beginning of the end for coral reefs. There are though, rays of hope. In this Inquiry you'll hear from scientists who are pioneering some extraordinary ways of trying to help coral withstand warmer seas. They're hoping they're not already too late. Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: Australia's Great Barrier Reef, climate change is posing the most serious threat to the extensive coral reef ecosystem. Credit: Getty images)

Is Retirement Over?  

For 40,000 years human beings worked until they dropped. Then in the late 19th century, Otto von Bismarck started the first state pension in Germany. The idea caught on. By the 20th century, advances in medicine meant that many more people were surviving childhood and living longer and longer into old age. This was great news for those individuals, but not such good news for governments and companies who found themselves having to fund ever-longer retirements. Many of the most generous schemes have now been withdrawn and it’s increasingly up to the individual to save for their retirement – but many aren’t saving enough. Volatile stock markets and low interest rates are making the situation worse. Many think retirement will turn out to be a "blip" in human history; it didn't exist in the past, and it won't exist in the future. So, is retirement over? Our expert witnesses are: Professor Noel Whiteside of the University of Warwick, UK; Thomas B Jankowski, research director at Wayne State University, US; David Blake, director of the Pensions Institute at Cass Business School, London, Andrew Scott, professor of economics at London Business School. Presenter: Ruth Alexander (Photo: Clayton Fackler, 72, works at the check out at a supermarket in Ohio. Credit: J.D. Pooley/Getty Images)

Would Donald Trump Be a Dangerous President?  

Earlier this month 50 senior Republican national security officials signed a letter arguing that Donald Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to lead the United States. “We are convinced”, they wrote, “he would be a dangerous president”. We want to know if they are right. Our expert witnesses are: Timothy O’Brien, author of The Art of Being The Donald; Peter Feaman, Florida representative for the Republican National Committee; Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts; and Elaine Kamarck from the Brookings Institution, an expert on presidential power and its limits. (Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an event at Trump SoHo Hotel, 2016, New York. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Don’t Cities Want The Olympics?  

The Olympic Games has a problem. In recent years the number of cities entering bids to host either the Winter or Summer Olympics has dropped dramatically. For the 2004 Summer Olympics, 12 cities bid. For the 2024 summer Games, there are only four cities running. The 2022 Winter Olympics bidding cycle saw just two cities compete - winners Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan - after the other five cities that expressed an interest pulled out due to public and political opposition. And in cities that are hosting, the Olympics has been met with hostility. Protesters tried to put out the Olympic torch in Rio, and in Tokyo public outcry at the cost of the stadium for 2020 has led to a complete redesign. Four expert witnesses pin-point exactly what is putting off potential host cities and discuss radical solutions. (Image 'No Boston Olympics' permission from Liam Kerr and Chris Dempsey)

Has Russia Won In Ukraine?  

The fighting in Ukraine has fallen off the front pages recently after making headline news in 2014. But Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists are still engaged in a frozen conflict with no military or diplomatic solution in sight. Soldiers, rebels and civilians are dying. It looks good for Russia. Ukraine lacks the military power and international support to take back the East of the country where Russian-backed separatists hold huge swathes of land. And President Putin’s approval ratings at home have soared thanks to his annexation of Crimea in 2014. But does this mean Russia has won in Ukraine? Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: Separatist soldiers stand on a military vehicle during a city celebration on September 14, 2014 in Lugansk, Ukraine. Credit to Getty Images)

How Did we Save the Ozone Layer?  

On 30 June this year, a study was released in one of the world's top scientific journals. It explained how a group of scientists who had been measuring the amount of ozone in the stratosphere had made a startling observation - the hole in the ozone layer had shrunk. Here, they said, was the first, clear evidence that the ozone layer had begun to heal. So how did this happen? It is a story that involves dogged scientific endeavour, the burgeoning green movement of the 1980s and the signing of what has been described as the most successful treaty ever created. (Photo: Severe thinning of Earth's protective ozone layer found over Antarctica, by Nasa scientists. Credit: Getty Images)

Can Colombia Reintegrate the Farc?  

After more than 50 years of armed conflict that has left 200,000 dead and millions displaced, Colombia is on the brink of peace. A final deal between the government and the Farc guerrilla movement is expected to be signed soon. Thousands of armed fighters will then lay down their weapons in preparation for reintegration into a society from which they have been estranged for years. But the process will not be easy – for the Farc’s fighters, or for the rest of Colombian society. (Photo: Fighters of the Front 53, a faction of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerrilla movement, in Los Alpes, 150km south-east of Bogota. Credit: Getty Images)

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