The Inquiry

The Inquiry

United Kingdom

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


Do We Need A Plan B For Climate Change?  

At a recent press conference on the new US budget questions were asked about funding for climate change initiatives. The answer was stark. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” reporters were told, they’re a “waste of your money”. The new administration is sceptical about man-made climate change. Most of the world’s scientists and governments, however, are not. The Paris Agreement committed the world to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees over pre-industrial levels. That target looked close to impossible even before the election of Donald Trump. So – our question this week – do we need a ‘plan B’? Scientists have been developing some very ambitious ideas to re-engineer our climate. They have created materials that could suck carbon dioxide out of the air and a scheme to pump reflective particles into the atmosphere. But – if ‘plan A’ fails – might any of these last-ditch ideas actually work? (Photo: The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia. Credit: Getty Images)

What’s Wrong With France?  

Every candidate in the upcoming presidential election in France is calling for change: change to the bureaucracy, the economy and even the culture. France, they say, is broken; society too divided, unemployment too high or the state too oppresive. Are they right? Is this call for change a tired political cliché – or a justifiable response to a deep set of problems? In other words – our question this week – what's wrong with France? Presenter: Estelle Doyle (Photo: A dejected France fan after defeat in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa match between France and Mexico. Credit: Getty Images)

Are Famines Always Man-Made?  

The UN has declared that South Sudan is in the grip of famine. Aid agencies have pointed the finger not at crop failure, weather or some other environmental problem. Humans, they say, have created this misery – misery which could easily have been avoided. The UN has also warned that conflicts in Yemen, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria mean there could soon be famine in those countries too, creating “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations” in 1945. Humankind long ago figured out how to manage agriculture, store and distribute surplus produce or use trade to overcome hunger. So are all famines – like the one unfolding now in South Sudan – man-made? That’s our question on The Inquiry this week. Presenter: Maria Margaronis Producers: Phoebe Keane and Charlotte McDonald (Photo: A woman winnows grain to separate sorghum seeds from soil following an air-drop at a village in Nyal, in Panyijar county, south Sudan, on February 23, 2015. Credit: Getty Images)

How is Mosul Being Liberated?  

Mosul is today the scene of the largest battle on Earth. Some 100,000 soldiers, police and militiamen are bearing down on the ancient Iraqi city. Backed by Western air power, their mission is to drive out the so-called Islamic State fighters who’ve occupied the city since 2014. Mosul holds enormous symbolic value to both sides. The IS leader declared himself “caliph” there; the Iraqis want to avenge their defeat there nearly three years ago. Between them are hundreds of thousands of civilians. The UN says they face "extreme risks": water, food and fuel are already scarce. This edition of The Inquiry tells the story of the campaign and asks how the final phase could end. Producer: Estelle Doyle Presenter: Neal Razzell (Photo: An Iraqi Special Forces soldier moves through a hole as he searches for Islamic State fighters in Mosul, Iraq February 27, 2017. BBC Elvis)

What Happened To Europe’s Migrant Crisis?  

Back in 2015 our radios and TV bulletins were full of stories of people trying to get to Europe. We saw distressing pictures as boats sank and lives were lost. Huge numbers of men, women and children tried to make their way by road, rail and foot to Hungary, Germany and beyond. There was anguish and fear in EU capitals. Now the story has slipped from the front pages. We find out what happened next. Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producer: Charlotte McDonald (Photo: Syrian refugees sit aboard a dinghy heading to the island of Lesbos early on June 18, 2015. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Can't We Stop Looking at Our Phones?  

Our phones are powerful tools with lots of benefits – keeping in touch, accessing information and services and managing our lives. We’re using them more and more, constantly picking them up. Even in situations where it’s considered inappropriate, disadvantageous, or even dangerous, many people still find it hard resist the urge to check their smartphones. Why do we find these mini computers in our pockets so compelling? This week, our expert witnesses explain how tech developers are tapping into established behavioural psychology theories about what gets us hooked. We’ll hear how experiments conducted on pigeons that help explain why we can’t resist checking to see whether we’ve got email or a new like on social media and we’ll reveal the tricks that companies use to keep us coming back for more. (Photo: People using their smartphones on the platform of a train station in Bangkok. A recent study showed smartphone owners are often connected all day. Credit: Getty Images)

Is Donald Trump Good For Journalism?  

President Trump has made no secret of his contempt for news organizations, stating that the media are "among the world's most dishonest people". He has described The New York Times as "failing", The Wall Street Journal as “a pile of garbage” and CNN as a “terrible organization” responsible for “fake news". The BBC? “There’s another beauty.” The President has made statements and assertions which are false. He uses Twitter to speak directly to the American people. His combative press secretary Sean Spicer said he plans to “hold the press accountable”. All this seems like bad news for what many Trump supporters call – derisively – the “mainstream media”. But might the opposite be true? Might Donald Trump, in fact, be good for journalism? That’s the question on The Inquiry this week. Presenter: Ruth Alexander (Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks to reporters after the first prime-time presidential debate, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio)

Can You Believe What You Read on WikiLeaks?  

Since 2006 the WikiLeaks website has been publishing secret documents and material obtained from whistleblowers and other sources. Many of the confidential files published by WikiLeaks have been revelatory. The site has frequently made news around the world. But in 2016 Wikileaks published hacked emails relating to Hillary Clinton and her presidential bid. Those leaks appeared to serve the interests of the Trump campaign and were – according to US intelligence – probably provided to Wikileaks by Russian sources. So, this week on The Inquiry, we’re asking: can you believe what you read on WikiLeaks? (Photo: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks to the press after appearing at Belmarsh Magistrates court in London, England. Credit: Getty Images)

What Would ‘No Deal’ Mean For Brexit Britain?  

"No deal is better than a bad deal." So said Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, clarifying her country's position on Brexit negotiations with the EU. In the absence of a deal with the EU Britain would “revert to WTO rules” after Brexit. But what does that mean, exactly? The Inquiry has the answer. Presenter: Linda Yueh Contributors: Emily Lydgate, University of Sussex Alan Winters, UK Trade Policy Observatory Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, European Centre for International Political Economy Adam Marshall, British Chambers of Commerce (Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrive for a statement prior to a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on November 18, 2016. Credit: Getty Images)

How Do You Launch A Nuclear Missile?  

'Do we want his finger anywhere near the button?' Hilary Clinton asked during the US election campaign, referring to Mr Trump and the nuclear arsenal. But how close is an American President's finger to 'the button'? How close is anyone’s? In this week’s edition of The Inquiry, we explain how the nuclear weapons systems of the US, Russia, Britain and China work – and how much power any one individual has over them. Presenter: Ruth Alexander Image: Getty images

How Did the US Get Stuck With Guantanamo?  

In 2002 US military personnel at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba were given 96 hours to prepare their sleepy base for the arrival of hundreds of prisoners. “The worst of the worst,” they were told. Beyond US jurisdiction, with no clear legal framework, prisoners accused of terror offences have been held there indefinitely without charge ever since. For many, Guantanamo has stained the image of the United States. When President Obama came to power in 2008 he vowed to close it. He failed. In this week’s Inquiry we are telling the full story of Guantanamo - from its creation to the so-called “forever prisoners” held there today. Presenter: James Fletcher (Photo: A US soldier walks next to a razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned 'Camp X-Ray' detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Credit: Getty Images)

Is There Anybody Out There?  

It’s a question humans have asked forever. Are we alone in space? But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that humans started an organised, systematic hunt for extra-terrestrial intelligent life. We have listened to radio waves, peered through the celestial dust and beamed The Beatles to distant planets. So how’s it going? Is there anybody out there? This is the story of the search for extra-terrestrial life. Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: The ALMA, an international partnership project between Europe, North America and East Asia, with the cooperation of Chile. Credit to Getty)

Can We Eat Our Way Out Of Climate Change?  

Food production accounts for as much global greenhouse gas emissions as all forms of transport combined. That’s why many scientists think we can’t tackle climate change without addressing what we eat. So – in this week’s Inquiry – we’re looking at alternative climate-friendly diets and asking what it would take to move the world towards them. Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: Friends having a vegetarian meal. Credit: Shutterstock)

What Went Right in 2016?  

A lot has gone wrong this year. We’re not talking about Brexit or the election of Donald Trump – both of which split opinion in Britain and the US – we’re talking about terror attacks, the brutal conflict in Syria, and the thousands of migrants who died trying to reach Europe. Good things did happen. But the good news was mostly buried under the bad. So for this edition of The Inquiry – our final show of the year – we wanted to find about four things that went right in 2016. And we wanted to talk to the people who made those things happen. That’s it. Four amazing stories united by one thing: the ambition of a small number of extraordinary people to achieve the seemingly impossible. Presenter: Helena Merriman (Photo: Betrand Piccard in his pilot seat, permission from Solar Impulse, Teresita Gaviria watches the announcement made by the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, Getty Images, Sophien Kamoun and Dr Herath with kind permission)

Should We Give Homeless People Homes?  

It’s a surprisingly simple idea: to end long-term homelessness, give every person living on the streets a home. It can also be surprisingly effective. Medicine Hat, a city in Canada, recently became the first city to end homelessness in this way. The approach is known as Housing First, and – unlike many other homelessness initiatives – it doesn’t require homeless people to make steps towards solving other issues like alcoholism, mental health problems or drug addiction before they get a home. But is this approach solving the problem, or simply moving it off the streets? Presenter: Helena Merriman (Image: A homeless man with his dog outside a building. Credit to Getty)

Does Turkey Still Want to Join the EU?  

Turkey first applied to join the European club over 50 years ago. Over the subsequent decades-long flirtation, enthusiasm for the EU in Turkey has remained high. Integrating with Europe, it was thought, would spur modernisation and economic development. But the country is changing under President Erdogan – who recently survived a coup attempt – in ways which deepen doubts in Europe about whether Turkey really shares its values. And enthusiasm in Turkey for the EU has begun to ebb away, as fewer and fewer Turks believe the EU will ever fully embrace them. So, our question this week: does Turkey still want to join the EU? Contributors: Aykan Erdemir, former Turkish politician; Amberin Zaman, journalist and fellow at the Wilson Center; Senem Aydın-Düzgit, professor in international relations at Sabancı University; and Sinan Ulgen, scholar in Turkish foreign relations at Carnegie Europe. Presenter: Chris Morris Producer: Julia Ross (Photo: European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 05 October 2015. BBC Copyright, Elvis)

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)

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