The Inquiry

The Inquiry

United Kingdom

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


Does Poverty Change The Way We Think?  

Does the experience of poverty actually take a physical toll on your brain? The Inquiry investigates the scientific claims that being poor affects how our brains work. It's well known that children from poorer backgrounds do worse at school. And adults who are poor are often criticised for making bad life decisions - ones that don't help them in the long-term. Some say the problems are rooted in the unfair way our society functions. Others argue it's simple genetics. But a growing body of research suggests that something else may be going on too. The Inquiry assesses the evidence and asks: does poverty change the way we think? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producers: Simon Maybin and Phoebe Keane (Photo: Concept of human intelligence with human brain on blue background. Credit: Shutterstock)

How Did Immigration Stop Being a Political Taboo in the UK?  

How did immigration stop being a political taboo in the UK? Brexit showed that the issue is now among the most important for British voters. And that’s likely to continue in June’s UK general election, as major parties have made their positions on immigration central to their campaigns. And yet for decades, immigration was a no-go area for mainstream debate. Following racial tensions in the 1960s, it came to be perceived as a proxy for racism. Today it is one of the most salient issues in British politics. What changed? Producer: Estelle Doyle Presenter: Ruth Alexander

How Did Venezuela Go From So Rich To So Poor?  

Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now in deep economic crisis. Children in school are fainting from hunger; patients are dying from the lack of basic medicine. As prices spiral out of control, cash is carried not in wallets, but in backpacks. Street protests over the crisis are growing in size and frequency - and the government's response becoming ever more authoritarian. Yet in 1970, Venezuela was among the wealthiest countries in the world. It was held up as a beacon of democracy and stability - an example of a successful developing economy that turned oil resource wealth into riches. So what went wrong? How did Venezuela go from so rich to so poor? Presenter: Linda Yueh Producer: Simon Maybin (Photo: A father and daughter rest while someone holds their place before sunrise in a long line to buy basic foodstuffs at a supermarket in San Cristobal, Venezuela. Credit: Getty Images)

How did North Korea get the Bomb?  

Tensions between the US and North Korea are running high. Kim Jong-Un has been testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. The Trump administration wants Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons programmes and has said “all of our options are on the table” in pursuit of that goal. North Korea has said that a "super mighty pre-emptive strike” is planned if the US uses military force against them. But – our question this week – how did this poor and isolated country develop nuclear weapons in the first place? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producers: Kate Lamble, Phoebe Keane and Estelle Doyle (Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons. Credit: Reuters)

Is Inequality About to Get Unimaginably Worse?  

This special edition of The Inquiry features the same “expert witness” in each of its four chapters: Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens and Homo Deus. The programme explores the long history of inequality – from the Stone Age onwards – and asks whether we are on the brink of creating a huge “economically useless” underclass, unable to keep up with enhanced humans, the owners of increasingly valuable data and, eventually, artificial intelligence. Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producer: Estelle Doyle Editor: Richard Knight (Photo: Yuval Noah Harari, Credit: Daniel Thomas Smith)

How Powerful is Facebook's Algorithm?  

There is a place on the internet where almost two billion of us regularly go – many of us, every day. Facebook: the social network which Mark Zuckerberg started in his university dorm room and which has grown, in a little over a decade, into one of the most valuable companies in the world. But what does Facebook’s lines of computer code do with the data we give it – and what could it do in the future? Just how powerful is Facebook's algorithm? The answer will surprise you. Producers: Estelle Doyle and Sarah Shebbeare Editor: Richard Knight (Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivers a keynote address during the Facebook f8 conference in San Francisco, California. Credit: Getty Images)

What Happens When You Legalise Cannabis?  

In 2014 marijuana was legalised for recreational use in Colorado and Washington states in the US. Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada and Massachusetts have all followed. These votes were the result of fierce campaigns. Activists argued that changing the law would eliminate the black market in marijuana; creating a legitimate, taxable industry and allowing the police to focus on more serious crime. Opponents feared more people would become cannabis addicts and predicted an uptick in health problems and robberies. So – three years in – what happened? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producers: Kate Lamble and Phoebe Keane (Photo: Jars full of medical marijuana are seen at Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Getty Images)

Why Is No-one Trying to Stop the War in Yemen?  

It’s two years since the start of the Saudi-led military campaign in support of the Yemeni government which was ousted by Houthi rebels. The war has been a disaster for countless civilians; thousands have been killed and the country is on the brink of famine. The UN is calling it the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. And yet it’s far from clear which – if any – of the multiple nations and groups involved in the conflict is working to end it. In other words, our question this week, why is no one trying to stop the war in Yemen? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producer: Estelle Doyle (Photo: Houthi rebels, march in a parade during a gathering in the capital Sanaa to mobilize more fighters to battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in several Yemeni cities. Getty)

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)

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