The Inquiry

The Inquiry

United Kingdom

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

Episodes

Is It Time To Ban The Plastic Bottle?  

Every single second, 20,000 single-use drinking bottles are sold around the world. That's more than a million pieces of non-biodegradable rubbish produced every minute. And as demand grows in developing economies, so will the mountains of waste, with much of it ending up in the ocean. In this Inquiry, we learn how the invention of the plastic bottle spawned an industry that has quickly got us hooked. We hear the consequences of our addiction from the man who's dedicated his life to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And, with one estimate that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish, we ask if we now need a radical solution. Is it time to ban the plastic bottle? Presenter: James Fletcher Producers: Simon Maybin and Sarah Shebbeare (Photo: A bottle of water sits on the floor inside a recycling facility. Credit: Getty Images)

Is Gene Editing Out of Control?  

"This structure has novel features, which are of considerable biological interest." It was perhaps the greatest understatement of all time - the announcement more than six decades ago of the discovery of the shape of a single human DNA. The double-helix structure is now one of the world's most recognisable icons. Knowledge of it has transformed the fight against everything from disease to crime. That revolution was brought to us by an elite. It took the world's most eminent scientists, backed by the treasuries of the United States, the United Kingdom and private markets to go from the discovery of that one gene, in 1953, to map the more than 22,000 genes that make up a human being in 2000. Mapping the genome, as it was known, was likened to "learning the language in which God created life." Genetic research has since become democratised. Incredible new technologies now allow labs all over the world to not only learn the language of creation, but to write it...and edit it. Do-it-yourself gene editing kits are available online for less than $100. Gene editing offers breathtaking promise - eliminating disability and disease. But the rapid spread of this powerful technology is leading some who've been at the forefront of the research to warn against unintended consequences, and question whether the rush for miracle cures could bring hellish side-effects. So this week, The Inquiry asks, Is Gene Editing Out of Control? (Photo: CRISPR CAS 9 Clustered regularly inter spaced short palindromic repeats. segments of prokaryotic DNA containing short repetitions of base sequences. gene editing, genome editing. Credit: Shutterstock)

What's So Special About Qatar?  

The tiny state behind a global diplomatic feud. Qatar's landmass is so small it could fit into the UK 20 times over. Its citizen population is just a few hundred thousand. Yet this desert country finds itself at the centre of a geopolitical dispute, with its powerful neighbour Saudi Arabia leading a blockade against it and President Donald Trump firing off critical Tweets. So how did this bantam-weight state end up slogging it out with the world's heavyweights? In other words, what's so special about Qatar? Presenter: James Fletcher Producer: Simon Maybin and Sarah Shebbeare (image: Doha city skyline, with armoured vehicles, Qatar. Credit: Karim Jaafar/Getty images)

Have We Always Felt This Tired?  

“Humans are the only species that willingly deprive themselves from sleep”. Ever since fire was discovered, we have traded off sleep time for other activities - from creating stone tools to partying. As our technology progressed, the list of things to do rather than sleep just got longer. But with sleep deprivation now a growing health problem, could we be reaching our limits? Or is tiredness part of our condition? In this week’s programme, an evolutionary biologist, a historian and a neuroscientist give us their take on whether we are now any more tired than our ancestors. We hear what makes human sleep unique and how it has evolved in surprising ways. And finally we hear from a woman with a dream – that we may never have to sleep again. Producer: Estelle Doyle and Sarah Shebbeare Presenter: James Fletcher (Photo: A woman shows signs of tiredness as she counts ballot cards. Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Why Does China Want to Revive the Silk Road?  

China is currently developing the biggest infrastructure initiative of all time. Called the Belt and Road initiative, the trillion dollar plans involve working with other Asian countries to build hundreds of new roads, high speed trains, ports and pipelines across continent to mimic the ancient Silk Road trading routes. The project offers a clear economic opportunity, but the diplomatic ties that form as a result could have the potential to change the current world order. Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producer: Kate Lamble (image: Local people control their sheep and goats on the Karakoram highway in northern Pakistan, part of the new Silk Road. Credit: Aamir Queeshi/AFP/ Getty Images)

Is the greatest threat to President Putin Alexei Navalny?  

On 12th June 2017 thousands of protestors took to the streets in over 160 towns and cities across Russia. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on people to march against corruption from Kaliningrad in the west to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in the east, in bustling cities and significantly in rural towns where support for President Putin is strong. This is unusual. Protests are usually restricted to the urban elites in Moscow. So who is Navalny and how has he managed to bring so many people out on the streets? Our expert witnesses assess the strength of the opposition movement in Russia. They explain that the protests reveal a greater threat to Putin. The mobilisation of a young generation who don’t believe what they see on state TV and are turning to opposition politics online instead. Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producers: Phoebe Keane and Estelle Doyle (Photo: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during a rally in Lyublino, a suburb of Moscow, on September 20, 2015. Credit to: Getty Images)

How Do You Report Terrorism?  

The complicated relationship between terrorists and the media. When violent jihadis struck London last Saturday, the rolling news networks kicked quickly into action. The story became front-page news around the world and dominated the UK's news media for days, with ever more information on the attack, the victims and the perpetrators. It was shocking, horrific - and perhaps also exactly what the terrorists wanted. Terrorists rely on the world's media to spread their message of fear and their ideology. Maybe if there was less media coverage of such attacks, it would frustrate the people behind them. In this week's Inquiry, we're looking at four democratic countries where attempts have been made to limit the media impact of terrorism. Drawing on the lessons learnt, we want to know: how do you report terrorism? Presenter: Ruth Alexander Producer: Simon Maybin and Phoebe Keane (Photo: Various newspapers spread out headlining the London Terror attacks)

Is Work Too Easy?  

Many of us find our jobs stressful, underpaid and the hours too long. But few would complain about work being less physically strenuous than in the past. And yet, new research shows that the decline in physical activity at work is key to explaining the obesity epidemic. So - is work now too easy? And if it is, can this be reversed? Producers: Estelle Doyle and Phoebe Keane Presenter: Michael Blastland (Photo: Office workers at desks using computers in an office. Credit: Getty Images)

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)

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