The Big Idea

By BBC World Service

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What are the big ideas shaping our world? The Big idea talks to leading thinkers who are searching for the ideas which are changing the way we think.

Episode Date
Economics and Mosquito Nets
What’s the best way of persuading parents in developing countries to immunize their kids? Do women politicians make a difference to what policies are pursued? If you want to reduce malaria is it best to give people mosquito nets for free or make them pay? The influential economist Esther Duflo has revolutionised the way we answer these questions. The secret is to introduce RCTs - Randomized Control Trials. Producer: Dave Edmonds (Image: Nurse with Needle, Credit: Shutterstock)
Jun 17, 2018
Memory Wars
Many criminal court cases rest on eye-witness accounts of what happened. There’s a problem though. Elizabeth Loftus – one of the world’s most influential psychologists – has shown in numerous experiments that memory is not nearly as reliable as we once believed. It is easy to alter memories. It’s even quite easy to implant entirely false memories – making people believe they remember something which never occurred. Presented by David Edmonds (Photo: Brain and eraser, Credit: Shutterstock)
Jun 10, 2018
A World Without Livestock?
What is the biggest cause of climate change? According to biomedical researcher Pat Brown it’s an extremely inefficient technology – aka cows. Maintaining livestock is hugely expensive. It produces greenhouse gases. And it takes up much of the land we use on the planet. So what’s the solution? Professor Brown believes it’s the creation of a new meat – meat which is made without animal flesh. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Cow, Credit: Shutterstock)
Jun 03, 2018
Outrage and Moral Conscience
Why is there so much outrage on social media? And what does this have to do with our moral conscience? Molly Crockett is a neuroscientist who runs her own lab at Yale University. She believes that concern about reputation may explain both the operation of our conscience and our frequent expressions of indignation. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Flaming fists, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 27, 2018
A great advantage of the internet and social media is that they allow us to keep in touch with all our friends, even when they move away. That means our group of friends can carry on expanding indefinitely. Except, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it can’t. There’s a limit to the number of friends we can have. It is known as Dunbar’s number. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Group of friends, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 20, 2018
Baby Boffins
Babies know little and learn slowly. Right? Not according to child psychologist Alison Gopnik. She has spent decades investigating the extraordinary talents and abilities of babies and young children. Her conclusion: they’re much smarter than you might think. The presenter is David Edmonds (Image: Clever Baby, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 19, 2018
One day – and Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom believes it may not be far away – computers could become super-intelligent. At that stage they’ll far surpass human intelligence. They may be able to solve our most intractable problems – like find a cure for every disease. But will we be able to control these computers – or will they control us? David Edmonds presents (Image: Computer code, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 17, 2018
Social Physics
Professor Sandy Pentland is the modern pioneer of what’s called ‘Social Physics’ - the analysis of human interactions using so called Big Data. Mining data - from credit cards, electronic ticketing and mobile phones - we can now take a reading of the city, its pulse. Sandy Pentland tells us why some cities are richer and more successful than others. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Busy city scene at night, Credit: Getty Images)
May 16, 2018
The Growth Mindset
The Growth Mind Set. Is there such a thing as innate talent? Possibly. We’re not all capable of winning a Nobel physics prize. But according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck children who believe that talent is fixed do worse at school. For kids to succeed, they need what she calls ‘a growth mindset’. Her theories have had an enormous influence on education around the world. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Children in classroom, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 15, 2018
Can our experiences be passed down biologically to our children and grandchildren? Quite a thought given for a long time now the orthodoxy has been that our traits are transmitted through our genes meaning that how your father or mother behaves can’t affect your biology. However, this evolutionary theory may itself be evolving. In one study, mice who were psychologically stressed, seemed to pass on this stress to their descendants. It’s controversial, but Professor Eva Jablonka argues, that the impact of what happens to us in life could be felt by future generations. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Illustration of DNA, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 14, 2018
Future Gazing
We’re used to seeing political pundits on our television screens predicting future events – who will win an election, whether a war or social unrest might break out, whether an international treaty will be signed. How accurate are these forecasts? Well, this is something Philip Tetlock has studied, and it turns out, not very. And oddly, the more famous the pundit, he says, the worse their predictive record. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Crystal ball, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 13, 2018
Monkey Money
What can monkeys tell us about the stock market? Apes and monkeys are our closest animal relatives. We share a common evolutionary history. Through studying them, Laurie Santos believes we can learn a bit about ourselves and our attitude to money. Laurie Santos has taught monkeys to use money (or tokens). And it turns out that in experiments, monkeys make some ‘financial’ decisions which are remarkably similar to those made by humans. This may explain why we humans keep facing financial crises! Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Rodin/Thinking Gorilla, Credit: Shutterstock)
May 12, 2018
The Big Preview: The Big Idea
The search for the most interesting ideas around - ideas which are shaping our understanding of the world and our place within it. Written and presented by David Edmonds, who will be talking to leading thinkers from fields such as economics, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and anthropology.
May 11, 2018