battle of ideas 2007 battle of ideas 2007

Cafe conversations

Has undercover journalism become too voyeuristic?
Should scientists play God?
The rise and rise of evolutionary psychology

Sustainability: the architecture of low horizons
Drugs and morality
Phonics: the Holy Grail of reading?


Saturday 29 October

10.30 - 12.00 noon

Has undercover journalism become too voyeuristic?

Undercover television has undergone a renaissance in recent years. After predictions that investigative undercover reporting had died following the end of ITV’s World in Action, the move of BBC Panorama to the Sunday ‘graveyard’ slot and the reduction in programmes in the Channel 4 Dispatches series, the number of undercover programmes has increased once again.

Yet has the content of undercover programmes become too voyeuristic rather than journalistic? Do programmes tend to sensationalise rather than scrutinise issues? Should undercover methods be reigned in to protect people’s privacy? And why are many undercover programmes about racist speech or target individuals rather than the rich and powerful?

Tessa Mayes investigative reporter and author of the spiked-report ‘Restraint or Revelation? Free speech and privacy in a confessional age’ (2002) in conversation with: Chris Shaw senior programme controller, Five, and Pip Clothier, senior producer, investigations, BBC Documentaries


1.30 - 3pm

Should scientists play God?

Can science really change the world, and if it can, is that a good thing? Are we too willing to tamper with Nature, or too afraid? Do scientists seek too much power over human life - or does society ask science to shoulder too many questions left unanswered by the retreat of politics and the demise of religious faith?

Tracey Brown director, Sense About Science
Ian Christie associate of the think-tanks Green Alliance and New Economics Foundation
Hamish Mykura head of history, science and religion at Channel 4
Chair: Timandra Harkness Freelance science writer and member of the ABSW (Association of British Science Writers)


3.30 - 5pm

The rise and rise of evolutionary psychology

One of the great triumphs of the late twentieth century was the application of Darwinian theory to animal behaviour. This led to many attempts to apply the same methods to human beings and to explain the human mind in evolutionary terms. In the 1970s sociobiologists attempted to explain human behaviour in terms of adaptation and were accused of being reactionary and racist. Yet since that period we have seen the rise of the now common phrase ‘the gene for . . .’ in describing human behaviour and sociobiology’s younger cousin Evolutionary Psychology has come to the fore. Evolutionary Psychology attempts to explain human nature exclusively in terms of evolved predispositions to behave in certain ways. How does this differ from sociobiology? What are the implications of this approach? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Why has Evolutionary Psychology proved so popular when sociobiology was rejected so ambivalently?

Caspar Hewett The Great Debate

Rita Carter Medical writer
Chair: Dave O’Toole Lecturer in Computing at Newcastle College 


Sunday 30 October

11am - 12.15pm

The Future Cities Project presents

Sustainability: the architecture of low horizons

The idea that architects should minimise their impact on the planet has become something of a mantra. While developments, these days, are premised on a prediction of the environmental, social and economic benefits likely to accrue, the greatest of these is environmental. Nowadays, it is a fairly unquestioned assumption that projects should not be detrimental to the environment. But what does that mean... and is it a sensible starting point?

Practically all architectural debate now centres on zero emissions and environmental auditing: from green roofs to brownfields; from no-car housing to solar panels; from urban compaction to microflats; from mud bricks to local labour. Even tall buildings are defended in terms of the minimal amount of land area they take up. Major projects are excused provided that they can prove that they have reduced, recycled and reused.

Has sustainability reined in our aspirations or expanded them? Has it made us more small-minded or more humane?

Austin Williams technical editor, The Architects’ Journal and director of the Future of Communities Festival in conversation with Pascale Scheurer head of sustainability, Wilkinson Eyre, Paul Hyett past-president RIBA and chief executive, RyderHKS and Henry Oliver head of planning and policy, Campaign for the Protection of Rural England


2 - 3.30pm

Drugs and morality

The drugs debate has long been dominated by the question of whether drugs should be prohibited or legalised, and of what kind of regulation is likely to minimise harm. While advocates of prohibition warn of the dangers of drugs and suggest that legalisation would make it worse, pro-legalisers insist that drug use is inevitable, and that prohibition only makes it riskier. But neither side has much to say about whether drug use is morally desirable, and if not, why not? If drugs could be made completely safe, would their use be all right? Is there any place for drugs in the good life?

Marcus Roberts head of the policy and parliamentary unit at Mind and Patrick Turner writer and lecturer on youth and youth culture, in conversation with Dolan Cummings, Academy of Ideas.


4 - 5.30pm

The Queen’s English Society presents

Phonics - the Holy Grail of reading?

Phonics is the process of teaching reading that involves relating spoken sounds (known as phonemes) to written letters. Synthetic phonics proceeds from matching individual phonemes to individual letters (or vice-versa) and then synthesising these into whole spoken words. Analytic phonics proceeds from teaching children to recognise whole one syllable words, to analysing these words, usually into onset and rime. (The onset is the part before the vowel, the ‘c’ in ‘cat, whereas the rhyme is the part from the vowel onwards, the ‘at’ in ‘cat’.)

Proponents of synthetic phonics point out its effectiveness in conveying the building blocks of pronunciation and of language itself, and push for phonics be taught 'fast and first' to intake classes. Opponents argue that phonics should be part of a broader approach to reading that emphasises the contexts of words and the experience of reading whole texts.

This is not just an issue about classroom methods. It concerns the very philosophy of teaching and learning, and how society understands young children. Can young children profit from the intensive teaching of the techniques of word recognition? Or should we set such teaching in the context of making meanings that are important to children? Is this ‘contextual’ approach to reading lessons simply a way to avoid actual teaching, or must we dismiss the single-minded ‘phonics’ approach as narrow and exclusive?

Jennifer Chew of the Reading Reform Foundation 
Professor Kathy Hall of the Open University
Chair: Ciaran Guilfoyle, Queen's English Society