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The Big Idea Podcast Profile

The Big Idea Podcast

English, Education, 1 season, 42 episodes, 7 hours, 15 minutes
What are the big ideas shaping our world now?
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Fighting pandemics

The 2020 pandemic has transformed our world, but it won’t be the last to do so. How should we prepare for the future? Along with one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, David Edmonds explores the science of pandemics – and why it is so uncertain.
12/19/202011 minutes, 53 seconds
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The science of addiction

Some people are addicted to drugs, others to alcohol. Addicts often crave a substance, and yet when they inject or consume it, it doesn’t bring them any pleasure. David Edmonds finds out how humans can want something, but not like it.
12/12/202011 minutes, 27 seconds
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The new normal

Love him or loathe him, we can all agree that Donald Trump is not a ‘normal’ President. Previous presidents would never behave like President Trump. Is the abnormal becoming normal? And how can we tackle people who say uncomfortable things?
12/5/202011 minutes, 37 seconds
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Do cities need rules?

Have you ever thought that your city is too regulated? Or that the city you live in doesn’t do enough to police people who break the rules? In this episode, David Edmonds has been speaking to Michele Gelfand, a psychologist whose research on rule makers and rule breakers could change the way we think about our cities. We’ll find out why you might be able to tell the time better in a city that's like Switzerland; why Japanese police officers reportedly egged people on to commit more crimes; and why living in a city like San Francisco could make you more creative. Presented by David Edmonds. Produced by Robbie Wojciechowski for the BBC World Service.
11/28/20209 minutes, 46 seconds
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The science of sleep

We spend around a third of our lives asleep, but the reason we sleep is still something of a mystery. Could it be the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made? What does sleep actually do for us? David Edmonds meets Matthew Walker, one of the world’s leading sleep scientists, to discuss some of his findings. We’ll hear about how the clocks going back has an effect on heart attack rates, and consider why, if you’re struggling to sleep, the worst thing you could do would be to stay in bed.
11/21/202014 minutes, 38 seconds
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The importance of fairness

Ernst Fehr is well named: he’s an economist who writes about fairness. In fact, until his pioneering work, economists had been dismissive about whether fairness was a subject worthy of study. Now some have tipped Fehr to win a Nobel Prize. David Edmonds speaks to him about why it pays to be fair, and why people are less selfish than you think. Presented by David Edmonds Produced by Robbie Wojciechowski for the BBC World Service
11/14/202012 minutes, 4 seconds
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How do we spot rogue cops?

David Edmonds speaks to a leading criminologist who says we can do much better in identifying rogue cops before they act. Produced by Robbie Wojciechowski for the BBC World Service.
11/7/202011 minutes, 32 seconds
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Understanding emotions: Should we follow our hearts?

Watching a scary movie, you feel scared. But how do our brain and body work together to tell us about our emotions? A brilliant young scientist has been finding out why the art of interoception could help us better manage our emotions.
10/31/202012 minutes, 43 seconds
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Every time you book a journey from an app like Uber, you’ll be providing the company with data - and making one man in Chicago very happy. He’s an economist who’s been examining the data, and his findings are fascinating.
10/24/202015 minutes, 22 seconds
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Why living in the city could make you happier

Why is more than half the world’s population living in cities? Why are some more successful than others? And what is their future post-pandemic? David Edmonds searches for answers to these questions and more with the world’s foremost economist on cities.
10/17/202013 minutes, 49 seconds
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Why do we find things disgusting?

There are some things - cockroaches, poo, wounds - that most of us find disgusting. But is disgust useful? Can our sense of disgust be misused? We ask an academic who describes herself as a ‘disgustologist’. Since recording this programme, Professor Val Curtis has passed away.
10/10/202013 minutes, 22 seconds
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The fragility of choice

Do you know why you believe what you believe? Why you are left or right wing, say, or why you find another person attractive? You probably think you do, but we’ll be explaining why you shouldn’t be so confident.
10/3/20209 minutes, 51 seconds
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The truth about marriage

When most couples get married they’re optimistic that their union won’t end in divorce. The statistics show this to be hopelessly naive. But we’ll be talking to a philosopher who argues that irrational optimism is…well, rational.
9/26/202010 minutes, 29 seconds
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How to topple a dictator

Suppose a country is ruled by a dictator. Suppose many people want to topple the dictator. What’s the best way of doing it – a campaign of violence or non-violence? There’s an academic from Harvard who has the answer. Picture: Romanian waving flag over Bucharest Square Picture Credit: Peter Turnley/Corbis Historical/Getty
9/19/20209 minutes, 57 seconds
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Why do we laugh?

There are thousands of academic papers about depression. There are, in comparison, virtually none about laughter. We’ve been talking to a leading expert on laughter – who argues that we should take it more seriously. Picture Credit: Tim Robberts/Getty
9/12/202010 minutes, 36 seconds
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The Afterlife

Suppose you knew that after your natural death the human race would die out – perhaps, for some reason, humans had become infertile. How would that alter how you live your life? How would it change your attitude to the ideas and projects to which you are currently committed? This thought experiment is posed by American philosopher Samuel Scheffler. He believes that in this scenario, most of what currently gives our life significance would come to feel meaningless. This leads him to conclude that we care deeply about the survival of our species. We need the human race to survive for our lives to seem valuable. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper
9/23/20189 minutes, 7 seconds
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Why Are Some Nations Rich?

Some countries, like Norway, are rich. Other countries, like Niger, are poor. Why? Why do some countries succeed whilst others fail? There are various possible theories. Some say that certain countries have geographical or resource advantages. Others claim that the real explanation is cultural – in some cultures, it’s said, there’s a stronger work ethic than in others. But the distinguished economist James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail, proposes an alternative answer. He says it’s all to do with how a nation is governed and the strength of its institutions. Presenter: David Edmonds Producer: Ben Cooper Image: Interior of City Hall in Oslo, pictured during the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
9/16/20189 minutes, 9 seconds
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How does language work?

Humans are a unique species in many ways, but an important one is that we communicate with sophisticated language, using words and grammar. So how does language work? Is there a single mechanism in the brain, or multiple mechanisms? Is it useful to learn a second language – what are the cognitive advantages to being bilingual? Cathy Price is a neuroscientist and a leading expert in language. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper Image: A man delivering a speech (Credit: BBC)
9/9/201810 minutes, 5 seconds
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A Future Without Doctors?

Can you imagine a future without doctors? We’re in the midst of a robotics and Artificial Intelligence revolution. Many jobs humans currently do will in future be carried out by machine? But what about those in the medical profession? AI will be of assistance, but surely we’ll always need surgeons, doctors, and nurses? Well, the Oxford University economist Daniel Susskind is not so sure. He believes that many of the tasks currently carried out by doctors will soon be performed by machine. So can doctors survive by reinventing themselves? Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper (Image: Operating Theatre, Credit: Getty)
9/2/20188 minutes, 59 seconds
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The Intelligent Tree

Are trees intelligent? We think of humans as intelligent – maybe animals too. But vegetation? Well, one of the world’s leading tree researchers, Suzanne Simard, insists that trees should be seen as intelligent. They communicate with each other. They help each other. They are even able to distinguish between their offspring and stranger trees. She calls the network of tree communication the wood wide web. And she believes that her discoveries should alter our relationship to trees, woods and forests. Presenter: David Edmonds Producer: Ben Cooper (Photo: US-Fall_Shenandoah, Credit: Getty Images)
8/26/20189 minutes, 7 seconds
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Consciousness: A Strange Theory

Is consciousness everywhere? Human consciousness - our subjective experience - remains a mystery. How is it that we can smell coffee and feel the touch of a flower? How does the brain produce consciousness? Well, one of the world’s top philosophers, David Chalmers, has a suggestion. Perhaps consciousness exists everywhere, in some form; perhaps it exists in every subatomic particle – the particles that make up not just humans, but tables and chairs. It sounds completely wacky, but Professor Chalmers explains why it’s a theory worth taking seriously. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper (Image: Glittering Particles Credit: Shutterstock)
8/19/201810 minutes, 42 seconds
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The Teenage Brain

Teenagers are an alien species. Well, that’s not exactly the conclusion of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s research, but it’s a crude summary. Professor Blakemore is a leading neuroscientist who studies the teenage brain. When humans enter adolescence their brains, as well as their bodies, go through a period of transformation. And, during this period their behaviour alters. They become more risk-taking for example, and more acutely conscious of how they’re perceived by others. Professor Blakemore even has an explanation for why they can’t get out of bed. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper (Image: Parent with Teenager, Credit: Shutterstock)
8/12/201810 minutes, 32 seconds
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How To Stop Murder

How can we reduce murder rates? Homicide is frequent in some countries, rare in others. The countries in which the homicide rate is very high include El Salvador and Honduras. The countries in which the murder rate is very low include Japan and Norway. The homicide rate in El Salvador is 100 times worse than the homicide rate in Norway. So what explains this extraordinary difference? Susanne Karstedt is a German-born criminologist who researches homicide around the world. She offers a surprising answer. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper This episode has been updated to correct that San Pedro Sula is in Honduras and not Guatemala (Image: Crime Scene, Shutterstock)
8/5/20189 minutes, 9 seconds
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Democracy and Famine

What is the cause of famine? The obvious answer is shortage of food. But, says the Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen that misses a vital point. In his research on famines, he showed that there’s usually enough food to go around – it just doesn’t reach the people who need it. Often that’s because news of food scarcity hasn’t been widely publicised. In democracies people don’t starve to death, he says, because there’s always pressure on the politicians to alleviate suffering. Presenter David Edmonds Producer Ben Cooper (Image: Bengal Famine, Credit: Getty Images)
7/29/20189 minutes, 12 seconds
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Dimensions of Discrimination

Do black woman face more prejudice than black men or white women? The legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced a new way of thinking about disadvantage in society. She called it ‘intersectionality’. It attempts to analyze how different forms of marginalization – race, class, gender and so on – overlap. And it has been hugely influential on those academics and policy makers who deal with the nature and impact of discrimination. Presenter David Edmonds
7/22/201811 minutes, 17 seconds
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Inequality Makes Us Anxious

Inequality makes people anxious. How? Well, according to Kate Pickett, in unequal societies we become more conscious of our position in society, more aware of our status. That creates anxiety. And that in turn is linked to all sorts of bad outcomes, such as obesity, lower life-expectancy, and higher levels of teenage pregnancy. It’s also linked, claims Professor Pickett, to consumerism. In unequal societies, she says, we’re more likely to want the branded watch or handbag. Then, as you’ll hear, there’s the weird connection between inequality and female attraction to men…. Presented by David Edmonds Produced by Ben Cooper Image: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in the Class Sketch from Frost Over England, 1967 (Credit: BBC)
7/15/201810 minutes, 11 seconds
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Are We All Racist?

Are we all racist? Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji is the architect of what is arguably psychology’s most influential experiment. It’s called the Implicit Association Test (the IAT) and it has been taken millions and millions of times. It purports to be a measure of our unconscious bias towards various groups – e.g. blacks, women, the old or the disabled. Most people taking the IAT do exhibit some kind of bias. That leads to two questions – how worried should we be at these implicit attitudes, and what could be done about them? Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Question marks, Credit: Shutterstock)
7/8/201811 minutes, 48 seconds
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The New Distrust

In an era of fake news, are we living through a crisis in trust? Without trust society couldn’t function. We need to know that individuals and organizations are competent and reliable, that they’re not corrupt and that they’ll honour their word. But now we have digital manipulation, allegations of fabricated news stories and ubiquitous social media spewing out much that is bogus and emotionally manipulative. What, then, can be done to counter these developments? And how much of a threat do they pose to democracy? We speak to the most trustworthy of philosophers, Onora O’Neill. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: Pinnochio on newspapers, Credit: Getty Images)
7/1/201810 minutes, 56 seconds
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Contact Theory

How do you stop different groups hating each other? Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. Palestinians and Jews in the Middle East. Muslims and Hindus in India. Is building walls between them the solution? According to Miles Hewstone, of Oxford University, what’s really needed is contact – the more you are exposed to people in another group, the less you distrust and fear them. Presented by David Edmonds (Image: doves, Credit: Shutterstock)
6/24/20189 minutes, 17 seconds
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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)
6/17/201810 minutes, 7 seconds
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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)
6/10/201810 minutes, 22 seconds
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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)
6/3/20189 minutes, 15 seconds
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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)
5/27/20189 minutes, 13 seconds
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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)
5/20/20189 minutes, 11 seconds
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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)
5/19/20189 minutes, 13 seconds
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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)
5/17/20189 minutes, 7 seconds
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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)
5/16/20189 minutes, 13 seconds
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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)
5/15/20189 minutes, 14 seconds
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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)
5/14/20189 minutes, 23 seconds
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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)
5/13/20189 minutes, 19 seconds
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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)
5/12/201810 minutes, 34 seconds
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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.
5/11/20182 minutes, 14 seconds