Time to be realistic about human rights?

Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights, University of Bristol Law School

The case of Phil Shiner, struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary panel for the attempted procurement by financial inducements of spurious abuse claims against the British army in Iraq, sadly illustrates that the ‘post-truth’ era has penetrated even the noble cause of human rights (‘Review of Iraq war cases after lawyer struck off’, Guardian, 3 February 2017).

While this episode is, of course, a grotesque aberration, myth, misinformation, misrepresentation, and intellectual tunnel vision, coupled with excessive and unsustainable demands, are, nevertheless, increasingly prevalent in the contemporary movement, and not confined to its opponents as many might suppose. This not only devalues the currency, it also stokes the scepticism towards human rights currently sweeping western states and societies. Continue reading

Trump, Brexit and a crisis of participation in universities

Tom Sperlinger is Reader in English Literature and Community Engagement at the University of Bristol.

A friend of mine recently posted a link on Facebook to a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Blue Feed, Red Feed’, which allows readers to pick a topic – Hillary Clinton, say, or abortion – and see how the ‘other’ side of Facebook is talking about it. My friend wrote:

I and everyone I know (well, nearly everyone) finds Trump utterly disgusting, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For others worried that we all (mostly) agree with each other, this is a useful side-by-side comparison of liberal and conservative Facebook.

I looked at the split screen on the topic of ‘guns’ and saw posts I recognised on the ‘blue’ side condemning Republican measures to reduce checks on those buying firearms. The ‘red’ side, meanwhile, included a link to a Federalist Papers website article criticising ‘leftists who don’t like guns’.

The divides that were exposed by Trump and Brexit are complex. Yet, in both votes, two sides emerged that were incomprehensible to each other and they split, above all, along levels of education. Continue reading

Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility

Marcus Munafo, Professor of Biological Psychology, University of Bristol

In 2005 a seminal article by John Ioannidis argued that various biases in how science is conducted, such as the use of small sample sizes and emphasising on novel, eye-catching findings, conspire to reduce the likelihood that a piece of published research is in fact correct. Since then, there has been growing interest in what has become known as the reproducibility crisis, stimulated in part by growing empirical evidence that many published research findings cannot be replicated. For example, in 2011 scientists from the pharmaceutical company Bayer reported that they were only able to replicate ~20-25% of results published in academic journals. Interest in the question of what proportion of published research findings are actually true, and whether we can do better, has grown – in 2015 the Academy of Medical Sciences in the UK held a symposium on the topic, while the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry on these issues. Continue reading

We’ve created a new vibration-proof ‘metamaterial’ that could save premature babies’ lives

 

Fabrizio Scarpa, Professor of Smart Materials & Structures, University of Bristol

Andy Alderson
Professor of Smart Materials and Structures, Sheffield Hallam University

There are 16,000 transfers of premature babies to medical facilities each year in the UK alone. The babies are often transported over large distances from rural to city locations over significant periods of time, in some cases two hours or more. The ambulances, helicopters or aircraft used are miniaturised intensive care units, containing all the equipment required to keep the baby alive.

But mechanical vibrations and noise from the equipment and transfer vehicle can provide significant, even life-threatening stress to the most vulnerable and delicate human lives. As we discovered when speaking to clinicians, transfers are sometimes aborted as a result of the stress that develops in the baby. These vehicles need materials and structures to reduce the noise and vibrations to tolerable levels. Continue reading

Industrial strategy: some lessons from the past

Dr Hugh Pemberton
Reader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol, Department of History

Industrial strategy is back on the government’s agenda, with a promise to produce a ‘match fit’ economy that ‘works for everyone’ and is able to thrive after Brexit. As yet, however, there is little sign of the promised broadly-based and coherent industrial strategy emerging. In crafting it, explains Hugh Pemberton, its architects may profitably look back to the 1960s for some pointers.

For nearly a century, governments have tried to shape Britain’s industrial and commercial landscape. Yet, whilst they often wanted to raise industry’s efficiency and competitiveness, historically there was little consensus on how best to do it. And, whilst ‘industrial policy’ and ‘regional policy’ were often in evidence, the crafting of a broader ‘industrial strategy’ was a rarer event. Continue reading

Energy Access

Dr Sam Williamson, Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering, Bristol University

We are energy consumers. Every day we devour energy, and most of the time we don’t even realise it. Before we wake up, our boiler has heated up our water for a hot shower, and at this time of year our homes are warmed. We unplug our mobile phones, switch on the bedroom lights, and boil a kettle to make our morning tea or coffee, before we travel into work, university or school, often by car or bus, consuming energy as we go. And that’s before we think about any of the embodied energy in everything we use. We have direct access to energy through the infrastructure made available to us.

A fire and tuki (kerosene lamp) in a kitchen, Terai, southern Nepal. Photo credit:
Sam Williamson

However this isn’t the same all over the world. The International Energy Agency report in their World Energy Outlook 2016 that 35% of the world’s population still cooks on traditional biomass, with 18% having no access to electricity, and with over 80% of these people living in rural areas. Those that are connected often suffer from frequent power cuts, and have to revert back to traditional methods for lighting and power. 4.3 million people each year die from illnesses attributed to indoor air pollution using traditional fuels for cooking, heating and lighting (World Health Organisation, 2016). Along with the health implications, exposed flames can cause fires in basic housing, and burning of fuel wood and charcoal leads to extensive deforestation causing soil erosion and land degradation. Continue reading

After 2016; how to achieve more inclusive food policy?

Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license
Photographer: Ed Gregory

Dr Elizabeth Fortin, PolicyBristol Coordinator for Social Sciences, Law, Arts and Humanities,
E.Fortin@bristol.ac.uk

Having spent my British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship researching forms of governance that aspire to achieve that nebulous concept of ‘sustainability’ in relation to certain parts of the global agro-food/fuel system, it seemed fitting that the last event I attend in this capacity should be City University’s annual Food Symposium.

This year’s Symposium enabled Prof. Tim Lang, who is passing the baton of running City’s influential Food Centre to Prof. Corinna Hawkes, and a number of his colleagues, to reflect on the past 25 years of food policy. But it also provided an unprecedented opportunity to 40 audience members from both academia and civil society to imagine a more utopian future – not difficult in our troubled present – to table their vision of ‘How to do food policy better‘. We heard from a headteacher, a producer, a proud ‘Colombian peasant’, a farmer’s daughter, a student, the BBC chef of the year, a former advertiser, a community food network coordinator.  We then went on to hear from a panel of those who have been working to enable such diverse voices to be heard both in relation to the research they have been undertaking or the programmes they have been endeavouring to implement. Continue reading

Sharing stories of migration and belonging

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Dr Devyani Prabhat, Lecturer in Law, School of Law

Last month I led an ESRC Funded Thinking Futures Event on Migration and Belonging at the St Werburgh’s Community Centre, Bristol. The event was attended by twenty-six people who had experience of applying for British citizenship or had personal stories to share about migration. Storytelling gives a direct voice to research participants and this was the theme of the event. Artist Sam Church who is a graphic artist simultaneously sketched the stories which were being shared. Continue reading

Brexit: can research light the way?

brexit-1462470595lr3

Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Cressida Auckland, a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellow

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Chandy Nath, acting Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

What could Brexit mean for UK science? What impact will it have on UK fisheries? Could Brexit be bad news for emissions reductions? These were just some questions discussed at a Parliamentary conference last week, organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the Commons Library and Parliament’s Universities Outreach team.

MPs researchers, Parliamentary staff and academic researchers from across the country came together to consider some of the key policy areas affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Continue reading

What is the point of Business?

Businesses are, in some respects, like cement. They are an integral part of the society we inhabit, and yet for the most part invisible to us as tangible entities. We give them little thought, but our lives would be very different were we to wake up to a world without either.

David Hunter, Charity & Social Enterprise Department (Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP) and Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

David Hunter, Consultant, Charity & Social Enterprise Department (Bates Wells Braithwaite LLP) and Knowledge Exchange Fellow (University of Bristol Law School)

Ms Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise (University of Bristol Law School).

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of the Centre for Law and Enterprise (University of Bristol Law School).

In April 2016, the UK government did invite us to think about the nature of business though as part of what it called a Mission-led Business Review. It set up an Advisory Panel and ran a public consultation and, seven months on, the Panel has reported back to the government with its recommendations. The timing is interesting, with the review commencing when David Cameron was still Prime Minister, before the UK’s Referendum on EU membership and the US election, but the publication of the Panel’s findings coming when those events have demonstrated a clear sense of public discontent with the status quo.

What was the Review about, what is a ‘mission-led business’ and what are the likely responses to and impact of the Panel’s findings?

Continue reading