Medical dilemmas: who decides?

April 26, 2018

With the case of Alfie Evans in the news, this Battle of Ideas debate is very pertinent.


The tragic case of Charlie Gard, a baby with a terminal congenital illness whose parents refused to accept the decision of medical staff to withdraw life support, highlighted the problems that may arise when there is a breakdown of trust between doctors and parents. The old adage that ‘doctor knows best’ is being challenged not just by patients, but from within the medical profession itself, as paternalism gives way to shared decision-making. But can patients know enough to take responsibility for major decisions about treatment? If doctors relinquish authority, does this impose an undue burden on patients. What is the role of the courts?


psychiatry trainee; co-founder, Sheffield Salon

founder and director, The Medical Mediation Foundation

emeritus professor of medical ethics, Imperial College London; president, Institute of Medical Ethics

regius chair of psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London; president, Royal Society of Medicine


The liberated mind in action: from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution

April 20, 2018

A lecture from Living Freedom 2018, the Academy of Ideas residential school for 18- to 25-year-olds interested in exploring the historical ideas and contemporary debates related to freedom, which took place on 5-7 April 2018 at the Council on International Educational Exchange in central London.

It has been claimed that the Industrial Revolution was the biggest turning point in human history. It was the moment when the creative potential of society was left free to flourish, leading to huge changes from life expectancy to the growth of cities, from wealth production to the establishment of democratic nation states. Yet, in today’s climate of pessimism and low expectations, the Industrial Revolution is often either seen with scepticism or as a historical accident, a result of factors such as technology or cheap raw materials from the colonies. The crucial missing link is the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. In the former, the mind demands its freedom; in the latter, it shows what it can achieve when it is free to translate its ideas into action.


Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
lecturer in sociology and criminology, York St John 


Genetics, genomics and society - determinism vs free will

April 13, 2018

A lecture from Living Freedom 2018, the Academy of Ideas residential school for 18- to 25-year-olds interested in exploring the historical ideas and contemporary debates related to freedom, which took place on 5-7 April 2018 at the Council on International Educational Exchange in central London.

Our genes have, for better and for worse, been a central preoccupation in science, medicine and politics for more than a century. How has our understanding of genes changed during that time? Why are we moving increasingly from talking about ‘genetics’ to talking about ‘genomics’ (and ‘epigenetics’ and ‘epigenomics’)? What, if anything, can our genes really tell us - individually and collectively - about where we’ve come from, where we’re going to and how free we are?


Sandy Starr
communications manager, Progress Educational Trust


Xi’s China: new global power?

April 5, 2018

Only 35 years ago a predominantly peasant economy, China has become the largest trading nation in the world. It is also remarkable that China has relinquished its status as environmental pariah to become a critic of the US president’s rejection of the Paris climate accords. Only recently a communist outsider, China is now a capitalist powerbroker, most notably in dealing with the challenge of North Korea. Can there be a peaceful adjustment of the West’s global domination to accommodate the rise of the new Eastern superpower? Is the demise of the West exaggerated? Is there a serious risk of military conflict?

author, Will China Dominate the 21st Century? managing partner, TS Lombard

visiting professor, Shanghai Jiaotong University; director, programmes in leadership and public policy, University of Oxford

assistant professor, The School of Politics and International Relations; director, Taiwan Studies Programme

economist, broadcaster and author; adjunct professor of economics, London Business School


Silicon Valley: from heroes to zeroes?

March 26, 2018

Silicon Valley used to be regarded as the global hub of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. It was the home of the world’s best technologies, new products and services. Yet today, Silicon Valley’s tech companies seem to have become the twenty-first-century equivalent of mediaeval robber barons. They are condemned for fleecing customers, evading taxes, and pocketing monopoly profits. Once associated with freedom, Silicon Valley is now condemned as the agency of global surveillance. Has it gone from overhype to over-reach? Or given emerging new technologies – such as express transit systems, autonomous vehicles and biotech – is the criticism mostly unfair?


director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, Radicals; presenter, BBC’s The Secrets of Silicon Valley

journalist; author, Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress

author, The Capitalist Manifesto: the historic, economic, and philosophic case for laissez-faire; affiliate, Ayn Rand Institute

managing director, Flibl; award-winning writer and consultant


Was it Big Data wot won it? Political campaigning today

March 18, 2018

How could so many people be convinced to vote for Donald Trump? Why did so many Brits vote to leave the EU, despite almost unanimous advice from experts, political leaders and celebrities that we should remain? Some attribute these results to the power of Big Data, specifically to the high-tech psychological marketing techniques of a company called Cambridge Analytica. Can the manipulation of data really swing important votes? What are the implications of this approach for privacy and democracy? What does the assumption that a few targeted messages can influence voters’ decisions tell us about elite attitudes towards the electorate?


director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, The Dark Net and Radicals; presenter, BBC’s The Secrets of Silicon Valley

feature writer, Observer

member, Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing; leader of the Conservative group, Bradford City Council

TIMANDRA HARKNESS journalist, writer and broadcaster; presenter, FutureProofing; author, Big Data: does size matter?


Safety first: do we live in a ‘cotton-wool society’?

March 9, 2018

Recording of the debate at Battle of Ideas 2017 (

The ‘safety first’ outlook, intending to keep us safe by imagining the worst, risks increasing our sense of existential insecurity. Always anticipating catastrophe may mean over-reacting, especially in the fields of science, health and technology. We have become the victims of scaremongering over theoretical risks – from mobile phone radiation or the latest strain of flu, even from familiar foods such as sugar and salt.

Has safety become an aim in itself, divorced from a common-sense assessment of risk? Does the desire to eliminate all danger undermine individual freedom? Is it time to confront the dangers of our ‘safety first’ society?


Richard Angell
director, Progress

Terry Barnes
principal, Cormorant Policy Advice; fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs; former special adviser to two Australian health ministers

Professor Bill Durodié
chair of international relations, former head of department, University of Bath

Dr Clare Gerada
medical director, NHS Practitioner Health Programme; former chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

Lenore Skenazy
'America’s Worst Mom'; president, Let Grow; founder, Free-Range Kids book, blog and movement


Putin’s Russia: a new Cold War?

March 2, 2018

The Russian government is now routinely portrayed as a threat to the West, both on the international stage, in Ukraine and Syria, and in domestic politics, accused of interfering in elections.

Russia is certainly back on the world stage and no longer prepared to accept Western-backed regime change, but to what extent does Russia represent a threat? Does Russia have legitimate interests that it is entitled to defend as much as Britain is? Is Putin simply playing a weak hand well? Does Russia loom large, not because it is relatively strong, but because Western governments themselves lack direction?


Mary Dejevsky
former foreign correspondent in Moscow, Paris and Washington; special correspondent in China; writer and broadcaster

Dr Tara McCormack
lecturer, international politics, University of Leicester

Dr Lukasz Pawlowski
managing editor & columnist, Kultura Liberalna

Sir Adam Thomson KCMG
director, European Leadership Network


From Sandy Hook to Boston: guns, bombs and a changing America

February 23, 2018

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on 14 February 2018, the issue of gun control and the meaning of mass shootings in America has come to the fore once more. This session from Battle of Ideas 2013, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and Boston Marathon bombing, took a step back to examine these issues in a wider context.


Nancy McDermott
writer; advisor to Park Slope Parents, NYC's most notorious parents' organization

Christine Rosen
fellow, New America Foundation; senior editor, New Atlantis

Dr Tim Stanley
leader writer and columnist, Daily Telegraph

Dr Kevin Yuill
senior lecturer, history, University of Sunderland; author, Assisted Suicide: the liberal, humanist case against legalization

Jean Smith
specialist development consultant; co-founder and director, NY Salon


The corruption of political language

February 16, 2018

Recording of a debate at the Battle of Ideas festival at The Barbican on Sunday 29 October 2017.

George Orwell claimed that ‘political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’. Today, many claim that the increasing corruption of language has become detrimental to our democracy. Political labels, such as fascism and populism, right-wing and left-wing, are used promiscuously, often as insults against opponents. The rise of identity politics has given us new words, such as ‘ze’ and ‘cis’. Do such novel terms encourage discussion or help to shut it down? Should we go back to basics, and pin down what we mean by such contested terms as liberalism and nationalism, even democracy?


editor, spiked

journalist and novelist

broadcast editor, Spectator

senior lecturer in communications and
cultural theory, University of Leeds