Expert Witness

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London’s Grenfell Inferno Reveals Policy Failures, by Joseph Downing

I grew up in social housing. It provided a stable and secure (albeit overcrowded and cold) home for my family, for life. As fire tore through Grenfell Tower, just 500 metres from where I was staying in London, I witnessed the complete and terrible destruction of 120 homes just like the one I grew up in. Yet as the ashes settle, it is clear that the threat of ruin extends well beyond Grenfell Tower.

A Tribute to Oceans, a Reminder of our Reliance, by Sophie von der Heyden

World Oceans Day, an international event that’s commemorated on the 8th June every year, is a chance to reflect on the importance of oceans, whether you live next to the sea or many thousands of kilometres inland.

Everyday chemicals affect brain, IQ — study, by Barbara Demeneix  Expert Witness

All vertebrates – from frogs and birds to human beings – require the same thyroid hormone to thrive. Every stage of brain development is modulated by thyroid hormone and, over millions of years, the structure of this critical hormone has remained unchanged. But, increasingly, the trappings of modern life are preventing it from playing its critical role in human brain development.

Journalism at risk from surveillance, data collection: UNESCO report, by Julie Posetti  Expert Witness

The ability of journalists to report without fear is under threat from mass surveillance and data retention. My UNESCO report Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age shows that laws protecting journalists and sources globally are not keeping up with the challenges posed by indiscriminate data collection and the spill-over effects of anti-terrorism and national security legislation.

The terrifying mathematics of the Anthropocene, by Owen Gaffney and Will Steffen

Powerful rhetoric is used to describe the Anthropocene and current human impact. As The Economist stated in 2011, humanity has “become a force of nature reshaping the planet on a geological scale”. We are like an asteroid strike. We have the impact of an ice age. But what does this really mean?

Earth on the Docket: Americans join wave of climate litigation, By Mary Wood, Charles W. Woodward, IV, and Michael C. Blumm  Expert Witness

Two days after America’s presidential election a court in Oregon issued a path-breaking decision in Juliana v. U.S. declaring that youth – indeed, all citizens – hold constitutional rights to a stable climate system. The case is part of a wave of atmospheric trust litigation in several countries.

Despite the presence of armed forces in the street, the most violent neighbourhoods of Honduras are plagued by insecurity. Children can rarely go out and play, even during daytime. Families’ movements are restricted by gangs, who impose “invisible borders” between their gang territories. European Commission photo, by A. Aragón 2016/FlickrNecropolitics in Mexico and Central America, by By Ariadna Estévez

There’s a standard narrative, that gang violence is forcing people to flee Central America and Mexico. But this overlooks two facts about the  humanitarian crisis and regional tragedy, and criminal violence is just part of a dangerous cocktail.

Science wars in the age of Donald Trump, by Andrea Saltelli &  Silvio Oscar Funtowicz

If Brexit signified the end of facts, what does the election of Donald Trump tell us? Apparently, a new battle in the history of the science wars. But the alleged “end of facts” is the result of a superficial understanding of the deeper crisis in the role of science and expertise.

Legislation needed in world’s newest frontier: the datasphere, by  Jean-Sylvestre Bergé and Stéphane Grumbach

The law must understand the datasphere as a new space, offering an appropriate framework to understand the new relationships emerging from all human activities.

Antonio Guterres, Geneva August 3, 2012. Photo by Eric Bridiers, US Mission, Public DomainHopes for UN Secretary General as Climate-savvy Leader, by Ruth Greenspan Bell and Sherri Goodman.

The selection of António Guterres as the new United Nations Secretary General is encouraging news for those concerned about the global challenges brought on by climate change.

Nature needs a seat at the UN, by Anthony Burke and Stefanie Fishel  Expert Witness

Is our system of global environmental law and governance adequate to this crisis? No. New international institutions and laws are needed, with one fundamental purpose: to give a voice to ecosystems and non-human forms of life.

U.S.-based researchers reported in Feb, 2015, that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year. U.S.-based researchers reported in Feb, 2015, that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.

How a Global Treaty on Plastics Can Work, by Nils Simon

Why has plastics pollution been so intransigent from a global governance perspective? Two options seem most viable for crafting a binding international agreement to deal with plastics.

Can America’s polarization be traced to 1832? by Jennifer Mercieca

Perhaps instead of “to the victor belongs the spoils of the enemy,” we could learn to think of politics as “to those entrusted with great responsibility belongs the obligation to work for the common good.” It isn’t as poetic, but it also isn’t as partisan.

Sexuality as a spectrum, and the wisdom of Indonesian Bugis. By Sharyn Graham Davies

What if gender were viewed the same way sex researcher Alfred Kinsey famously depicted sexuality – as something along a sliding scale? An ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia – the Bugis – views gender this way. This spectrum of sex is a good way of thinking about the complexity and diversity of humans.

European data suggests the gig economy helped create Trump, Sanders. By Jonathan J.B. Mijs

Politicians and pundits in America wonder where the rip-roaring popularity of protest candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders originated. The answer may lie in Europe. My coauthors and I link the success of Trump’s kind of politics to the worldwide adoption of neoliberal economic policies, government measures that shift control from the state to the market.

Trump and Clinton prove America’s voting system is broken. By Michel Balinski  an Rida Laraki

Democracies everywhere are suffering. Voters protest. Citizens don’t vote. Support for the political extremes are increasing. One of the underlying causes, we argue, is majority voting as it is now practiced, and its influence on the media.

How to write a best-selling novel. By Andy Martin

Maybe I shouldn’t be giving this away for free, but, beyond all the caffeine and nicotine, I think there actually is a magic formula. For a long while I thought it could be summed up in two words: sublime confidence. Don’t plan, don’t map it all out in advance, be spontaneous, instinctive. Enjoy the vast emptiness of the blank page. It will fill.

Vancouver, looking west toward English Bay and the city's West Side, left. Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2013

Sustainability needs academics, outside Ivory Towers. By Anthony D. Barnosky, Elizabeth A. Hadly, and Paul R. Ehrlich

Until recently, Earth was so big compared with humanity’s impacts that its resources seemed limitless. But that is no longer the case. Thanks to rapid growth in both human population and per capita consumption, we are now on the edge of irrevocable damage to our planetary life support systems. If we want to avoid locking in long-lasting impacts, it is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.

Academics can change the world – if they engage with it. By Savo Heleta, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Research and creative thinking can change the world. This means that academics have enormous power. But, as academics Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr have warned, the overwhelming majority are not shaping today’s public debates. Instead, their work is largely sitting in academic journals that are read almost exclusively by their peers.

A photo of the Koreas at night taken from the International Space Station January 30, 2014. The image illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Resilience requires rethinking data. By Dawn Wright

If the bad news is that we’re living in a world in which resilience is more critical to survival than ever, the good news is that technology is more than ever providing the tools we need to cultivate resilience. But we need to make sure the tools that allow us to gather and use this information are resilient.  I propose a set of three principles that data generators should subscribe to and governments should adopt.


Landmannalaugar with glacier Vatnajökull in background. Photo copyright Mattias Klum 2015
© Mattias Klum

Big World, Small Planet: excerpt. By  Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum

Big World, Small Planet is a book both alarming and hopeful, a work of science and art that arrives as world leaders prepare — at last? — to address climate change at the summit in Paris. “We need a new way of thinking about our relationship with nature, and how reconnecting with the planet can open up new avenues to world prosperity,” state authors Johan Rockström and Mattias Klum.

New conversation needed for complex GMOs. By Maya Montenegro

Let me begin with a frank admission: I am a proponent of agroecology, food sovereignty, and the rights of farmers to save and reproduce their seed. But I am not anti-GMO. I believe that some GM crops could have some benefits. What I object to is a lack of complex evaluations of the technology, the overzealous selling of its benefits and the framing of cautionary skeptics as anti-science scaremongers.

Mark Carney: The tragedy of the horizon. By Mark Carney

mark_carneyA tragedy looms on the horizon, warns Mark Carney, one of the world’s most influential central bankers. “Our societies face a series of profound environmental and social challenges,” he said in a speech to Lloyd’s of London. “The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.” With permission, F&O  publishes an excerpt of the speech.

Jeremy Corbyn and the economics of the real world. By Richard Murphy

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn makes his inaugural speech at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in central London, September 12, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

As the creator of what has come to be known as Corbynomics, my ideas on what is now known as People’s Quantitative Easing, progressive taxation, tackling the tax gap and other matters caused quite a stir in Britain’s 2015 Labour leadership race. They are all policies that, in my opinion, are at the core of tackling the austerity narrative.

Apocalypse now: our obsession with the end of the world. By Natasha O’Hear and Anthony O’Hear

What constitutes an “apocalypse” has mutated dramatically over the centuries, from the English to the Jewish to Barack Obama. And the torrid apocalyptic speculation surrounding our own era is nothing out of the ordinary. In constantly citing it today, journalists are drawing on a distinguished and rich apocalyptic tradition, the details of which may have been updated to reflect new global developments and social trends

Dementia epidemic may not actually be getting worse. By  Yu-Tzu Wu and Carol Brayne

The notion of a dementia epidemic has been a big concern in ageing societies across the globe for some time. With the extension of life expectancy it seems to be an inevitable disaster – one of the “greatest enemies of humanity”, according to UK prime minister David Cameron. Many shocking figures have been published pointing to dramatic increases in dementia prevalence and massive predicted costs and burdens. Yet new evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Why do we pay so much attention to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? By Matthew Seligmann

There have been countless articles, protests and commemorations in recent days on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But why is there so much focus on these events? This may seem an odd question to ask, especially at the time of their 70th anniversaries, but it is not as flippant as it sounds.


Cecil the lion’s fate a matter of conservation. By Lochran Traill and Norman Owen-Smith

Much of the attention generated by the demise of Cecil the lion appears related to the fact that he was a member of a charismatic species, that his species is threatened and the nature of his death. But now that Cecil, a resident of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, is gone how do we ensure that such events are not repeated? It is not as simple as banning hunting.

 How a US psychologists’ association colluded in torture. By  J Wesley Boyd

The fact that the United States resorted to torturing prisoners – many of whom are innocent, or in the words of the Senate Report on torture, “wrongfully detained” – will likely go down as one of America’s most egregious ethical lapses. The fact that a major health care association, the American Psychological Association, colluded in this lapse is unconscionable.

 The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene. By Clive Hamilton

Among the great crimes of the 20th century the most enduring will surely prove to be human disruption of the Earth’s climate. Duty to the truth and the obligation to avoid actions that harm others are powerful principles firmly rooted in the universal framework of legal and ethical codes. Yet before the enormity of what humankind has now done, I cannot help feeling that these grand constructions are frail and almost pathetic. Let me explain why.

Why we should still read Democracy in America. By John Keane

Alexis de Tocqueville’s four-volume Democracy in America (1835–1840) is commonly said to be among the greatest works of 19th-century political writing. Its daring conjectures, elegant prose, formidable length and narrative complexity certainly make it a masterpiece, yet exactly those qualities have together ensured, through time, that opinions greatly differ about the roots of its greatness.

image-20150529-24258-b0a87e Digital Domesday: surveillance and serfdom. By Graham Murdock

The saturation surveillance employed to assemble the new digital Domesday Books undermines the core principles on which citizenship is based. Its collection compromises personal liberties. By erecting categorical distinctions that assign stigma and guilt, its analysis undermines equality of treatment and corrodes the solidarities on which democracy ultimately rests. Like the compilers of the original Domesday Book, its architects display no shame in doing this, or in returning citizens to the status of subjects. But the Domesday story also highlights the centrality of the commons in William’s England, and the vitality of a moral economy based on communal control of shared core resources.

People who commit ‘murder-suicide’ are extremely rare. By Peter Kinderman

It seems beyond doubt that the co-pilot of Germanwings flight 4U9525 made a conscious decision to destroy the plane and kill the passengers. As with all other “murder-suicides”, this is a psychological phenomenon that demands an explanation, and action to prevent future tragedies as far as that is possible. But it’s not simple. It is very rare indeed to be a victim of a murder-suicide event and in those rare circumstances where risk is associated with mental health, it’s almost always associated with the risk to the person with the mental health issue, whether from their own actions or from violence directed at them by other people. Murder-suicide events should be seen as related to a specific individual and their particular circumstances, rather than simplistically explained in terms of a person “having a mental illness.”

Doomsday Clock: can we really predict the end of the world? By Anders Sandberg

DoomsdayClock_black_3mins_regmarkThe second hand of the Doomsday Clock is now only three minutes to midnight. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which controls the clock, said the time was changed on January 22 because of the threat posed by both climate change and nuclear weapons. Increased international tensions, a faltering of the disarmament process, upgrades to nuclear arsenals and increasing proliferation, as well as a lack of progress on curbing emissions make the probability of global catastrophe “very high”. A sceptical journalist pointed out that the bulletin has been moving the clock periodically for 68 years, yet the world hasn’t ended so far, so “why believe it this time?” The panel members’ response was to point out that they are “not in the business of forecasting” so much as warning the world of its plight. In this case the clock can be viewed as a form of probabilistic rhetoric. How many times do you need to roll a dice and not get a six until you start suspecting it is loaded? How many times do you need to roll a loaded dice before you have a sense of how loaded it is? Just because something does not happen, doesn’t mean it’s not informative.

Tackling radical Islam requires rethink and nuance. By Andrew MacLeod

While we cry “why isn’t moderate Islam doing something?”, we need to recognise that moderate Islam is fighting a war against the radicals. We need to recognise many more Muslims have died in this fight than Westerners. If we are to defeat the radicals, the West needs to be on the same side as the atheistic, moderate and even conservative in the battle against radical Islam.

Turkey.Konya008Islam, blasphemy and free speech: a surprisingly modern conflict. By Ali Mamouri

The persecution of blasphemers as it is done currently is a very recent phenomenon; the Rushdie fatwa was the beginning of this trend.  Many writers throughout different parts of Islamic history have criticised Islamic belief, including the prophet Muhammad and the Quran, without facing persecution. A quick look at the books about sects and creeds in Islam shows a great variety of discussions and debates between Muslims and non-Muslims about the essential parts of Islam. Many include sarcastic language.  The notion of religious actions is problematic; nested within and shaped by other human dimensions, and the sociopolitical background can change any religion.

The perils of the last human: flaws in modern economics By Warwick Smith

Nietzsche’s much quoted line “God is dead” was not, as it is often presented, a statement of triumphant atheism but was a warning and a call to action. We had killed God with rationalism and science. With God had gone our moral compass and our sense of purpose and we had nothing to replace them with but science and logic. This is an existential problem  … we may be able to use science to help us get what we want but we cannot use science to tell us what to want nor to tell others what they should want. This is where the field of economics has stepped in. Human well-being, according to mainstream neoclassical economics, is fundamentally about the expression of individual preferences. The more money we have the more preferences we can express and, therefore, the freer and happier we are. And now, we’re on a giant cruise ship and we are completely free to explore and enjoy. However, there is nobody identifiable at the helm.

A cemetery in Michigan, United States. Photo by Russ Allison Loar via Flickr, Creative Commons
©© Russ Allison Loar

A philosopher asks: what do we owe the dead? By Janna Thompson

Remembrance Day is an occasion when people are supposed to remember and honour those who died in their nation’s wars. But why should we believe that this obligation exists? The dead are dead. They can’t be gratified by our remembrance or insulted by a failure to honour them. Those facts do not prevent us from thinking that we have duties to the dead. Most of us believe we ought to remember people who made sacrifices for our sake. Most of us believe we ought to keep promises made to the dead, to protect their reputations from malicious lies and to fulfil their bequests.

How does the IPCC know climate change is happening? By Mark Maslin

North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, US, Sept 2014
©© weesam

Climate change challenges the very way we organise our society. It needs to be seen within the context of the other great challenges of the 21st century: global poverty, population growth, environmental degradation, and global security. To meet these challenges we must change some of the basic rules of our society to allow us to adopt a much more global and long-term approach and in doing so develop a solution that can benefit everyone.

Who is a journalist? What is journalism? By Stephen Ward

The ‘democratization’ of media – technology that allows citizens to engage in journalism and publication of many kinds – blurs the identity of journalists and the idea of what constitutes journalism. It is not always clear whether the term “journalist” begins or ends. If someone does what appears to be journalism, but refuses the label ‘journalist’ is he or she a journalist? If comedian Jon Stewart refuses to call himself a journalist, but magazines refer to him as an influential journalist (or refers to him as someone who does engage in journalism) is Stewart a journalist?

Tzeporah Berman

The Pointy End. By Tzeporah Berman

The effects of human-caused climate change are already evident on all continents and waters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its latest report, released March 31. The report is, undeniably, grim: agriculture, human health, water and land-based ecosystems, water supplies, and some livelihoods are already affected. But the report also held out hope: there are opportunities, it said, to take action — albeit challenging ones. How to summon the hope needed to meet the challenges? Canadian environmental activist Tzeporah Berman is an expert on finding hope, gleaned from years on the front lines as co-director of Greenpeace International’s Global Climate and Energy Program, Executive Director and Co-founder of PowerUp Canada and Co-founder and Campaign Director of ForestEthics.

The Decline in Global Violence. By Andrew Mack

In the new Human Security Report, The Decline in Global Violence: Evidence Explanation and Contestation, global security specialist Andrew Mack examines a critical question: Has the long-term threat of violence — war, terrorism, and homicide —  been decreasing or increasing worldwide? For some, the answer seems clear. Many in the strategic community concur with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said today’s world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.”  But Mack writes that there is little evidence to support them.

Museums at the Crossroads: a Future for Cultural Institutions. By Jack Lohman

RBCM Student ClassroomCultural institutions like museums play a crucial role in reflecting our understanding of the world in which we live, move and have our being as well as the values and norms which influence our increasingly cosmopolitan and multicultural societies … We have entered another Churchillian “period of danger,” but one of an unprecedented nature. We live in an age of profound cultural transition, a time in which the complexity of our multicultural world confronts us with challenges that have taken on an urgency and intensity quite unlike anything we have experienced in history. It is a time when hardly any of our public institutions are free from having to undergo deep soul-searching as to their meaning and their role.

Learning from Mandela. By Heribert Adam

Nelson Mandela is inextricably linked to the emergence of post-apartheid South Africa. Although he long withdrew from active politics after a one-term presidency (1994-99), he remained his country’s moral conscience in terms of domestic issues, and a principled defender of human rights internationally. But despite the numerous biographies published so far – and with many more likely to appear – as well as his own 15-million-copies-sold autobiography, with a movie version soon due for release, we are still lacking a full understanding of why Mandela has emerged as a truly global icon.



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