Splicing and Dicing DNA: Genome Engineering and the CRISPR Revolution

CRISPR: It’s the powerful gene editing technology transforming biomedical research. Fast, cheap and easy to use, it allows scientists to rewrite the DNA in just about any organism—including humans—with tests on human embryos already underway. The technique’s potential to radically reshape everything from disease prevention to the future of human evolution has driven explosive progress and heated debate. Join the world’s CRISPR pioneers to learn about the enormous possibilities and ethical challenges as we stand on the threshold of a brave new world of manipulating life’s fundamental code.

Original Program Date: June 3 2016
MODERATOR: Richard Besser
PARTICIPANTS: George Church, Luke Dow, Josephine Johnston, Ben Matthews, Harry Ostrer, Noel Sauer

Conversations with Sir Ian McKellen

Career Q&A with Ian McKellen. Moderated by Dave Karger, Fandango.

Ian McKellen has been honored with over 50 international acting awards during his half-century on stage and screen. He is treasured worldwide as Magneto in the X-Men films and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

He first worked with director Bill Condon as James Whale in Gods and Monsters (1998) receiving his first Academy Award® nomination, for Best Actor. The same year, top critics’ groups elected him Best Actor, as the Nazi-in-hiding in Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil. For his classic performance in Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, which he produced and co-wrote, he was named 1996 European Actor of the Year.

His varied list of other renowned films include The Keep (1983); Plenty (1985); Scandal (1988);Six Degrees of Separation (1993); Restoration (1995); Bent (1997); Cold Comfort Farm (1995) andThe Da Vinci Code (2006).

On the small screen, McKellen currently stars in the wickedly successful ITV/PBS sitcom Vicious. For his extensive television work, McKellen is a five-time Emmy nominee, most recently for his matchless King Lear (2008); and his comic guest spot on Extras (2006) remembered for the viral catch-phrase: “How do I act so well?” He is most proud of his work as the mentally- handicapped Walter (1982 Royal Television Award) inAnd the Band Played On (1993 Cable Ace Award), about the origins of AIDS and a guest spot in UK’s longest-running soap Coronation Street (2005).

Born and raised in the north of England, McKellen attended Cambridge University and since 1961 has worked non-stop in the British theatre. He has been leading man and produced plays, modern and classic, for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Great Britain and in the West End of London. He has won Olivier Awards for Macbeth (1976-78); The Alchemist (1977); Bent (1979); Wild Honey (1984) and Richard III (1990): plus Evening Standard Awards for Coriolanus (1984) and Othello (1989) and for Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre (2009).

In 1981, he won every available award, including a Tony for Best Actor, as Salieri in the Broadway production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. He was most recently in New York in No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot after breaking all box-office records in London and on UK and world tours. Over a decade, he toured his solo entertainment Ian McKellen: Acting Shakespeare throughout four continents, where on DVD it is daily viewed in schools and universities. He astonished his fans as Widow Twankey in the Christmas pantomime at the Old Vic in London (2004 & 2005).

In 1991 Sir Ian was knighted, for his outstanding contribution to theatre. He is co-founder of Stonewall UK, which lobbies for legal and social equality for gay people. In 2008, the Queen personally appointed him Companion of Honour for his services to drama and to equality.

Professor Noam Chomsky looking back over his life and work

Melvyn Bragg hosts the first of the British Academy’s Global Perspectives series of events – Professor Noam Chomsky looking back over his life and work. Professor Noam Chomsky’s work over the past 60 years has profoundly changed the way we think about language. In this event he talks about his reflections on a lifetime of linguistics research and as one of the leading thinkers of our time. The event was held at The Royal Society in London on November 26 2014.

About the speaker: Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher and political activist, is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. He was elected to the Fellowship of the British Academy in 1974.

Napoleon the Great?

A debate with Andrew Roberts, Adam Zamoyski and Jeremy Paxman

‘There is no immortality but the memory that is left in the minds of men.’ – Napoleon Bonaparte 

How should we remember Napoleon, the man of obscure Corsican birth who rose to become emperor of the French and briefly master of Europe? As the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo approached in 2015, Intelligence Squared brought together two of Britain’s finest historians to debate how we should assess Napoleon’s life and legacy. Was he a military genius and father of the French state, or a blundering nonentity who created his own enduring myth? Was his goal of uniting the European continent under a common political system the forerunner of the modern ‘European dream’? Or was he an incompetent despot, a warning from history of the dangers of overarching grand plans?

Championing Napoleon was be Andrew Roberts who will argue that if any ruler deserves the epithet ‘the Great’ it should be Napoleon. Not only did he revolutionise warfare, but he transformed Europe by retaining the best parts of the French Revolution – equality before the law, religious toleration, and the end of feudalism. He founded the first modern code of law (the Code Napoleon), instituted the excellent Lycée-based education system, and created a new aristocracy based on talent.

By contrast, all mention of Napoleon as ‘great’, ‘hero’, ‘villain’ or ‘monster’ has Adam Zamoyski running for the hills, bemused why – in his opinion – this rather ordinary man excites such passion in otherwise level-head intelligent people. Zamoyski argued that Napoleon is credited with creating civil institutions which were in fact the work of others. He perpetrated some of the greatest military blunders in history, including the disastrous invasion of Russia. He brought about his own downfall through a mixture of incompetence and megalomania. It’s understandable why the French cling to their poetic myth of Napoleon’s ‘greatness’ but to Zamoyski no self-respecting Brit, let alone an historian, should fall for the flim-flam of this shameless self-publicist. 

Give us the“Right To Choose”

The recent attempts by states to regulate private school education in our country seems to be a good move at the face of it. However, an in-depth analysis into the workings of school education and the manner in which this regulation is implemented tells a different story. This move by the government could seriously cripple the Education system and bring down standards drastically.

First let us consider whether private school education is worth it. Taxpayers, inspite of having a right to education to be provided by the government prefer a private school education and this is evidenced by the increasing number of students attending private schools. This rise in numbers is due to very good reasons.

  • Since the schools do not use public funds, there are no restrictions to innovations in pedagogy and enhancing their own curricula.
  • The private schools offer better safety to students and staff.
  • Their class sizes are more conducive to effective learning.
  • The teacher quality is way better than the government schools.
  • Most importantly there is accountability for what they do.
  • In most private schools there is strong communication between teachers and parents. Parental involvement is optimal.
  • There are no restrictions on Learning resources.
  • Private school students have a mind boggling choice of activities both during and after school.
  • The learning environments in private schools are conducive to learning.

The greatest advantage for private schools until recently was the independence from Government interference in terms of providing the best learning environment for the students. All this is set to change now with the Fee regulations coming into place in various states.

After the government implemented the Right to Education Act from 2010 to universalise education, the private schools have already been under much financial and administrative pressure to comply with the new rules under this Act. Now the problem is compounded by the imposition of a maximum cap on the fees that can be charged by private schools which is an additional burden to the schools.

Private schools associations have approached the judiciary and have been opposing these Acts. Many court cases remain in motion to reconcile and alleviate this situation with some acceptable solution.

The manner in which this fee regulation has been conceived and implemented seems to be seriously flawed for many reasons.

  • Instead of laying more emphasis on improving government schools, the government has tried to reach the equilibrium by bringing down standards of private schools (which are in any case already performing better and more efficiently than Government schools).
  • Strangely the formation of all these regulatory committees are done hastily and in the shortest possible time for reasons beyond our comprehension.
  • There has been no public debate on such an important area and it seems more of an one sided imposition.
  • The above point is further substantiated by the fact that they have no representation on the committees formed from the Private schools who are the main stakeholders.
  • There are no Educationists on these committees. Bureaucrats, who are in charge of the government school system which are run in the most inefficient ways make up the committees. There should be representation from academicians on such a committee.
  • There has been no in-depth comparative study of Government Vs Private Schools. The Private school system has been outperforming the government system in all areas of school quality, learning outcomes and success rates of students. There should have been an objective scientific study into this before even trying to tamper with the education system.
  • With exorbitant land costs and most private schools not getting any support from the government, there is no incentive now to run the private schools. There are huge investments in infrastructure put up by the private schools. In comparison the government schools are way behind in basic infrastructure and do not come even remotely close to that of private schools.
  • With the introduction of these committees where the government Education officer seems to have far-reaching powers we will once again go back to the days of the “Inspector Raj”. This in school education will cause irreparable damage to the system and take us back decades into the dark past. Anyone with some experience with these inspectors knows what awaits them. It is a fact to be reckoned that the Government School inspectors led by the District Education officer have no clue about the latest pedagogies and innovations that are in vogue. In this day and age where even our students are highly exposed to knowledge and they move freely on the information highway, we dread the day the outdated State government inspectors inspect us. This is simply incompatible and unacceptable to all school community members.
  • The formation of these committees will encourage corruption at all levels and chances are schools will try to circumvent the irrational rules by other means. We would be destroying a reasonably well functioning system instead of improving it.
  • If the government wants the private players to stay invested and to continue their good work then the government should be an enabler rather than be an impediment to giving quality education.
  • The government needs to acknowledge the valuable contribution of private schools in augmenting and enhancing the national educational mosaic.

Seems like we haven’t learnt from our experiments with trying to produce something that is cheap. Take the case of the failures of TATA Nano car or the Aakash tablet project to name a few. These are examples of how ultimately even the consumer rejects goods where safety and quality are compromised by simply wanting to keep the price low. Education is far too important than these and is one area where its quality will impact every facet of life and society.

Parents have a right to choose between private or government; between co-education or gender segregated schools; between boarding or day schools or between the many school Boards (State, Central or International) or to simply Homeschool their children.

Let parents exercise their “Right to Choose” what they want for their children.

Queen Elizabeth I vs Queen Victoria

Intelligence Squared presents the battle of the queens. Both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria set their stamp firmly on their era but which was the greater monarch?

On one side stood Philippa Gregory, bestselling author of the Tudor Court series of novels. She made the case for Elizabeth I, with widely acclaimed actor Fiona Shaw bringing this most majestic and flirtatious of rulers to life with readings from her speeches and letters. In the other corner was Daisy Goodwin, writer of last autumn’s hit ITV series Victoria, who will argue the case for her heroine. Award-winning star of stage and screen Greta Scacchi revealed the determination and wit of this most human of monarchs by performing extracts from Victoria’s diaries and personal missives. Chairing the proceedings was celebrated historian and television presenter Dan Jones.

Neither Elizabeth nor Victoria grew up expecting to be queen, and each had to struggle to assert herself in a man’s world. As Gregory will argue, Elizabeth managed this by her shrewd intelligence, playing off the men in her court against each other and refusing to dilute her power by marrying, despite the intense pressure of her advisers. As Catholics and Protestants fought wars across Europe, she averted bloodshed in England by consolidating the Protestant revolution begun by her father Henry VIII, expressing her religious tolerance with the famous words, ‘I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.’

Goodwin made the case that Victoria was not just a great queen but an icon for our own times. Not only did she save the monarchy after a succession of dissolute and incompetent Georgian kings; by embracing marriage and motherhood, she set an example that our own queen and royal family have followed to this day. Her popularity was such that when in 1848 revolutionary uprisings toppled monarchies in France, Austria, Italy and Poland, Victoria’s throne remained secure.


What is Relativity? An Introduction to Einstein’s Theory with Dr. Jeffrey Bennett

The year 2015 marked an important milestone in the history of physics: the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (published November 25, 1915), which redefined human understanding of space, time, and gravity. The Einstein Centenary is being celebrated as the International Year of Light 2015, and to help build public understanding of relativity and its impact on our lives, astrophysicist/educator Dr. Jeffrey Bennett has embarked on a yearlong “relativity tour.” The tour formally opened with three sold-out shows at Fiske Planetarium in Boulder. This video shows Dr. Bennett’s presentation at Fiske from March 6, 2015.

Discussing the goals of his tour, Dr. Bennett says, “Most people assume that Einstein’s theory of relativity is beyond their comprehension, so they find it empowering to realize that it’s actually based upon simple ideas that anyone can understand. Moreover, the ideas of relativity change the way we view ourselves as human beings in a vast universe, so learning these ideas opens your mind in new and unexpected ways. I’ve chosen to embark on the tour during this 100th anniversary of general relativity, because I believe it’s time to take Einstein’s ideas out of the realm of obscure science and into the realm of general public consciousness.”

Between You and I – The English Language is Going to the Dogs

The English language is going to the dogs. “Between you and I” is just one of the howlers those of us with linguistic sensibilities have to endure. The distinctions between words such as ‘infer’ and ‘imply’, and ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ are disappearing. Americanisms such as ‘gotten’, ‘different than’ and ‘can I get..?’ abound. Every office resounds with horrible new jargon such as ‘going forward’, ‘deliverables’, ‘touch base’ and ‘heads up’. Infinitives are split, participles dangle. Language is based on established practice and rules. When the rules are continually (and that isn’t continuously) broken, the language suffers and those who care suffer too.

That’s the line taken by the so-called sticklers in this debate, but they are mistaken according to laissez faire linguists. English wasn’t set in stone by 19th-century grammarians — the kind who decreed it’s wrong to split an infinitive in English just because you can’t in Latin. Language changes but that doesn’t mean it’s in decline. Traditionalists may argue that digital technology has a pernicious effect on language, but in fact children who text a lot have higher rates of literacy. And it’s hard to deny that Facebook, Twitter and email have enriched the expressiveness of our language: ten years ago who could have written “OMG he’s RTd my selfie!!”

Is the Universe a Simulation? 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate

What may have started as a science fiction speculation—that perhaps the universe as we know it is a computer simulation—has become a serious line of theoretical and experimental investigation among physicists, astrophysicists, and philosophers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, hosts and moderates a panel of experts in a lively discussion about the merits and shortcomings of this provocative and revolutionary idea. The 17th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate took place at The American Museum of Natural History on April 5, 2016.

2016 Asimov Panelists:

David Chalmers , Professor of philosophy, New York University

Zohreh Davoudi, Theoretical physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

James Gates,  Theoretical physicist, University of Maryland

Lisa Randall, Theoretical physicist, Harvard University

Max Tegmark,  Cosmologist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The late Dr. Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific and influential authors of our time, was a dear friend and supporter of the American Museum of Natural History. In his memory, the Hayden Planetarium is honored to host the annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate — generously endowed by relatives, friends, and admirers of Isaac Asimov and his work — bringing the finest minds in the world to the Museum each year to debate pressing questions on the frontier of scientific discovery. Proceeds from ticket sales of the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debates benefit the scientific and educational programs of the Hayden Planetarium.

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