Opinion

Personal views from University of Bath researchers on the news of the day

Topic: The Conversation

Game theory offers a better way forward in Britain’s EU drama

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📥  EU Referendum, Public Policy, The Conversation

The way that the EU referendum campaigns – both for and against British membership of the bloc – have been handled has been redolent of game playing. As an academic who studies game theory, a number of parallels are evident. And, from the displays of nastiness on both sides of the campaign, it is clear that Britain needs to forge a more productive path forward in its relationship with the EU – whether it remains or leaves. My work on a new type of game theory may offer some insights.

From the moment David Cameron went to Brussels in February 2016 to secure better terms for Britain’s EU membership, the games began. Having already promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership, he was no doubt hoping to use the shadow of a Brexit vote as a bargaining chip in his negotiations.

Essentially, he argued that if the other leaders agreed to the UK’s demands for concessions, he would be able to convince the British public to vote to remain in the EU. If the UK didn’t get what it wanted, the implication was that Britain would exit and weaken the EU for the remaining nations. The looming referendum was designed to increase the UK’s bargaining power, but it fell flat and the other leaders called his bluff, making limited concessions.

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How democratic is the European Union?

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📥  EU Referendum, The Conversation

One of the constant arguments raised by critics of the EU is that it is “undemocratic”. Those arguing for the UK to vote to leave in the June referendum present it as an opportunity to hand control of British affairs back to the British parliament, the only body with a mandate to make decisions for the country.

On the face of it, the EU has a democratic structure. The European Commission is not elected but it is fully accountable to the European Parliament. And all the EU member states are represented in the Council of Ministers. But does that make it democratic or does it have, as some argue, a democratic deficit?

I suggest that we expect certain characteristics to be present in the structures of any liberal democracy. They should be representative, transparent and accountable. If these characteristics are present then the democratic institutions will normally enjoy legitimacy and authority. So I propose to discuss the presence or absence in the EU of these characteristics.

The EU is undoubtedly representative – more so than many national parliaments, including Britain’s. The European Parliament is made up of MEPs from all 28 EU member states, each elected using various forms of proportional representation (unlike the House of Commons, which is elected through a widely criticised first-past-the-post system).

Smaller states are over-represented in the European Parliament and voter turnout at elections is usually significantly lower than turnout for national government elections – although this is hardly the European Parliament’s fault.

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Budget 2016: an appeal to remain in the EU

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📥  EU Referendum, The Conversation

Twelve minutes into his “big statement” budget, Chancellor George Osborne made a strong plea for the British public to vote to remain in the European Union in the June referendum.

Citing the Office for Budget Responsibility, he argued that voting to leave would result in “disruptive uncertainty”. It would affect interest rates, the exchange rate, and possibly international investment decisions.

In fact, the OBR report is less robustly certain of the outcome of a potential Brexit vote than the chancellor suggested in his speech. It notes that the evidence is scant, and that any effects would take time to be felt, and would depend on the subsequent negotiation process.

There is certainly more rhetoric than hard fact in much of the business case for membership to date. However, the OBR’s assessment of the available evidence confirms that markets do not like the state of uncertainty surrounding Britain’s position on the EU.

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Mayoral maths: why backing Brexit was the only option for Boris Johnson

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📥  EU Referendum, Public Policy, The Conversation

Like all successful gamblers, Boris Johnson knows how to play the hand he is dealt, clearly calculating the odds of success. The London mayor’s decision to break with David Cameron to become a figurehead of the Leave side in the forthcoming EU referendum is the product of untold hours of calculation.

When Boris tells us that the referendum presents us with “a once in a lifetime chance”, we should believe him. If he has made the right calculations, Boris could become the next British Prime Minister. Let’s have a look at what those calculations might have been.

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How the cat got its coat (and other furry tails)

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

From Sylvester in Looney Tunes to Mr Mistoffelees in the 1980s musical, some of the most famous (albeit fictional) cats share a distinctively sharp appearance thanks to their black and white tuxedo-style coats. Cats with skin and fur marked by white patches in this way are known as “bicolour" or “piebald”. Piebaldism is also common in a range of domestic and farm animals including dogs, cows and pigs, deer, horses and appears more rarely in humans. It is caused by a mutation in a gene called “KIT”.

Our team of researchers from the universities of Bath, Edinburgh and Oxford have been working to unlock the mystery of how these animals get their distinctive patterns. We have discovered that the way these striking pigment patterns form is far more random than originally thought. Our findings have implications for the study of a wide range of serious embryonic disorders in humans, including diseases affecting hearing, vision, digestion and the heart.

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Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion

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📥  Society, The Conversation

The attacks that took place at a series of venues in Paris on November 13 were the deadliest on French soil since 1945. At least 129 people have been killed in six different places. Reports say that nearly 100 are in a critical condition. Police have reported that eight people believed to have carried out the attacks are also dead – seven by blowing themselves up.

It was not as though France had not prepared itself to face such a tragedy. Anti-terrorist measures have been at their highest level in Paris since January, when two brothers attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12.

This was obvious to any bystander over the past few months. Armed soldiers have become part of the Paris experience. Yet the government’s security plan, the plan vigipirate, was not enough to stop what is so far believed to be the most organised and coordinated attack Islamic State has perpetrated outside its territory. Details are still thin on the ground, but IS has claimed responsibility. President François Hollande has blamed the group and made it clear that he sees this as an act of war.

As scenes that were indeed reminiscent of war spread across the centre of Paris, Hollande declared a state of emergency. He announced a series of radical measures such as re-establishing border controls. Schools and universities have been closed.

Meanwhile, there was the blizzard of unconfirmed information that’s to be expected in such a situation. The climate of fear was reinforced by the 24-hour news media’s tendency to not only relate the facts – as messy and incomplete as they are – but to encourage speculation.

Even as the attacks were still underway, commentators could be heard discussing what could happen next and what type of attacks we could, or indeed should, expect. The sense of panic only intensified with the proliferation of amateur videos on social media.

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Nine key tips for the campaign to keep Britain in the EU

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📥  Public Policy, The Conversation

Donald Lancaster, a new teaching fellow in our School of Management, has held a successful international career in advertising working with some of the world's biggest brands. Here he blogs with some dos and don'ts for the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

There is still no date for the UK’s EU referendum and the deadline of 2017 may seem a long way off, but the “In” campaign is starting late and on the back foot for several reasons. Most Britons are naturally Eurosceptic and many are also seriously ill-informed about the benefits of EU membership. The subject is, in reality, too big, too complex and too far-reaching for most to comprehend.

In addition, the “In” campaign is navigating its way through uncharted waters. The last referendum on the subject was in 1975 and was held under almost entirely different circumstances. Plus, the issues at stake remain unclear, as the prime minister has yet to unveil the reforms against which this referendum will be set. The result is that the “In” campaign has less than a full tool-box with which to campaign.

Meanwhile, the “Out” campaign, although divided, has some charismatic spokespeople and titillates by selling the exciting prospects of change, increased sovereign control, and regained stature on the world stage. It is able to inflate the electorate’s sense of British pride.

So Sir Stuart Rose (pictured above), chairman of online grocer Ocado, former CEO of Marks and Spencer and head of the “In” campaign, has his work cut out. Here are some dos and don'ts for him and his team.

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The international legal questions raised by drone strike on British citizens

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

The revelation that the British government killed two of its own citizens in Syria using a drone has major legal implications – not only for British people but for the country as a whole.

Questions have been asked about whether prime minister David Cameron had the right to take action in Syria without parliamentary approval back home but there are other issues at stake here – including the UK’s international standing.

Both the US and the UK have used armed drones to target their enemies, but the UK has quite often made a point of distancing itself from the US by asserting that it uses these weapons within a clear legal framework, guided by British and international law.

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Does the government's justification for the drone strike in Syria really stack up in legal terms?

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Rio 2016: with one year to go, how has Lula’s legacy fared?

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

Dr Bryan Clift is from our Department for Health. This piece was originally written for The Conversation UK.

In August 2016, the Games of the 31st Olympiad will officially open in the Estadio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For the host nation, Rio 2016 is the culmination of a range of political, economic, social, and cultural ambitions.

The foremost advocate of Rio 2016 – former populist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – said of the games during the bid process: “For others it is just another games. For us it will be an unparalleled opportunity.” But whether da Silva’s populist legacy is enough to see the games through to success is open to question.

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With 365 days to go until the start of the Rio Olympics will populist former President Lula da Silva legacy be enough to ensure it's a success?

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It's not all about aliens – listening project may unveil other secrets of the universe

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📥  Heath Science & Technology, The Conversation

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project got a $100 million boost this week from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. While this may seem like a lot of money to spend on a nearly impossible task, many astronomers welcome the investment. The cash will go some way to help save some observatories from closure and allow astronomers to continue to use the facilities for astrophysics research alongside SETI.

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The “Breakthrough Listen” initiative, announced on July 20 at the Royal Society in London, will pay for giant radio telescopes at Green Bank in West Virginia, USA and the Parkes Observatory in Australia to scan the skies for signs of alien communications. The Lick Observatory’s optical telescope in San Jose, California will also join the search with the goal of scanning one million stars in our Milky Way galaxy along with a hundred other nearby galaxies. In the UK, the giant Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank is also involved in SETI programmes.

The funding, to be allocated over a decade, will pay for thousands of hours per year on these facilities compared to the tens of hours usually available to SETI scientists competing with other astronomical programmes. Frank Drake, one of the pioneers of modern SETI and a member of the Breakthrough Listen team, has described previous support for SETI research as patchy. The total worldwide support in recent years has been only about $500,000 from private gifts.

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