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Sep
17

Last Night’s Cafe: Who owns my genetic information?

A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism is a change o...

A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism is a change of a nucleotide at a single base-pair location on DNA. Created using Inkscape v0.45.1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night’s CPC featured a topic suggested by Louise Gillies, ‘Who owns my genetic information?’ Chris Groves introduced the session with a short talk covering the nature of genomics, together with some of the ethical issues raised by the nature of genomic information and the technologies which may help us exploit it. The genetic code, consisting of molecules of DNA each formed of some 3 billion base pairs of 4 kinds of nucleic acids, is found in the chromosomes within each cell of a living creature. Around 0.2% of these base pairs are ‘coding’ DNA, which influence how cells make proteins and thus reproduce themselves and thereby the bodies and characteristics (the ‘phenotype’) of living things. The rest is ‘non-coding’ DNA, which was once thought to be functionless (‘junk’) but is now thought to have other regulatory functions within cells. Thanks to its functions in shaping individual development, DNA is often described metaphorically as a ‘blueprint’ or ‘recipe’ for making individual living creatures.

In humans, the advent of sequencing technologies and powerful computers in the 1990s made possible for the first time a complete sequencing of the human genome as part of the Human Genome Project, a ‘map’ of the base pairs that make up human genetic material. Among the hopes expressed for how genomic science could change the world, many geneticists and clinicians spoke of a new era of preventative medicine, based on population studies that would yield knowledge of the links between genetic variants (‘genotypes’) and medical conditions (‘disease phenotypes’). Clinical genetic tests had been around for a while for single-gene conditions (like Huntingdon’s disease) and also for ‘high-penetrance’ genes that were strongly associated with particular conditions (as in the case of the links between the BRCA1/2 genes and breast cancer, for example). But the capability of fully sequencing individual genotypes (or, alternatively – and less expensively – looking for single nucleotide polymorphisms [SNPs] in regions of the genome known to be significant for particular diseases) meant that genomic components for common conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) involving perhaps thousands of genes could also be identified.

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Sep
09

Next Cafe: Audience Vote

Vote icon

Cardiff Philosophy Cafe returns this month after a summer break with a new approach. As well as featuring sessions led by researchers on philosophical and social-scientific topics, we will also be featuring more sessions focusing on topics submitted and chosen by audience members, beginning this month on, as usual the 3rd Tuesday, which is September 16. During the session, which will take place as usual in the Cafe Bar at The Gate, up to five topics, questions or problems will be presented for the audience to choose between. The topic which garners the highest number of votes will be the subject of the evening’s discussion.

Anyone can submit a topic, question or problem for consideration. To do so, please use either Facebook or blog  comments facilities below. This allows others to see which topics have been suggested thus far. Questions or problems – rather than broad topics such as ‘relativism’ or ‘mind’ – work best as suggestions. Why not give it a try? We look forward to seeing you at 8.00 pm on the 16th.

UPDATE: the topic for this session will be ‘Who owns my genetic information?’

Aug
13

An additional Cafe for November: Encounters with Energy

English: Transfer of heat to water kettle

What are the wider implications of how we use energy in our everyday lives? What does energy use tell us about our identities and our relationships with each other? How might we need to change the ways in which we use energy to achieve a more sustainable society and how can the communities in which we live work together to do this? Join us to discuss these and other issues at this special ‘Energy Café’ on 4 November 2014, which features interactive exhibits developed around research carried out by the Energy Biographies project at Cardiff University and contributions from participants in the research.

As usual for Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, the Cafe will begin at 8.00pm in the Cafe Bar. However, the event will feature exhibits from a recent research exhibition and these will be available to view from 7.00pm on the day.

This event is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

May
21

Last Night’s Cafe: Heidegger vs The Mobile

What is your relationship with your mobile/smartphone like?

“If I don’t have my mobile with me, I feel as though I have lost something. I’m not OK. There’s something missing. I turn off the ring tone when I take the bus, or when I’m in the mosque. But I never turn the mobile off.” (Afghan Student, Peshawar, from Sadie Plant (2002), On the Mobile [PDF])

Our dependence on mobile phones is, for many people, very marked: they make us feel part of the ‘safe world’ through being connected to people we care about, emergency services, and increasingly through smartphone technology, to the shopping, information, banking and other services available through the internet. Their relatively speedy introduction and spread through societies globally is, for some, accompanied by slower, pervasive and unwelcome shifts in our social behaviours, our relationships with others, and even in our sense of what it means to be human. Mark Fisher writes that

“the insatiable urge to check messages, email or Facebook is a compulsion, akin to scratching an itch which gets worse the more one scratches. Like all compulsions, this behaviour feeds on dissatisfaction. If there are no messages, you feel disappointed and check again very quickly. But if there are messages you also feel disappointed: no amount of messages is ever enough.” (The Privatisation of Stress)

So, is ‘the mobile’ changing us? Rupert Jenkinson provided us at last night’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe with some ideas we might use in thinking about the answer to this question. Read the rest of this entry »

May
15

Next Cafe: Heidegger vs the Mobile

Communication

Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

What sort of relationship do you have with your smartphone? The mobile revolution promises a future in which global communication is possible for all, affirming ideals of individual freedom. But what does technologically-mediated communication really mean for human relationships? Does it inevitably dehumanise us, or open up new possibilities for human interaction?

In this Cafe, Rupert Jenkinson (Cardiff Classical Education Forum) explores this issue with assistance from the theories of human communication developed by Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber and Jürgen Habermas.

We meet in the Cafe Bar at the Gate on Tuesday 20 May, from 8.00 – 10.00pm.

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Apr
16

Last Night’s Cafe: A Resource-based Economy?

Money

Money (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

In recent CPCs, we’ve explored how whatever future we collectively want, we have to deal with a present in which over-consumption and economic inequality go hand in hand. In particular, the role of the monetary system in shaping how society is organised and in determining whose priorities are supported and promoted has been discussed receently. The function of debt (mortgages, consumer credit, student and business loans and so on) not only in managing economic activity but also in shaping power relationships has been the focus of broader interest in recent years. The effective creation of money by commercial banks in making loans, in particular, has been presented by movements like Positive Money as a central stumbling block to democratic reform, given the ways in which the power of banks allows them to direct resources in particular (and often environmentally and socially damaging) directions.

One radical proposal for addressing all these factors is to change the very basis on which resources are allocated, moving from an economy that uses money as a means of allocating resources and coordinating desires with goods to a ‘resource-based economy’. Various ways of interpreting this concept exist. At last night’s CPC, Dan Lloyd set out some of the ideas that are central to one of these interpretations, promoted by the Zeitgeist movement. Dan argued that there are four interlinked problems which global society faces.
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Apr
11

Next Cafe: A Resource-Based Economy?

Futures

Futures (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Last year’s series of The Future for Wales events at CPC culminated in November 2013 with a discussion of the nature of money and its role in creating scarcity. This month we examine the idea of a ‘resource-based economy‘, in which all goods and services are produced and allocated without the use of money, credit, or barter. The use of debt as an organisational principle for economic relations is seen as enforcing servitude. The bottom line of such a proposal is that resources become the common heritage of all people, rather than the property of those who happen to have the power (economic or otherwise) to acquire them.

Would such an economy help us solve the problems we collectively face, or would it create new ones?

Ruffstylz AM (Dan Lloyd) explores the key concepts behind this idea and leads the discussion.

This Cafe will take place on 15 April. As usual, we’re in the Cafe Bar at The Gate from 8.00pm

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Feb
19

Last Night’s Cafe: What can science tell us about the future?

English: Floods on the Somerset levels. This w...

English: Floods on the Somerset levels.

To what extent can science tell us what to do about the future, especially in relation to novel phenomena like climate change. Flooding across the Southwest since early January and now across the south and some areas of the Home Counties saw a link being made last week in the mainstream media for the first time with human-influenced – or ‘anthropogenic’ climate change – ACC for short. A resident of a village on the Somerset Levels was widely quoted as saying

‘I’m used to seeing floods on the Levels, but this is just something else,” he said, noting that when the area flooded less severely last winter “we were told it was a one-in-100-year occurrence”, but that ‘the following year it happens again — only worse!”’

Several climate scientists were quoted as suggesting that we have found ourselves in an entirely novel situation. Myles Allen from Oxford University stated that:

What is clear is that just looking back at the historical record to plan flood defences or set insurance premiums is increasingly misleading.

Nigel Arnell from Reading University said that:

We have long been exposed to risk from flooding, but climate change is loading the dice

The implication of these statements is that the future will not be like the past, that the probabilities of flooding and other events will change, perhaps radically. The implications of this are important, both for understanding the role and limitations of scientific knowledge in helping us prepare for this future, and for thinking through the moral significance of the resulting uncertainty. Dr Chris Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff University) explored these implications, and suggested that, even if scientific knowledge faces crucial limitations in what it can tell us about the future, this should not prevent us drawing firm conclusions about how we should act.

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Feb
11

Next Cafe: What can science tell us about the future?

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human-caused climate change has now been openly linked to recent flooding events in Wales and Southern England. Last year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reaffirmed that climate science is increasingly clear on the influence of humans on global climate. But there remain many uncertainties and complexities to consider. What exactly can science tell us about the future, and are there limits? If there are limits on what it can tell us, what does this mean for evidence based policy, especially when it comes to mitigating or adapting to climate change? When we argue about phenomena like climate change and what to do about them, are we really arguing about scientific evidence, or about something else?

In this month’s Cafe on 18 February 2014, Dr Chris Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff University) examines these and other issues. As usual, we’re in the Cafe Bar at The Gate, from 8.00pm.

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Nov
21

Last Night’s Cafe: What is Money?

The role of finance in society has been under the microscope since the financial crisis of 2007-08. Since then, we have discovered that money can, under certain circumstances, seemingly be created out of nowhere. The bank bailouts of 2008-09 were not paid for out of taxes; somehow over £1.3tn in the UK was used to buy out bad debts to keep banks solvent. Yet at the same time money, in the form of credit, seems scarcer than ever for businesses and other organisations seeking loans from banks. How can money possess such divergent characteristics? Justin Lilley from Positive Money/Arian Cymru led our discussion on this topic on Tuesday 19 November, with an introduction from Chris Groves to some philosophical reflections on the nature of money, presenting it as at once utterly familiar and entirely strange.

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