Connecting Thursdays

Narrowing Differences

To what extent can we objectively measure our moral beliefs?

Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal is a highly established researcher on the behaviour of chimpanzees and bonobos, but most people know him as a prolific award-winning popularizer of his research, with over 35 years of bestselling books beginning with Chimpanzee Politics in the early 1980s.

The fact that he has so consistently documented his thoughts for both a specialized and popular audience made him, I thought, the perfect test case to measure how, and why, our beliefs change. Sure enough, when I asked him how his opinions on animal morality have evolved throughout the course of his research career he was able to respond straight away.

(Excerpt from Testing Morality featuring Prof. Frans de Waal)

The “ultimatum game” that Prof. de Waal mentions in this clip is explained in detail in the video Testing Morality.  Essentially, he applies and extends the famous behavioural test pioneered by economists to measure people’s sense of fairness to other primates, en route illustrating not just that chimpanzees have a similar sense of fairness to humans, but – equally intriguingly – that moral understanding, at times at least, can be derived from the same objective experimental process that gives rise to so much of our natural and human science knowledge.  

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Extending Wednesdays

Money & Science

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Economics section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, and features renowned scientist and author Freeman Dyson, Institute for Advanced Study, reflecting on how underlying economic motivations often drive scientific inquiry. 

The fact that science, like any other human activity, is subjected to large-scale economic influences is hardly surprising when one stops to think about it, but often scientific activity is treated as somehow “beyond” standard economic frameworks with incentive structures considered to be based solely on internal scientific criteria or a more abstract, idealistic evaluation of “research interest”.

But Professor Dyson’s comments shed light on several important factors directly correlated with the economics of scientific research, ranging from a waste of human capital on a large-scale sociological level to an increased sense of personal and professional frustration on a personal one. 

This topic bridges Economics, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Systems and Societies.  Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include analytical studies of the influence of economic factors on specific avenues of scientific research and the associated complexities of objectively quantifying innovation and productivity in the context of scientific research.

Related resources that are part of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal include the clips Too Much String, and Suddenly Fashionable, as well as the hour-long videos and accompanying enhanced eBooks Pushing The Boundaries and The Problems of Physics which include a wealth of additional research materials.

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Extending Wednesdays

Greening the Grid

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the ITGS section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide, where University of Michigan Business Professor Andy Hoffman describes a number of concrete measures needed to reinvent our current power grids so as to make them vastly more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Professor Hoffman’s unique expertise at combining business innovation with environmental awareness make him extremely well-positioned to weigh in on the vital infrastructural concerns we are facing, together with a host of corresponding technological, environmental, social and economic challenges.

By focusing on specific aspects of how to coherently improve the power grid, students are provided with a wealth of different, overlapping factors to examine in depth – smart grid technology, demand loads, storage, distributed energy, and many more – all within a very specific and well-focused context. 

This topic bridges ITGS, ESS, Business Management, Chemistry, Economics and aspects of Design Technology.  Related Ideas Roadshow IBDP resources include the clips Energy Renaissance, Behaviour and Values and the hour-long video and accompanying enhanced eBook, Saving the World at Business School.