Pint of Science Festival 2018: ‘Solution Revolution’
In amongst some of the hard science at the Pint of Science Festival, Solution Revolution 1 took a step back and considered the progress that could be made to aspects of society by innovating social science. There were three main talks that spanned education systems, legal technology, and universal basic income.
The first talk was actually a poem. Ross McFarlane deconstructed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) educational model introduced in California and compared it to the Curriculum for Excellence system in Scotland. Both systems encourage teaching of a subject within the context of another – the example being that kids in schools may be asked to make a poster to remind people to turn off the taps; in this case, children are honing their artistic and design skills, while learning about climate change and scarcity of resources. While these teaching methods are undoubtedly effective, he pointed out the issue that NGSS teaches many skills only in the context of science and neglects other important attributes that can be gained from learning the arts and humanities, leaving us with the sentiment; “To truly understand either, we must do both”.
Next up was Sam Moore, a legal technologist with an interest in access to justice. He discussed the concept that although we have equality of law, we do not have equity of law; that is, those who can afford better legal assistance have an advantage over those who can not. One tool that may be able to help bridge this gap is a ‘legal chatbot’, developed by lawyers and technologists. It is a tool that could be cheap to build and deploy and that could assist and empower people to take greater control when faced with a legal situation. Firstly, it could help identify if any laws were broken during an incident, and then direct the individuals involved to support services. It can also help people to identify what is needed in their legal case, so that when they are connected to a human lawyer they may have a better idea of the process, what documentation is needed and, in turn, could increase chances of success.
The final talk of the night, on Universal Basic Income (UBI), was unusual in that the speaker couldn’t make it; however, the organisers themselves came up with a revolutionary solution, with volunteers stepping in. First, a PhD student, Katherine, stepped in to talk about food insecurity. She first gave some basic context and then covered the issues in collecting data in order to estimate the scale of the problem. For example, a major source of data on this subject is the Trussell Trust, a charity coordinating food banks throughout the UK. However, only 5% of food banks in Glasgow are operated by them. And, even if the data covered all food banks, there are those who are food insecure who do not use food banks, so would be missed. She then discussed some of the implications that food insecurity can have for public health, particularly for conditions such as diabetes where diet is crucial for disease management.
This led neatly onto potential solutions for food insecurity and took us back to the idea of UBI. UBI is an alternative system to the way benefits payments are currently made. In short, all residents of a country or city are provided with regular payments regardless of wealth or employment. At this point in the evening, our next volunteer Jack, a researcher at Citizens Basic Income Network Scotland (CBINS), took over. He covered some of the issues in the current benefits system and how a radical overhaul, such as introduction of UBI, could be a potential solution. The talks from the two volunteers were both fascinating and well-informed, and this was reflected in the keen discussion from audience members that followed.
Considering technological solutions and sociological innovations is vital in this tender political climate we currently find ourselves in. With Brexit looming, it’s important to rethink how we manage our society; from education, to justice, to benefits reforms. How likely any of these innovations are likely to come to fruition is another story, but it’s certainly fascinating to consider the possibilities.
This article was specialist edited by Sonya Frazier and copy-edited by Katrina Wesencraft.