Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 3rd September 2015

Updated Thursday 3rd September 2015

Gangs of four - and more free learning across the day from The Open University and beyond.

OpenLearn Live is an experiment in reactive, rolling free learning across the course of the day. This page will be updated during the day, and you can also follow us on Twitter.

Yesterday, we explored the sharing economy, asked how we can make our kids smarter, and heard the music banned during the Renaissance

See the full collection of OpenLearn Live articles

Today's posts

Have we been too quick to demonise payday loans?

Perhaps, especially now they're cleaning up their business practices. Christopher Mallon launches a defence of a financial sector whose customers are smarter than they're sometimes portrayed:

It is true that the industry has until recently adopted unsavoury practices such as opaque terms and conditions and illegal collection methods. But as these practices became more apparent the industry attracted the gaze of consumer groups and it was not long before regulatory intervention was the order of the day.

The industry was hit with a raft of regulatory changes at the start of 2015 after public outcry about lending and debt collection practices. In a classic case of public pressure leading to regulatory action, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) introduced a series of measures to protect consumers.

Read: Have we got Wonga wrong?


Three trillion trees

Well, now we know how large Joni Mitchell's tree museum would have to be - large enough to fit three trillion trees. According to scientists, that's how many there are on the planet at the moment. BBC News reports:

The figure is eight times as big as the previous best estimate, which counted perhaps 400 billion at most.

It has been produced by Thomas Crowther from Yale University, and colleagues, who combined a mass of ground survey data with satellite pictures.

The team tells the journal Nature that the new total represents upwards of 420 trees for every person on the planet.

The more refined number will now form a baseline for a wide range of research applications - everything from studies that consider animal and plant habitats for biodiversity reasons, to new models of the climate, because it is trees of course that play an important role in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Three trillion makes our focus on just five a few weeks back seem a little under ambitious now. 

Read Earth's trees number 'three trillion' at BBC News

Read our five famous tree segments:

The Hitler Oaks

The Bolan Tree

Pine tree of hope

The Royal Oak

Read Giving trees the open data treatment

On iPlayer now: The Ascent of Woman

Catch up with our new series exploring the role of women in ancient societies - and why we feel their legacy today.

Watch on iPlayer

More about the programme

BBC Radio 4, 4.30pm & 9pm today: BBC Inside Science

Today's co-production from the BBC and the OU looks at peat, the Higgs Bosun and a major new citizen science project which looks at EU air quality.

Find out more about the programme

Four things: The Gang Of Four

Because (except in Scotland) it's a four-day week, this week we're looking at four things that are connected to the number four. Yesterday, it was the augmented fourth.

Today, it's the Gang Of Four. But which, you might ask, as there's no end of Gangs of Four.

The original Gang Of Four was Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen. During the later stages of China's Cultural Revolution, this gang came to control the organs of the Chinese state. Under their guidance, a war was fought on all that was bourgeois or intellectual; millions were forced into manual labour and millions more died. Shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, they fell from power (the official Chinese version of events claims that Mao had lost patience with the group before he died.)  Their crimes and failings against the State were publicised by the new leaders in the nation; they were accused of plotting a coup; removed from office; faced trial; sentenced and imprisoned.

But the concept of a "Gang Of Four" didn't end with their influence. Indeed, Hua Guofeng, the premier whose appointment was instrumental in the gang's downfall, had a group of four advisors who were dubbed "the Little Gang Of Four". Wang Dongxing, Wu De, Ji Dengkui and Chen Xilian would also see their careers end badly when, in 1980, they were charged with having made "grave errors" in how they dealt with the original Gang Of Four, and humiliatingly demoted.

More recently, China has seen a New Gang Of Four - Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou, Bo Xilai, and Ling Jihua. There's not really any evidence that this Gang had a common politicial aim; beyond being a group of four they had little in common with the original Gang Of Four. 

David Owen in 1981 Copyright free image Icon Copyright free: LSE library David Owen

We've had a notable Gang Of Four in Britain, of course: the four who broke away from Labour in the 1980s to form the SDP. Concerned that Labour was moving inexorably and, they believed, unelectably to the left, Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams quit. The 1981 Limehouse declaration created a new party (for a while, they toyed with the name New Labour as an option) and for a while, the SDP was a vibrant fourth force in British politics. An alliance with the Liberal Party followed, and with the combined parties sometimes reaching 50% in opinion polls, when Liberal leader David Steel told his party to "prepare for government", he wasn't being totally unrealistic. But concerns over the direction of the SDP and an inability to turn their poll ratings into parliamentary seats started to take the steam out of the party. After disappointing election results in 1987, the SDP formally merged with the Liberals; a right-leaning rump led by Owen remained outside the new party as the Continuing SDP. The British Gang Of Four might not have ended up imprisoned, but their political ambitions were thwarted as solidly as thise of their Chinese namesakes.

Read: Debating the Cultural Revolution in China at the LSE

Read: BBC News on the SDP

Discover more about studying politics at The Open University

Discover more about studying history at The Open University





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?