The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas

The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, brought to you by the Beltane Public Engagement Network is debate, discussion and discourse in the company of some of the fiercest intellects that Scotland has to offer – all within a yurt! The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas first ran at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe, and has got bigger and better every year!


The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas is designed as an informal platform for academics and researchers to engage with the public on an array of topics.

Renowned for its extravagant  displays and outlandish performances the Fringe provides the ideal setting to discuss hidden and controversial research with an entirely different group who may not usually come into contact with it.


The concept of the shows is simple; to get research out to the masses, beyond the university walls. Academics from different universities and organisations come together to create, write and perform individual shows, in which they try to make their expertise more accessible in a different context by discussing provocative and ‘dangerous’ topics.

2017 Shows @ New Town Theatre

Making a Signbank Withdrawal 

Aug 4 @ 1:50 pm – 2:50 pm

Jordan Fenlon and Andy Carmichael (Heriot-Watt University) take a light-hearted look at the British Sign Language (BSL) ‘Signbank’ – the online repository based on the BSL Corpus. Loosely inspired by the TV show Pointless, they’ll keep each other in check while taking the audience on a slightly naughty, irreverent but evidence-based and informative tour of the many vaults contained within the Signbank. Double entendres will abound, alongside puns, riddles and politically incorrect signs as the pair elucidate the linguistic wonders of the UK’s beautiful, iconic, indigenous language. This performance will be interpreted in BSL and English.

The Robots are Coming! 

Aug 9 @ 1:50 pm – 2:50 pm

Should we really fear robots – whether as a threat to all our jobs, or even as possible Enemies of Humanity? What about stairs? What about batteries? Why not robots that help out at home or act as workplace team buddies? Ruth Aylett (Heriot-Watt University) reveals that social robots are being developed whose role is to assist – and even act as companions – for children doing homework and elderly dementia sufferers who need extra interaction. Come and hear the real story about what robots can and cannot do, and where you are likely to see them soon.

What Keeps You Sharp?

Aug 15 @ 1:50 pm – 2:50 pm, Aug 19 @ 8.20 pm - 9.20 pm

Isn’t the expression ‘having a senior moment’ awful? Yet people often think of changes in their mental skills with age in terms of decline. While some people do experience these changes, others do not. So how do thinking skills change through midlife and beyond, and do our lifestyles affect those changes? Join Alan Gow (Heriot-Watt University) to explore results from “What Keeps You Sharp?”, a nationwide survey about attitudes towards the changes people expect in their thinking skills with age. See how your beliefs match the survey, and explore how all that matches current evidence.

Dae Ye Have a Sick-Line, Ken?

Aug 21 @ 1:50 pm – 2:50 pm

In elite sport the margin between success and failure can be miniscule. When the smallest gains in performance can be the difference between sporting success and competitive failure, where do we draw the line on what is acceptable? Are some athletes lucky that a drug they require for health reasons is also a potential performance-booster? Should we limit any advantages to pharmaceuticals? What about bionic limbs? Do the rules make a difference, or should we have a free-for-all?  Come and join in this unique gameshow with Derek Ball (Heriot-Watt University) on doping in sport.

Can Sustainability Ever Be Mainstream?

Aug 27 @ 1:50 pm – 2:50 pm

Say the word ‘sustainability’ and you probably – rightly – think of keep-cup toting, yoga-stretching, bike-riding Guardian readers. How do you get the rest of us to build saving the environment into our daily lives? Do we even need to? Or can we leave this to the politicians, environmentalists, economists and a few concerned citizens? Civil engineer Elli-Maria Charalampidou (Heriot-Watt University) and Nikolaos Papadogiannis (Bangor University) reckon that saving the environment needs to be built into all parts of our society’s culture – even our beach holidays in Marbella. Can they convince you?

Previous Shows

Heriot-Watt shows to date include:

  • Derek Ball (IB3, EPS): 'Exercise is Bad for you!'
  • Jenny Wood (EGIS):  'Keep the Kids Out!'
  • Jemina Napier, Mark MacQueen, Stacey Webb, and Gary Quinn (SML):  The Myth of Universal Sign Language.
  • Dr Lorna Street & Prof. Phil Wookey (SLS): 'Skating on thin ice'
  • Dr Derek Ball (SLS): 'What if Lance Amrstrong had the right idea?'
  • Prof. Jemina Napier (SML): 'Hearing loss or Deaf Gain?'
  • Dr Alan Gow (SLS): 'Brain training on trial' and 'The Great British Brain Off'
  • Jenny Wood (EGIS): 'Keep the Kids Out!'
  • Prof Graham Turner (EGIS):'Send the Deaf to Orkney' and 'Speech Sucks: The Future Signs'
  • Dr Prabir Bhattachyra (SML): 'Sex Selective Abortions: behind the headlines'
  • Dr Tim Johnson (MACS): 'Rethinking Rules'
  • Dr Peter Matthews (SML): 'Demolish Morningside!'
  • Professor David Cobham (SML): 'George Osborne's Vain Pursuit'