Cover image of Science Friday
(3417)

Rank #1 in Astronomy category

Science
Astronomy
Life Sciences

Science Friday

Updated 2 months ago

Rank #1 in Astronomy category

Science
Astronomy
Life Sciences
Read more

Brain fun for curious people.

Read more

Brain fun for curious people.

iTunes Ratings

3417 Ratings
Average Ratings
2370
461
224
171
191

What about the doctors

By wolfie/wolf - May 29 2020
Read more
What about the other hundreds of doctors using hydrox(speeding) who really say it has work?? And the Democratic state representatives who says it saved her life. Then was censored by the Democratic Party? And the New York Governor who endorse the Test then had to take it back because of his party.? His own brother was taking it. Talk about all the models that were proven so wrong when doom and gloom didn’t hit. Why was New York City the only place with such a high rate of death And what about the polar bears that aren’t dying but doing better than expected?? Can’t you report the good news???

Take the calls

By Loserofgames - May 25 2020
Read more
I have no idea why you can’t take the calls of the listeners other than yo pre-record the show now. There are other shows that still take calls. It is part of there show. Adopt their way of taking calls. You’re not going to get Covid-19 by taking calls through the calls. Wait Wait still takes calls but doesn’t have a live audience anymore. They went back to the old ways before that had live audiences. I may not be a person that calls but other people should be able to call in. You have shown that you don’t just take calls but still get questions from your listeners. I see no real need to cut out the calls just because of Covid-19. Work it out.

iTunes Ratings

3417 Ratings
Average Ratings
2370
461
224
171
191

What about the doctors

By wolfie/wolf - May 29 2020
Read more
What about the other hundreds of doctors using hydrox(speeding) who really say it has work?? And the Democratic state representatives who says it saved her life. Then was censored by the Democratic Party? And the New York Governor who endorse the Test then had to take it back because of his party.? His own brother was taking it. Talk about all the models that were proven so wrong when doom and gloom didn’t hit. Why was New York City the only place with such a high rate of death And what about the polar bears that aren’t dying but doing better than expected?? Can’t you report the good news???

Take the calls

By Loserofgames - May 25 2020
Read more
I have no idea why you can’t take the calls of the listeners other than yo pre-record the show now. There are other shows that still take calls. It is part of there show. Adopt their way of taking calls. You’re not going to get Covid-19 by taking calls through the calls. Wait Wait still takes calls but doesn’t have a live audience anymore. They went back to the old ways before that had live audiences. I may not be a person that calls but other people should be able to call in. You have shown that you don’t just take calls but still get questions from your listeners. I see no real need to cut out the calls just because of Covid-19. Work it out.
Cover image of Science Friday

Science Friday

Latest release on Jul 31, 2020

Read more

Brain fun for curious people.

Rank #1: Global COVID Hotspots, Fact Check My Feed, Koji Fermenting. May 15, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more
Fact Check My Feed: Finding The Falsehoods In ‘Plandemic’

Science Friday continues to weigh the truth and sift through the seemingly never-ending stream of misleading claims about the novel coronavirus. This week, virologist Angela Rasmussen joins Ira to help us decipher the uncertainties around this week’s COVID-19 headlines.

While what we know and don’t know about COVID-19 changes daily, some things are certain: Rasmussen lays out some of the many falsehoods in the viral “Plandemic” video that circulated last week. She also explains why it’s important to know that a small study that found coronavirus RNA in semen samples leaves many questions unanswered—and that the presence of viral RNA doesn’t necessarily indicate a sexually-transmitted virus. Plus, more fact-checking of misconceptions about herd immunity, and more.

Global Flare-ups Of COVID-19 Hot Spots

Each country has tackled “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 cases in their own way and some countries were hailed as early successes in containing outbreaks. But two of these countries have seen recent increases: In reports earlier this week, Germany saw 900 new cases in a 24-hour period and as of Thursday, Singapore has identified more than 750 new cases, almost all linked to dormitories of foreign workers. Reporter Maggie Koerth of FiveThirtyEight.com talks about what the increasing numbers might mean for U.S. states that have started to reopen. She also discusses COVID-19 cases in Africa and South America, plus more science news of the week, including scientists that have identified heat-resistant algae that could help bleached corals. 

Koji: The Mold You Want In Your Kitchen

Koji-inoculated starches are crucial in centuries-old Asian foods like soy sauce and miso—and, now, inspiring new and creative twists from modern culinary minds.

Rich Shih and Jeremy Umansky, two food fanatics, have written a new book describing the near-magical workings of the fungus, which, like other molds, uses enzymes to break starches, fats, and proteins down into food for itself. It just so happens that, in the process, it’s making our food tastier. 

You can grow koji on grains, vegetables, and other starchy foods, and make sauces, pastes, alcohols, and vinegars. Even cure meats. Umansky and Shih say the possibilities are endless—and they have the koji pastrami and umami popcorn to prove it.

May 15 2020

46mins

Play

Rank #2: Moon Maps, Brain Replay, Contact Tracing. May 8, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

Have you ever had to learn something new and repeat it over and over—until it feels like you’re doing it in your sleep? Maybe you are. In research published this week in the journal Cell Reports, scientists monitored the brain activity of two people implanted with fine grids of neural electrodes as part of a brain-computer interface study for tetraplegia: paralysis of all four limbs. With the implants and a computer model to process the signals, the study participants were able to use their thoughts to control the movement of a cursor on a computer screen.

In the study, the participants were asked to play a memory-pattern game similar to the old “Simon” handheld electronic game, pressing a sequence of four buttons in a given order. Then, they were asked to rest and relax—even to nap if they wanted—while the researchers continued to observe their brain activity. They found that the participants’ brains replayed sequences of the game’s patterns during shallow, stage one non-REM sleep. The researchers think that this replaying may be connected to mechanisms the brain uses for memory consolidation and learning.

Beata Jarosiewicz, one of the authors of the study, joins guest host John Dankosky to discuss their findings.

While research continues on vaccines, antivirals, and other medical solutions to the coronavirus outbreak, there are already non-pharmaceutical interventions that public health experts know work. One of them is contact tracing, the process of identifying the people who have been exposed to a known person with COVID-19, and then helping those people avoid infecting others.

But while using public health workers for contact tracing has helped contain diseases like Ebola and HIV, contact tracing effort for the much more contagious novel coronavirus could rely in part on digital tools. Around the globe, countries from Iceland, to Singapore have developed smartphone apps.

Now, in the U.S., states are also looking to invest in contact tracing—both by hiring thousands of workers to help, but also developing their own apps. And last month, Apple and Google announced they were teaming up to develop a platform for all smartphones to opt in to a system that would tell them if they’d been exposed.

But can an app do everything a person can? And will people trust an app with their health information? Producer Christie Taylor talks to two public health experts, Johns Hopkins University’s Crystal Watson, and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Louise Ivers, about the intensive and nuanced work of contact tracing and how digital solutions can fit in the picture.

For centuries, we’ve been trying to get a better understanding of the surface of the moon. Different cultures have imagined faces, rabbits, and even toads hiding in the rocky features. Astronauts have walked on the lunar terrain—bringing back photographs and rock samples. And so far, there have been 21 moon landings. The most recent happened last January, when China successfully put a lander on the far side of the moon.

Recently, USGS scientists used their expertise in map-making to pull together some of these scientific observations to catalogue the geology of the moon. They stitched together six Apollo-era moon maps, combined with modern satellite data, to create a 360-degree map of the geological structures on the moon. This “Unified Geologic Map of the Moon” was published last month. USGS research geologist James Skinner, one of the creators of the map, takes us through the terrain of the lunar surface, and talks about what it can tell us about the evolution of the moon.

Plus. Michelle Nichols of the Adler Planetarium gives moon gazing tips to help you spot the different geological features of the moon.

May 08 2020

46mins

Play

Rank #3: Coronavirus Fact-Check, Poetry of Science, Social Bats. March 20, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

As new cases of coronavirus pop up across the United States, and as millions of people must self-isolate from family and friends at home, one place many are turning to for comfort and information is their news feed. But our regular media diet of politics, sports, and entertainment has been replaced by 24/7 coverage of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly every outlet is covering the pandemic in some way—celebrities live streaming their self-quarantine, restaurants rolling out new health practices and food delivery options, educators and parents finding ways to teach kids at home. There’s an overwhelming number of ways the media has covered the virus. But on top of that, there’s also blatant misinformation about the virus distracting us from the useful facts. It’s all appearing in one big blur on Facebook or Twitter feeds. And it doesn’t help that nearly every few hours we’re getting important, and often urgent, updates to the evolving story.

This week, guest host John Dankosky speaks with two scientists who can help fact-check your news feed. Angela Rasmussen, assistant research scientist and virologist at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology at the Yale University School of Medicine give us a clearer picture of the coronavirus news this week.

Poet Jane Hirshfield calls these “unaccountable” times. Crises in the biosphere—climate change, extinctions—collide with crises in human life. And in her new book Ledger she says she has tried to do the accounting of where we, human beings, are as a result.

As a poet whose work touches on the Hubble telescope, the proteins of itch, and the silencing of climate researchers, Hirshfield talks with John Dankosky about the particular observational capacity of language, and why scientists and poets can share similar awe. Hirshfield is also the founder of Poets for Science, which continues a project to create a global community poem started after 2017’s March for Science.

“When we introduced them in isolated pairs they formed relationships much faster, like college students in a dorm room,” Carter said to Science Friday earlier this week. “And when we introduced a bat into a group of three, that was faster than when we just put two larger groups together.”

Carter has also studied how illness changes social relationships within a vampire bat roost. He found that if a baby bat gets sick, for instance, the mom won’t stop grooming or sharing food with their offspring. But that same bat will stop participating in some social behavior with a close roost-mate that isn’t family.

Carter joins Science Friday guest host John Dankosky to talk about researching vampire bats, and what their response to illness tells us about our own time social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. See more photos and video of social bat behavior below.

Mar 21 2020

47mins

Play

Rank #4: Evolutionary Biologist Neil Shubin, Bee Virus Behavior, Search for Lost Apples. May 1, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more
The Twists And Turns Of The Evolution Of Life On Earth

In an evolutionary tree, neat branches link the paths of different species back through time. As you follow the forking paths, you can trace common ancestors, winding down the trunk to see the root organism in common. 

Evolution in the real world is a little messier—full of dead ends and changes happening beneath the surface, even before new traits and species appear. And the research and science that gave us a better picture about how life evolved on Earth can just be just as complicated.  

Evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin, author of Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA, explains how technology like DNA sequences has allowed scientists to fill in these gaps in the story of evolution

A Viral Battle In The Honey Bee Hive

New research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that honey bees infected with a virus may alter their behavior in ways that slow the spread of the infection. At the same time, infection with the virus may help the bees sneak into neighboring hives, potentially spreading the virus to new hosts.

Adam Dolezal, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the authors of the study, describes the research, and the evolutionary arms race that may be taking place between the bees and the virus.

The Malus Domestica Detectives

Earlier this month, the Lost Apple Project in Washington state announced a fruitful bounty: Ten varieties of apples found in the Pacific Northwest that had been considered “lost” varieties. These include the Sary Sinap, originally from Turkey, and the Streaked Pippin from New York.

To find these varieties, the researchers used an old school identification process—the partner organization, Temperate Orchard Conservancy, compared the mystery apples to watercolor paintings commissioned by the USDA from the 1800s and early 1900s. It’s a time consuming process, and positive identification can take years.

Joining Ira to talk apple identification are Shaun Shepherd, pomologist at the Temperate Orchard Conservancy in Portland, Oregon, and Gayle Volk, plant physiologist at the USDA in Fort Collins, Colorado.

May 01 2020

45mins

Play

Rank #5: Squid Lighting, Tongue Microbiome, Invasive Herbivores. March 27, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more
How Humboldt Squid Talk To Each Other In The Dark

Cephalopods are masters of changing their bodies in response to their environments—from camouflaging to sending warning signals to predators. The art of their visual deception lies deep within their skin. They can change their skin to different colors, textures, and patterns to communicate with other animals and each other. But how does this play out in the darkness of the deep ocean? That’s the question a team of scientists studied in the deep diving Humboldt squid that lives over 2,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. Their results were published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Biologist Benjamin Burford, who is an author on that study, explains how Humboldt squid use a combination of skin color patterns and bioluminescence to send each other signals and what this might teach us about communication in the deep ocean. See a video and more photos of Humboldt squid communicating with each other from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. 

Mapping The Microbiome Of Your Tongue

Your mouth is home to billions of bacteria—some prefer to live on the inside of the cheeks, while others prefer the teeth, some the gums, or the surface of the tongue. Writing this week in the journal Cell Reports, researchers describe their efforts to map out the various communities of bacteria that inhabit the tongue. 

In the average mouth, around two dozen different types of bacteria form tiny “microbial skyscrapers” on your tongue’s surface, clustered around a central core made up of individual human skin cells. The researchers are mapping out the locations of the tiny bacterial colonies within those skyscrapers, to try to get a better understanding of the relationships and interdependencies between each colony. 

Jessica Mark Welch, one of the authors of the report and an associate scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, talks about what we know about the microbiome of the human mouth, and what researchers would still like to learn.

Rethinking Invasive Species With Pablo Escobar’s Hippos

Colombia is home to an estimated 80 to 100 hippos where they’re an invasive species—hippos are native to Africa. But notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar brought four to the country as part of his private zoo. After his death in 1993, the hippos escaped to the wild where they thrived. 

Some locals consider them pests, the government has mulled over getting rid of them, and recent studies have shown that their large amounts of waste is changing the aquatic ecology of Colombia.

But new research has taken a different view, showing that even though hippos are invasive, they might be filling an ecological hole left by large herbivores killed off by humans thousands of years ago. Erick Lundgren, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, talks about why we should stop thinking of the phrase “invasive species” as inherently bad, and what may be in store for the future of these hippos

Mar 27 2020

45mins

Play

Rank #6: DIY Masks, Neanderthal Diet, Symbiotic Worms. April 3, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals across the country are running low on PPE—personal protective equipment. This includes masks, gowns, face shields, and other important gear to keep healthcare workers safe. These supplies are the first line of defense between healthcare workers and potentially sick patients.

Cloth masks are usually only advised as a last resort for healthcare workers, but an increasing number of hospitals are seeking them out. Some hospitals, including Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis—the largest hospital in Missouri—are anticipating a tsunami of COVID-19 cases in the weeks ahead. To get ready, it’s watching and taking lessons from the experiences of hospitals in coronavirus hotspots, like New York City. One big example is turning to homemade cloth masks to fill oncoming PPE shortages.

A homegrown effort called the Million Masks Challenge has sprung up amidst the crisis. Volunteers are pulling out their sewing machines and extra fabric to make masks that are sent to healthcare providers. And a new website, GetPPE.org, has launched to connect crafters with hospitals across the country that are asking for homemade face masks.

Joining Ira to talk about the PPE crisis and how hospitals are preparing are Rob Poirier, clinical chief of emergency medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Jessica Choi, founder of GetPPE.org.

Why did Neanderthals disappear so quickly after the arrival of early modern humans in Europe, 40,000 years ago? Paleoanthropologists have long wondered whether it was some inferiority that allowed our ancestors to outcompete with Neanderthals for resources—whether that was intelligence, complexity, or some other measure of fitness. 

Over the last two decades, the image of the dumb, primitive Neanderthal has broken down. Researchers have found evidence of Neanderthal jewelry and art in European caves, as well as signs they may have buried their dead.

But the question remains: Why, when human ancestors finally made it to Europe, did Neanderthals vanish? One persisting theory is that getting Omega-3 fatty acids from diets rich in seafood enabled human ancestors to develop more advanced brains than their Neanderthal cousins. Stashes of fish bones and shells in South African caves have been taken as evidence that early modern humans ate from the sea—and until now, there’s been no evidence that Neanderthals in Europe also did so.

But, in a seaside cave in Portugal named Figueira Brava, researchers writing for the journal Science last month found a treasure trove of fish bones, mussel shells, and other remnants of dining from the sea—all older by tens of thousands of years than the first arrival of early modern humans in Europe. Lead author João Zilhão explains how this find expands the growing picture of Neanderthals as complex, intelligent hominins.

About 1,800 meters below the ocean surface off the western coast of Costa Rica, methane seeps dot the seafloor. These are places where methane and other hydrocarbons slowly escape from beneath the earth’s crust. Like more well-known hydrothermal vents, methane seeps are home to an unusual array of wildlife, relying on the seeps’ enriched chemistry for energy and nutrients.

Writing this week in the journal Science Advances, researchers describe two species of tube worms that live in a symbiotic relationship with methane-oxidizing bacteria that live on their crowns. The researchers collected some of the worms via deep-sea submersibles and then exposed them to carbon-13-labeled methane, showing that the worms were able to assimilate the methane into biomass. The team believes that the symbiosis allows these worms to rely on methane for much of their nutrition.

Shana Goffredi, an associate professor of biology at Occidental College in Los Angeles and one of the authors of the report, explains the research and what remains to be learned about the environment around these undersea methane seeps.

Writing this week in the journal Science Advances, researchers describe two species of tube worms that live in a symbiotic relationship with methane-oxidizing bacteria that live on their crowns. The researchers collected some of the worms via deep-sea submersibles and then exposed them to carbon-13-labeled methane, showing that the worms were able to assimilate the methane into biomass. The team believes that the symbiosis allows these worms to rely on methane for much of their nutrition.

Shana Goffredi, an associate professor of biology at Occidental College in Los Angeles and one of the authors of the report, explains the research and what remains to be learned about the environment around these undersea methane seeps.

Apr 03 2020

46mins

Play

Rank #7: COVID-19 Inequalities. May 8, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

Coronavirus is still hitting the U.S. hard. And breaking down infections by race shows a striking pattern: Black, Latino, and Native American people are hit much harder than other communities.

National data shows black Americans account for nearly 30% of COVID-19 deaths, despite only being 13% of the population. In New York City, the epicenter of America’s epidemic, the death rate among black and Latino residents is more than double that of white and Asian residents.

Coronavirus is spreading on tribal lands, too. If Navajo Nation were a state, it would be behind only New York and New Jersey in infection rates. Native communities are also often categorized in the racial category of “other” in statewide infection data —making it hard to know just how bad COVID-19 is for Native people.

Joining guest host John Dankosky to talk about COVID-19 inequities are Uché Blackstock, physician and founder of Advancing Health Equity in Brooklyn, New York, Rebecca Nagle, journalist and citizen of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and David Hayes-Bautista, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA’s medical school in Los Angeles.

May 08 2020

46mins

Play

Rank #8: Coronavirus: Washing and Sanitizing, Science Diction, New HIV PrEP Drugs. March 13, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

The number of people in the U.S. confirmed to be infected with the pandemic-level respiratory coronavirus continues to rise, even as testing and diagnosis capacity continues to lag behind other nations. In the meantime, epidemiologists are urging people all over the country to take actions that help “flatten the curve,” to slow the rate of infection so the number of cases don’t overwhelm the healthcare system and make the virus even more dangerous for those who get it.

And the best methods to flatten that curve? Social distancing, which means limiting your exposure to other people, including large gatherings. And, when you can’t avoid other people, it means washing your hands diligently, disinfecting door knobs, and otherwise killing virus particles—which may survive up to three days on inanimate objects, depending on conditions.

There are words we use every day for common things or ideas—meme, vaccine, dinosaur—but where did those words come from? Sometimes, there’s a scientific backstory.

Take the word quarantine, now in the news due to widespread infection control measures. Did you know that it comes from quarantino, a 40-day isolation period for arriving ships—which originally was a trentino, a 30-day period, established in what is now Croatia in the plague-stricken 1340’s?

Science Friday’s word nerd Johanna Mayer joins Ira to talk about the origins of the word quarantine, and how she flips through science history and culture to tell us these stories in her new podcast Science Diction.

The first season of Science Diction is now available! Listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts.

In 2012, the FDA approved the drug Truvada, the brand-name HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that HIV negative people can take to prevent contracting the virus. The patent for Truvada is due to expire, which would allow for more generic versions of the drug. But Gilead, the manufacturer of Truvada, is releasing a second brand name PrEP called Descovy.  

Physician Rochelle Walensky, who is chief of the infectious disease division at Massachusetts General Hospital, is an author on a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that weighed the financial and accessibility impact that this new drug will have for patients. 

Mar 13 2020

46mins

Play

Rank #9: Farmers’ Stress, Tiny Dino-Bird Discovery. March 13, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

The Farm Crisis of the 1980s was a dark time for people working in food and agriculture. U.S. agricultural policies led to an oversupply of crops, price drops, and farms closures. At the same time, the rate of farmer suicide skyrocketed. The industry struggled, until organizations like Farm Aid and others popped up to give voice to the crisis.

But farm advocates agree that farmers are in the middle of another period of hardship, one brought on by the same factors that caused the Farm Crisis in the 1980s. Farmers today are experiencing low crop prices, uncertain markets, and high farm debt. And this time around, there’s a greater awareness and stress about the impacts of climate change.

So what will our response be to this latest crisis? How will farmers get the support they need—both economically and emotionally? State and regional organizations for farmers have been quick to restart the conversation around the importance of rural mental health, but funding has been slow to follow. In an unexpected twist, the Trump administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. Department of Agriculture from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City has been the source of some of this funding bottleneck.

All the while, studies are reporting increasing rates of farmer suicides—mirroring the 1980s.

Ira speaks with Katie Wedell, author of a recent article in USA Today on the latest farm crisis, as well as Roy Atkinson from the American Farm Bureau Federation about a recent poll looking at perceptions of rural mental health. They’re joined by Jennifer Fahy from Farm Aid, Brittney Schrick, assistant professor at University of Arkansas, and Jim Goodman, retired dairy farmer and farm advocate, to discuss the scope of the crisis and response.

Today, the Isle of Sky in the west coast of Scotland is a lush island with towering sea cliffs and tourists taking in the picturesque landscape. But during the late Jurassic period 170 million years ago, there were diverse groups of dinosaurs roaming the land. In two different areas on the island, paleontologists were able to find footprints of three different types of dinosaurs. These tracks include the stegosaurus, which had not been previously found in this region.

Their results were published in the journal PLOS ONE. Paleontologists Steve Brusatte and Paige Depolo, who are both authors on the study, describe why fossils and tracks from this period are difficult to find and what these footprints can tell us about the habitats of middle Jurassic dinosaurs and shed light on the evolution of the stegosaurus.

Mar 13 2020

47mins

Play

Rank #10: COVID-19 By The Numbers, 1918 Flu. May 1, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more
Navigating COVID-19 By The Numbers

Ever since the first news about a new virus in China, we’ve been seeing projections, or models predicting how it might spread. But how are those models created? There’s a lot of math that goes into understanding what might come next.

Ira turns to a group of scientists who make their living in crunching the numbers—the people who make mathematical models to approximate different scenarios, trying to minimize loss of life. Sarah Cobey from the University of Chicago and Jeffrey Shaman from Columbia University share their work on the past, present and future of coronavirus spread, and explain how to understand the many models all trying to bring clarity to this very difficult pandemic.

A Pandemic Precedent—Set in 1918

In the spring of 1918, a new and virulent flu strain was documented at a military base in Kansas. Within weeks it had been observed in Queens, New York—and soon, spread all over the globe. By the time the flu petered out a year later, the world had suffered three distinct waves, killing somewhere between 17 and 50 million people, and heaping a fresh disaster atop the losses of World War I. 

How well does the present resemble history—and are we at risk of repeating the staggering toll of the 1918 flu? Historian Catharine Arnold talks to Ira about stories from the past, and the events and choices that drove additional waves of infection and death.

Plus, Science Diction host Johanna Mayer on why the 1918 flu wasn’t really ‘Spanish’ at all.

Look through images taken during the 1918 flu, from the U.S. National Archives, in a gallery article.

Strokes In COVID-19 Patients, Plus Trauma In Healthcare Workers

This week, a group of researchers observed five younger patients under the age of fifty that suffered from strokes. These patients either were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms. Their results were published online in a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Reporter Sophie Bushwick talks about this story, plus the trauma that frontline healthcare workers face during the pandemic, and other new research from the week.

Erosion Threatens A Unique Ecosystem

Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline is one of the most biodiverse places in the country. But that biodiversity is now washing away. Rebecca Thiele, energy and environment reporter at Indiana Public Broadcasting, unpacks the story

May 01 2020

47mins

Play

Rank #11: Vaccine Process, Hubble Space Telescope Anniversary, Alchemy Of Us. April 24, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

Over 50 pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms around the world are now racing to develop vaccines for the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. Anthony Fauci has said that it might be possible to develop a vaccine in as quickly as 12 to 18 months—but so far, researchers still don’t know which of several approaches might be most safe and effective.

Paul Offit, head of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says that usually, the standard time to develop a new vaccine and move it through the multiple phases of clinical trials required for FDA approval is measured in years, not months—and despite the need, he worries that shortening the path to a vaccine means that developers will skip critical parts of the testing process. 

He joins Ira to talk about the path to a vaccine, and how it might fit in with other parts of the coronavirus response, including community testing and the development of therapeutic drugs to treat patients with COVID-19.

Think about the breathtaking images you’ve seen of space—swirling, multicolor galaxies, shining star clusters, and far-off planets. There’s a good chance these photos were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into space 30 years ago today. 

Over these decades, Hubble has helped researchers better understand space mysteries, like black holes, warped space, exoplanets, and the expansion of the universe. While it had a rough beginning—it was deployed with a miscalibrated mirror—Hubble has long maintained its status as the premiere telescope. 

Joining Ira to celebrate this anniversary is Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope in Greenbelt, Maryland.

When you think about how the telephone was invented, you probably think of Alexander Graham Bell. But what about the people who made the telephone effortless to use? For example, you might not have heard of Almon Strowger, a Kansas City undertaker in the late 19th century, who feared he was losing business thanks to poorly connected phone calls—at that time, calls relied on women known as “hello girls,” who manually operated the switches.

Strowger’s frustration led him to invent the automatic switching system, which led to modern telephones, transistors, and eventually, computers. His name, however, is still less well-known.

Strowger’s story is one of dozens documented in The Alchemy of Us, a new book by materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez, who explores the way human foibles and flaws have shaped our inventions—and how those inventions have changed us. Take, for example, Ruth Belleville, the Englishwoman who literally sold time until accurate clocks were ubiquitous, a story Ramirez uses to describe how industrialization and industrialized time have shaped our sleep.

Producer Christie Taylor talks to Ramirez about her unexpected stories of innovation in time, light, photography, and telecommunications—inventions that all helped shape modern culture.

Apr 24 2020

48mins

Play

Rank #12: COVID Near You Citizen Science, Fact-Check Your Feed. March 27, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

These days, our newsfeeds are overloaded with stories of the coronavirus. This week, Science Friday continues to dig into the facts behind the speculation—the peer-reviewed studies and reports published by scientists investigating the virus.

But what we know—and don’t know—about the new virus is changing daily, making it hard to keep up. Everyone, for example, wants to know more about possible therapies for treating COVID-19 patients. After President Trump publicly speculated about the tried and true antimalarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, his endorsement sent governors, doctors, and the worried public scrambling to get their hands on the drug. But is there any science to back-up this claim? And what about remdesivir, the antiviral drug that has been used to treat a handful of patients, and is now the subject of several new drug trials?

Angela Rasmussen, associate research scientist and virologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health joins Science Friday once again to break down the science behind the stories.

As suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 skyrocket in the United States, testing availability remains limited, leaving people wondering if their cough is something to worry about. But testing isn’t just a balm for anxiety—public health officials need data about how far the new virus has spread to make decisions about how to best protect people, and where to send critical resources, like masks and gowns. Accurate information is the frontline of defense, but scientists still have pressing questions about the novel disease. For instance, how many people who are infected actually have symptoms? If you do have symptoms, how likely are you to get severely sick?

Until we are able to test both healthy and symptomatic people at scale, citizen science can help fill the gaps in tracking who has COVID-19. And the public health team that launched Flu Near You to track seasonal flu symptoms is now doing just that: soliciting your symptoms in the Covid Near You project.

Covid Near You co-founder John Brownstein of Boston Children’s Hospital explains what questions the project may help answer, and what trends Covid Near You will track—including why this data is so valuable to public health efforts. Sign up at www.covidnearyou.org to report how you’re feeling—whether you’re healthy or have symptoms.

Mar 27 2020

45mins

Play

COVID In Prisons, How Sperm Swim. July 31, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, it’s become clear certain populations are particularly at risk—including those serving sentences in prisons and jails. The virus has torn through correctional and detention centers across the U.S., with more than 78,000 incarcerated people testing positive for COVID-19 as of July 28, according to the Marshall Project’s data report

“Prisons are just the worst possible environment if we are trying to reduce infectious disease,” Zinzi Bailey told SciFri earlier this week on the phone. She is a social epidemiologist at the University of Miami and a principal investigator of the COVID Prison Project, which tracks and analyzes coronavirus data in U.S. correctional facilities. “A lot of people would argue that the conditions are inhumane.” Disease outbreaks have swept through prisons in the past, often due to poor living conditions and limited access to proper health care, Bailey explains. Hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV are just a few of the diseases that have historically hit inmates hard.

Now, the incarcerated, correctional officers, and staff members are battling COVID-19. Detention centers are notoriously overcrowded, making it easy for the virus to spread. The cramped, dormitory-style living conditions, shared spaces, and infrequent sanitation can contribute to increased risk of exposure and infection. In Ohio, for example, the prison system is at 130% capacity, making it “basically impossible” to socially distance inmates, Paige Pfleger, health reporter at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, told SciFri on the phone last week. 

Yet incarcerated people living in these conditions have little to no access to protection. Some have resorted to making face coverings out of shirts and boxer shorts. At the beginning of the pandemic, some correctional officers in Arizona prisons were not allowed to wear masks. 

“Correctional officers were originally told that if they did wear masks, it would scare inmates—that they’re going to think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a really serious virus,’” says Jimmy Jenkins, senior field correspondent and criminal justice reporter at KJZZ in Phoenix, Arizona. “I got letters from all these inmates saying they were scared of dying.”

Access to testing among the incarcerated population has also varied state to state. Ohio conducted mass tests in some of the facilities in April, but have been unable to retest in order to track community spread, says Pfleger. In Arizona, inmates are reporting that “only the sickest of the sick are actually getting tested,” says Jenkins.

Coronavirus outbreaks in prisons often spill over into the rest of the community. Contract workers and correctional officers coming in and out of detention facilities can cause further spread of the virus. This is concerning, particularly in Black, Latino, and Native American communities with an already increased risk of contracting the disease.

“We believe that there’s going to be a connection between the communities of color that are around prisons, and the prisons themselves,” says John Eason, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who spoke to Science Friday over the phone earlier in the week. In an ongoing study with the Dane County Criminal Justice Council, “we’re going to be able to parse that out to see the role of corrections officers.” He suspects they may find officers are “basically incubators—or vectors between communities and the prisons that they work in.”

The inmates are like “guinea pigs,” says Zinzi Bailey. “It’s like an experiment, and we are letting it run its course in these prisons,” she says—but one without an ethical review. “What is being made clear through this pandemic is the United States’ reliance on incarceration makes us more vulnerable to pandemics like this.”

Paige Pfleger and Jimmy Jenkins tell us more about how their states are responding to coronavirus outbreaks in prisons. Then, social epidemiologist Zinzi Bailey provides a closer look at the trends in American prisons—and what COVID-19 is revealing about public health in these systems

We didn’t always understand the basic science of where babies come from. Theories abounded, but until the 19th century, there was little understanding of how exactly pregnancy occurred, or even how much each parent actually contributed to the reproductive process. 

In 1677, a Dutch scientist named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek peered into a microscope and observed, for the first time in recorded history, the side-to-side swimming of tiny sperm cells. He wrote they looked like “an eel swimming in water.” At the time, van Leeuwenhoek thought those cells were tiny worms—maybe even parasites. It took several hundred more years before scientists understood even the crude theory of reproduction as most of us are taught: That a sperm and an egg cell combine inside the fallopian tubes.

But, as it turns out, even the movement of sperm first described by van Leeuwenhoek—and corroborated ever since in two-dimensional, overhead microscope views—might be wrong. A team of scientists writing in the journal Science Advances this week report finally viewing sperm movement in three dimensions. With the help of 3D microscopy and high-speed photography, they describe a “wonky,” lopsided swimming motion that would keep sperm swimming in circles—if they didn’t also have a corkscrew-like spin that let them move forward “like playful otters.”

Hermes Gadelha, a senior lecturer in mathematical and data modeling at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, talks to John Dankosky about the complexity and beauty of these swimming cells, and why understanding their movement better could lead to breakthroughs in infertility treatment—or even other kinds of medicine.

Jul 31 2020

47mins

Play

Science In Space, Sports and COVID, Science Diction. July 31, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

Astronauts have conducted all sorts of experiments in the International Space Station—from observations of microgravity on the human to body to growing space lettuce. But recently, cosmonauts bioengineered human cartilage cells into 3D structures aboard the station, using a device that utilizes magnetic levitation. 

The results were recently published in the journal Science Advances. Electrical engineer Utkan Demirci and stem cell biologist Alysson Muotri what removing gravity can reveal about basic biological questions, and how you design experiments to run in space

Major League Baseball’s season opened to great fanfare last week, amid the pandemic. But 18 players and staff of the Miami Marlins have already tested positive for COVID-19—forcing the team to pause their season until at least next week. Meanwhile, the NBA has quarantined their entire roster in a bubble in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. 

Sports reporter Ben Cohen and epidemiologist Zachary Binney talk about the strategies and effectiveness of different leagues as competitive sports attempt to make a COVID-19 comeback

Ketchup has long been central to American culture. We use it in hot dogs, burgers, fries—and the list goes on. But have you ever wondered why we even call it ‘ketchup,’ or where the condiment came from?  

It turns out there are many words related to food—like restaurant, umami, and “rocky road”—that have an interesting science backstory. To trace the origins of these words, Science Friday’s word nerd Johanna Mayer joins John Dankosky to talk about the origins of the word ketchup, and the new season of her podcast ‘Science Diction.’

As American pharmaceutical company Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate entered Phase 3 of human clinical trials this week—an important step in what is still an early phase of its development—Russia claims a vaccine of its own will be approved for use as soon as mid-August, prompting safety concerns. But questions about vaccines extend far beyond who is first. What happens next for the people around the world waiting for protection from the pandemic? As Science Magazine reports, rich nations have placed hundreds of millions of advance orders for successful vaccines, while poorer countries worry that there will be little left for everyone else.

Maggie Koerth, senior science reporter for FiveThirtyEight, discusses this story and more news from the week, including the discovery of 100-million-year-old microbes living beneath the ocean floor.

Jul 31 2020

47mins

Play

SciFri Extra: The Origin Of The Word 'Ketchup'

Podcast cover
Read more

Science Diction is back! This time around, the team is investigating the science, language, and history of food. First up: Digging into America's favorite condiment, ketchup!

At the turn of the 20th century, 12 young men sat in the basement of the Department of Agriculture, eating meals with a side of borax, salicylic acid, or formaldehyde. They were called the Poison Squad, and they were part of a government experiment to figure out whether popular food additives were safe. (Spoiler: Many weren’t.) Food manufacturers weren’t pleased with the findings, but one prominent ketchup maker paid attention. Influenced by these experiments, he transformed ketchup into the all-American condiment that we know and love today. Except ketchup—both the sauce and the word—didn't come from the United States. The story of America’s favorite condiment begins in East Asia.

Want more Science Diction? Subscribe on Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Harvey Wiley (back row, third from left) and the members of The Poison Squad.
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Members of the Poison Squad dining in the basement of the Department of Agriculture. Harvey Wiley occasionally ate with them, to offer encouragement and support.
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration) 
The members of the Poison Squad came up with their own inspirational slogan, which hung on a sign outside the dining room.
(U.S. Food and Drug Administration )
Guest

Alan Lee is a freelance linguist and native Hokkien speaker. 

Footnotes And Further Reading

The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum tells the very entertaining history of Harvey Wiley, the early days of food regulation in the United States, and, of course, the Poison Squad.

The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky is a word nerd’s dream, and contains more on ketchup’s early history. Special thanks to Dan Jurafsky for providing background information on the early history of ketchup for this episode. 

Can't get enough ketchup history? Check out Pure Ketchup: A History of America's National Condiment With Recipes by Andrew F. Smith.

Learn more about ketchup's early origins in Dan Jurafsky's Slate article on "The Cosmopolitan Condiment." 

Credits

Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey. Our Chief Content Office is Nadja Oertelt. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, with help from Danya AbdelHameid. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and they wrote our version of the “Song of the Poison Squad.” We had research help from Cosmo Bjorkenheim and Attabey Rodríguez Benítez. Sound design and mastering by Chris Wood.

Jul 28 2020

19mins

Play

Three Missions To Mars, COVID Fact Check, Solar Probes. July 24, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, your news feed is likely still overflowing with both breaking research and rumors. Virologist Angela Rasmussen of Columbia University joins Ira once again to Fact Check Your Feed, discussing everything from two vaccine trials’ hopeful early results to what antibody production might mean for long-term protection against the COVID-19 virus. They also discuss kids’ response to SARS-CoV-2—a topic of great interest to parents and educators trying to make plans for the coming school year—as well as the confusing terminology around ‘aerosol’ and ‘airborne,’ and research into mutations of the spike protein in one coronavirus variant.

Recently, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter satellite sent photos of surprising events on the sun’s surface. Scientists are calling these swirling areas “campfires,” though no one is quite sure what causes them.

Joining Ira to talk about these new images is Anik de Groof, instrument operations scientist for the Solar Orbiter, based in Madrid, Spain. They talk about what kind of data the satellite is collecting, how COVID-19 impacted the mission, and what solar mysteries Anik is most excited to learn more about.

This month, three different countries are launching missions to Mars—the first for The United Arab Emirates, China is sending an orbiter and a rover, and NASA’s Perseverance will join the Curiosity rover already on the ground. Amy Nordrum from MIT Technology Review talks about the science that each of these missions will be conducting

Jul 24 2020

49mins

Play

Long-Term COVID Effects, Dicamba and Agriculture, Mosquitoes. July 24, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

Since the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals have been treating and triaging an influx of COVID-19 patients. Hundreds of thousands of seriously ill patients have been hospitalized, with some having to stay and receive care for months at a time.  

But now as some of those patients return home, hospitals are opening post-COVID clinics to help with their transition. Health care professionals are monitoring the recovery process and taking note of persisting health issues from the disease.

Mafuzur Rahman, clinician and leader of the post-discharge COVID-19 clinic at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, New York, and Margaret Wheeler, a physician at the Richard Fine’s People Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, talk about the health effects they have seen in their patients and what patients may need for recovery.

A federal court in California recently vacated the three popular dicamba herbicides—Xtendimax, Fexipan, and Engenia—after the court determined the EPA violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by registering the chemicals for use. Environmental advocates rejoiced, while farm groups lamented the decision as yet another hurdle for farmers to overcome during a difficult year.

More herbicides could face legal challenges in the coming years. But they were once part of a golden era of U.S. agriculture, and a key player in the rise of modern industrialized growing systems.

There are over 3,000 mosquitoes, but only a handful feast on blood, like the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Other mammals also have blood running through their veins, but are bit less frequently. So why do mosquitoes love humans so much?

New research on these bugs look into the cause, investigating mosquitoes’ preference for certain mammal odors and human population densities. Another paper examines a potential gene solution to decrease mosquito bites—thus lowering transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. Joining Ira to talk about the latest research and more mosquito science is “Lindy” McBride, biology assistant professor at Princeton University and Jake Tu, biochemistry professor at Virginia Tech.

Jul 24 2020

47mins

Play

How Brains Organize Smells, Plant Evolution In Art, New Hearing Aids. July 17, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

How we smell has been a bit of a mystery to scientists. Other senses are easier to understand: For example, it’s possible to predict what a color will look like based on its wavelength. But predicting what a new molecule will smell like is more difficult.

Our sense of smell can be quite complex. Take the delicious smell of morning coffee—that aroma is made up of more than 800 individual molecules.

How does our brain keep track of the millions of scents that we sniff? To find out, a group of scientists gave mice different molecules to smell, and tracked what patterns were formed in their brains. Their results were recently published in the journal Nature.

Neurobiologist Robert Datta, one of the authors on that study, joins Ira to discuss how our brains make patterns every time we sniff, and how wine aficionados train their noses to decode the different scents in wine.

To understand variation in living things, scientists often compare specimens, recording the details. This kind of scientific investigation has long been practiced: Charles Darwin, for example, made sketches of everything from finch beaks to barnacles shells in his field notebooks. Today, natural history museums store these catalogues in shelves and drawers of preserved specimens.

But scientists can also draw from less likely forums. Recently, one team of researchers—an art historian and a plant biologist—documented the different plant species represented in historical paintings and sculptures. Their results were published in the journal Trends in Plant Science. Plant biologist Ive de Smet and art historian David Vergauwen discuss what a 17th century painting by Giovanni Stanchi can reveal about watermelon evolution, as well as other trends in strawberries, potatoes, and other plants spotted in works of art.

Have you ever met a friend for dinner at a restaurant, only to have trouble hearing each other talk over the din of other diners? And as we get older, this phenomenon only gets worse and can be compounded by age-related hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus.

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet for tinnitus or other forms of hearing loss, and researchers don’t even understand all the ways in which the auditory system can go awry. But we now have more sophisticated technology to help us cope with it. 

Nowadays, there are over-the-counter hearing aids and assistive listening devices that connect with your smartphone. Certain tech allows you to amplify softer sounds and cancel out the noise of a crowded room—it can even focus on the sound waves created by the person you’re speaking with. 

Ira chats with David Owen, New Yorker staff writer and author of the new book Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World about the industry that’s helping millions of Americans cope with hearing loss.

Jul 18 2020

46mins

Play

Coronavirus And Schools, New Mars Rover. July 17, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

As we approach August, many of our young listeners and their parents are starting to think about going back to school. Usually, that might mean getting new notebooks and pencils, and the excitement of seeing classmates after a summer apart.

But COVID-19 makes this upcoming school year different. Big districts, including Los Angeles and San Diego public schools, will be completely remote this fall. Other districts are looking at hybrid programs, with some time in the classroom and some at home. Still others want kids to return to the classroom full-time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools should adjust plans based on how many coronavirus cases are in the community. Schools with little transmission may be able to go back to the classroom, but with more sanitation efforts and no sports events. For communities with high levels of spread, the CDC says stronger measures are needed, like staggered arrivals and dismissals, kids staying in one classroom, or all-remote education. However, Vice President Mike Pence said this week that CDC guidance should not dictate whether schools open for in-classroom instruction.

Joining Ira to talk about what to consider in back-to-school plans are Pedro Noguera, dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and Laura Fuchs, a high school history teacher and secretary of the Washington Teachers’ Union in Washington, D.C.

In just a few weeks, NASA is scheduled to launch its newest rover in the direction of Mars. Perseverance, the formal name for the Mars 2020 mission’s rover, is now safely at Cape Canaveral, strapped to its Atlas V rocket, waiting only for the launch window to open.

If all goes well, Perseverance will begin roving Mars next February. Once on Mars, it will join its cousin Curiosity in combing through the dust and rocks of the red planet—but where Curiosity hunts inside a meteor crater for water and other signs of suitability for life, Perseverance will scour an ancient river delta for the traces left by potential microscopic life.

Ira talks to two Perseverance masterminds, deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan and aerospace engineer Diana Trujillo, about the challenges of building for space exploration, and what it takes to conduct science experiments 70 million miles from Earth.

Jul 17 2020

47mins

Play

Great Indoors, Science Museums, Who Owns The Sky. July 10, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

A whole lot of folks’ summer plans have been cut short this season. Maybe you were planning a family road trip to visit a national park. Or your local science museum. Now, you can watch from home, as Emily Graslie, executive producer, host, and writer for the PBS series “Prehistoric Road Trip,” takes us along for the ride to some of the big geologic sites across the country. She talks about the future of museums and science communication. “Prehistoric Road Trip” is currently streaming on pbs.org

There’s a whole thriving, diverse microbiome that lives in your home. One 2010 study of North Carolina homes found an average of 2,000 types of microbes per house. And there’s likely a menagerie of arthropods living with you, too. Another study found that homes contain an average population of about a hundred invertebrate species, including spiders, mites, earwigs, cockroaches, and moths.

There’s no need to panic: These thriving ecosystems are doing us more good than we give them credit for. Children who grow up exposed to an abundance of microbes are less sensitive to allergens, and appear to have better developed immune systems throughout their lives. Science journalist Emily Anthes talks about the indoor microbiome in her new book, The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness. She joins Ira to discuss what she learned about the unique microbiome of her own home while writing the book, and the vast biodiversity of the indoors.

In the last year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has launched more than 500 small satellites, the beginning of a project that Musk says will create a worldwide network of internet access for those who currently lack it. But there’s a problem: The reflective objects in their low-earth orbit shine brighter than actual stars in the 90 minutes after sunset. In astronomical images taken during these times, the ‘constellations’ of closely grouped satellites show up as bright streaks of light that distort images of far-away galaxies.

With SpaceX planning to launch up to 12,000 satellites, and other companies contemplating thousands more, the entire night sky might change—and not just at twilight. Astronomers have voiced concerns that these satellites will disrupt sensitive data collection needed to study exoplanets, near-earth asteroids, dark matter, and more. And there’s another question on the minds of scientists, photographers, Indigenous communities, and everyone else who places high value on the darkness of the night sky: Who gets to decide to put all these objects in space in the first place? 

Astronomers Aparna Venkatesan and James Lowenthal discuss the risks of too many satellites, both to science and culture, and why it may be time to update the laws that govern space to include more voices. Plus, astronomer Annette Lee of the Lakota tribe sends a message about her cultural relationship with the night sky.

Plus, NASA is asking amateur astronomers and photography enthusiasts to take as many pictures as they can of the Starlink “streaks.” You can help NASA document the night sky—and the changes happening there—by uploading your sky photos to the Satellite Streak Watcher research project. All you need to get started is a digital camera or smartphone, a tripod, and a long exposure on a clear evening. Click here to participate!

Jul 10 2020

46mins

Play

Degrees of Change: Changing Behavior. July 10, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

Over the past months, our Degrees of Change series has looked at some of the many ways our actions affect the climate, and how our changing climate is affecting us—from the impact of the fashion industry on global emissions to the ways in which coastal communities are adapting to rising tides.

But beyond the graphs and figures, how do you get people to actually take action? And are small changes in behavior enough—or is a reshaping of society needed to deal with the climate crisis?

Climate journalist Eric Holthaus and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, talk with Ira about creating a climate revolution, the parallels between the climate crisis and other conversations about social structures like Black Lives Matter, and the challenges of working towards a better future in the midst of the chaos of 2020. Then Matthew Goldberg, a researcher at the Yale Project on Climate Communication, shares some tips for having difficult climate conversations with friends and family

More than 200 scientists this week wrote a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), reporting there’s a good chance that COVID-19 can be spread through the air. While the WHO has previously said most transmission happens from direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, these experts say the virus can actually stay suspended in the air. If this is true, it’s bad news for people who gather in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. A lot of questions remain, however, about if this is accurate. 

Joining Ira to talk about this story, and more is Nsikan Akpan, a science editor at National Geographic, based in Washington, D.C. 

Jul 10 2020

46mins

Play

Summer Science Books, Naked Mole Rats. July 3, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

The pandemic has nixed many summer vacation plans, but our summer science book list will help you still escape. While staying socially distant, you can take a trip to the great outdoors to unlock the mysteries of bird behaviors. Or instead of trekking to a museum, you can learn about the little-known history of lightbulbs, clocks, and other inventions.

Our guests Stephanie Sendaula and Sarah Olson Michel talk with Ira about their favorite science book picks for summer reading.

Naked mole rats, native to East Africa, are strange mammals: They’re almost completely hairless. They live in underground colonies, like ants. And, like ants and bees, they have a single reproducing “queen.”

Their biology is also unique: They resist cancer, live a long time for such small rodents (often for 30 years or more), and have been found not just to tolerate high, normally toxic levels of carbon dioxide in their nests—but require them. And in the newest strange discovery, researchers writing in Cell earlier this year found that mole rats were prone to anxiety and even seizures when carbon dioxide levels get too low, such as in an environment similar to above-ground air.

Ira talks to the paper’s co-author Dan McCloskey, a neuroscientist at the City University of New York. McCloskey explains why mole rat brains might be helpful guides to human brains, especially in the case of infants who have seizures with high fevers. Plus, the mystery of how such homebodies found new colonies, and other naked mole rat oddities.

Jul 03 2020

46mins

Play

Making The Outdoors Great For Everyone. July 3, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

It’s the start to a holiday weekend, which often means spending time outdoors, whether that’s going to the beach, on a hike, or grilling in a park. But not everyone feels safe enjoying the great outdoors—and we’re not talking about getting mosquito bites or sunburns.

In late May, a white woman, Amy Cooper, called the police on a Black bird watcher who asked her to leash her dog. This incident felt familiar to many other Black outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom had encountered similar experiences of racism outside.

To understand why the outdoors is an unwelcoming place for some people, we need to look back at our violent history. Joining Ira to talk about this is Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of the book Black Faces, White Spaces. She is also a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

And later in the conversation, Ira is joined by two scientists, biology graduate student Corina Newsome from Statesboro, Georgia, and exploration geoscientist Tim Shin from Houston, Texas. They’ll talk about what it’s like to do fieldwork while Black, and what responsibility academic institutions should have in keeping their students safe.

As coronavirus cases surge across the U.S., including in Texas, Florida, Arizona, and California, it’s more important than ever to have an accurate and real-time understanding of transmission. Epidemiologists have been measuring the spread of the virus based on the number of individual people who test positive. But depending on when people get tested, and how long it takes to get their results, confirmed cases can lag days behind actual infections.

Luckily, there’s another way to find out where people are getting sick: The virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in feces, and for months, researchers have been studying whether sampling sewage systems can help identify new outbreaks faster.

Scientific American technology editor Sophie Bushwick joins Ira to talk about the value of sewage tracing for COVID-19. Plus, a new sparrow song has gone viral in Canada, and why summer fireworks can damage not only your hearing, but also your lungs.

Jul 03 2020

47mins

Play

Honeybee Health, Assessing COVID Risk, Seeing Numbers. June 26, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

This past year was a strange one for beekeepers. According to a survey from the nonprofit Bee Informed Partnership, U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40% of their honey bee colonies between April of 2019 and April of 2020. That’s significantly more than normal.

The Bee Informed Partnership has surveyed professional and amateur beekeepers for the past 14 years to monitor how their colonies are doing. They reach more than 10% of beekeepers in the U.S., so their survey is thought to be a pretty accurate look at what’s going on across the country.

That’s why these latest results are so important—and they raise a lot of questions for honey bee researchers. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating a lot of the food grown in the U.S. If they’re in trouble, we’re in trouble.

Nathalie Steinhauer, research coordinator for the Bee Informed Partnership in College Park, Maryland, joins producer Kathleen Davis to talk about the report, and what it means for our beloved pollinators.

As coronavirus cases spike in re-opened states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida, you may be wondering how to weigh the risks of socializing—whether it’s saying yes to a socially distant barbecue, going on a date, or meeting an old friend for coffee.

Many health departments and media outlets have offered guides to being safer while out and about. But when the messages are confusing, or you’re facing a new situation, how can you apply what you know about the virus to make the best choice for you?

Ira talks to Oni Blackstock, a primary care physician and an assistant commissioner at the New York City Health Department, and Abraar Karan, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, about minimizing risk, and why an all-or-nothing approach to COVID-19 can do more harm than good.

Imagine looking at an elementary school poster that shows the alphabet, and the numbers one through 10. The letters make perfect sense to you, as do the numbers zero and one. But instead of a curvy number “2,” or the straight edges of the number “4,” all you see is a messy tangle of lines. That’s the phenomenon experienced by RFS, a man identified only by his initials for privacy reasons.

In 2011, RFS was diagnosed with a condition called corticobasal syndrome, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Normally, that rare condition primarily affects motor circuitry in the brain. However, RFS had an additional symptom—while he was very skilled at math, he became unable to see the written digits 2 through 9. When RFS looked at one of those numbers, he saw in its place something “very strange” that he could only describe as “visual spaghetti.” Even weirder, other images placed on top of or nearby the digits also became completely distorted.

Teresa Schubert and David Rothlein, two scientists who studied RFS’ case as graduate students, discuss what this unusual phenomenon tells us about how the human brain processes incoming visual information.

Jun 26 2020

46mins

Play

Checking In On Kids’ Mental Health During the Pandemic. June 26, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

In the U.S., we’re heading into the fourth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing and lockdowns have taken a toll on everyone’s mental and emotional well-being—including children and teens, many of whom may be having trouble processing what’s going on. 

Psychologists Archana Basu and Robin Gurwitch discuss the unique issues the pandemic brings up for children and teens. They talk about how parents and caregivers can support the mental health of the kids and teens in their lives, helping them better cope with isolation and uncertainty, as well as learning remotely during the pandemic

Jun 26 2020

46mins

Play

SciFri Extra: A Pragmatic Wishlist For AI Ethics

Podcast cover
Read more

Earlier this month, three major tech companies publicly distanced themselves from the facial recognition tools used by police: IBM said they would stop all such research, while Amazon and Microsoft said they would push pause on any plans to give facial recognition technology to domestic law enforcement. And just this week, the city of Boston banned facial surveillance technology entirely.

Why? Facial recognition algorithms built by companies like Amazon have been found to misidentify people of color, especially women of color, at higher rates—meaning when police use facial recognition to identify suspects who are not white, they are more likely to arrest the wrong person. 

CEOs are calling for national laws to govern this technology, or programming solutions to remove the racial biases and other inequities from their code. But there are others who want to ban it entirely—and completely re-envision how AI is developed and used in communities.

In this SciFri Extra, we continue a conversation between producer Christie Taylor, Deborah Raji from NYU’s AI Now Institute, and Princeton University’s Ruha Benjamin about how to pragmatically move forward to build artificial intelligence technology that takes racial justice into account—whether you’re an AI researcher, a tech company, or a policymaker.

Jun 24 2020

16mins

Play

Facial Recognition, Hummingbird Vision, Moon Lander. June 19, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more
Protests Shine Light On Facial Recognition Tech Problems

Earlier this month, three major tech companies publicly distanced themselves from the facial recognition tools used by police. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna explained their company's move was because of facial recognition’s use in racial profiling and mass surveillance. Facial recognition algorithms built by companies like Amazon have been found to misidentify people of color, especially women of color, at higher rates—meaning when police use facial recognition to identify suspects who are not white, they are more likely to arrest the wrong person.

Nevertheless, companies have been pitching this technology to the government. CEOs are calling for national laws to govern this technology, or programming solutions to remove the racial biases and other inequities from their code. But there are others who want to ban it entirely—and completely re-envisioning how AI is developed and used in communities.

SciFri producer Christie Taylor talks to Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist, and AI researcher Deborah Raji about the relationship between AI and racial injustice, and their visions for slower, more community-oriented processes for tech and data science.

Hummingbirds See Beyond The Rainbow

Conventional wisdom suggests hummingbirds really like the color red—it’s the reason many commercial hummingbird feeders are made to look like a kind of red blossom. But it turns out that two items that both look “red” to humans may look very different to a hummingbird. That’s because these birds can see colors that humans cannot.

Humans see colors through photoreceptors called cones, and we have three of them for red, green, and blue colors. But most birds, reptiles, and even some fish also have fourth cone that’s sensitive to UV light. That means they can see further into the spectrum than we can, and that they can see “non-spectral colors”—combinations of colors that aren’t directly adjacent on the rainbow, such as red+UV and green+UV.

Mary Caswell Stoddard, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, set out to study whether hummingbirds actually make use of that ability in their everyday lives. Her team's research was published this week in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A NASA Rover Is Catching A Private Ride To The Moon

Last week, NASA announced that it had signed a $199.5 million contract with the private company Astrobotic to deliver NASA’s VIPER rover to the moon in 2023. The company will be responsible for the rover for getting the rover from Earth into space, up until the moment the rover rolls onto the lunar surface near the moon’s south pole. The rover is designed to explore for water and other resources—especially the large stores of water ice that scientists suspect may be frozen in lunar polar regions. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton joins Ira to talk about the challenges of building a new lunar lander, and the increasing involvement of commercial industry in the U.S. space program.

Jun 19 2020

47mins

Play

Doctor Burnout, International Doctors. June 19, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more
A Crisis Of Health In Healthcare Workers

Content Warning: This segment contains talk of suicide. For help for people considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Depression and anxiety are extremely common in healthcare workers, and they have higher rates of suicide than the general public—doctors in particular are twice as likely to die by suicide. That’s when the world is operating normally. Now, healthcare workers are also dealing with a devastating pandemic, and the uncertainty surrounding a new disease. And some healthcare workers are using what little emotional labor they have left to advocate in the streets and online for racial justice. 

Joining Ira to talk about burnout in the healthcare industry are Steven McDonald, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, and Kali Cyrus, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Insights From International Doctors On The Frontlines Of The Pandemic

In March, governors Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsome in California put out a call for medical professionals to come to their states to help with the COVID-19 crisis. Many of those on the frontlines aren’t just from out of the state, but from out of the country. International medical professionals are estimated to make up a quarter of working doctors in the U.S.  

Journalist Max Blau talks about the role of international doctors in the U.S. medical system and how they have been affected during the pandemic. Then international resident physicians Quinn Lougheide and Muhammad Jahanzaib Anwar share stories from aiding COVID-19 patients in Bronx, New York.

PG&E Guilty Plea Sets A Precedent For Climate Change Culpability

In 2018, the devastating Camp Fire wildfire swept through northern California, killing 84 people. Utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, was deemed to be responsible for the spark that caused the fire. This week, the company pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter for the deaths, marking the first case of its kind. The decision sets a precedent for future legal battles over holding companies accountable for climate change, and how that burden should be split. 

Vox staff writer Umair Irfan joins Ira to talk about the PG&E case, plus more on why a second round of COVID-19 lockdowns might not work as well as the first shelter in place orders.

Jun 19 2020

47mins

Play

Proactive Policing, The Social Brain. June 12, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more

In the 1980s and 1990s, in the midst of rising crime rates and a nationally waning confidence in policing, law enforcement around the country adopted a different approach to addressing crime. Instead of just reacting to crime when it happened, officers decided they’d try to prevent it from happening in the first place, employing things like “hot spots” policing and “stop and frisk,” or “terry stops.” The strategy is what criminologists call proactive policing, and it’s now become widely used in police departments across the nation, especially in cities.

Critics and experts debate how effective these tactics are in lowering crime rates. While there’s some evidence that proactive policing does reduce crime, now public health researchers are questioning if the practice—which sometimes results in innocent people being stopped, searched, and detained—comes with other unintended physical and mental health consequences.

Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska Omaha and an expert in police accountability, reviews what led police departments to adopt a more proactive approach, while medical sociologist Alyasah Ali Sewell explains the physical and mental health impacts of stop-question-and-frisk policing.

Over the past few months, people’s social lives have transformed. We’re now told to stay home, and when we do go out, to maintain at least six feet between ourselves and others—forget about a handshake or a hug. Many are now isolated in their homes, with just a screen and its two-dimensional images to keep them company. But our brains are wired for social connections. “We’re social primates,” says psychiatrist Julie Holland. “It’s in the job description.” 

Holland’s new book, Good Chemistry: The Science of Connection, from Soul to Psychedelics, looks at what happens to the brain’s chemistry when we connect socially, and how devastating disconnections can be. She joins Ira to talk about the social life of the brain, community, and the mental health impact of the stressful times we’re living in.

Jun 12 2020

46mins

Play

Anthony Fauci On The Pandemic’s Future. June 12, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

During the pandemic, immunologist Anthony Fauci has gained fame as “America’s doctor.” He’s a leading scientist in the government’s response to COVID-19, and a celebrated teller of truths—uncomfortable as they may be—like how long the world may have to wait for a vaccine, or the lack of evidence for using the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients.

He’s also not new to public health crises created by new pathogens. If history is any indicator, it is not a matter of if, but when another outbreak of disease will come, Fauci says.

“There will be emerging and re-emerging infections in our history, it’s been that way forever. We’re seeing it now. And we will continue to see emerging and re-emerging infections,” Fauci tells Ira during the interview. “We can expect, but you can’t predict when. It may be well beyond the lifespan of you and I. But sooner or later, we’re going to get other serious outbreaks. So we have to maintain the memory of a degree of preparedness that would allow us to respond in an effective way the next time we get something like this.”

He and Ira reflect on the AIDS epidemic, lessons learned from past pandemics, and what the path out of the COVID-19 crisis may look like.

Jun 12 2020

47mins

Play

Breast Cancer Cultural History, Butterfly Wings. June 5, 2020, Part 2

Podcast cover
Read more
‘Radical’ Explores The Hidden History Of Breast Cancer 

Nearly 270,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, along with a couple thousand men. But the disease manifests in many different ways, meaning few patients have the same story to tell. 

Journalist Kate Pickert collects many of those stories in her book Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America. And one of those stories is her own. As she writes about her own journey with breast cancer, Pickert delves into the history of breast cancer treatment—first devised by a Scottish medical student studying sheep in the 1800s—and chronicles the huge clinical trials for blockbuster drugs in the 80s and 90s—one of which required armies of people to harvest timber from the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest. 

She joins Ira Flatow to tell her story, and the surprising cultural history of breast cancer

With Butterfly Wings, There’s More Than Meets The Eye 

Scientists are learning that butterfly wings are more than just a pretty adornment. Once thought to be made up of non-living cells, new research suggests that portions of a butterfly wing are actually alive—and serve a very useful purpose. 

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Naomi Pierce, curator of Lepidoptera at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, found that nano-structures within the wing help regulate the wing’s temperature, an important function that keeps the thin membrane from overheating in the sun. They also discovered a “wing heart” that beats a few dozen times per minute to facilitate the directional flow of insect blood or hemolymph. 

Pierce joins Ira to talk about her work and the hidden structures of butterfly wings. Plus, Nipam Patel, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, talks about how butterfly wing structure is an important component of the dazzling color on some butterfly wings.

Jun 05 2020

46mins

Play

Police Behavior Research, Dermatology In Skin Of Color, Coffee Extraction. June 5, 2020, Part 1

Podcast cover
Read more

This week, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans by police brutality and racial inequality continue to fuel demonstrations around the nation. In many cities, police are using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other control tactics on protesters. 

A history of 50 years of research reveals what makes a protest safe for participants and police alike. The findings show that police response is what makes the biggest difference: de-escalating and building trust supports peaceful demonstrations rather than responding with weapons and riot gear.

And, as thousands of protesters risk abrasive, cough-inducing tear gas and mass arrests, health researchers are concerned a militant response could increase demonstrators’ risk of acquiring COVID-19. 

Maggie Koerth, senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight and a Minneapolis, Minnesota resident, joins Ira to discuss these stories.

Dermatologists presented with a new patient have a number of symptoms to look at in order to diagnose. Does the patient have a rash, bumps, or scaling skin? Is there redness, inflammation, or ulceration? For rare conditions a doctor may have never seen in person before, it’s likely that they were trained on photos of the conditions—or can turn to colleagues who may themselves have photos.

But in people with darker, melanin-rich skin, the same skin conditions can look drastically different, or be harder to spot at all—and historically, there have been fewer photos of these conditions on darker-skinned patients. And for these patients, detection and diagnosis can be life-saving: people of color get less melanoma, for example, but are also less likely to survive it.

Dr. Jenna Lester, who started one of the few clinics in the country to focus on such patients, explains the need for more dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat people with darker skin tones—and why the difference can be both life-saving and life-altering.

A cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a ritual—from grinding the beans to boiling the water and brewing your cup. But following those steps won’t always get you a consistent pour. Researchers developed a mathematical model to determine how the size of grind affects water flow and the amount of coffee that gets into the final liquid. Their results were published in the journal Matter.

Computational chemist Christopher Hendon, who was an author on that study, talks about how understanding atomic vibration, particle size distribution, and water chemistry can help you brew the perfect cup of coffee.

Jun 05 2020

47mins

Play

iTunes Ratings

3417 Ratings
Average Ratings
2370
461
224
171
191

What about the doctors

By wolfie/wolf - May 29 2020
Read more
What about the other hundreds of doctors using hydrox(speeding) who really say it has work?? And the Democratic state representatives who says it saved her life. Then was censored by the Democratic Party? And the New York Governor who endorse the Test then had to take it back because of his party.? His own brother was taking it. Talk about all the models that were proven so wrong when doom and gloom didn’t hit. Why was New York City the only place with such a high rate of death And what about the polar bears that aren’t dying but doing better than expected?? Can’t you report the good news???

Take the calls

By Loserofgames - May 25 2020
Read more
I have no idea why you can’t take the calls of the listeners other than yo pre-record the show now. There are other shows that still take calls. It is part of there show. Adopt their way of taking calls. You’re not going to get Covid-19 by taking calls through the calls. Wait Wait still takes calls but doesn’t have a live audience anymore. They went back to the old ways before that had live audiences. I may not be a person that calls but other people should be able to call in. You have shown that you don’t just take calls but still get questions from your listeners. I see no real need to cut out the calls just because of Covid-19. Work it out.