Rank #1: COVID-19 Factcheck, Digital Earth Day, City Nature Challenge, Ancient Antarctic Forest. April 17, 2020, Part 2
These days, newsfeeds are overloaded with stories of the coronavirus, but Science Friday continues to explain the science behind COVID-19 headlines. Here, we learn about South Korea reports of 116 patients who recovered from the disease tested positive. Angela Rasmussen, associate research scientist and virologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, breaks down how reactivation works in viruses in diseases such as herpes. Plus, Rasmussen talks about human challenge trials—where participants are given a vaccine and inoculated with a virus—and the debate over the usage of these trials to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.Earth Day Goes Digital
Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, marking five decades of environmental actions, like community cleanup, planting trees, or marching in the streets.
But this year, coronavirus has led to the cancellation of planned marches and large-scale events. Instead, many people will be participating in a digital Earth Day. Ira talks to Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network about what people can do to participate, parallels between climate change and coronavirus, and environmental action in the age of the Trump administration.Uncovering Antarctica's Rainforest
Scientists found 90 million-year-old evidence that Antarctica wasn’t always a snow-covered continent. New ice core research provides evidence that the frozen land was once a temperature rainforest. Marine geologist Johann Klages, an author on the study, discusses what temperature the Earth would need to be to support such an environment in Antarctica, and how that can be used to create more accurate climate models.Show Off Your Backyard Birds And Bugs
Get involved in Citizen Science Month by snapping pictures of nature from your backyard with City Nature Challenge.
Apr 17 2020
Rank #2: Valley Fever, Citizen Science Month Finale. April 24, 2020, Part 1
When you think of fungal infections, you might think athlete’s foot or maybe ringworm—itchy, irritating reactions on the skin. But other fungal diseases can cause much more serious illness. One of them is Valley Fever, caused by the soil fungus Coccidioides. In 2018, over 15,000 people were diagnosed with coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as Valley Fever, in the United States, mainly in the American West, and in parts of Mexico, and Central and South America. But the numbers could be much higher: The disease is commonly misdiagnosed and the hot spots are difficult to pin down. Plus, the endemic region could grow with climate change.
Science Friday digital producer Lauren Young takes us into the Central Valley in California—a Valley Fever hot spot—to learn more about how the disease spreads and the people it harms. She tells the story in a new feature on Methods, from Science Friday, using video, sound, and pictures, gives you a flavor of the challenges faced by scientists working to solve big problems.
Ira brings on Valley Public Radio reporter Kerry Klein, who helped us report this story, to tell us more about the communities Valley Fever is impacting and new treatments. He also talks with UCSF microbiologist Anita Sil to dig deep into fungal pathogens and the latest research.
This year’s Citizen Science Month may be winding down at the end of April, but you can help researchers collect and analyze their data all year long.
This week, citizen science platform Zooniverse has not one, but four projects you can help with: data analysis tasks that will hopefully calm, soothe, distract, and divert you from life in a pandemic. Whether it’s identifying cute raccoons in camera trap photos, looking for seasonal wind on Mars, identifying how antibiotics kills tuberculosis in petri dishes, or even transcribing the cursive of old letters from anti-slavery activists—Zooniverse wants to help you find diversion in data.
Ira talks about these projects—and how to get involved with Zooniverse—with co-lead Laura Trouille, vice president of citizen science at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.
Learn more about Zooniverse and other SciFri Citizen Science Month partners at sciencefriday.com/citizenscience. And join our citizen science newsletter for all the latest updates on our online events here!
Apr 24 2020
Rank #3: Degrees of Change: Climate Anxiety and Depression. April 17, 2020, Part 1
As the consequences of unchecked climate change come into sharper focus—wildfires in the Amazon and Australia, rising seas in low-lying Pacific Islands, mass coral bleaching around the world—what is to be done about the emotional devastation that people feel as a result?
In 2007, Australian eco-philosopher Glenn Albrecht described this feeling as homesickness “for a home that no longer exists,” which he called “solastalgia.” Others have settled on terms like “climate grief,” or, since environmental devastation can come without a changing climate, simply “ecological grief.”
For this chapter of Degrees of Change, Ira talks about adapting emotionally to climate change. First, he speaks with psychologist Renee Lertzman and public health geographer Ashlee Cunsolo about their research on the phenomenon of grief tied to environmental loss, and what they’ve learned about how people can adapt their grief into actions that can make a difference. Then, climate researcher Kate Marvel and essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar share their experiences simultaneously working on climate change, and grieving it.Inequality In The Air
Air quality is a known public health threat, attributed to seven million deaths around the world every year. Minorities, especially African-Americans, often live in areas of high air pollution. Now, scientists say pollution is linked to high rates of COVID-19 deaths, which may help explain why people of color are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.
Vox reporter Umair Irfan speaks with Ira about the pandemic’s inequitable impacts for some communities, as well as other coronavirus and climate change news from the past week.
Apr 17 2020
Rank #4: Migraines, Galaxy Formation. Jan 10, 2020, Part 2
What do sensitivity to light, a craving for sweets and excessive yawning have in common? They’re all things that may let you know you’re about to have a migraine. Of course each person’s experience of this disease—which impacts an estimated 38 million people in the U.S.—can be very different. One person may be sensitive to light while another is sensitive to sound. Your pain may be sharp like a knife while your friend’s may be dull and pulsating. Or perhaps you don’t have any pain at all, but your vision gets temporarily hazy or wiggly. This week Ira is joined by two migraine experts, Elizabeth Loder, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Peter Goadsby, professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco, who explain what’s going on in the brain of a migraineur to cause such disparate symptoms. Plus, why some treatments work for some and not others, from acupuncture and magnesium supplements, to a new FDA approved medication that goes straight to the source.How Do Galaxies Get Into Formation?
The Milky Way and distant galaxies are a mix of gas, dust, and stars. And while all of this is swirling in space, there is a structure to a galaxy that holds all of this cosmic dust in order. A group of researchers discovered a nearly 9,000 light year-long wave of “stellar nurseries”—star forming regions filled with gas and dust—running through the Milky Way, and could form part of the galaxy’s arm.
The study was published in the journal Nature. Astronomers Alyssa Goodman and Catherine Zucker, who are authors on that study, tell us what this star structure can tell us about the formation of our galaxy.
Plus, astrophysicist Sangeeta Malhotra talks about one of the oldest galaxies formed 680 million years after the big bang, and the difference between these ancient galaxies and our own.
Jan 10 2020
Rank #5: Geoengineering Climate Change, Tasmanian Tiger, New Water Plan. Jan 3, 2020, Part 1
In the context of climate change, geoengineering refers to deliberate, large-scale manipulations of the planet to slow the effects of human-induced global warming—whether by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it safely, or altering the atmosphere to reflect the amount of incoming sunlight that is absorbed as heat.
But neither strategy is uncomplicated to deploy. Carbon capture is expensive and is often used to enhance fossil fuel extraction, not to actually reduce emissions. Meanwhile, altering our atmosphere would require maintenance indefinitely until we actually reduce emissions—that, or risk a whiplash of warming that plants could not adapt to.
UCLA researcher Holly Buck is the author of a new book that examines these complexities. She explains to Ira why geoengineering could still be a valid strategy for buying time while we reduce emissions, and why any serious deployment of geoengineering technology would require a re-imagining of society as well.
Welcome to the Charismatic Creature Corner! Last month, we introduced this new monthly segment about creatures (broadly defined) that we deem charismatic (even more broadly defined).
In the first creature spotlight, we marveled at slime molds, which look and feel like snot but can solve mazes. This time, a far more conventionally charismatic creature was nominated—but one mired in tragedy and mystery.
Meet the Tasmanian tiger, believed to have gone extinct decades ago, but spotted all over Australia to this day.
Tasmanian tigers, also known as “thylacines,” look like dogs, have stripes like tigers, but aren’t closely related to either because they’re actually marsupials. They have pouches like kangaroos and koalas, and are even believed to have hopped on two feet at times!
The last known Tasmanian tiger died in a zoo in 1936 and they were declared extinct in the 1980s, but people claim to have never stopped seeing them. There have been thousands of sightings of Tasmanian tigers, crossing roads and disappearing into the bush, lurking around campsites, even following people on their way home. But solid proof eludes us. So if they’re truly still around, they’re particularly sneaky at hiding from modern surveillance.
Science Friday’s Elah Feder returns to convince Ira that Tasmanian tigers—dead or alive—are indeed worthy of our coveted Charismatic Creature title, with the help of Gregory Berns, a psychology professor at Emory University. We also hear from Neil Waters, president of the Thylacine Awareness Group of Australia, who’s dedicating the next two years of his life to finding proof the tigers are still out there.
Nara Bopp was working at a thrift store in Moab, Utah the morning of March 4 when her desk started moving.
“I immediately assumed that it was a garbage truck,” Bopp said.
She looked out the window. No garbage truck. No construction nearby either. So she did the same thing she does every time something weird happens in Moab: She logged onto the town’s unofficial Facebook page to see what was up.
“Pretty much everyone was saying: ‘Did you just feel that earthquake?’ or, ‘Did you just feel something shaking? Was that an earthquake? Does Moab even get earthquakes? This is crazy,’” Bopp said.
Moab doesn’t normally have earthquakes people can feel. This one—at a magnitude 4.5—didn’t cause any damage. But it was enough to get people’s attention in communities all along the Utah-Colorado border. Many took to social media to post about the uncharacteristic shaking.
Earthquakes can feel like a freak of nature, something that strikes at random. But not this one. There’s no question where it came from and that human activity caused it.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the Colorado River and its tributaries have been dammed and diverted to sustain the growth of massive cities and large-scale farming in the American Southwest. Attempts to bend the river system to humanity’s will have also led to all kinds of unintended consequences. In Colorado’s Paradox Valley, those unintended consequences take the form of earthquakes.
Jan 03 2020
Rank #6: Coronavirus Update, Genuine Fakes, Neanderthal News. Feb. 21, 2020, Part 2
There are two ways to grow a diamond. You can dig one up from the Earth—a product of billions of years of pressure and heat placed on carbon. Or you can make one in a lab—by applying lots of that same heat and pressure to tiny starter crystals—and get it made much faster.
Put these two objects under a microscope and they look exactly the same. But is the lab-grown diamond real or fake?
The answer lies somewhere in between. The same goes for many other things, like artificial flavors or our favorite nature documentaries that put a sensational spin on an otherwise unvarnished look at wildlife.
Writer and historian Lydia Pyne would call them “genuine fakes” and she explores some of them in her latest book Genuine Fakes: How Phony Things Teach Us About Real Stuff. She joins Ira to talk about the vast gray area between real and fake when it comes to science.How Are COVID-19 Numbers Counted?
This week, the death toll attributed to the new coronavirus outbreak passed 2,000 people. And while that number is solid, many of the other numbers involved with this disease, including the total number infected and the degree of transmissibility of the virus, change from day to day. Those shifting numbers are in part due to changes in how countries, such as China, are diagnosing patients and defining who is “infected.”
It can be difficult to know what information deserves attention, especially when information on possible transmission routes and timelines for vaccine development shift constantly. Helen Branswell, senior reporter on infection diseases at STAT, joins Ira for an update on COVID-19 and a conversation about evaluating medical information in the midst of a developing story.An Ancient Burial In A Famous Cave
Recently, modern archaeologists returned to Shanidar Cave, located in what is now Kurdistan, and found more Neanderthal remains, including a partial “articulated” skeleton that appears to have been deliberately positioned in a trench near the earlier discoveries.
Emma Pomeroy, a lecturer in the department of archeology at Cambridge University, was the osteologist on the recent archeological team. She says the new find could provide insights into how Neanderthals viewed their dead, their sense of self, and more.
Feb 21 2020
Rank #7: Coronavirus Preparedness, Facebook’s History. Feb 28, 2020, Part 2
This week, the world’s attention has turned to the spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that was first detected in Wuhan, China, late in 2019. More countries are finding cases, and in the United States, a California patient has become the first known case of possible “community spread”—where the patient had not traveled to affected areas or had known exposure to someone who had been infected. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control said Americans should prepare for “significant disruption” and “inevitable” spread of the virus in the U.S. And on Wednesday, President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence would head the country’s coronavirus response.
But what does preparation actually look like for healthcare systems that will be on the frontlines of detecting and responding to any new cases? Ira talks to infection prevention epidemiologist Saskia Popescu and public health expert Jennifer Nuzzo about the practical steps of preparing for a new pathogen, including expanding testing and making sure healthcare workers have necessary protective equipment. Plus, they address why childcare, telecommuting, and community planning may be more important than face masks for individuals who are worried about what they can do.
Facebook is a household name globally with nearly 2 billion users. Mark Zuckerberg’s goal was to connect the entire world online when he founded the company in 2006. But 14 years later, Facebook has evolved into more than a social media platform. The company has been involved in debates and scandals around user privacy, outside interference in elections, and the spread of fake news. Last summer, the Federal Trade Commission fined Facebook $5 billion for “repeatedly used deceptive disclosures and settings to undermine users’ privacy preferences in violation of its 2012 FTC order.”
Journalist Steven Levy has been following Zuckerberg and the company since the beginning. In his new book Facebook: The Inside Story he chronicles Zuckerberg’s growth and data-driven approach and how that influenced the tactics the company applied to the problems that resulted from the platform.
Feb 28 2020
Rank #8: 2019 Year In Review. Dec 27 2019, Part 1
In 2019 we experienced some painful and heartbreaking moments—like the burning of the Amazon rainforest, a worldwide resurgence of measles cases, and the first ever deaths linked to vaping.
Ira talks with this year’s panel of science news experts, Wendy Zukerman, Rachel Feltman, and Umair Irfan, live on stage at Caveat in New York City.
Plus, as we turn the corner into 2020, Science Friday listeners weigh in with their picks for the best science moment of the decade.
Dec 27 2019
Rank #9: Coronavirus, Great Lakes Drinking Water. Jan 24, 2020, Part 1
A novel coronavirus—the type of virus that causes SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and common cold symptoms—has killed 18 people, and sickened more than 600. In response, Chinese officials have quarantined several huge cities, where some 20 million people live. In this segment, Ira talks with epidemiologists Saskia Popescu and Ian Lipkin about what we know about the virus, how it appears to spread, and whether efforts to contain it are effective—or ethical.
Do you know where your drinking water comes from? For more than 40 million people in the Great Lakes Basin, the answer is the abundant waters of Lake Michigan, Ontario, Erie, Huron, or Superior.
This winter, the Science Friday Book Club has been reading Dan Egan’s The Death And Life of the Great Lakes, and unpacking the drastic ecological changes facing these bodies of water in the last century and beyond. But what about the changes to the water that might affect people who drink it? And does everyone who lives on the lakes actually have equal access? Great Lakes Now reporter Gary Wilson unpacks some of the threats to clean drinking water faced by the region’s residents, from Flint’s lead pipes to Lake Erie’s algae blooms to shutoffs for those who can’t afford to pay.
And Kristi Pullen Fedinick of the Natural Resources Defense Council explains a recent report that connected disproportionate levels of drinking water contamination to communities that are poorer or dominated by people of color—all over the country.
Finally, Science Diction host Johanna Mayer explains the origins of the word “mercury,” another pollutant that has plagued the Great Lakes.
This week business leaders, celebrities, and government officials from around the world met in Davos, Switzerland—and one of the topics was trees. The Trillion Tree campaign, a collaboration between several of the world’s largest environmental organizations, wants to combat global deforestation around the world But at the same time, work published in the journal Global Change Biology indicates that tree planting can lead to unintended consequences.
The researchers found that increased levels of forest can reduce the available water in nearby rivers dramatically, cutting river flow by as much as 23% after five years and 38% after 25 years. The effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than wetter ones. The type of soil conditions also have an effect—trees planted on healthy grassland have a larger impact on river flow than forests on former degraded agricultural land.
David Coomes, Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and one of the authors of the paper, joins Ira to talk about the pros and cons of reforestation.
Jan 24 2020
Rank #10: Spring Sounds, Luxury Ostrich Eggs, ISeeChange. April 10, 2020, Part 2
You may be trapped inside, but outside, it’s bird migration season. Flowers are blooming from coast to coast, and even the bees are out getting ready for a year of productive buzzing around.
Producer Christie Taylor talks to Atlanta birder and Birds of North America host Jason Ward, and Nature Conservancy land steward Kari Hagenow about the best ways to get started as a new birder under quarantine. Then, University of California entomology researcher Hollis Woodard takes us to the mountains of California, where bumblebee queens are just starting to emerge to start their colonies—and why bringing bees to your yard or windowsill this summer can be as joyful an act as birding.The Luxury Ostrich Eggs Of The Bronze And Iron Age Upper Class
In the Iron and Bronze age, one of the luxury goods of choice was to put a highly decorated ostrich egg in your tomb. These status symbols have been found in multiple European Iron and Bronze Age locations, despite ostriches not being indigenous to the area. A team of scientists wanted to know the origins of these eggs—and just how they made it from Africa into the hands of the Iron and Bronze Age elite. Mediterranean archaeologist Tamar Hodos, an author on the study recently published in Antiquity, explains how the team determined that these eggs came from wild ostriches, rather than captive birds, and what this reveals about the ancient luxury trade.Citizen Scientists Are Helping Document Our Changing Planet
Our community science continues this week with a project about how climate change touches neighborhoods and the people who live in them. Ira talks to Julia Kumari Drapkin, the CEO and founder of ISeeChange, about how citizen observations about rainfall, new spring flowers, and even how you feel can be valuable data for climate science—plus, how tracking that data benefits you.
Apr 10 2020
Rank #11: Coronavirus: Washing and Sanitizing, Science Diction, New HIV PrEP Drugs. March 13, 2020, Part 1
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
Rank #12: Coronavirus Fact-Check, Poetry of Science, Social Bats. March 20, 2020, Part 2
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
Rank #13: Building A Ghost Heart, The Effect Of Big Tech. Feb 14, 2020, Part 2
The human heart is one of the most complicated organs in our body. The heart is, in a way, like a machine—the muscular organ pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood in an adult human every day. But can we construct a heart in the lab? Some scientists are turning to engineering to find ways to preserve that constant lub dub when a heart stops working.
One team of researchers created a biohybrid heart, which combines a pig heart and mechanical parts. The team could control the beating motion of the heart to test pacemakers and other devices. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances in January. Mechanical engineering student Clara Park, an author on that study, talks about what it takes to engineer a biohybrid heart and how this model could be used in the future to develop implantable hearts and understand heart failure.
At the Texas Heart Institute, Doris Taylor is developing a regenerative method for heart construction. She pioneered the creation of “ghost hearts”—animals hearts that are stripped of their original cells and injected with stem cells to create a personalized heart. So far, Taylor has only developed the technique with animal hearts, but in the future these ghost hearts could be used as scaffolds to grow transplant hearts for patients. Taylor talks about how much we know about the heart and why it continues to fascinate us.
Last month Microsoft announced it is opening an office to represent itself to the United Nations. But what’s a tech company have to do with the U.N.? Meet the “Net State.” In her book The Information Trade: How Big Tech Conquers Countries, Challenges Our Rights, and Transforms Our World, Alexis Wichowski writes about how big tech companies are becoming much more than technology providers, and what it means for world citizens when powerful government-like entities—the “Net States”—transcend physical borders and laws.
Feb 14 2020
Rank #14: Tech And Empathy, The Ball Method. Feb 7, 2020, Part 2
Much of technology was built on the promise of connecting people across the world, fostering a sense of community. But as much as technology gives us, it also may be taking away one of the things that makes us most human—empathy.Meet Alice Ball, Unsung Pioneer In Leprosy Treatment
In 1915, an infection with leprosy (also called Hansen’s disease) often meant a death sentence. Patients were commonly sent into mandatory quarantine in “leper colonies,” never to return. Before the development of the drug Promin in the 1940s, one of the few somewhat-effective treatments for leprosy was use of an oil extracted from the chaulmoogra tree. However, that oil was not readily water soluble, making it difficult for the human body to absorb.
A new short film, The Ball Method, tells the story of Alice Ball, a young African-American chemist. Ball was able to discover a method for extracting compounds from the oil and modifying them to become more soluble—a modification that led to the development of an injectable treatment for leprosy. Dagmawi Abebe, director of the film, joins Ira to tell the story of Alice Ball.
Feb 07 2020
Rank #15: Farmers’ Stress, Tiny Dino-Bird Discovery. March 13, 2020, Part 2
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
Rank #16: Ask A Dentist. Feb. 21, 2020, Part 1
Most of us spend our time at the dentist holding our mouths open, saying “ahhh,” and occasionally sticking out our tongues. But if you could ask a dentist anything, what would you want to know?
Ira asks University of Utah researcher Rena D’Souza and UPenn’s Mark Wolff about cavity formation, the oral microbiome, gum disease, and the future of stem cells in teeth restoration. Plus, NYU researcher Rodrigo Lacruz explains new research on how excessive fluoride can disrupt tooth cell functions and why you should still keep drinking that fluoridated tap water.East Africans Battle A Plague Of Locusts Brought On By Climate Change
A swarm of locusts the size of a city may sound biblical, but it’s the reality right now in East Africa. The pest is devouring the food supply of tens of millions of people, wreaking havoc on crops and pasturelands. Local residents are doing all they can to keep the swarms at bay, but the locusts may be here to stay for a while, as experts suggest their presence may be due to climate change.
Sarah Zhang, reporter at The Atlantic, tells us about the locust issue along with other science news from the week.Why Coal Country May Be Going Solar
A new bill passing through the West Virginia state legislature would increase the state’s solar capacity by 2,500%. Environment reporter Brittany Patterson at West Virginia Public Broadcasting tells us the State of Science.
Feb 21 2020
Rank #17: Astronaut Training, Marsquakes, Whale Migration. March 6, 2020, Part 2
If you’ve ever considered being an astronaut, this might be your chance to land that dream job. This week, NASA opened applications for a new class of astronaut candidates. It’s a full-time position based in Houston, Texas, paying over $104,000 per year. Job duties would include “conducting operations in space, including on the International Space Station (ISS) and in the development and testing of future spacecraft” and “performing extravehicular activities (EVA) and robotics operations using the remote manipulator system.” Please note that “substantial travel” is required.
How do you know if you have the ‘right stuff’ to apply?
Frank Rubio, a NASA astronaut who completed the most recent previous selection program in 2017, joins Ira to talk about what other qualities are valuable in an astronaut applicant—and the training program for those accepted.Could A “Marsquake” Knock Down Your House?
On April 6, 2019, NASA’s InSight Mars lander recorded a sound researchers had been waiting to hear for months. To the untrained listener, it may sound like someone had turned up the volume on the hum of Martian wind. But NASA researchers could hear the likely first-ever “marsquake” recorded by the mission.
NASA’s InSight carries a suite of instruments to help study what’s happening deep within the Martian surface, including an ultra-sensitive seismometer (SEIS) for detecting suspected quakes on Mars. Now closing in on the end of it’s two-year primary mission, NASA scientists are studying the seismic data they’ve collected so far, comparing it to the well-known tectonic activity of Earth, and mapping out what to explore from here. Deputy principal investigator Suzanne Smrekar joins Ira to answer our pressing marsquake questions.New Insight Into Whales On The Go
Like the seasonal migrations of birds, whales are roamers. Every year, they travel thousands of miles, from the warm waters of the equatorial regions for breeding to the colder polar waters for feeding. But how do they find their way so consistently and precisely every year?
New research in Current Biology this month adds more weight to one idea of how whales stay on course: Similar to birds, whales may detect the Earth’s magnetic field lines. Duke University graduate student Jesse Granger explains why a strong connection between gray whale strandings and solar activity could boost the magnetoreception theory.
Other research in Marine Mammal Science explores why whales leave the food-rich waters of the Arctic and Antarctic at all. Marine ecologist Robert Pitman of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Center explains why this annual movement may not be about breeding—but rather, allowing their skin to molt and remain healthy.
Mar 06 2020