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Rank #29 in Natural Sciences category

Technology
Science
Natural Sciences

Big Picture Science

Updated about 1 month ago

Rank #29 in Natural Sciences category

Technology
Science
Natural Sciences
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The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

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The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

iTunes Ratings

644 Ratings
Average Ratings
528
50
25
25
16

Uhhmmm

By s.s. minnow - Apr 06 2020
Read more
Max Brooks ? Worse show ever.

Getting good!

By cerene_siege - Aug 27 2019
Read more
The Episode “Math’s Paths” made my mathematician heart so happy!

iTunes Ratings

644 Ratings
Average Ratings
528
50
25
25
16

Uhhmmm

By s.s. minnow - Apr 06 2020
Read more
Max Brooks ? Worse show ever.

Getting good!

By cerene_siege - Aug 27 2019
Read more
The Episode “Math’s Paths” made my mathematician heart so happy!
Cover image of Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

Latest release on Jul 06, 2020

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail about 1 month ago

Rank #1: Before the Big Bang

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ENCORE It’s one of the biggest questions you can ask: has the universe existed forever? The Big Bang is supposedly the moment it all began. But now scientists wonder if there isn’t an earlier chapter to our origin story. And maybe chapters before that! What happened before the Big Bang? It’s the ultimate prequel.

Plus – the Big Bang as scientific story: nail biter or snoozer?

Guests

Descripción en español

First released December 17, 2012

Feb 24 2014

52mins

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Rank #2: Shell on Earth

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(repeat) We all may retreat to our protective shells, but evolution has perfected the calcite variety to give some critters permanent defense against predators.  So why did squids and octopuses lose their shells?  Find out what these cephalopods gained by giving up the shell game.

Plus why Chesapeake Bay oyster shells are shells of their former selves.  What explains the absence of the dinner-plate sized oysters of 500,000 years ago, and how conservation paleobiology is probing deep time for strategies to bring back these monster mollusks.

Also, was the Earth once encased in a giant, continental shell?  A new theory of plate tectonics.  Land ho!

Guests:

  • Rowan Lockwood – Conservation paleobiologist at the College of William and Mary. 
  • Al Tanner – Ph.D. student in paleobiology at the University of Bristol, U.K.
  • Mike Brown – Professor of Geology, University of Maryland

Dec 09 2019

51mins

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Rank #3: Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy

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Nature abhors a vacuum, but conspiracy theorists love one. While we wait for scientists to nail down the how and why of the coronavirus, opportunists have jumped into the void, peddling DIY testing kits and fake COVID cures like colloidal silver. They’ve even cooked up full-blown conspiracy theories about a lab-grown virus. Find out why this crisis has dished up more than the usual share of misinformation and hucksterism, and how these interfere with our ability to navigate it safely.

Guests:

  • Whitney Phillips - Professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, and author of three books, most recently You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polluted Information
  • Joan Donovan - Research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

Apr 27 2020

51mins

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Rank #4: Skeptic Check: Science Blunders

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We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.

Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.

And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.

Guests:

•   Phil Plait – Skeptic and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy

•   Michael Gordin – Historian of science at Princeton University, author of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe

•   David Goodstein – Physicist, California Institute of Technology

•   Stuart Firestein – Neuroscientist, chair of the biology department, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science

•   Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles

Jan 28 2013

52mins

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Rank #5: Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

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(repeat) The Earth is not round.  Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid.  But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct.  Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake.   A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. 

So how do you establish science truth?  We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and approaches that feel and look science-y but aren’t.  

Find out how one man will use telescopes and balloons in the desert to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe, while a biologist runs a test on the waters of Loch Ness to see if it contains prehistoric reptile DNA.

And what happens when amateur investigators chase ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot with science instruments, but without an understanding of the scientific method.

Guests:

Jul 29 2019

50mins

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Rank #6: Whither the Weather?

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We all talk about the weather. And now scientists are doing something about it: providing more accurate warnings before big storms hit. Discover how smart technology – with an eye on the sky – is taking monster weather events by storm.

Plus, why severe weather events caused by a warming planet may trigger social and economic chaos.

Also, meet the storm chaser who runs toward tornadoes as everyone else flees… and why your cell phone goes haywire when the sun kicks up a storm of its own.

Guests:

•  Michael Smith – Meteorologist, founder of WeatherData and author of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather

•  George Kourounis – Explorer and storm chaser

•  Jeffrey Scargle – Research astrophyscisit in the Astrobiology and Space Science Division at NASA Ames Research Center

•  Ken Caldeira – Climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Deparment of Global Ecology

•  Christian Pareti – Contributing editor of The Nation, visiting scholar at the City Univeristy of New York, and author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

Jan 14 2013

52mins

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Rank #7: Martian Madness

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It’s the starkly beautiful setting for the new film “The Martian,” and – just in time – NASA has announced that the Red Planet is more than a little damp, with liquid water occasionally oozing over its surface.  But Mars remains hostile terrain.  Mark Watney, the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon, struggles to survive there. If he has a hard time, what chance does anyone else have?

Find out how long you could last just eating Martian potatoes.  Also, author Andy Weir describes how he prevailed upon his readers to turn his serialized blog posts into a technically accurate thriller that inspired the film.   Plus, the NASA advisor to “The Martian” sorts the science from the fiction.

And, how the discovery of water on Mars might change NASA’s game plan.

Guests:

Oct 05 2015

51mins

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Rank #8: A Fundy Thing Happened

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Get ready for déjà vu as you listen to some of our favorite interviews from the past year. It’s our annual fundraising podcast. Come for the great interviews, stay for the great interviews. Lend us your support along the way. 

What’s for dinner? Maybe Soylent. Made by … people! We do a taste test. Then meet your gut microbes. They control your health and even your mood.

Get tips on how to talk to aliens, why you should keep an eye on government surveillance, and the future of 3D printing human tissue. Also, why extraordinary beliefs persist – including Holocaust denial – despite the persistence of evidence to the contrary.

And, global perspective: why Ebola won’t be the next big pandemic but sea level rise could wipe out coasts along Florida and Thailand.

Plus, we imagine life hundreds of years ago for the renegades on the rough seas, and what the world would be like had the dinosaurs not gone extinct.

All this and more on a special Big Picture Science podcast!

Guests:

•   Bill Miller – Physician and author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome

•   Rob Rhinehart – CEO and founder of Soylent

•   Brian Fagan – Emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, author of The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels

•   David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. His Op Ed article about Ebola appeared in the New York Times.

•   Shari Wells-Jensen – Professor of English, Bowling Green State University

•   Susan Landau – Mathematician and engineer who works on cybersecurity, privacy and public policy at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute, author most recently of Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies

•   Will Storr – Journalist, author of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

•   Ali Khademhosseini – Bioengineer, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Woman’s Hospital

May 11 2015

1hr 5mins

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Rank #9: Do Computers Byte?

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ENCORE The march of computer technology continues. But as silicon chips and search engines become faster and more productive – can the same be said for us?

The creator of Wolfram Alpha describes how his new “computational knowledge engine” is changing – and improving - how we process information. Meanwhile, suffering from data and distraction burnout? Find out what extremes some folks take to stop their search engines.

Also, the Singularity sensation of humans merging with machines… and, why for the ancient Greeks all of this is “been there, done that.” A deep sea dive turns up a 2,000 year old computer!

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jan 15 2011

51mins

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Rank #10: Alien Invasion

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ENCORE They’re heeeere! Yes, aliens are wreaking havoc and destruction throughout the land. But these aliens are Arizona beetles, and the land is in California, where the invasive insects are a serious problem.

And what of space-faring aliens? We have those too: how to find them, and how to protect our planet – and theirs.

From Hollywood to SETI’s hi-tech search for extraterrestrials, aliens are invading Are We Alone?

Guests:

Descripción en español

Jun 20 2011

52mins

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Rank #11: Solar System Vacation

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Ever gone bungee jumping on Venus?  Of course not.  No one has.  However your great-great-great grandchildren might find themselves packing for the cloudy planet … or for another locale in our cosmic backyard.  That’s what we picture as we accelerate our imagination to escape velocity and beyond – and tour vacation spots that are out of this world. 

An enormous mountain and an impressive canyon await you on Mars.  If the outer solar system is more your thing, consider making a ten minute free-fall on Miranda, a moon of Uranus, or step up to the challenge of playing catch on an asteroid. 

Also, just opened up: Pluto. A member of the New Horizons science team describes why the dwarf planet could be a holiday haven.  Bring your crampons for ice climbing!

Guests:

•   Andrew Fraknoi – Chair of the astronomy department, Foothill College

•   Lori Fenton - Planetary scientist, SETI Institute 

•   David Grinspoon – Astrobiologist, author of Venus Express

•   Mark Showalter – Planetary scientist, SETI institute, and member of the New Horizons team

•   Michael Busch – Planetary scientist, SETI Institute

Aug 10 2015

52mins

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Rank #12: Fuel's Paradise

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You know the joke about the car and the snail. Look at that escargot? Well, snails may be the only thing not powering the automobiles of the future. Trees, grass, algae, even the garbage you toss on the sidewalk has potential for conversion into biofuel. What is America’s next top model fuel? Join us on a tour of the contenders.

Meet a man who’s mad about miscanthus … an astrobiologist’s attraction to algae… and the blueprint for building your own biofuel bugs.

Also, discover whether any of these next-generation fuel sources could take us to the stars. Put that in your rocket and burn it!

Guests:

•   Madhu Khanna – Professor of Agriculture and Environmental Economics at the University of Illinois and at the Energy Biosciences Institute

•   Stephen Long – Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

•   Michelle Chang – Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley

•   Bret Stroegn – Graduate student researcher, Energy Bioscience Institute, University of California at Berkeley

•   Jonathan Trent – Bioengineering Research Scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center and founder of Global Research into Energy and the Enviornment (GREEN )

•   Richard Obousy – Physicist and co-founder and project leader for Project Icarus

Aug 06 2012

52mins

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Rank #13: Skeptic Check: Monster Mashup

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ENCORE  Monsters don’t exist. Except when they do. And extinction is forever, except when it isn’t. So, which animals are mythical and which are in hiding?

Bigfoot sightings are plentiful, but real evidence for the hirsute creature is a big zilch. Yet, the coelacanth, a predatory fish thought extinct, actually lives. Today, its genome is offering clues as to how and when our fishy ancestors first flopped onto land.

Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker assumes mythic status as it flutters between existence and extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.

Guests:

•   Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, former professor at Occidental College, co-author of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids

•   Chris Amemiya – Biologist and geneticist at the University of Washington and the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle

•   John Fitzpatrick – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University

•   Ben Novak – Visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead coordinating scientist of “The Great Comeback” at the Revive and Restore project, Long Now Foundation

First released December 9, 2013.

Apr 13 2015

51mins

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Rank #14: Skeptic Check: ESP or Think Again

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You’re right: it’s a show about ESP. And, correct again: we’re excited about the publication of a paper that claims precognition exists. You’ve already divined what our paranormal investigator says about the paper, whether the statistics that it cites are significant, and what the editor-in-chief of a major scientific journal has to say on the tricky matter of publishing such a result at all.

You’re not surprised that Brains on Vacation takes on the matter of Armageddon-by-exploding-star, because, you knew that. You also knew that it will be an excellent show. But, tune in anyway – consider it a repeat.

Guests:

Jan 30 2011

50mins

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Rank #15: Whodunit, Who'll Do It?

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The tools of forensics have moved way beyond fingerprint kits. These days, a prosecutor is as likely to wave a fMRI brain scan as a smoking gun as “Exhibit A.” Discover what happens when neuroscience has its day in court.

Meanwhile, research into the gold standard of identification, DNA, marches on. One day we may determine a suspect’s eye color from a drop of blood.

Plus, why much of forensic science – from fingerprinting to the polygraph – is more like reading tea leaves than science. And will future crime victims be robots?

Guests:

•  Owen Jones – Professor of law, Professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee

•  Manfred Kayser – Forensic molecular biologist, Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

•  Marc Goodman – Founder, The Future Crimes Institute

•  David Faigman – Law professor, University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco

Feb 18 2013

52mins

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Rank #16: Hawkingravity

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(repeat) Stephen Hawking felt gravity’s pull.  His quest to understand this feeble force spanned his career, and he was the first to realize that black holes actually disappear – slowly losing the mass of everything they swallow in a dull, evaporative glow called Hawking radiation. 

But one of gravity’s deepest puzzles defied even his brilliant mind.  How can we connect theories of gravity on the large scale to what happens on the very small?  The Theory of Everything remains one of the great challenges to physicists.

Also, the latest on deciphering the weirdness of black holes and why the gravitational wave detector LIGO has added colliding neutron stars to its roster of successes.

Plus, a fellow physicist describes Dr. Hawking’s extraordinary deductive abilities and what it was like to collaborate with him.  And, a surprise awaits Molly when she meets a local string theorist to discuss his search for the Theory of Everything.

Guests:

Mar 11 2019

51mins

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Rank #17: Light, the Universe, and Everything

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ENCORE What’s it all about? And we mean ALL. What makes up this vast sprawling cosmos? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? Ow, my head hurts!

For possible answers, we travel to the moment after the Big Bang and discover all that came into being in those few minutes after the great flash: time, space, matter, and light. Plus, the bizarre stuff that makes up the bulk of the universe: dark energy and dark matter.

Also, what we set in motion with the invention of the light blub. How artificial light lit up our homes, our cities and – inadvertently – our skies.

Guests:

Descripción en español

First aired September 6, 2010

Jan 02 2012

52mins

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Rank #18: Skeptic Check: Monsters, Magic, and Music

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If Bigfoot walks through a forest and no one sees him, does he exist? It’s the job of paranormal investigator Joe Nickell to find out! Discover whether eyewitness accounts are reliable when it comes to tracking down the hirsute big guy and other monsters.

Also, on the subject of “seeing is believing”: how magic fools the brain.

Plus, in our potpourri show: can music boost brain power? A new study says listening to music makes brains happy. Does this support the dubious “Mozart Effect,” that claims listening to Wolfie’s compositions boosts IQ?

And, skeptic Phil Plait on why the so-called “super moon theory” doesn’t predict devastating earthquakes.

It’s Skeptic Check… but don’t take our word for it.

Guests:

•   Joe Nickell – Paranormal investigator and author of Tracking the Man-beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More

•   Stephen Macknik – Director of the Laboratory of Behavioral Neurophysiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona

•   Susana Martinez-Conde – Director of the Laboratory of Visual Neuroscience at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona

•   Phil Plait – Astronomer, and author of the Bad Astronomy blog at Discover Magazine

•   Valorie Salimpoor – Researcher at Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Quebec, Canada

•   Penny Glass – Developmental psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine

Aug 27 2012

52mins

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Rank #19: Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet

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ENCORE  What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.

We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?

Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.

And another fad diet that has a historical root: the monastic tradition of 5:2 – five days of eating and two days of fasting.

It’s our monthly look at critical thinking, Skeptic Check … but don’t take our word for it.

Guests:

First released February 19, 2014.

Nov 16 2015

52mins

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Rank #20: Skeptic Check: Brain Gain

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(repeat) Looking to boost your brainpower?  Luckily, there are products promising to help.  Smart drugs, neurofeedback exercises, and brain-training video games all promise to improve your gray matter’s performance.  But it’s uncertain whether these products really work.  Regulatory agencies have come down hard on some popular brain training companies for false advertising. But other brain games have shown benefits in clinical trials.  And could we skip the brain workout altogether and pop a genius pill instead? 

In our monthly look at critical thinking, we separate the pseudo from the science of commercial cognitive enhancement techniques.

Guests:

Aug 26 2019

50mins

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