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Battling Bacteria from Big Picture Science

From Big Picture Science - We can't say we weren't warned.  More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria - and he has been proved prescient.  In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we'll heed history's lessons in the face of a future pandemic.  Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm.  Guests: Fred Turek - Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, Department of Neurobology, Northwestern University Jennifer DeBruyn - Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, who also works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a. the Body Farm   Steffanie Strathdee - Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Tom Patterson) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Tom Patterson - Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Steffanie Strathdee) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Mark Honigsbaum - Medical Historian, journalist, and lecturer at City University, London, and author of "The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris"

Big Picture Science
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Battling Bacteria
2019-10-07 07:33:27
We can't say we weren't warned.  More than 75 years ago, bacteriologist Rene Dubos cautioned that misuse of antibiotics could breed drug-resistant bacteria - and he has been proved prescient.  In this episode: the rise of superbugs, why we ignored the warnings about them, how some are enlisting an old therapy to fight back, and whether we'll heed history's lessons in the face of a future pandemic.  Plus, a weird unforeseen effect of antibiotics being investigated at the Body Farm.  Guests: Fred Turek - Director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, Department of Neurobology, Northwestern University Jennifer DeBruyn - Microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, who also works at the Anthropology Research Facility, a.k.a. the Body Farm   Steffanie Strathdee - Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Tom Patterson) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Tom Patterson - Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author (with Steffanie Strathdee) of  "The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug" Mark Honigsbaum - Medical Historian, journalist, and lecturer at City University, London, and author of "The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris"
51 minutes, 36 seconds

Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)
2020-05-25 08:59:28
Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road.  But will Alexa laugh at your jokes? Will she groan at your puns?  Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I.   Find out what's involved in tickling A.I.'s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite debate about the wisdom of transmitting messages to space, one group sends radio signals to E.T. anyway. Find out how they crafted a non-verbal message and what it contained. Plus, why using nuanced language to connive and scheme ultimately turned us into a more peaceful species. And yes, it's all gouda: why melted cheese may be the cosmic message of peace we need. Guests: Julia Rayz - Computer scientist and associate professor at Purdue University's Department of Computer and Information Technology Steve Adler - Mayor of Austin, Texas Doug Vakoch - Psychologist and president of the non-profit organization METI International Richard Wrangham - Biological anthropologist at Harvard University and author of "The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution" Originally aired April 22, 2019

Vaccine, When?
2020-05-18 07:29:53
It will be the shot heard 'round the world, once it comes.  But exactly when can we expect a COVID vaccine?  We discuss timelines, how it would work, who's involved, and the role of human challenge trials.  Also, although he doesn't consider himself brave, we do.  Meet a Seattle volunteer enrolled in the first coronavirus vaccine trial.  And, while we mount an elaborate defense against a formidable foe, scientists ask a surprising question: is a virus even alive? Guests: Nigel Brown - Emeritus Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh Ian Haydon - Public information specialist at the University of Washington, Seattle Bonnie Maldonado - Professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine Paul Offit - Head of the Vaccine Education Center, and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

To the Bat Cave
2020-05-11 07:42:45
To fight a pandemic, you need to first understand where a virus comes from. That quest takes disease ecologist Jon Epstein to gloomy caverns where bats hang out. There he checks up on hundreds of the animals as his team from the EcoHealth Alliance trace the origins of disease-causing viruses. But their important work is facing its own threat; the Trump administration recently terminated funding to the Alliance because of its collaboration with Chinese scientists. Hear how Dr. Epstein finds the viruses, what kind of human activity triggers outbreaks, and how science counters the unsubstantiated claim that the virus escaped from a lab. Guests: Jon Epstein - Veterinary epidemiologist with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance Meredith Wadman - Staff writer for the journal Science. Read her article about the cancellation of the NIH bat coronavirus grant.

Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)
2020-05-04 07:56:20
A new theory about life's origins updates Darwin's warm little pond.  Scientists say they've created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life.  Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose as an inevitable consequence of matter shape-shifting to dissipate heat. Could physics be the driving force behind life's emergence?   Guests: Caleb Scharf - Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, New York Laurie Barge - Research scientist in astrobiology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Bruce Damer - Research scientist in biomolecular engineering, University of California,  Jeremy England - Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  

Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy
2020-04-27 07:50:10
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  

Treating the Virus
2020-04-20 07:39:08
Treating the Virus It's not like waiting for Godot, because he never arrived.  A coronavirus vaccine will come.  But it is still months away.  Meanwhile, scientists are adding other weapons to our growing arsenal against this virus. The development of antibody tests, antibody cures, and antivirals offer hope that we can soon have the tools to battle those who've been sickened by the COVID-19 virus while we wait for the inoculation that will prevent it. Guests: Deepta Bhattacharya - Immunologist at the University of Arizona whose lab is making a coronavirus antibody test.   Mark Denison - Professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine  

The Other Living World
2020-04-13 07:38:31
Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer.  He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible for us to reconnect not just with humanity, but also with the other living world? Guest: Carl Safina - An ecologist and McArthur Fellow who writes extensively about the human relationship with the natural world. He is the founding president of the Safina Center, a professor at Stony Brook University, and author of many books - most recently, "Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace"

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks
2020-04-06 07:33:56
What do a zombie attack and a viral pandemic have in common?  They are both frightening, mindless, and relentless in their assault.  And both require preparedness.   That's why the author of "World War Z" - a story about a battle against zombies - lectures at West Point.  Max Brooks has also recorded a public service announcement with his celebrated father, Mel Brooks, touting the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.  His newest novel portrays a different assailant: Bigfoot.  Whether our enemy is the undead, a hirsute forest dweller, or an invisible virus, panic won't help us survive.  Find out what will. Guest: Max Brooks - Lecturer at West Point's Modern War Institute. Author of "Zombie Survival Guide," "World War Z," and the forthcoming "Devolution."  

Let's Take a Paws
2020-03-30 08:28:24
Humans aren't the only animals stressed-out by social distancing.  Narwhals send out echolocation clicks to locate their buddies and ease their loneliness.  And a plant about to be chomped by a caterpillar knows that the world can be a scary place.  In this episode, from dogs to narwhals to plants, we put aside human-centric stories to find out how other living creatures map their world, deal with stress, and communicate.  Guests: Alexandra Horowitz - Dog cognition researcher, Barnard College, and author of "Being A Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell." Susanna Blackwell - Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences Simon Gilroy - Professor of botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison

How Bad Does It Have to Get?
2020-03-23 08:29:32
"Climate change at warp speed" is the way one scientist described the coronavirus outbreak.   In a show recorded before a live audience at the Seattle AAAS meeting, and co-presented with the BBC World Service, we discuss out how politics and psychology lead people to tune out inconvenient scientific findings even when the stakes are high - as well as what we can do about it. Guests: Roland Pease - BBC reporter, presenter of "Science in Action." Lee McIntrye - Philosopher and Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and author of "The Scientific Attitude" and "Post-Truth" Reyhaneh Maktoufi - Civic Science Fellow with NOVA PBS at station WGBH, with a focus on science communication

It's In Material [rebroadcast]
2020-03-16 09:22:33
Astronauts are made of the "right stuff," but what about their spacesuits?   NASA's pressurized and helmeted onesies are remarkable, but they need updating if we're to boldly go into deep space.   Suiting up on Mars requires more manual flexibility, for example.  Find out what innovative materials might be used to reboot the suit. Meanwhile, strange new materials are in the pipeline for use on terra firma: spider silk is kicking off the development of biological materials that are inspiring ultra-strong, economical, and entirely new fabrics.  And, while flesh-eating bacteria may seem like an unlikely ally in materials science, your doctor might reach for them one day.  The bacterium's proteins are the inspiration for a medical molecular superglue. Plus, an overview of more innovative materials to come, from those that are 3D printed to self-healing concrete.   Guests: Nicole Stott- Retired NASA astronaut, artist  Dava Newman- Professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Andrew Dent- Vice President of Library and Materials Research, Material ConneXion Mark Howarth- Biochemist, Oxford University Mark Miodownik- Materials scientist, University College London, author of "Stuff Matters; Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World"  Originally aired October 2, 2017

Skeptic Check: Pandemic Fear
2020-03-09 09:46:38
Contagion aside, coronavirus is a powerful little virus.  It has prompted a global experiment in behavior modification: elbow bumps instead of handshakes, hand sanitizer and mask shortages, a gyrating stock market.   Pragmatism motivates our behavior toward the spread of this virus, but so do fear and panic. In 1918, amplified fear made the Spanish Flu pandemic more deadly.  Can we identify when we're acting sensibly in the face of COVID-19, or when fear has hijacked our ability to think rationally and protect ourselves? Guests: Peter Hall  - Professor of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo David DeSteno - Social psychologist and professor of psychology at Northeastern University David Smith -  Virologist and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, University of California, San Diego John Barry - writer, adjunct faculty at the Tulane School of Tropical Medicine and author of The Great Influenza; The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

DecodeHer [rebroadcast]
2020-02-27 14:13:20
They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known - because they didn't have a Y chromosome.  We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the concept of the Big Bang. Elizabeth Friedman, originally hired to test whether William Shakespeare really wrote his plays, was soon establishing the science of code breaking, essential to success in the two world wars.  Also, the tech industry is overwhelmingly male.  Girls Who Code is an initiative to redress the balance by introducing girls to computer programming, and encouraging them to follow careers in tech.  Guests: Jason Fagone - Author of "The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies" Lauren Gunderson - Playwright of Silent Sky, which is being performed all over the world, form the First Folio Theatre to the Repertory Philippines Reshma Saujani - Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and the author of "Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder"

AI: Where Does it End?
2020-02-24 08:43:28
The benefits of artificial intelligence are manifest and manifold, but can we recognize the drawbacks ... and avoid them in time?   In this episode, recorded before a live audience at the Seattle meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, we discuss who is making the ethical decisions about how we use this powerful technology, and a proposal to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI researchers. Guests: Oren Etzioni - CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence Mark Hill - Professor of computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and chair of the Computing Community Consortium

Climate Changed
2020-02-17 09:30:31
Have you adapted to the changing climate? Rising waters, more destructive wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves. Scientists have long predicted these events, but reporting on climate change has moved from prediction to description. There's no time for dwelling on "we should haves." Communities and organizations are being forced to adapt. Find out what that means, the role of the new "resilience officers," and the unique response of Native American cultures. Plus, is the coronavirus outbreak made worse by climate change?  Guests: James Randerson - Professor of Earth Science, University of California, Irvine Victor Rodriguez - PhD student, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Engineering and Public Policy Kyle Whyte - Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, and tribal member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tracey Goldstein - Professor in the Department of Pathology, Immunology, and Microbiology, University of California, Davis

Frogs' Pants (Rebroadcast)
2020-02-10 07:33:25
It's one of the most bizarre biological experiments ever. In the 18th century, a scientist fitted a pair of tailor-made briefs on a male frog to determine the animal's contribution to reproduction.  The process of gestation was a mystery and scientists had some odd-ball theories.   Today, a 5th grader can tell you how babies are made, but we still don't know exactly what life is.  In our quest to understand, we're still at the frogs' pants stage. Find out why conception took centuries to figure out.  Also, why the 1970s Viking experiments, specifically designed to detect life on Mars, couldn't give us a definitive answer.  Plus, can knowing where life isn't help define what it is?  Take a tour of the world's barren places.  Guests: Jay Gallentine - Author of books about space and space history. Edward Dolnick - Author and former science writer at the Boston Globe.  His book is The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to Da Vinci, from Shark's Teeth to Frogs' Pants. Chris McKay - Planetary scientist, NASA Ames Research Center.  Originally aired July 10, 2017

Skeptic Check: Science Denial (rebroadcast)
2020-02-03 07:50:15
Climate change isn't happening.  Vaccines make you sick.  When it comes to threats to public or environmental health, a surprisingly large fraction of the population still denies the consensus of scientific evidence.  But it's not the first time - many people long resisted the evidentiary link between HIV and AIDS and smoking with lung cancer. There's a sense that science denialism is on the rise.  It prompted a gathering of scientists and historians in New York City to discuss the problem, which included a debate on the usefulness of the word "denial" itself.  Big Picture Science was there. We report from the Science Denial symposium held jointly by the New York Academy of Sciences and Rutgers Global Health Institute.  Find out why so many people dig in their heels and distrust scientific findings.  Plus, the techniques wielded by special interest groups to dispute some inconvenient truths.  We also hear how simply stating more facts may be the wrong approach to combating scientific resistance. Guests: Melanie Brickman Borchard - Director of Life Sciences Conferences at New York Academy of Sciences Nancy Tomes - professor of history at Stony Brook University Allan Brandt - professor of history of science and medicine at Harvard University. Author of "The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America" Sheila Jasanoff - Director of Program on Science, Technology and Society and professor of environment, science and technology at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Michael Dahlstrom - Associate Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, and associate professor at Iowa State University Matthew Nisbet - professor of communication and public policy at Northeastern University Arthur (Art) Caplan - professor and founding head of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine

A Twist of Slime
2020-01-27 08:01:14
Your daily mucus output is most impressive.  Teaspoons or measuring cups can't capture its entire volume.  Find out how much your body churns out and why you can't live without the viscous stuff.  But slime in general is remarkable.  Whether coating the bellies of slithery creatures, sleeking the surface of aquatic plants, or dripping from your nose, its protective qualities make it one of the great inventions of biology. Join us as we venture to the land of ooze! Guests: Christopher Viney - Professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California, Merced Katharina Ribbeck - Bioengineer at MIT Anna Rose Hopkins - Chef and partner at Hank and Bean in Los Angeles Ruth Kassinger - author of "Slime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us"

The Ears Have It
2020-01-20 09:28:41
What's the difference between a bird call and the sound of a pile driver?  Not much, when you're close to the loudest bird ever.  Find out when it pays to be noisy and when noise can worsen your health.  Just about everyone eventually suffers some hearing loss, but that's not merely aging.  It's an ailment we inflict on ourselves.  Hear how a team in New York City has put sensors throughout the city to catalog noise sources, hoping to tame the tumult. And can underwater speakers blasting the sounds of a healthy reef bring life back to dead patches of the Great Barrier Reef? Guests: Mark Cartwright - Research Assistant Professor at New York University's Department of Computer Science and Engineering Charles Mydlarz - Research Assistant Professor at New York University's Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) and the Music and Audio Research Lab (MARL) David Owen - Staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World Jeff Podos - Professor in the Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst Steve Simpson - Professor of Marine Biology and Global Change, Exeter University, U.K.

Perpetual Emotion Machine [rebroadcast]
2020-01-13 07:14:06
Get ready for compassionate computers that feel your pain, share your joy, and generally get where you're coming from.  Computers that can tell by your voice whether you're pumped up or feeling down, or sense changes in heart rate, skin, or muscle tension to determine your mood.  Empathetic electronics that you can relate to. But wait a minute - we don't always relate to other humans.  Our behavior can be impulsive and even self-sabotaging - our emotions are often conflicted and irrational.   We cry when we're happy.  Frown when we're pensive.  A suite of factors, much of them out of our control, govern how we behave, from genes to hormones to childhood experience.  One study says that all it takes for a defendant to receive a harsher sentence is a reduction in the presiding judge's blood sugar. So grab a cookie, and find out how the heck we can build computers that understand us anyway.  Guests: Rosalind Picard - Professor at the MIT Media Lab and co-founder of the companies Affectiva and Empatica.  Robert Sapolsky - Professor of neuroscience at Stanford University, and author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. 

Your Brain's Reins [rebroadcast]
2020-01-06 07:37:11
You are your brain.  But what happens when your brain changes for the worse - either by physical injury or experience?  Are you still responsible for your actions? We hear how the case of a New York man charged with murder was one of the first to introduce neuroscience as evidence in court.  Plus, how technology hooks us - a young man so addicted to video games, he lacked social skills, or even a desire to eat.  Find out how technology designers conspire against his digital detox. Also, even if your brain is intact and your only task is choosing a sock color, are you really in control?  How your unconscious directs even mundane behavior ... and how you can outwit it.  Guests: Kevin Davis - Author of The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms Hilarie Cash - Co-founder and chief clinical officer of reSTART, an internet addiction recovery program Adam Alter - Assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University, Stern School of Business, and author of Irresistible: the Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked Peter Vishton - Psychologist at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia

Skeptic Check: Heal Thyself [rebroadcast]
2019-12-30 10:34:20
Do we still need doctors?  There are umpteen alternative sources of medical advice, including endless and heartfelt health tips from people without medical degrees. Frankly, self-diagnosis with a health app is easier and cheaper than a trip to a clinic.   Since we're urged to be our own health advocate and seek second opinions, why not ask Alexa or consult with a celebrity about what ails us? Find out if you can trust these alternative medical advice platforms.  Plus, lessons from an AIDS fighter about ignoring the findings of medical science.   And, if AI can diagnose better than an MD, will we stop listening to doctors altogether? It's our monthly look at critical thinking ... but don't take our word for it! Guests: Katherine Foley - Science and health reporter at Quartz, and author of the article "Alexa is a Terrible Doctor" Paul Offit - Professor of pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of "Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren't Your Best Source of  Health Information" Richard Marlink - Director Rutgers Global Health Institute. Shinjini Kundu - Research Fellow, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Stuart Schlisserman - Internist, Palo Alto, California   originally aired September 24, 2018

Handling the Holidays
2019-12-23 09:14:38
The stress of the holidays can make you want to hide under the covers with a warm cup of cocoa.  From gift buying to family gatherings, the holidays can feel like being inside a pressure cooker.  But don't despair!  Science can help make the holidays a little brighter, from some gift-giving tips from our animal friends to embracing pessimism before a challenging social event to stopping that annoying merry melody on repeat in your head. Guests: Adam South - Research assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University Mitch Ratcliffe - CEO and publisher of Earth911 Julie Norem - Psychology professor at Wellesley College and author of "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking" Elizabeth Margulis - Music professor at Princeton University and author of "On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind" Steve Ilardi - Clinical psychology associate professor at the University of Kansas.  Read his paper on the effects of sugar here.

2019-12-23 09:06:31

2019-12-23 09:06:01

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