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Science Friday | Top Science Podcasts 2020

The top science podcasts of 2020 updated daily.


Science Friday
Covering everything about science and technology -- from the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies -- Science Friday is your source for entertaining and educational stories and activities. Each week, host Ira Flatow interviews scientists and inventors like Sylvia Earle, Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and more.

Degrees of Change: Changing Behavior. July 10, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-10 08:42:57
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. 
46 minutes, 5 seconds


Summer Science Books, Naked Mole Rats. July 3, 2020, Part 2
2020-07-03 10:41:24
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.
46 minutes, 51 seconds


Making The Outdoors Great For Everyone. July 3, 2020, Part 1
2020-07-03 10:40:54
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.
47 minutes, 16 seconds


Honeybee Health, Assessing COVID Risk, Seeing Numbers. June 26, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-26 07:55:34
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.
46 minutes, 35 seconds


Checking In On Kids' Mental Health During the Pandemic. June 26, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-26 07:55:03
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. 
46 minutes, 35 seconds


SciFri Extra: A Pragmatic Wishlist For AI Ethics
2020-06-24 13:50:49
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.
16 minutes, 35 seconds


Facial Recognition, Hummingbird Vision, Moon Lander. June 19, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-19 07:57:51
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.  
47 minutes, 1


Doctor Burnout, International Doctors. June 19, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-19 07:57:14
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.  
47 minutes, 36 seconds


Proactive Policing, The Social Brain. June 12, 2020, Part 2
2020-06-12 08:53:13
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.
46 minutes, 37 seconds


Anthony Fauci On The Pandemic's Future. June 12, 2020, Part 1
2020-06-12 08:52:34
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.
47 minutes, 7 seconds




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