Degrees of Change: Food and Climate. July 12, 2019, Part 1 from Science Friday
From Science Friday - A quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from putting food on the table. From the fossil fuels used to produce fertilizers, to the methane burps of cows, to the jet fuel used to deliver your fresh asparagus, eating is one of the most planet-warming things we do. In our latest chapter of Degrees of Change, we're looking at how to eat smarter in a warming world.
Plus, we've launched a new way for you to add your voice to the show: the SciFri VoxPop app. Download now for iPhone or Android.
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: Food and Climate. July 12, 2019, Part 1 2019-07-12 13:42:57 A quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from putting food on the table. From the fossil fuels used to produce fertilizers, to the methane burps of cows, to the jet fuel used to deliver your fresh asparagus, eating is one of the most planet-warming things we do. In our latest chapter of Degrees of Change, we're looking at how to eat smarter in a warming world.
Plus, we've launched a new way for you to add your voice to the show: the SciFri VoxPop app. Download now for iPhone or Android. 47 minutes, 13 seconds
Degrees of Change: Transportation. December 13, 2019, Part 1 2019-12-13 13:37:38 Transportationâwhether it be your car, aircraft, cargo ships, or the heavy trucks carrying all those holiday packagesâmakes a big contribution to the world's CO2 emissions. In the U.S., the transportation sector accounts for some 29% of the country's emissions, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. And despite the Paris Agreement mission to decrease global emissions, demand for transportation around the world is on the riseâand with that increased demand comes increased energy use. Air travel is growing at a rate of 2-3% a year, for instanceâa trend that could cause the emissions effects of air transport to almost double by 2050.
But there are some initiatives and technologies that aim to alleviate the energy costs from this transportation glut.
In this chapter of our Degrees of Change series, we'll talk about transportation, and some of the technology and policy changes that could be made to make getting around more sustainable. Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis joins Ira to talk about personal transportation in the U.S., and how individuals get around. We'll talk with Steven Barrett, director of the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about greener flying. And Rachel Muncrief, of the International Council on Clean Transportation, joins the conversation to talk about improving heavy vehicles like buses and cargo trucks.
And, as the climate crisis deepens, the effects are increasingly ravaging developing nations, which had little or nothing to do with warming the planet. Now those nations are asking industrialized countries to help them deal with the damageâbut major powers, like the United States, don't want to pay up.
Those tensions were playing out this week and last at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid, and New York Times climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis joins Ira to catch us up on that international drama.
Insulin Marketplace, Hair, Whale Size. December 13, 2019, Part 2 2019-12-13 13:36:45 Why Diabetes Patients Are Getting Insulin From Facebook
Almost one in ten Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, according to the most recent statistics from the CDC. With those odds, you likely know someone with the disease. And you may also know that most diabetes patients need to be treated with insulin therapyâfrequent injections of a hormone that helps regulate their blood sugarâor face serious complications, like blindness, nerve damage, or kidney failure.
Unfortunately, a good number of these patients can't afford to purchase insulin through official channels, like pharmacies and hospitals, even with the help of health insurance. In such cases, diabetes patients are turning to what one recent study called "underground exchanges"âplatforms like Craigslist, Ebay and Facebookâto get access to the drug they need.
Ira is joined by one of the authors of that study, Michelle Litchman, a nurse practitioner and researcher at the University of Utah College of Nursing in Salt Lake City, to talk about what patients are doing to combat the high cost of insulin in the U.S.
Combing Over What Makes Hair So Strong
Hair is one of the strongest materialsâwhen stretched, hair is stronger than steel. A team of researchers collected and tested hair from eight different mammals including humans, javelinas, and capybaras to measure what gives hair its strength. The basic structure of hair is similar across species with an outer cuticle layer surrounding fibers, but each species' hair structure accommodates different needs. Javelinas have stiffer fibers to allow them to raise their hair when it's in danger. Their results, published in the journal Matter, found that thinner hair was stronger than thicker strands.
Engineer Robert Ritchie, who was one of the authors of that study, talks about the structure that gives hair its strength and how bio-inspired design can create better materials.
How Whales Got Whale-Sized
We live in a time of giants. Whales are both the largest living animals, and, in the case of 110-foot-long blue whales, the largest animals that have ever been alive on the planet.
But whales haven't always been gigantic. Until about 3 million years ago, the fossil record shows that the average whale length was only about 20 feet long. They were big, but not big. The riseâand growthâof the lineages that gave rise to humpbacks, fin whales, and other behemoths happened, in evolutionary time, overnight.
So, why are whales bigâand why are whales so big now?
Now, researchers who parsed data from feeding events of a dozen different whale species think they have the mathematical confirmation. Writing in Science this week, they say baleen whales, who become more energy-efficient as they grow, benefit from bigness because it lets them migrate to food sources that appear and disappear at different points around the globe.
Study co-author Jeremy Goldbogen, a marine biologist for Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station, explains the delicate balance of energy and size for giant mammals, and why bigness is such a compelling biological question.
Undiscovered Presents: Spontaneous Generation 2019-12-11 09:29:40 These days, biologists believe all living things come from other living things. But for a long time, people believed that life would, from time to time, spontaneously pop into existence more oftenâand not just that one time at the base of the evolutionary tree. Even the likes of Aristotle believed in the "spontaneous generation" of life, until Louis Pasteur debunked the theoryâor so the story goes.
In a famous set of experiments, Pasteur showed that when you take a broth, boil it to kill all the microscopic organisms floating inside, and don't let any dust get in, it stays dead. No life will spontaneously emerge.
His experiments have been considered a win for scienceâbut according to historian James Strick, they might have actually been a win for religion.
This episode originally aired on Science Friday, when Elah joined Ira Flatow and science historian, James Strick, to find out what scientists of Pasteur's day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down "spontaneous generation," and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.
Though Darwin was bold enough to go public with his theory of evolution, he seemed to shy away from the spontaneous generation debate. But his theory inevitably invited the question: if life could spontaneously arise once on Earth, why not many times? James Strick writes about Darwin's complicated relationship with spontaneous generation.
The basic premise of Louis Pasteur's famous swan-necked flask experiment is shown below. The swan necks let life-nourishing air into the flask, but kept potentially contaminating dust out.
Louis Pasteur's spontaneous generation experiment illustrates the fact that the spoilage of liquid was caused by particles in the air rather than the air itself. These experiments were important piece
(Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
James Strick, associate professor at Franklin and Marshall College
This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Alexa Lim. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud.
Best Science Books and Board Games of 2019. Dec 6, 2019, Part 2 2019-12-06 14:53:41 In a year jam-packed with fast-moving science news and groundbreaking research, books can provide a more slower-paced, reflective look at the world around usâand a precious chance to dive deep on big ideas. But how do you decide which scientific page-turner to pick up first? Science Friday staff pawed through the piles all year long. Listen to Ira round up his top picks, along with Valerie Thompson, Science Magazine senior editor and book reviewer, and Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and director of MIT's Knight Science Journalism program. See a list of their 2019 science book selections. And we have been asking you for your favorite reads of the year. Find your recommendations here!
Plus, Science Diction correspondent Johanna Mayer reviews a lexicological classic, Isaac Asimov's Words of Science.
And, we rolled out a roundup of the best science board games! Some board games go beyond rolling dice, collecting $200, and passing "go." Newer games have elaborate story-building narratives with complex strategies. And some of those board games focus on science themes that teach different STEM concepts.
Board game creator Elizabeth Hargrave talks about how she turned her birding hobby into the game Wingspan. She and Angela Chuang, whose board game reviews have appeared in the journal Science, discuss their favorite STEM board games and what makes a good science game. Check out a list of recommended board games here!
Parker Solar Probe, Slime Molds. Dec 6, 2019, Part 1 2019-12-06 14:52:38 In August 2018, NASA sent the Parker Solar Probe off on its anticipated seven-year-long mission to study the sun. Already, it has completed three of its 24 scheduled orbits, and data from two of those orbits are already telling us things we didn't know about the star at the center of our solar system. The probe has collected information on the factors that influence the speed of solar wind, the amount of dust in the sun's bubble-like regionâthe heliosphereâand also where scientists' models were wrong.
David McComas, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University and principal investigator of the integrated science investigation of the sun, breaks down the very first data collected from the Parker Solar Probe mission. He's joined by Aleida Higginson, Parker Solar Probe deputy project scientist for science operations, who will update us on the mission that's giving us an unprecedented look at our sun.
What makes a creature charismatic?
In our new segment, we'll feature one creature a month, and try to convince you that it's worthy of the coveted Charismatic Creature title. By "creature" we mean almost anythingâanimals, viruses, subterranean fungal networks, you name it. And by "charismatic," we don't just mean cute, clever, or even all that nice! We just mean they have that special something that makes us want to lean in and learn everything about themâbecause they can't all be baby pandas.
Over the past two months, we've received dozens of listener suggestionsâeverything from turtles to tardigrades. We had to choose just one, and we're starting simpleâsingle celled simple. Our first charismatic creature is Physarum polycephalum, the "multi-headed" slime mold.
Despite having no brain or neurons and being just one giant goopy cell, these slime molds keep defying our expectations. They can solve mazes, recreate the Tokyo railway network (animation below), learn, and even anticipate events. They can make rational and irrational choices that mirror our own. Not to mention they're visually stunning too.
Despite having no brain or neurons and being just one giant goopy cell, these slime molds keep defying our expectations. They can solve mazes, recreate the Tokyo railway network (animation below), learn, and even anticipate events. They can make rational and irrational choices that mirror our own. Not to mention they're visually stunning too.
Joining Ira to make the case that slime molds are uniquely charismatic is Science Friday's Elah Feder and collective intelligence researchers Simon Garnier from New Jersey Institute of Technology and Tanya Latty from the University of Sydney.
Oregon is not very good at recycling, and it's getting worse, according to a new report. Overall recycling rates in the state have steadily declined for the last several years, even as the amount of waste generated per person in the state has grown.
The report, published Thursday by the group Environment Oregon, uses data released yearly by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. It finds that Oregon faces major barriers to meeting its recycling goals. Nationally, recyclable plastics are being replaced with lower-value plastics. In Oregon, polystyrene (the flaky, foam-like material used in single-use coffee cups) isn't recycled by municipal governments, and a legislative proposal to ban it statewide failed last year. Consumers can take certain polystyrene products to privately run drop boxes in some cities around the state.
This doesn't mean that Oregonians aren't passionate about recycling. The biggest barrier to recycling in Oregon is structural: less of the material placed in recycling bins can be repurposed by domestic facilities, and exporting recyclables to countries like China has become more difficult.
"The bottom line is, we need to take more of these products out of the waste stream," Celeste Meiffren-Swango, the state director of Environment Oregon, said.
It's not just an Oregon problem, it's a nationalâeven globalâissue. For years, recycling in the United States has relied on Asian countries to take our waste. Many countries, finding that arrangement unprofitable, have started incinerating the recycling, dumping it in landfills, or simply stopped accepting recyclables from the United States altogether. The few countries that still purchase U.S. recyclables are increasingly facing unexpected health impacts stemming from too much waste and no way to process it.
SciFri Extra: Bringing Environmental Justice To The Classroom 2019-11-30 09:00:00 Laura Diaz, a Bay Area science teacher, grew up in Pittsburg, California near chemical plants and refineries. That experience, combined with watching her mother's home go up in flames in last year's Camp Fire, transformed her into an "environmental justice activist."
Now, she's bringing those experiences into the classroom to inspire young people to solve the world's injustices through science. Diaz joined Ira onstage at San Francisco's Sydney Goldstein Theater, alongside a few former students, to talk about the connections between science education and environmental activism.
Science Awards Of The Sillier Sort. Nov 29, 2019, Part 2 2019-11-29 07:33:18 The 2019 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is a tribute to offbeat and quirky scientific studies. Here's some examples: Does pizza have a protective effect against cancer? What's the physics behind the wombat's unusual cubic-shaped droppings? And can dog-training clickers be used to help the medical education of orthopedic surgeons?
These projects were among 10 that were recognized at this year's 29th first annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies. The prizes, selected by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research, were awarded in September at Harvard's Sanders Theatre. They salute work that "first makes you laugh, and then, makes you think."
Imagining The Future Of AI / Face Mites. Nov 29, 2019, Part 1 2019-11-29 07:33:10 What can science fiction and social science contribute to how we think about our algorithmic present and future?
Science fiction writers and Hugo-winning podcast hosts Annalee Newitz (author of The Future Of Another Timeline) and Charlie Jane Anders (author of The City In The Middle Of The Night) talk about their work imagining future worlds and new kinds of technologyâplus how all of this fiction traces back to the present. Then, AI ethicist Rumman Chowdhury joins to discuss how social science can help the tech industry slow down and think more responsibly about the future they're helping to build.
Plus, everyone has face mitesâincluding you. But they have a fascinating evolutionary story to tell. In this interview recorded live at the Sydney Goldstein Theater in San Francisco, Ira talks with entomologist Michelle Trautwein of the California Academy of Sciences about why face mites live in our skin, where we get them (spoiler: thank your parents!), and how mite lineages can help reconstruct patterns of human migration around the globe.
Undiscovered Presents: Planet Of The Killer Apes 2019-11-27 07:05:56 In Apartheid-era South Africa, a scientist uncovered a cracked, proto-human jawbone. That humble fossil would go on to inspire one of the most blood-spattered theories in all of paleontology: the "Killer Ape" theory.
According to the Killer Ape theory, humans are killersâunique among the apes for our capacity for bloodthirsty murder and violence. And at a particularly violent moment in U.S. history, the idea stuck! It even made its way into one of the most iconic scenes in film history. Until a female chimp named Passion showed the world that we might not be so special after all.
Degrees of Change: Coral Restoration. Nov 22 2019, Part 1 2019-11-22 13:35:38 A quarter of the world's corals are now dead, victims of warming waters, changing ocean chemistry, sediment runoff, and disease. Many spectacular, heavily-touristed reefs have simply been loved to death.
But there are reasons for hope. Scientists around the world working on the front lines of the coral crisis have been inventing creative solutions that might buy the world's reefs a little time.
Crawford Drury and his colleagues at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology are working to engineer more resilient corals, using a coral library for selective breeding experiments, and subjecting corals to different water conditions to see how they'll adapt.
Some resilient corals are still in the wild, waiting to be found. Narrissa Spiers of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory in Honolulu found one such specimen hiding out in the polluted Honolulu Harbor.
Other scientists, like Danielle Dixson of the University of Delaware, are experimenting with corals that aren't alive at allâ3D-printed corals. The idea, she says, is to provide a sort of temporary housing for reef-dwellers after a big storm or human damage. Dixson likens these 3D-printed structures to the FEMA trailers brought in after a hurricane.
Dixson's team is experimenting with these artificial corals in Fiji, to determine which animals use them as housing, and whether they spur the growth of new live corals too.
Two huge challenges remain. For any of these technologies to work at scale, we need quicker, more efficient ways to plant corals in the wild, says Tom Moore, the coral reef restoration lead at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Listen to this chapter of the series, Degrees of Change.
Plus, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on new fracking permits in the state. An independent scientific board will now need to review each project before it is approved. Reporter Rebecca Leber talks about what this state initiative tells us about the national debate on fracking. And, a look at the new members of the bipartisan Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus and their strategy for addressing climate change.
Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, Marie Curie Play. Nov 22, 2019, Part 2 2019-11-22 13:35:00 For most Americans, the story of the Hubble Space Telescope began on April 24th, 1990, the launch date of the now 30 year-old observatory. But for astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, Hubble's journey began on a wintery day in early 1985 at a meeting at NASA headquarters, where she was assigned to the mission that would take Hubble into space.
For the next five years, Sullivan, a former oceanographer and first female spacewalker, got to know Hubble intimately, training and preparing for its deployment. If Hubble's automatic processes failed as it was detaching and unfolding from the spacecraft, Sullivan would be the one to step in and help. And she almost had to. Sullivan joins Ira to share the untold stories of Hubble's launch and her time at NASA as told in her new book Handprints on Hubble.
Physicist Marie Curie is remembered as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first personâof two ever in historyâto win two Nobel Prizes. With her role in discovering radium and polonium, and the energy emitted in the decay of large atomic nuclei, she brought us the concepts of radiation and radioactivity. Curie helped lay the groundwork for a revolution in both physics and chemistry.
But a new play explores the person behind the brilliant scientist. In The Half-Life Of Marie Curie, we meet Curie after a scandal: She's been caught having a love affair with a married man. But in a time of depression and isolation, she's rescued by a friend, English scientist Hertha Ayrtonâalso an intrepid but lesser-known physicist, engineer, and suffragette.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson joins Ira to talk about the deep friendship between the two scientists, the importance of seeing Marie Curie as a person outside her work, and the many connections between storytelling and science.
Undiscovered Presents: Like Jerry Springer For Bluebirds 2019-11-20 11:58:30 "Do men need to cheat on their women?" a Playboy headline asked in the summer of 1978. Their not-so-surprising conclusion: Yes! Science says so! The idea that men are promiscuous by nature, while women are chaste and monogamous, is an old and tenacious one. As far back as Darwin, scientists were churning out theory and evidence that backed this up. In this episode, Annie and Elah go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism and science come face to face, and it becomes clear that a lot of animalsâhumans and bluebirds includedâare not playing by the rules.
Angela Saini, author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong
Patricia Adair Gowaty, professor emeritus at UCLA, editor of Feminism and Evolutionary Biology.
Sarah B. Hrdy is an anthropologist, feminist, and a major figure in this chapter of science history. In this book chapter she addresses the myth of the "coy female" and reviews the relevant scientific happenings of the 1970s and 80s, especially in the primatology sphere.
Angus John Bateman's 1948 paper about fruit fly mating and reproductive success, popularized by this paper from Robert Trivers in 1972. Bateman finds that males have more reproductive success the more females they mate with, and that females don't benefit as much from mating with multiple males.
Patty Adair Gowaty found holes in Bateman's study. Bateman didn't know exactly how many sexual partners his fruit flies had because he didn't watch them. Instead, he counted up how many offspring they made. Unfortunately, a lot of them had harmful mutations and diedâskewing his numbers. Not only do they not meet Mendelian expectations, but in Bateman's data, he consistently counts more fathers than mothersâwhich can't be right, since every baby fly has one mother and one father.
Patty found that eastern bluebird females successfully raise offspring without help from their male partners.
Patty and Alvan Karlin found that eastern bluebird babies aren't always related to the parents raising them.
True "genetic monogamy," where bird couples only have sex with each other, appears to be the exception, not the rule in passerines. Polyandryâwhere females have sex with multiple malesâhas been found most of the species studied!
In the late '70s and early '80s, a psychology study at Florida State University found that most men, and no women would accept a sex invitation from a stranger.
In this more recent Germany study, 97% of the women expressed interest in sex with at least one strange man, but only when researchers promised to arrange a (relatively) safe encounter.
Btw, Patty tells us bluebirds don't actually have sex in the nest, so having sex "outside the nest" is the norm. We were using the expression figuratively, but worth noting. The nest is really for storing the babies.
This episode was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata. Fact checking by Robin Palmer. I Am Robot and Proud wrote our theme. All other music by Daniel Peterschmidt.
Volume Control, Dermatology In Skin Of Color, Kelp Decline. Nov 15, 2019, Part 2 2019-11-15 13:51:43 Dermatologists presented with a new patient have a number of symptoms to look at in order to diagnose. Does the patient have a rash, bumps, or scaling skin? Is there redness, inflammation, or ulceration? For rare conditions a doctor may have never seen in person before, it's likely that they were trained on photos of the conditionsâor can turn to colleagues who may themselves have photos.
But in people with darker, melanin-rich skin, the same skin conditions can look drastically different, or be harder to spot at allâand historically, there have been fewer photos of these conditions on darker-skinned patients. And for these patients, detection and diagnosis can be life-saving: people of color get less melanoma, for example, but are also less likely to survive it.
Dr. Jenna Lester, who started one of the few clinics in the country to focus on such patients, explains the need for more dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat people with darker skin tonesâand why the difference can be both life-saving and life-altering.
Have you ever met a friend for dinner at a restaurant, only to have trouble hearing each other talk over the din of other diners? And as we get older, this phenomenon only gets worse and can be compounded by age-related hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus.
Unfortunately there is no silver bullet for tinnitus or other forms of hearing loss, and researchers don't even understand all the ways in which the auditory system can go awry. But we now have more sophisticated technology to help us cope with it.
Nowadays, there are over-the-counter hearing aids and assistive listening devices that connect with your smartphone. Certain tech allows you to amplify softer sounds and cancel out the noise of a crowded roomâit can even focus on the sound waves created by the person you're speaking with.
Ira chats with David Owen, New Yorker staff writer and author of the new book Volume Control: Hearing in a Deafening World about the industry that's helping millions of Americans cope with hearing loss.
Envision California's lush forests from San Francisco to the Oregon border. Now imagine that 90 percent of those forests disappear within two years. Laura Rogers-Bennett, senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says that's exactly what happened to underwater kelp forests off Northern California's coastline from 2014-16.
An analysis published this week in Scientific Reports documents the rapid decline of California's bull kelp. The study links the reduction in the seaweed's population to a confluence of environmental and ecological stressors, including a marine heat wave, a sea star die-off and the emergence of an "urchin barrens," large swaths of subtidal zones overtaken by kelp-hungry purple sea urchins.
Rogers-Bennett, who monitors kelp forests in partnership with the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, says taken together, these strains on the kelp population threaten the greater coastal ecosystem. "We are finding out," she says, "that if we cross some of these thresholds, that the system will collapse." Observers are now noting kelp deforestation off the Oregon coast and in California south of San Francisco to Monterey Bay.
EPA Transparency Proposal, Tick Milking. Nov 15, 2019, Part 1 2019-11-15 13:36:44 This week, a House Committee held a hearing to review an Environmental Protection Agency proposal called 'Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.' The proposal would require researchers to disclose underlying dataâwhich could include private medical and health informationâfor any scientific studies that the agency would use in determining environmental regulations. Science reporter Lisa Friedman from the New York Times discusses how this proposal could be used to weaken regulations and discount certain scientific studies. Plus, epidemiologist Joshua Wallach talks about how the proposal could affect researchers who conduct long-term epidemiological studies.
We reached out to the EPA for comment and they provided a statement that says:
"Science transparency does not weaken science, quite the contrary. By requiring transparency, scientists will be required to publish hypothesis and experimental data for other scientists to review and discuss, requiring the science to withstand skepticism and peer review."
Ticks are masters of breaking down the defenses of their host organism to get a blood meal. They use anesthetics to numb the skin, anticoagulants to keep the blood flowing, and keep the host's immune system from recognizing them as invaders and kicking them out. And the key to understanding this is in the tick's saliva. Biochemist and microbiologist Seemay Chou discusses how she milks the saliva from ticks to study what compounds play key parts in these chemical tricks. She also talks about how ticks are able to control the microbes in their saliva.
SciFri Extra: Add A Dash Of Science To Your Thanksgiving Recipes 2019-11-13 11:16:54 This Thanksgiving, put your cooking skills to the test. Looking for tips to avoid singed sweet potatoes, acrid apple pies, and a burned bird? In this 2016 conversation from the SciFri archive, Molly Birnbaum and Dan Souza from Cook's Science help us understand the science behind favorite Thanksgiving recipes so you can avoid food failures, and get the most out of your roast and side dishes.
Infant Formula, AI Weirdness, Venus Fly Traps. Nov. 8, 2019, Part 2 2019-11-08 13:34:54 Would you feel comfortable consuming a product that listed "whey protein concentrate" and "corn maltodextrin" on its list of ingredients? What about feeding it to your baby? Most of the ingredients found in baby formula are actually just carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and are perfectly safeâand necessaryâfor infant health. But this inscrutable list of ingredients is one reason why many parents are opting to buy European formula for their little ones. Word is spreading around parenting blogs and websitesâand among parents themselvesâthat European formulas, with their simpler ingredients lists, are "cleaner" and therefore healthier for babies.
But is there any truth to this claim? Baby formula expert and clinical researcher Bridget Young, PhD and professor of pediatrics Anthony Porto, MD, MPH, join Ira to discuss what the data says about the differences between infant formulas, as well as what those ingredients actually mean for your baby's health.
And, AI may be short for "artificial intelligence," but in many ways, our automated programs can be surprisingly dumb. For example, you can think you're training a neural net to recognize sheep, but actually it's just learning what a green grassy hill looks like. Or teaching it the difference between healthy skin and cancerâbut actually just teaching it that tumors always have a ruler next to them. And if you ask a robot to navigate a space without touching the walls, sometimes it just stays still in one place.
AI researcher Janelle Shane, author of a new book about the quirky, but also serious errors that riddle AIâwhich, at the end of the day, can only do what we tell them to.
Plus, learn about the surprising facts and common misconceptions about the Venus flytrap. In our latest Macroscope video, researchers Elsa Youngsteadt and Laura Hamon are rushing to understand more about the Venus flytraps found in North Carolina before it's too late. Science Friday video producer Luke Groskin joins Ira to talk about what we know and don't know about this famous carnivorous plant.
Biomedical Espionage, Einstein's Eclipse, Transit Of Mercury. Nov. 8, 2019, Part 1 2019-11-08 13:34:23 The FBI, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other agencies who oversee federal research grants are currently asking if the open culture of science in the U.S. is inviting other countries to steal it.
The FBI has been warning since 2016 that researchers could be potentially sending confidential research, and even biological samples, to other countries. On Monday, a report in the New York Times outlined the scale of ongoing investigations: nearly 200 cases of potential intellectual property theft at 71 different institutions.
New York Times health and science reporter Gina Kolata, who broke the story, explains the investigations, and why China is featuring so prominently.
Then, on May 29, 1919, Sir Arthur Eddington and his scientific team photographed the stars during a total solar eclipse. The resulting images displayed stars that seemed slightly out of placeâan indication that the mass of the sun had caused starlight to veer off course, as Einstein's general theory of relativity had predicted. Six months later, on November 6, 1919, Eddington's team presented their findings before a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Societyâand skyrocketed Einstein to worldwide fame.
Science writer Ron Cowen, author of Gravity's Century: From Einstein's Eclipse to Images of Black Holes, joins Ira to tell the story.
Watch the Mercury transit! On Monday, November 11th, Mercury will slice a path across the sunâan occurrence that happens only about 13 times a century. These days, it's fairly easy to observe a transit of Mercuryâmany local observatories or science centers hold viewing parties. But several centuries ago, transit chasers sailed the globe to observe these relatively rare events, in an effort to use them to calculate the size of the solar system. Find out how you can view the transit.
Researchers are collecting snapshots of Acadia National Park to supplement satellite data on fall leaf colors. Listen and learn more about this citizen science project.
And, the Trump administration has begun a year-long process to exit the agreementâwhich would complete the day after the next presidential election. Listen to this week's science news roundup.
Moths, Alan Alda, Graveyard Lichens. Nov 1, 2019, Part 2 2019-11-01 13:37:14 There are over 160,000 species of moths worldwide, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. For example, the Comet Moth, native to the rainforests of Madagascar, boasts vibrant red and yellow patterned wings, feathery antennae, and long swapping tails, thought to useful for distracting its bat predators.
By comparison, most common North American moths seem boring and dull. While their butterfly relatives flit about the garden in daylight, moths are often found lurking around outside lamps at night. And they can be a nuisanceâeating holes in your cashmere sweaters or natural fiber rugs. Even in popular culture they get a bad rap. We use terms like "moth-balled" to describe a cancelled project and "like a moth to flame" when we talk about a perilous situation.
But do moths deserve the unflattering characterization of the mysterious, scaly-winged insect that haunts the night? Dr. David Lees, Curator of Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum of London, certainly doesn't think so. He joins Ira to set the record straight about moths by highlighting their astonishing diversity and usefulness.
Actor and writer Alan Alda might be best known as Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, or as a familiar face from several Woody Allen films. But he also spent more than a decade interviewing scientists on Scientific American Frontiers, and later founded a center to teach scientists how to communicate better with the publicâthrough improv.
His latest project is hosting the podcast Clear + Vivid, where he's interviewed a long list of public figures, from Adam Driver to Melinda Gates, and a wide variety of scientists like climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and primatologist Frans de Waal. In this interview with Ira, he focuses on a few memorable moments in the podcast that illustrate how to talk about tough topics like climate change.
A cemetery isn't necessarily the first place that comes to mind when thinking about urban biodiversity and conservation, and, for a while, even ecologists wrote them off. But there's a growing body of research that's come together in recent years pointing to the value of these unexpected green spaces in protecting biodiversity, especially in cities where land is at a premium and green space is limited.
Researchers even discovered a new beetle species at a cemetery in Brooklyn earlier this summer and spotted a rare salamander species in the same cemetery only a few years earlier. But it's not just beetles and salamanders that take refuge in cemeteries. Lichen, which are an algae-fungi amalgamation, do too.
Jessica Allen, assistant professor of biology at Eastern Washington University and an expert in New York City lichen, joins Ira to discuss the rare lichen that her research team found in a cemetery in the Bronx and why cemeteries are helping lichen to thrive in NYC.
PFAS Lawsuit, Bat Disease. Nov 1, 2019, Part 1 2019-11-01 13:36:12 Eighteen years ago, a lawyer named Robert Bilott sent a letter to the EPA, the attorney general, and other regulators, warning them about a chemical called PFOA, short for perfluorooctanoic acid.
Outside of the companies that made and used PFOA, most people had never heard of it. But E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, better known as DuPont, had been using PFOA to make Teflon since the early 1950s. In the course of a lawsuit against the chemical corporation, Bilott had uncovered a trove of internal company documents, showing DuPont had been quietly monitoring the chemical's health risks for decades, studying laboratory animals and their own workers. Bilott called on regulators to investigate and take action.
PFOA has since been linked to testicular and kidney cancer, among other diseases. It is part of a larger class of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which have now been detected in everything from polar bears in Svalbard to fish in South Carolina, and are estimated to be in the blood of over 98% of Americans.
In the mid-2000s manufacturers started voluntarily phasing out PFOA and a related chemical, PFOS, but they substituted them with other PFAS chemicals, whose possible health effects are still being investigated and litigated.
Nearly two decades after Bilott wrote the EPA, the agency has not regulated these chemicals, but it says it plans to begin the process by the end of this year. Bilott, who previously secured a $670 million settlement from DuPont, is now suing DuPont, Chemours, and others on behalf of everyone in the United States who has PFAS in their blood.
This week, Robert Bilott tells Ira his story, now featured in his book, Exposure, and the movie, Dark Waters, out in theaters November 22. You can read an excerpt of Bilott's book here.
Sharon Lerner of The Intercept also joins to discuss what is known about these chemicals, and what is and isn't being done to limit our exposure.
Morgan Bengel stood about 35 feet underground, gesturing at the cold, rocky walls inside Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine. Late 18th-century descriptions of this subterranean penitentiary were bleak.
"Some of the words are, hell, a dungeon, woeful mansion," Bengel said.
You'd think this would be the perfect place to find bats. It's a dark damp cave. But during a bat survey here last winter scientists only found 10.
That's because of white-nose syndrome. A disease caused by a fungus, which flourishes in caves, just like this one. The fungus gets on the muzzle and wings of bats, waking them up from hibernation, and depleting the fat they need to survive the winter.
It's been more than a decade since the disease was first identified in North America. Since then, white-nose has killed off millions of bats across New England and other parts of the U.S. and Canada.
"We have a site in western Connecticut that was over 3,300 bats that we documented during a winter hibernaculum survey in 2007," said Kate Moran, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "We returned there in 2009 and there were more like 300 bats. We returned there in 2010, and we counted fewer than a dozen bats. It was carnage, really."
White-nose was first documented in New York in the winter of 2006 to 2007. Since then, it's spread to at least 33 states and 7 Canadian provinces, including all of New England. In Connecticut caves, DEEP biologist Brian Hess said it's virtually everywhere.
"To our knowledge, all of the caves in Connecticut have the fungal pathogen living in them," Hess said.
Across Connecticut, the numbers of cave-dwelling bats like the northern long-eared bat, little brown bat, and tri-colored bat all dropped dramatically between 2007 and 2010. Moran said they still haven't recovered.
"In New England bats were very common. The northern long-eared bat was probably the most common bat we had throughout New England. Now it is the least common bat we have in New England," Moran said.
And it's listed as "threatened" under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Bats are beneficial to people. They eat moths and beetles that can pose dangers to crops. And they also consume mosquitoes, which can spread dangerous diseases like West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis.
Bats also live a long time. Moran said up to 30 years. And bats usually only produce one pup per year, which means any recovery will take a long time.
But it's not all bad news. Hess said that while white-nose syndrome is present in all of Connecticut's caves, there are spots within those areas where the fungus doesn't do as well.
"There are little microclimates within caves that can help bats to survive that fungal load, because the fungus doesn't grow quite as well if it's warmer or cooler, or more or less humid than the fungus really, really likes," Hess said.
What the fungus also doesn't like, is going outside. It doesn't survive in UV light or in springtime temperatures, so if a bat can make it through the winter, it can still have a shot at recovery.
That means hope for both the bats and the biologists working to conserve them.
"They're still here. They haven't blinked out," Hess said. "When you have these introductions of diseases or pests, things are dire. But the fact that we still have bats is an encouragement and a reason to keep trying to make sure they still hang around."
Hess said next year, the plan is to come back to New-Gate, to count bats and try to learn a little bit more about the handful of winter survivors who will awaken from an ecological nightmare.
"Black Software" Book, Mucus. Oct 25, 2019, Part 2 2019-10-25 13:36:39 When the World Wide Web was first being developed, African American software engineers, journalists and entrepreneurs were building search engines, directories, and forums to connect and bring on black web users and communities. In his book Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, Charlton McIlwain tells the stories of these individuals. McIlwain also discusses the role these technologies can play in racial justice including how digital data can become segregated and the role social media platforms can play in offline social movements.
Plus, mucus gets a bad rap for its "ick" factor. But without it, you couldn't blink, swallow, smell, or taste. You couldn't digest your food, either. In fact, you wouldn't even exist. The slimy material is the miraculous reason for our survival. Mucus is a ubiquitous natural goo. Jellyfish and hagfish have it; corals, which spend 40% of their daily energy intake producing mucus, are coated with it; even vegetables ooze it.
The substance is built from tiny thread-like polymers that look like bottle brushes, she says, and that backbone is studded with sugars called glycans. Those sugars appear to be one of the key ingredients that allows mucus to pacify problematic pathogens, according to a new study from Ribbeck's group. The work is in the journal Nature Microbiology. In this segment, Ribbeck talks with Ira about the molecular complexities of mucus, and the many wondrous qualities of this potent and protective natural goo.
Spiders, Quantum Supremacy, Missouri Runoff. Oct 25, 2019, Part 1 2019-10-25 13:36:01 Spiders were one of the first animals to evolve on land. And over the span of 400 million years of speciation and evolution, they've learned some amazing tricks. One of their trademarks? The strong, sticky substance that we call silkâevery spider produces it, whether for weaving webs, wrapping prey, or even leaving trails on the ground for potential mates.
But every silk is unique, each with different chemistry and different physical properties. Even a single spider web may use multiple kinds of silk. So how did spiders develop these wondrous fibers? We hear from Cheryl Hayashi at the American Museum of Natural History, Sarah Han at the University of Akron, and Linda Rayor at Cornell University about their work.
Plus, a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico has states along the Mississippi working to reduce nutrient runoff. Science and environment reporter Eli Chen from St. Louis Public Radio tells the us the State of Science.
And, Google says its quantum computer has achieved in just 200 seconds what would take a supercomputer thousands of years. But IBM is pushing back. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins Ira to talk about what this means and other stories from this week in science.
Degrees Of Change: Climate Change Migration. Oct. 18, 2019, Part 1 2019-10-18 13:31:19 When the water rises, whether from heavy rains or rising seas, communities have a few options: reinforce flood-threatened homes, rebuild after the water recedes, orâin places where the threat of repeated floods and even more damage is increasingâleave.
And while leaving may feel synonymous with defeat, more cities and states are interested in encouraging people to leave risky floodplainsâa process called managed retreat. FEMA offers a buyout program that usually involves offering homeowners money to encourage them to move elsewhere. New York Times reporter Christopher Flavelle and University of Delaware social scientist A.R. Siders describe some of the different ways cities and states have attempted the process: from Staten Island residents who took buyouts after flooding from Hurricane Sandy, to Louisiana's new statewide plan for strategically targeting high-risk areas.
But how can managed retreat go wrong? New research in Science Advances from Siders and her colleagues has found that it's often rich counties that apply for FEMA money, and they often use it for buying out poorer residentsâleading to questions of whether resources or opportunities are being distributed equitably. Jola Ajibade, a geographer at Portland State University, expands these questions to the global scale: In Lagos, Nigeria, managed retreat offers no financial incentive to people being asked to leave. And in Manila, Philippines, people are offered new homes, but aren't given a way to earn a livelihood.
Finally, with enough planning, can retreating retain the fabric of an entire community? In Sidney, New York, neighbors have been waiting eight years trying to move together to higher groundâand they're still caught up in red tape. The planned relocation of a Native American community on Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, has hit roadblocks as well. But small Midwestern towns fleeing massive river floods have tried the same, and seem to be thriving decades later: see Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, and Valmeyer, Illinois. Lehigh University anthropologist David Casagrande explains why collective community planning may end up being a key factor in retreat that leaves peoples' lives and livelihoods most intact.
At a United Nations climate meeting in Poland last year, President Trump's advisor on energy and climate change didn't advance a forward-thinking plan to tackle climate change, but instead extolled the virtues of natural gas and even coalâone of the dirtiest fossil fuels. So, in the absence of meaningful federal policy on climate change, a grassroots effort by 435 U.S. mayors seeks to solve the climate problem, starting at the local level instead.
Emily Atkin, who writes the HEATED newsletter about the climate crisis, talks about that and other climate policy stories in the news, such as the lack of climate questions at the Democratic debate and the candidates' views on punishing fossil fuel companies; Google donations that fuel climate science denial; and the Department of Agriculture's lack of assistance for farmers dealing with increasingly extreme weather.
Office Air Pollution, Tetris Decisions, Alzheimer's Update. Oct 11, 2019, Part 2 2019-10-11 13:42:11 If you live and work in an urban area, you might think about the air quality outside your home or workplace. But what about the air quality inside the office? It turns out that on average, indoor environments have higher concentrations of potentially harmful substances, such as aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). While past research has focused on chemical emissions from building materials, cleaning supplies, and even furniture, air pollution researchers are increasingly looking at another source of toxic air: us.
New research from Purdue University to be presented at the American Association for Aerosol Research conference has found that the majority of indoor VOCs may be released by a seemingly innocuous source: human beings, their lunches and coffee breaks, and anything they may wear or bring to work. And many of these compounds, such as the terpenes released by peeling an orange, or the squalene released in human skin oil, react with ozone to form even more worrisome molecules.
If you've ever played the classic puzzle-like computer game Tetris, you know that it starts out slowly. As the seven different pieces (called "zoids" by the initiated) descend from the top of the screen, a player has to shift the pieces horizontally and rotate them so that they fit into a gap in the stack of pieces at the bottom of the screen, or "well." In early levels, the pieces might take 10-15 seconds to fall. The speed increases at each level.
In world champion Tetris matches, players often start play at Level 18âin which pieces are on the screen for about a second. Wayne Gray, a professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic University, calls it a problem of "predictive processing and predictive action." Champion-level expert players, he says, are able to take in the state of the gameboard and react almost immediately, without going through the mental steps of figuring out how to move the piece and rotate it that a novice player requires. "They can see the problem and reach a decision at the same time," he said.
Gray and colleagues have attended the Classic World Tetris Championship tournament for three years, collecting data from expert players using a modified version of the game that collects keystrokes and eye-tracking data. He joins Ira to discuss what the researchers are learning about expert decision-making, and what he hopes to study at this year's upcoming Tetris tournament.
The pharmaceutical industry has been on a 30 year mission to develop a drug to treat Alzheimer's disease. The culprits behind the disease, they thought, were the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of these patients. For many decades removing these plaques to treat Alzheimer's was the goal.
But then drug after drug targeting amyloid failed to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer'sâthe so-called "amyloid hypothesis" wasn't bearing out. But drug companies kept developing and testing drugs that attacked amyloid from every angleâperhaps at the expense of pursuing other avenues of treatment.
This past summer, two more high profile clinical trials of drugs to treat Alzheimer's failed. That brings the number of successful treatments for the disease, which affects 5.8 million Americans, to zero.
George Perry, professor of biology at UT San Antonio and Derek Lower, a drug researcher and pharmaceutical industry expert join Ira to explain what led pharmaceutical companies to doggedly pursue the amyloid hypothesis for decades, and whether or not they are ready to start trying something else.
Trust In Science, California Power Outages, Regrowing Cartilage. Oct 11, 2019, Part 1 2019-10-11 13:40:42 Despite widely reported attacks on science, the vast majority of Americans continue to trust scientists, according to the latest survey from the Pew Research Center. Many listeners of Science Friday might take it as a given that we should trust science, but is that trust well-founded? Naomi Oreskes, history of science professor at Harvard University, argues that we should. In her new book, Why Trust Science?, she explains how science works and what makes it trustworthy. (Hint: it's not the scientific method.)
Pacific Gas & Electric has generated confusionânot to mention outrageâwith its power grid shutdowns. The situation continues for a second day in 34 California counties. On social media and phone calls to KQED's Forum radio program, people throughout PG&E's service area have asked how and why the investor-owned utility took this step. KQED reporters have some answers to some of the questions that have come in.
Why Is PG&E Turning the Power Off? Is This PG&E's Fault?
Bottom line, PG&E doesn't want to risk having its power lines start another fire, so it is pre-emptively turning the power off during this week's dry, windy weather. The company made the decision based on information from its wildfire center, where meteorologists keep watch on fire conditions.
PG&E's power lines have sparked many catastrophic wildfires in California, including last year's Camp Fire in Butte County that caused 85 deaths, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in 100 years. PG&E lines started more than a dozen fires in 2017. Less than a month ago, the company agreed to pay billion in a settlement with victims of the recent fires.
The shutoffs are part of its wildfire mitigation plan, mandated by the state and agreed to by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state's top power regulator. â Kevin Stark
Who Made This Decision? When Did They Make It?
If past practice tells us anything, PG&E has been making and remaking this decision, with the help of its meteorological team, over several days. The utility says it considers weather, fuel and other conditions and observations, as well as the need for notice by state and local parties, when it decides to implement shutoffs. As we've seen over the last few days, the planned outage times can change with shifting conditions.
The fact is, there's nothing new about turning off power lines when conditions get risky: San Diego Gas and Electric, with the permission of the CPUC, has mitigated fire risk this way since 2012. What is new are the guidelines PG&E filed just a year ago for its public safety power shutoff procedures.
For the last couple of years, the CPUC has required investor-owned utilities to describe their processes for arriving at decisions like the one affecting nearly three dozen California counties right now. PG&E shut off power two times last year; the last time PG&E called a public safety power shutoff, for two days in June, it affected about 22,000 customers in the North Bay and the Sierra foothills, including Butte County and Paradise. â Molly Peterson
Read more questions and answers on Science Friday.
Cartilage is the connective tissue that provides padding between your joints. As we age, the wearing down of cartilage can lead to different types of arthritis. It's been long believed that once humans lose cartilage, it can never grow back. Now, a team of researchers investigated this idea, and found that the cartilage in our ankles might be able to turnover more easily compared to our hips and knees. Their results were published in the journal Science Advances. Rheumatologist Virginia Byers Kraus, who was an author on the study, discusses how human cartilage might be able to regenerate and what this means for future treatments.
Accessing Better Health Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
#544 Prosperity Without Growth The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...