Big Picture Science – Surfeit of the Vitalest

by Gary Niederhoff on November 16, 2014


Big Picture Science – Surfeit of the Vitalest

In the century and a half since Charles Darwin wrote his seminal On the Origin of the Species, our understanding of evolution has changed quite a bit. For one, we have not only identified the inheritance molecule DNA, but have determined its sequence in many animals and planets.

Evolution has evolved, and we take a look at some of the recent developments.

A biologist describes the escalating horn-to-horn and tusk-to-tusk arms race between animals, and a paleoanthropologist explains why the lineage from chimp to human is no longer thought to be a straight line but, instead, a bush. Also, New York Times science writer Carl Zimmer on the diversity of bacteria living on you, and which evolutionary concepts he finds the trickiest to explain to the public.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Doug Emlen / Animal Weapons
Part 2: Bernard Wood / Hominid Entities
Part 3: Carl Zimmer / Biological Diversity

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Big Picture Science – Are You Sure You’re Sure?

Nuclear fission powers the Sun, right? Or is it fusion? At any rate, helium is burned in the process, of that you’re certain. After all, you took astronomy in college.

You know what you know. But you probably don’t know what you don’t know. Few of us do. Scientists say we’re spectacularly incompetent at recognizing our own incompetency, and that sometimes leads to trouble.

Find out why wrongness is the by-product of big brains and why even scientists – gasp! – are not immune. Plus, a peek into the trash bin of history; the biggest scientific blunders and the brighter-than-bright brains that made them. Including Darwin and Einstein.

Oh, and the Sun burns hydrogen to produce helium. But then, you knew that.

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: David Dunning / Confident Idiots
Part 2: Robert Burton / Scientific (un)Certainty
Part 3: Brendan Nyhan / Uncertain Science
Part 4: Mario Livio / Brilliant Blunders

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Big Picture Science – Sounds Abound

November 3, 2014

Big Picture Science – Sounds Abound The world is a noisy place. But now we have a better idea what the fuss is about. Not only can we record sound, but our computers allow us to analyze it. Bird sonograms reveal that our feathery friends give each other nicknames and share details about their emotional […]

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Friends Like These

October 26, 2014

Big Picture Science – Friends Like Theseclick to listen! We love our family and friends, but sometimes their ideas about how the world works seem a little wacky. We asked BiPiSci listeners to share examples of what they can’t believe their loved-ones believe, no matter how much they hear rational explanations to the contrary. Then […]

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Big Picture Science – Tale of the Distribution

October 20, 2014

Big Picture Science – Tale of the Distributionclick to listen! We all have at least some musical talent. But very few of us can play the piano like Vladimir Horowitz. His talent was rarefied, and at the tail end of the bell curve of musical ability – that tiny sliver of the distribution where you […]

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Big Picture Science – Who’s Controlling Whom?

October 13, 2014

Big Picture Science – Who’s Controlling Whom?click to listen! A single ant isn’t very brainy. But a group of ants can do remarkable things. Biological swarm behavior is one model for the next generation of tiny robots. Of course, biology can get hijacked: a fungus can seize control of an ant’s brain, for example. So […]

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Big Picture Science – What’s the Difference?

October 5, 2014

Big Picture Science – What’s the Difference?click to listen! We make split second decisions about others – someone is male or female, black or white, us or them. But sometimes the degrees of separation are incredibly few. A mere handful of genes determine skin color, for example. Find out why race is almost non-existent from […]

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Big Picture Science – Land on the Run

September 28, 2014

Big Picture Science – Land on the Runclick to listen! Hang on to your globe. One day it’ll be a collector’s item. The arrangement of continents you see today is not what it once was, nor what it will be tomorrow. Thank plate tectonics. Now evidence suggests that the crowding together of all major land […]

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Is It True?

September 14, 2014

Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Is It True?click to listen! We often hear fantastic scientific claims that would change everything if true. Such as the report that algae is growing on the outside of the International Space Station or that engineers have built a rocket that requires no propellant to accelerate. We examine news […]

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Big Picture Science – A Sudden Change in Planets

September 7, 2014

Big Picture Science – A Sudden Change in Planetsclick to listen! A planet is a planet is a planet. Unless it’s Pluto – then it’s a dwarf planet. But even then it’s a planet, according to experts. So what was behind the unpopular re-classification of Pluto by astronomers, and were they justified? As the New […]

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