Episodes

Rational Lampoon
Jul 03, 2017
Why you know much less than you think you do.

Two heads may be better than one.  But what about three or more?  A new study shows that chimpanzees excel at complex tasks when they work in groups, and their accumulated knowledge can even be passed from one generation to the next. 

But group-think also can be maladaptive.  When humans rely on knowledge that they assume other people possess, they can become less than rational.

Find out why one cognitive scientist says that individual thinking is a myth.  Most of your decisions are made in groups, and most derive from emotion, not rationality.


Skeptic Check: How Low Can You Go?
Jun 26, 2017
Cryotherapies.

ENCORE  Baby, it’s cold outside… but you still might want to be there.  Some people claim that chilly temperatures are good for your health, and proponents of cryotherapy suggest you have a blast – of sub-zero air – to stave off wrinkles and perhaps halt aging altogether. 

Meanwhile the field of cryonics offers the ultimate benefit by suggesting that you put future plans – and your body – on ice when you die.  That way you might be revived when the technology to do so is developed.


Perpetual Emotion Machine
Jun 19, 2017
Compassionate computers and irrational human behavior.

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.


Science Fiction
Jun 12, 2017
Why it works.

ENCORE  No one knows what the future will bring, but science fiction authors are willing to take a stab at imagining it.  We take our own stab at imagining them imagining it.  Find out why the genre of science fiction is more than a trippy ride through a bizarre, hi-tech world, but a way to assess and vote on our possible shared future. 


Gene-y in a Bottle
Jun 05, 2017
CRISPR technology

ENCORE  You can’t pick your parents.  But soon you may be able to change the DNA they gave you.  CRISPR technology is poised to take DNA editing to new levels of precision and speed.  Imagine deleting genes from your body that you don’t like and inserting the ones you want.  The swap might not even require a fancy lab.  Biohackers are already tinkering with genes in their homes.  

Find out how CRISPR technology might change everything when the genetic lottery is no longer destiny. 


The Crater Good
May 29, 2017
Back to the moon.

ENCORE  It was “one giant leap for mankind,” but the next step forward may require going back.  Yes, back to the moon.  Only this time the hardware may come from China.  Or perhaps Europe.  In fact, it seems that the only developed nation not going lunar is the U.S.

Find out why our pockmarked satellite is such hot real estate, and whether it has the raw materials we’d need to colonize it.  A new theory of how the moon formed may tell us what’s below its dusty surface.


Science Breaking Bad
May 22, 2017
When fallible humans do science.

The scientific method is tried and true. It has led us to a reliable understanding of things from basic physics to biomedicine.  So yes, we can rely on the scientific method.  The fallible humans behind the research, not so much.  And politicians?  Don’t get us started.  Remember when one brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” that global warming was a hoax?  Oy vey.


100% Invisible
May 15, 2017
Cosmic wonders.

ENCORE  In astronomy, the rule of thumb was simple: If you can’t see it with a telescope, it’s not real.  Seeing is believing.  Well, tell that to the astronomers who discovered dark energy, or dark matter … or, more recently, Planet 9.   And yet we have evidence that all these things exist (although skepticism about the ninth – or is it tenth? – planet still lingers).

Find out how we know what we know about the latest cosmic discoveries – even if we can’t see them directly.  The astronomer who found Planet 9 – and killed Pluto – offers his evidence. 


Time on Your Side
May 08, 2017
Rewinding the biological clock.

Time passes like an arrow, but what if it flew like a boomerang?  Scientists are learning how to reverse time’s most relentless march: aging.  But before we rewind time, let’s try to define it, because there’s plenty of debate about just what time is – a fundamental component of the universe or a construct of our consciousness?

Find out why, even though pondering the future may cause heartburn, mental time travel has an evolutionary survival advantage.

Plus, your brain as a clock; why “brain age” may be more accurate than chronological age in determining lifespan.


Eve of Disruption
May 01, 2017
Past, future, and now.

ENCORE  Only two of the following three creations have had lasting scientific or cultural impact:  The telescope … the Sistine Chapel ceiling … the electric banana.  Find out why one didn’t make the cut as a game-changer, and why certain eras and places produce a remarkable flowering of creativity (we’re looking at you, Athens).


Spacecraft Elegy
Apr 24, 2017
Spacecraft give their all in the name of exploration

Exploration: It’s exciting, it’s novel, and you can’t always count on a round-trip ticket.  You can boldly go, but you might not come back.  That’s no showstopper for robotic explorers, though.  Spacecraft go everywhere.

While humans have traveled no farther than the moon, our mechanical proxies are climbing a mountain on Mars, visiting an ice ball far beyond Pluto, plunging through the rings of Saturn, and landing on a comet.  Oh, and did we mention they’re also bringing rock and roll to the denizens of deep space, in case they wish to listen.


Glutenous Maximus
Apr 17, 2017
Diet trends.

ENCORE  Eat dark chocolate.  Don’t drink coffee.  Go gluten-free.  If you ask people for diet advice, you’ll get a dozen different stories.  Ideas about what’s good for us sprout up faster than alfalfa plants (which are still healthy … we think).  How can you tell if the latest is fact or fad?


Your Brain's Reins
Apr 10, 2017
Your brain’s hidden drivers

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.


Winging It
Apr 03, 2017
Bats, birds, and flying cars.

ENCORE  Ask anyone what extraordinary powers they’d love to have, and you’re sure to hear “be able to fly.”  We’ve kind of scratched that itch with airplanes.  But have we gone as far as we can go, or are better flying machines in our future?  And whatever happened to our collective dream of flying cars?   We look at the evolution - and the future - of flight.

Animals and insects have taught us a lot about the mechanics of becoming airborne.  But surprises remain.  For example, bats may flit around eccentrically, but they are actually more efficient fliers than birds.   


Shell on Earth
Mar 27, 2017
The evolution of protection

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

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


What Have You Got To Move?
Mar 13, 2017
The physics of motion.

Whether they swim, slither, jump, or fly, animal locomotion is more than just an urge to roam: it’s necessary for survival.  Evolution has come up with ingenious schemes to get from here to there.  Hear how backbones evolved as a consequence of fish needing to wag their fins, and why no animals have wheels. 

Motion is more than locomotion. Test the physics of movement in your kitchen and find out what popping corn has in common with the first steam engine.


Cosmic Conundra
Mar 06, 2017
What’s going on?

ENCORE  Admit it – the universe is cool, but weird.  Just when you think you’ve tallied up all the peculiar phenomena that the cosmos has to offer – it throws more at you. We examine some of the recent perplexing finds.

Could massive asteroid impacts be as predictable as phases of the moon?  Speaking of moons – why are some of Pluto’s spinning like turbine-powered pinwheels?  Plus, we examine a scientist’s claim of evidence for parallel universes.

And, could the light patterns from a distant star be caused by alien mega-structures? 

Guests:


Skeptic Check: Not So Sweet
Feb 27, 2017
Is sugar a major cause of disease?

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease … maybe even Alzheimer’s.  Could these modern scourges have a common denominator?  Some people believe they do: sugar.

But is this accusation warranted?  We talk with a journalist who has spent two decades reporting on nutrition science, and while he says there’s still not definitive proof that sugar makes us sick, he can make a strong case for it.


Thinking About Thinking
Feb 20, 2017
It’s not what you thought.

ENCORE  Congratulations, you have a big brain.  Evolution was good to Homo sapiens.  But make some room on the dais.  Research shows that other animals, such as crows, may not look smart, but can solve complex problems. 

Meanwhile human engineers are busily developing cogitating machines.   Intelligent entities abound – but are they all capable of actual thought?   

Hear how crows fashion tools from new materials and can recognize you by sight.  Also, how an IBM computer may one day outthink the engineers who designed it.   


Going All to Species
Feb 13, 2017
Unearthing Homo naledi

ENCORE Meet your new relatives.   The fossilized bones of Homo naledi are unique for their sheer number, but they may also be fill a special slot in our ancestry: the first of our genus Homo.   Sporting modern hands and feet but only a tiny brain, this creature may link us and our ape-like ancestors.  

Some anthropologists hail the discovery as that of a new hominid species.  Not all their colleagues agree.  Find out what’s at stake in the debate.