Episodes

Nov 29, 2009
The anti-vax movement.

As the anti-vax campaign rages, parents are just saying “no” to vaccines. But now the incidence of childhood diseases such as whooping cough are on the rise.

A number of studies have refuted the link between vaccines, autism and other chronic conditions, yet the anti-vaccine movement continues. Find out why. Also, how the media have irresponsibility framed the debate.

Plus, we panic over plague, sweat about swine flu, but don’t think twice about jumping in a car and roaring down a crowded highway at 70 mph. Discover why most of our health worries are overblown.


Nov 22, 2009
Life’s friendliest element.

Bond it to oxygen and it’s the scourge of climate change. But earthly life wouldn’t be possible without carbon, and maybe that’s true for alien life, too.

And carbon has other exciting forms: tiny diamonds may be evidence of a catastrophic comet impact 13,000 years ago. And, chalky carbonates may point to a once-habitable Mars.

So get cozy with carbon. Find out if you could swap it for silicon in DNA. Plus, the conundrum of calculating a carbon footprint.


Nov 08, 2009
Popcorn and pandemonium.

Hollywood has a few ideas of how the world will end: killer asteroids … lethal pandemics … deadly ice-ages. These themes have all played out on the big screen. But, hey, they’re only movies, right?

We’ll separate the science from the fiction in doomsday movies. From the 2012 prophesy of the Mayans … to colliding worlds … to abrupt climate change, find out which among this crowd of cinematic scares are for real, and which aren’t worth the price of popcorn.


Oct 25, 2009
How placebos heal.

Popping a pill may help when you’re sick… but maybe not for the reasons you think. Sugar pills - placebos - cure illness better than prescription pills in as many as half of all cases in clinical trials … and the placebo effect is getting stronger.

Plus, the safety – or otherwise - of electromagnetic waves, and the “electro-sensitive” refugees who have built a camp to protect themselves from waves they say are causing pain. Is it all in their minds?


Sep 20, 2009
Cryogenics and zombies.

The undead, those mindless shambling specters from the grave, are enjoying a cultural (if not literal) resurgence, in films, books, and through strange, urban “zombie crawls.”

Discover the unearthly appeal of these reanimated beings and why playing dead may mirror the real social alienation of our digital lives. Also, how mathematicians use “zombie attacks” to model real disease epidemics, such as swine flu.

Plus – another case of life in suspension: the promise and peril of cryonics.

And, Phil Plait’s vacationing brains swallow a hoax moon-landing-hoax story.


Sep 13, 2009
New discoveries.

It’s hot, too darn hot! And bright, too darn bright! But over-the-top photon flux doesn’t stop scientists from studying the sun. And solar eclipses are an ideal time for observing our favorite nuclear reactor. Discover what it was like to observe totality during the 2009 China solar eclipse.

Plus, how a star is born … the latest from the NASA Kepler mission to seek Earth-like planets … and, planet-hunter extraordinaire Mike Brown discovers the tenth planet: an icy body beyond Pluto.


Sep 06, 2009
Mysteries of physics.

What makes up the universe? Lots of tiny particles with strange names: bosons, leptons, quarks and neutrinos. But physicists think there are more members to be discovered in this particle zoo.

From strange particles to dark matter to vibrating strings, find out why you have to think small to understand the physics of the universe.

Plus, other cosmic connections: is SETI a religion?


Aug 30, 2009
Reading the brain.

Say what you mean. That's difficult, if you don't know what you're thinking. But the neuromarketers do, and they'll be happy to tell Madison Avenue what's on your mind. Discover why this marketing strategy is wired for success.

Also, Steven Pinker on how language reveals private thoughts as well as why the big-brained Homo neanderthalensis couldn't out-compete Homo sapiens. And, we tease your gray matter with the "Monty Hall Problem."


Jul 26, 2009
Is the net changing how we behave?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the second of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part II: Behavior: how computers compel us to interact with them... why your iPod may improve your health... why Facebook may leave you friendless... the unintended consequences of past innovation... and the growing threat of "videophilia."


Jul 19, 2009
Is the net changing how we think?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the first of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part I: Thought: whether Google is making us stupid... how the Internet is curtailing creativity... and the future of a hyper-networked world that does all our thinking for us.


Jun 28, 2009
Onward and upward.

When the economy's down, will humans still be going up - into space, that is? We investigate the future of human spaceflight at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland and find out whether sending Homo sapiens to the Moon and Mars is still a good idea. Also, the chief of Virgin Galactic is happy to send you into space on a private flight - but it may max out your credit card.


Jun 07, 2009
Astronomy at high speeds.

Feel the need for speed? Well, you’ll need an extra helping of speed if you plan to leave the Earth and explore other parts of the solar system. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, and as part of our series for the International Year of Astronomy: what it’s like to travel in a rocket (why you won’t feel any motion), and NASA’s plans for returning to the moon.


May 17, 2009
The biological roots of human behavior.

We see a man laughing and we smile in response. Our heart goes out to the sad-looking woman on the train. Humans are empathetic creatures - we feel what others feel, even the emotions of strangers. And it may be due to brain cells that researchers have only recently discovered: mirror neurons. Find out how these mimicking cells help us survive cocktail parties, keep society humming, and even give rise to the concept of self.

Also, are humans born with a moral code? And, if human behavior is hard-wired - whatever becomes of free will?


May 03, 2009
The age of synthetic biology.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? You changed his look by snapping in plastic mustaches, googly eyes and feet. Now imagine doing the same with a living cell: inserting the genes you want to create the organism you want. Welcome to the world of synthetic biology. It has potential to create new bio-fuels and life-saving drugs. It also ushers in a host of ethical and safety concerns. We examine both when we discuss this emerging science of mix and match genes.

Plus, does doing an end run around Mother Nature challenge the essence of life itself?


Apr 19, 2009
From Fossils to ET Signals

For nearly four billion years, life has been swimming and shuffling across our planet. But how can we deduce what it was like? You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to track the clues of life that came before – call on an anthropologist or biologist. From fossils to alien radio signals, find out how to interpret the clues that living organisms leave behind, and hear adventure stories in the evolution of life on Earth.

Also, the discovery of a dino-eating crocodile and the tale of scientist/explorer/polymath Idaho Brown.


Apr 12, 2009
Keeping ourselves in the dark.

Europe is a country. Six justices sit on the Supreme Court. The Vietnamese attacked Pearl Harbor. If ignorance is bliss, this is one happy-go-lucky country. The average American's grasp of history, current events, and geography is so poor, according to one journalist, we've become a nation of dunces, seriously undermining our own future.

Keeping ourselves in the dark.


Mar 29, 2009
Communicating with the aliens.

Ever try talking to an alien? In the movies, they always speak perfect English. But what if we really made contact? Could we just whip out a universal translator - or even a babelfish - to understand one another?

Let's say we do learn to communicate: what to say, what to say? We'll hear the protocol for just how to reply to ET. And, from Klingon to Esperanto: the recipe for creating a language from scratch.

Plus, get ready to babble with your Blackberry: how computers are learning to recognize - and respond - to human speech.


Mar 22, 2009
Do Numbers Count?

Pick a number, any number. Got it? Good. Is it a lucky or unlucky? Is it a code that gives you a clue to the future? A lot of people assign all sorts of magical significance to numbers. From Friday the 13th to lucky number 7 – we’ll find out whether the idea of digits of destiny adds up. Plus, 666 and 616: find out what famous figures these figures code for.

Learn the numbers that do have significance in math and nature: how a honey bee’s lineage is an example of the Fibonacci series.


Mar 08, 2009
Fighting the decline.

Forgot your own birthday? Misplaced your Shih Tzu? Did you put the milk in your backpack and the iPod in the fridge? Age may bring wisdom but - alas - not a boost in RAM. But there's hope - scientists are discovering that the brain is more malleable than thought. We'll hear about the science of neuroplasticity and what you can do to slow that cerebellum slide. Ever been to a brain gym?

>p>Plus, why the brains of London cabbies are bigger than those of your average commuter.


Feb 15, 2009
Astrobiologists discuss cosmic life.

How did the first cells make the scene? Could there be critters on some newly discovered planets? And what happens if we ever encounter weird life? These may not be the sort of questions you hear being bandied about in your local coffee shop, but they were hot topics at the AbSciCon conference held recently in Santa Clara, California, and sponsored by the SETI Institute.