Episodes

Air Datesort ascending Title
Dec 21, 2015
Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
The science of unease.
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Shhh.  Is someone coming? Okay, we’ll make this quick.  There are a lot of scary things going on in the world.  Naturally you’re fearful.  But sometimes fear has a sister emotion: suspicion.  A nagging worry about what’s really going on. You know, the stuff they aren’t telling you.  Don’t share this, but we have evidence that both our fear response and our tendency to believe conspiracy theories are evolutionarily adaptive.  

Dec 14, 2015
Look Who's Not Talking
Look Who's Not Talking
Technology takes over.
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We may be connected, but some say we’re not communicating.  The consequences could be dire.  A U.S. Army major says that social media are breaking up our “band of brothers,” and that soldiers who tweet rather than talk have less cohesion in combat.

Dec 07, 2015
Cosmic Conundra
Cosmic Conundra
What’s going on?
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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:

Nov 30, 2015
Happily Confused
Happily Confused
Emotion commotion.
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ENCORE Do you feel happy today? How about happily disgusted? Maybe sadly surprised, or sadly disgusted? Human emotions are complex. But at least they’re the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment. And people with autism don’t feel the emotions that others do.

Nov 23, 2015
Climate Conversation
Climate Conversation
Meeting in Paris
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The Paris climate talks are scheduled to go ahead despite the terrorist attacks, and attendees hope to sign an international agreement on climate change.  A BBC reporter covering the meetings tells us what we can expect from the conference.

Also, it’s unclear whether Pope Francis himself will travel to the City of Light, but his encyclical may have already influenced the talks there.  A historian considers whether the Church’s acceptance of climate change represents a departure from its historical positions on science.  Galileo, anyone?

Nov 16, 2015
Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
Skeptic Check: Paleo Diet
Eating like a caveman.
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ENCORE  What’s for dinner? Meat, acorns, tubers, and fruit. Followers of the Paleo diet say we should eat what our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago, when our genes were perfectly in synch with the environment.

We investigate the reasoning behind going paleo with the movement’s pioneer, as well as with an evolutionary biologist. Is it true that our genes haven’t changed much since our hunter-gatherer days?

Plus, a surprising dental discovery is nothing for cavemen to smile about.

Nov 09, 2015
Thinking About Thinking
Thinking About Thinking
It’s not what you thought.
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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.   

Nov 02, 2015
Going All to Species
Going All to Species
Unearthing Homo naledi
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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. 

Oct 26, 2015
Skeptic Check: Check the Skeptics
Skeptic Check: Check the Skeptics
When can we trust science?
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ENCORE  One day, coffee is good for you; the next, it’s not. And it seems that everything you eat is linked to cancer, according to research. But scientific studies are not always accurate. Insufficient data, biased measurements, or a faulty analysis can trip them up. And that’s why scientists are always skeptical.

Hear one academic say that more than half of all published results are wrong, but that science still remains the best tool we have for learning about nature.

Also, a cosmologist points to reasons why science can never give us all the answers.

Oct 19, 2015
Smiley Virus
Smiley Virus
Biological bits we like.
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ENCORE  For many, the word virus is a synonym for disease – diseases of humans, plants, and even computers. Ebola is an example: a virus with a big and terrifying reputation. And yet the vast majority of viruses are not only friendly, they are essential for life.

Find out how viruses make plant life in Yellowstone’s hottest environments possible, and fear your spinach salad no longer: a scientist recruits viruses to defeat E. coli bacteria.

Oct 12, 2015
Space for Everyone
Space for Everyone
Is the final frontier finally opening up?
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ENCORE Is space the place for you? With a hefty amount of moolah, a trip there and back can be all yours. But when the price comes down, traffic into space may make the L.A. freeway look like a back-country lane.

Space is more accessible than it once was, from the development of private commercial flights … to a radical new telescope that makes everyone an astronomer … to mining asteroids for their metals and water to keep humanity humming for a long time.

Plus, move over Russia and America: Why the next words you hear from space may be in Mandarin.

Oct 05, 2015
Martian Madness
Martian Madness
How to survive on a hostile, alien world.
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 It’s the starkly beautiful setting for the new film “The Martian,” and – just in time – NASA has announced that the Red Planet is more than a little damp, with liquid water occasionally oozing over its surface.  But Mars remains hostile terrain.  Mark Watney, the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon, struggles to survive there. If he has a hard time, what chance does anyone else have?

Sep 28, 2015
Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?
Skeptic Check: What, We Worry?
Scientific hand-wringing.
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ENCORE  We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them, should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.

But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.

Sep 21, 2015
No Face to Hide
No Face to Hide
Facial recognition technology is here.
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Face it – your mug is not entirely yours.  It’s routinely uploaded to social media pages and captured on CCTV cameras with – and without – your consent.  Sophisticated facial recognition technology can identify you and even make links to your personal data.  There are few places where you’re safe from scrutiny.  

Sep 14, 2015
Stranded
Stranded
It’s still possible.
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ENCORE Imagine not knowing where you are – and no one else knowing either. Today, that’s pretty unlikely. Digital devices pinpoint our location within a few feet, so it’s hard to get lost anymore. But we can still get stranded.

A reporter onboard an Antarctic ship that was stuck for weeks in sea ice describes his experience, and contrasts that with a stranding a hundred years prior in which explorers ate their dogs to survive.

Sep 07, 2015
The Pest of Us
The Pest of Us
Our buggy future.
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ENCORE Picture a cockroach skittering across your kitchen. Eeww! Now imagine it served as an entrée at your local restaurant. There’s good reason these diminutive arthropods give us the willies – but they may also be the key to protein-rich meals of the future. Get ready for cricket casserole, as our relationship to bugs is about to change.

Also, share in one man’s panic attack when he is swarmed by grasshoppers. And the evolutionary reason insects revolt us, but also why the cicada’s buzz and the beetle’s click may have inspired humans to make music.

Aug 31, 2015
What Lies Beneath
What Lies Beneath
The marvels and menace of the sea.
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What you can’t see may astound you.  The largest unexplored region of Earth is the ocean.  Beneath its churning surface, oceanographers have recently discovered the largest volcano in the world – perhaps in the solar system.

Find out what is known – and yet to be discovered – about the marine life of the abyss, and how a fish called the bristlemouth has grabbed the crown for “most numerous vertebrate on Earth” from the chicken.

Plus, the menace of America’s Cascadia fault, which has the potential to unleash a devastating magnitude 9 earthquake. 

Aug 24, 2015
The Light Stuff
The Light Stuff
An illuminating show.
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The light bulb needs changing.  Edison’s incandescent bulb, virtually unaltered for more than a century, is now being eclipsed by the LED.  The creative applications for these small and efficient devices are endless: on tape, on wallpaper, even in contact lenses.  They will set the world aglow.  But is a brighter world a better one?

Aug 10, 2015
Solar System Vacation
Solar System Vacation
Get away from it all.
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Ever gone bungee jumping on Venus?  Of course not.  No one has.  However your great-great-great grandchildren might find themselves packing for the cloudy planet … or for another locale in our cosmic backyard.  That’s what we picture as we accelerate our imagination to escape velocity and beyond – and tour vacation spots that are out of this world.

Aug 03, 2015
The Fix is In
The Fix is In
The science of self-repair.
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The moon jellyfish has remarkable approach to self-repair.  If it loses a limb, it rearranges its remaining body parts to once again become radially symmetric.  Humans can’t do that, but a new approach that combines biology with nanotechnology could give our immune systems a boost.  Would you drink a beaker of nanobots if they could help you fight cancer?

Also, materials science gets into self-healing with a novel concrete that fixes its own cracks.