Episodes

Air Datesort ascending Title
Jan 12, 2014
Skeptic Check: Zombies Aren't Real
The undead invade.
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Zombies are making a killing in popular culture. But where did the idea behind these mythical, cerebrum-supping nasties come from? Discover why they may be a hard-wired inheritance from our Pleistocene past.

Also, how a whimsical mathematical model of a Zombie apocalypse can help us withstand earthquakes and disease outbreaks, and how the rabies virus contributed to zombie mythology.

Plus, new ideas for how doctors should respond when humans are in a limbo state between life and death: no pulse, but their brains continue to hum.

Jan 05, 2014
Can We Talk?
Make contact.
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ENCORE You can get your point across in many ways: email, texts, or even face-to-face conversation (does anyone do that anymore?). But ants use chemical messages when organizing their ant buddies for an attack on your kitchen. Meanwhile, your human brain sends messages to other brains without you uttering a word.

Hear these communication stories … how language evolved in the first place… why our brains love a good tale …and how Facebook is keeping native languages from going extinct.

Dec 29, 2013
Animal Instinct
What we can learn
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ENCORE Mooooove over, make way for the cows, the chickens … and other animals! Humans can learn a lot from our hairy, feathered, four-legged friends. We may wear suits and play Sudoku, but Homo sapiens are primates just the same. We’ve met the animal, and it is us.

Discover the surprising similarity between our diseases and those that afflict other animals, including pigs that develop eating disorders. Plus, what the octopus can teach us about national security … how monkeying around evolved into human speech … and the origins of moral behavior in humans.

Dec 22, 2013
Group Think
All together now.
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ENCORE If two is company and three a crowd, what’s the ideal number to write a play or invent a new operating system? Some say you need groups to be creative. Others disagree: breakthroughs come only in solitude.

Hear both sides, and find out why you always have company even when alone: meet the “parliament of selves” that drive your brain’s decision-making.

Plus, how ideas of societies lead them to thrive or fall, and why educated conservatives have lost trust in science.

Dec 15, 2013
Some Like It Cold
How low can we go?
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We all may prefer the goldilocks zone - not too hot, not too cold. But most of the universe is bitterly cold. We can learn a lot about it if we're willing to brave a temperature drop.

A chilly Arctic island is the closest thing to Mars-on-Earth for scientists who want to go to the Red Planet. Meanwhile, the ice sheet at the South Pole is ideal for catching neutrinos – ghostly particles that may reveal secrets about the nature of the universe.

Comet ISON is comet ice-off after its passage close to the Sun, but it’s still giving us the word on solar system’s earliest years.

Nov 24, 2013
Skeptic Check: Science Blunders
What drives science.
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ENCORE We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.

Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.

And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.

Nov 16, 2013
The Heat is On
Superstorms and climate change.
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After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.

Nov 03, 2013
Life Back Then
Evolution takes patience.
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ENCORE Time keeps on ticking, ticking … and as it does, evolution operates to produce remarkable changes in species. Wings may appear, tails disappear. Sea creatures drag themselves onto the shore and become landlubbers. But it’s not easy to grasp the expansive time scales involved in these transformative feats.

Travel through millennia, back through mega and giga years, for a sense of what can occur over deep time, from the Cambrian Explosion to the age of the dinosaurs to the rise of Homo sapiens.

Oct 27, 2013
Shutting Down Science
When public funds become problematic.
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“Sorry, closed for business.” That sign hung on doors of national laboratories when the US government shut down. What that meant for one Antarctic researcher: her critically important work was left out in the cold.

So just what do we lose when public funds for science fade? The tools for answering big questions about our universe for one, says a NASA scientist … while one of this year's Nobel Prize winners fears that it is driving our young researchers to pursue their work overseas.

Oct 20, 2013
Skeptic Check: War of the Worlds
The invasion that never happened.
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It was the most famous invasion that never happened. But Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast sure sounded convincing as it used news bulletins and eyewitness accounts to describe an existential Martian attack. The public panicked. Or did it? New research says that claims of mass hysteria were overblown.

On the 75th anniversary of the broadcast: How the media manufactured descriptions of a fearful public and why – with our continued fondness for conspiracies – we could be hoodwinked again.

Oct 13, 2013
Emergence
From cell to consciousness.
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Your brain is made up of cells. Each one does its own, cell thing. But remarkable behavior emerges when lots of them join up in the grey matter club. You are a conscious being – a single neuron isn’t.

Find out about the counter-intuitive process known as emergence – when simple stuff develops complex forms and complex behavior – and all without a blueprint.

Plus self-organization in the natural world, and how Darwinian evolution can be speeded up.

Sep 15, 2013
You Say You Want an Evolution?
Just give it time.
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Imagine: Your pint-sized pup is descended from a line of predatory wolves. We have purposefully bred a new species – dogs – to live in harmony with us. But interactions between species, known as co-evolution, happen all the time, even without deliberate intervention. And it’s frequently a boon to survival: Without the symbiotic relationship we have with bugs in our gut, one that’s evolved with time, we wouldn’t exist.

Sep 08, 2013
Skeptic Check: Follywood Science
Fact checkers in Tinseltown
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ENCORE The Day After. 2001. Prometheus. There are sci-fi films a’plenty ... but how much science is in the fiction? We take the fact checkers to Hollywood to investigate the science behind everything from space travel to human cloning.

Plus, guess what sci-fi film is the most scientifically accurate (hint: we’ve already mentioned it). Also, why messing with medical facts on film can be dangerous … and the inside scoop from a writer of one of television’s most successful sci-fi franchises.

Sep 01, 2013
Catch a Wave
Spectrum order.
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ENCORE Let there be light. Otherwise we couldn’t watch a sunset or YouTube. Yet what your eye sees is but a narrow band in the electromagnetic spectrum. Shorten those light waves and you get invisible gamma radiation. Lengthen them and tune into a radio broadcast.

Discover what’s revealed about our universe as you travel along the electromagnetic spectrum. There’s the long of it: an ambitious goal to construct the world’s largest radio telescope array … and the short: a telescope that images high-energy gamma rays from black holes.

Jul 21, 2013
Rife with Life
A solar system tour.
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ENCORE “Follow the water” is the mantra of those who search for life beyond Earth. Where there’s water, there may be life. Join us on a tour of watery solar system bodies that hold promise for biology. Dig beneath the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa, and plunge into the jets of Enceladus, Saturn’s satellite.

And let’s not forget the Red Planet. Mars is rusty and dusty, but it wasn’t always a world of dry dunes. Did life once thrive here? Also, the promise of life in the exotic hydrocarbon lakes of Titan.

Jul 14, 2013
Getting a Spacelift
Ready to blast off?
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ENCORE I need my space… but oh, how to get there? Whether it’s a mission to Mars or an ascent to an asteroid, we explore the hows of human spaceflight. Also, the whys, as in, why send humans to the final frontier if robots are cheaper? Neil deGrasse Tyson weighs in.

Plus, the astronaut who lived on the ocean floor training for a visit to an asteroid. Also, the 100YSS – the 100 Year Starship project – and interstellar travel.

And, as private rockets nip at NASA’s heels, meet one of the first tourists to purchase a (pricey) ticket-to-ride into space.

Jul 07, 2013
Material Whirl
Ready to build.
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ENCORE What’s the world made of? Here’s a concrete answer: a lot of it is built from a dense, knee-scraping substance that is the most common man-made material. But while concrete may be here to stay, plenty of new materials will come our way in the 21st century.

Discover the better, faster, stronger (okay, not faster) materials of the future, and Thomas Edison’s ill-conceived plan to turn concrete into furniture.

Plus, printing objects in 3D… the development of artificial skin… and unearthing the scientific contributions of African-American women chemists.

Jun 16, 2013
Exoplanets
The hunt for new worlds.
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You may be unique, but is your home planet? NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has uncovered thousands of planetary candidates, far far beyond our solar system. Some may be habitable and possibly even Earth-like. But now a failure in its steering apparatus may bring an abrupt end to this pioneering telescope’s search for new worlds.

Jun 02, 2013
Cosmos: It's Big, It's Weird
Multiverses, et al.
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ENCORE It’s all about you. And you, and you, and you and you… that is, if we live in parallel universes. Imagine you doing exactly what you’re doing now, but in an infinite number of universes.

Discover the multiverse theory and why repeats aren’t limited to summer television.

Plus, the physics of riding on a light beam, and the creative analogies a New York Times science writer uses to avoid using the word “weird” to describe dark energy and other weird physics.

May 19, 2013
Skeptic Check: Hostile Climate
Climate change denial re-dux.
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It’s a record we didn’t want to break. The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere hits the 400 parts-per-million mark, a level which some scientists say is a point of no return for stopping climate change. A few days later, a leading newspaper prints an op-ed essay that claims CO2 is getting a bad rap: it’s actually good for the planet. The more the better.

Skeptic Phil Plait rebuts the CO2-is-awesome idea while a paleontologist paints a picture of what Earth was like when the notorious gas last ruled the planet. Note: humans weren’t around.