Episodes

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. 


Skeptic Check: Amelia Earhart
Jan 23, 2017
New clues to what happened.

She’s among the most famous missing persons in history.  On the eightieth anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, mystery still shrouds her fate.  What happened during the last leg of her round-the-world trek?


No Face to Hide
Jan 09, 2017
Facial recognition technology is here.

ENCORE  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.  


The Light Stuff
Jan 02, 2017
An illuminating show.

ENCORE 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?


The Fix is In
Dec 26, 2016
The science of self-repair.

ENCORE  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. 


Skeptic Check: Fear Itself
Dec 19, 2016
The science of unease.

ENCORE  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.  


What Lies Beneath
Nov 28, 2016
The marvels and menace of the sea.

ENCORE 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. 


Nov 07, 2016
From stardust to colonies.

ENCORE Earth may be the cradle of life, but our bodies are filled with materials cooked up billions of years ago in the scorching centers of stars. As Carl Sagan said, “We are all stardust.” We came from space, and some say it is to space we will return.

Discover an astronomer’s quest to track down remains of these ancient chemical kitchens. Plus, a scientist who says that it’s in our DNA to explore – and not just the nearby worlds of the solar system, but perhaps far beyond.


Hidden History
Oct 31, 2016
Reinterpreting the past.

ENCORE Archeologists continue to hunt for the city of Atlantis, even though it may never have existed. But, what if it did? Its discovery would change ancient history. Sometimes when we dig around in the past, we can change our understanding of how we got to where we are.

We thought we had wrapped up the death of the dinosaurs: blame it on an asteroid. But evidence unearthed in Antarctica and elsewhere suggests the rock from space wasn’t the sole culprit.


Moral's Law
Oct 24, 2016
Are we becoming better behaved?

ENCORE “If it bleeds, it leads” is the tried and true tenet of news.  Indeed, headlines are often no more than a long list of moral atrocities.  Yet one man argues that we’re living in the most civilized era in history.  And he credits this to scientific thought and reason.  

Hang on!  Our executive function isn’t enough to promote ethical behavior, says a psychologist.  The real fuel behind our drive to be good?  Anger, compassion, pride: your emotions!


Skeptic Check: Science and the Election
Oct 10, 2016
Why is science missing?

This year’s election is divisive, but one subject enjoys some consensus: science and technology policies are important.  So why aren’t the candidates discussing these issues?  The answers might surprise you.

The organizer of Science Debate, who wants a live debate devoted to science and technology, describes one obstacle to meaningful discussion.  He also shares how the candidates responded to probing questions about science. 


Skeptic Seth
Sep 26, 2016
A day of critical thinking.

ENCORE Are you skeptical?  Sure, you raise an eyebrow when some Nigerian prince asks for your bank numbers, or when a breakfast cereal claims that it will turn your kid into a professional athlete overnight.

But what do you really know about the benefits of organic milk?  Or the power of whitening ingredients in your toothpaste?  How credible is what you read on Twitter?

Today, information overwhelms us, and the need to keep our skeptical wits about us has never been greater.  We follow Seth around as he faces the daily onslaught of hype and hokum.


Sep 12, 2016
When we control the DNA.

ENCORE Darwinian evolution is adaptive and slow … millennia can go by before a species changes very much. But with the tools of genetic engineering we can now make radical changes in just one generation. By removing genes or inserting new ones, we can give an organism radically different traits and behaviors. We are taking evolution into our own hands.

It all began with the domestication of plants and animals, which one science writer says created civilization. Today, as humans tinker with their own genome, is it possible we will produce Homo sapiens 2.0?


Asteroids!
Sep 05, 2016
Weighing the risks.

Everyone knows that a big rock did in the dinosaurs, but smaller asteroids are millions of times more common and can also make a violent impact. Yet unlike the bigger asteroids, we’re not tracking them. Find out what we’d need to keep an eye on the size of space rocks such as that which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. And how an asteroid whizzed by Earth in late August 2016, only hours after it had been spotted.


Aug 22, 2016
No place to hide.

ENCORE You’re a private person. But as long as you’re on-line and have skin and hair, you’re shedding little bits of data and DNA everywhere you go. Find out how that personal information – whether or not it’s used against you – is no longer solely your own. Are your private thoughts next?

A security expert shares stories of ingenious computer hacking … a forensic scientist develops tools to create a mug shot based on a snippet of DNA … and from the frontiers of neuroscience: mind reading may no longer be the stuff of sketchy psychics.


Are We Over the Moon
Aug 15, 2016
Lunar return on hold.

When astronaut Gene Cernan stepped off the moon in 1972, he didn’t think he’d be the last human ever to touch its surface.  But no one’s been back.  Hear astronaut Cernan’s reaction to being the last man on the moon, the reasons why President Kennedy launched the Apollo program, and why Americans haven’t returned.

Now other countries – and companies – are vying for a bigger piece of the space pie. Find out who – or what – will be visiting and even profiting.  Will the moon become an important place to make money?  


Aug 08, 2016
To heaven and back?

ENCORE There are few enduring truths, but one is that no one gets out of life alive. What’s less certain is what comes next. Does everything stop with death, or are we transported to another plane of existence? First-hand accounts of people who claim to have visited heaven are offered as proof of an afterlife. Now the author of one bestseller admits that his story was fabricated.


Raising the Minimum Age
Jul 18, 2016
How far can technology take us?

ENCORE  We all try to fight it: the inexorable march of time. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist, and all those wrinkle creams can’t help. But modern science is giving us new weapons in the fight against aging. So how far are we willing to go?

Hear when aging begins, a summary of the latest biotech research, and how a lab full of youthful worms might help humans stay healthy.