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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.