Episodes

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?


Geology is Destiny
Jan 16, 2017
How Earth’s history has shaped ours

The record of the rocks is not just the history of Earth; it’s your history too.  Geologists can learn about events going back billions of years that influenced – and even made possible – our present-day existence and shaped our society.

If the last Ice Age had been a bit warmer, the rivers and lakes of the Midwest would have been much farther north and the U.S. might still be a small country of 13 states.  If some Mediterranean islands hadn’t twisted a bit, no roads would have led to Rome.


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.  


Are Animals Really That Smart?
Dec 12, 2016
Clever critters

You own a cat, or is it vice versa?  Family friendly felines have trained their owners to do their bidding.  Thanks to a successful evolutionary adaptation, they rule your house.

Find out how your cat has you wrapped around its paw.  And it’s not the only animal to outwit us.  Primatologist Frans de Waal shares the surprising intellectual capabilities of chimps, elephants, and bats.  In fact, could it be that we’re simply not smart enough to see how smart animals are?


Brain Dust
Dec 05, 2016
Brain Dust: Getting inside your head

Know your brain?  Think again.  Driven by a hidden agenda, powered by an indecipherable web of neurons, and influenced by other brains, your grey matter is a black box.

To "know thyself" may be a challenge, and free will nonexistent, but maybe more technology can shed light on the goings on in your noggin, and the rest of your body.

Find out how tiny implanted sensors called “brain dust” may reveal what really going on.

Plus, the day when your brain is uploaded into a computer as ones and zeros.  Will you still be you?

Guests:


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. 


Weather Vain
Nov 21, 2016
Trying to get control

Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. Not that they haven’t tried.  History is replete with attempts to control the weather, but we’d settle for an accurate seven-day forecast.

Find out how sophisticated technology might improve accuracy, including predicting the behavior of severe storms.  Plus, the age when “weather forecast” was a laughable idea, but why 19th century rebel scientists pursued it anyway.


Aliens - The Evidence
Nov 14, 2016
Make your best case.

Once again the aliens have landed … in theaters.  It’s no spoiler to say that the latest cinematic sci-fi, Arrival, involves extraterrestrials visiting Earth. 

But for some folks, the film’s premise is hardly shocking.  They’re convinced that the aliens have already come.  But is there any proof that aliens are here now or that they landed long ago to, for example, help build the Egyptian pyramids?

Meanwhile, SETI scientists are deploying their big antennas in an effort to establish that extraterrestrials exist far beyond Earth.


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!


Time Travel Agents
Oct 17, 2016
Yesterday may be our future.

Hey, let’s meet last week for coffee.  Okay, we can’t meet in the past … yet.  But could it be only a matter of time before we can?  In an attempt to defy the grandfather paradox, scientists try sending a photon back in time to destroy itself. 

Also, find out how teleportation allows particles to instantaneously skip through space-time and why sending humans wouldn’t violate the laws of physics. 


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. 


Venom Diagram
Oct 03, 2016
One animal’s poison is another’s cure.

We all get defensive sometimes.  For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”.  A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely. 

But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure.  Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs.

Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease. 


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.


Sex Post Facto
Sep 19, 2016
What’s next.

Birds do it, bees do it, but humans may not do it for much longer.  At least not for having children.  Relying on sex to reproduce could be supplanted by making babies in the lab, where parents-to-be can select genomes that will ensure ideal physical and behavioral traits.

Men hoping to be fathers should act sooner rather than later.  These same advancements in biotechnology could allow women to fertilize their own eggs, making the need for male sperm obsolete. 


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?