Episodes

Aug 30, 2009
Reading the brain.

Say what you mean. That's difficult, if you don't know what you're thinking. But the neuromarketers do, and they'll be happy to tell Madison Avenue what's on your mind. Discover why this marketing strategy is wired for success.

Also, Steven Pinker on how language reveals private thoughts as well as why the big-brained Homo neanderthalensis couldn't out-compete Homo sapiens. And, we tease your gray matter with the "Monty Hall Problem."


Jul 26, 2009
Is the net changing how we behave?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the second of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part II: Behavior: how computers compel us to interact with them... why your iPod may improve your health... why Facebook may leave you friendless... the unintended consequences of past innovation... and the growing threat of "videophilia."


Jul 19, 2009
Is the net changing how we think?

From iPods to Google to Facebook - information swims at our fingertips and friends are just a txt msg away. Digital devices have re-defined what it means to be connected - but how else are they shaping behavior? Join us for the first of a two-part series on how the network is changing how we think and act.

Part I: Thought: whether Google is making us stupid... how the Internet is curtailing creativity... and the future of a hyper-networked world that does all our thinking for us.


Jun 28, 2009
Onward and upward.

When the economy's down, will humans still be going up - into space, that is? We investigate the future of human spaceflight at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland and find out whether sending Homo sapiens to the Moon and Mars is still a good idea. Also, the chief of Virgin Galactic is happy to send you into space on a private flight - but it may max out your credit card.


Jun 07, 2009
Astronomy at high speeds.

Feel the need for speed? Well, you’ll need an extra helping of speed if you plan to leave the Earth and explore other parts of the solar system. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, and as part of our series for the International Year of Astronomy: what it’s like to travel in a rocket (why you won’t feel any motion), and NASA’s plans for returning to the moon.


May 17, 2009
The biological roots of human behavior.

We see a man laughing and we smile in response. Our heart goes out to the sad-looking woman on the train. Humans are empathetic creatures - we feel what others feel, even the emotions of strangers. And it may be due to brain cells that researchers have only recently discovered: mirror neurons. Find out how these mimicking cells help us survive cocktail parties, keep society humming, and even give rise to the concept of self.

Also, are humans born with a moral code? And, if human behavior is hard-wired - whatever becomes of free will?


May 03, 2009
The age of synthetic biology.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? You changed his look by snapping in plastic mustaches, googly eyes and feet. Now imagine doing the same with a living cell: inserting the genes you want to create the organism you want. Welcome to the world of synthetic biology. It has potential to create new bio-fuels and life-saving drugs. It also ushers in a host of ethical and safety concerns. We examine both when we discuss this emerging science of mix and match genes.

Plus, does doing an end run around Mother Nature challenge the essence of life itself?


Apr 19, 2009
From Fossils to ET Signals

For nearly four billion years, life has been swimming and shuffling across our planet. But how can we deduce what it was like? You don’t need Sherlock Holmes to track the clues of life that came before – call on an anthropologist or biologist. From fossils to alien radio signals, find out how to interpret the clues that living organisms leave behind, and hear adventure stories in the evolution of life on Earth.

Also, the discovery of a dino-eating crocodile and the tale of scientist/explorer/polymath Idaho Brown.


Apr 12, 2009
Keeping ourselves in the dark.

Europe is a country. Six justices sit on the Supreme Court. The Vietnamese attacked Pearl Harbor. If ignorance is bliss, this is one happy-go-lucky country. The average American's grasp of history, current events, and geography is so poor, according to one journalist, we've become a nation of dunces, seriously undermining our own future.

Keeping ourselves in the dark.


Mar 29, 2009
Communicating with the aliens.

Ever try talking to an alien? In the movies, they always speak perfect English. But what if we really made contact? Could we just whip out a universal translator - or even a babelfish - to understand one another?

Let's say we do learn to communicate: what to say, what to say? We'll hear the protocol for just how to reply to ET. And, from Klingon to Esperanto: the recipe for creating a language from scratch.

Plus, get ready to babble with your Blackberry: how computers are learning to recognize - and respond - to human speech.


Mar 22, 2009
Do Numbers Count?

Pick a number, any number. Got it? Good. Is it a lucky or unlucky? Is it a code that gives you a clue to the future? A lot of people assign all sorts of magical significance to numbers. From Friday the 13th to lucky number 7 – we’ll find out whether the idea of digits of destiny adds up. Plus, 666 and 616: find out what famous figures these figures code for.

Learn the numbers that do have significance in math and nature: how a honey bee’s lineage is an example of the Fibonacci series.


Mar 08, 2009
Fighting the decline.

Forgot your own birthday? Misplaced your Shih Tzu? Did you put the milk in your backpack and the iPod in the fridge? Age may bring wisdom but - alas - not a boost in RAM. But there's hope - scientists are discovering that the brain is more malleable than thought. We'll hear about the science of neuroplasticity and what you can do to slow that cerebellum slide. Ever been to a brain gym?

>p>Plus, why the brains of London cabbies are bigger than those of your average commuter.


Feb 15, 2009
Astrobiologists discuss cosmic life.

How did the first cells make the scene? Could there be critters on some newly discovered planets? And what happens if we ever encounter weird life? These may not be the sort of questions you hear being bandied about in your local coffee shop, but they were hot topics at the AbSciCon conference held recently in Santa Clara, California, and sponsored by the SETI Institute.


Feb 08, 2009
Our prediction addiction.

We all want to peek into the future and find out what fate has in store: Will I get that raise? Is love around the corner? What’s the winning combo in Las Vegas? Some people claim the ability to see events before they occur. Find out how accurate their prognostications are.

Plus, how the job market drove the granddaddy of “I told you so” – Nostradamus – into the business of soothsaying.


Jan 18, 2009
Releasing the inner you.

Maybe Dr. Doolittle was on to something; animals are smarter than we think. Birds, apes, and dolphins are all clever problem solvers with a rich vocabularly and - in some cases - self-awareness. Find out what you can learn from our furry, finned and feathered friends. Also, why you are so much an animal yourself, all the way down to the bare bones.

Plus, enter the locked vaults that hold extinct and newly-discovered animal species. And why B-movie critters steal the show.


Jan 11, 2009
Astronomy is looking up.

A loud radio hiss is coming from the cosmos. Is it the swan song of the first giant stars of the universe?

Find out from stargazers attending the American Astronomical Society meeting in California... the brightest flash in the universe illuminates how a galaxy grows up... a planet hunter closes in on Earth-size prey.

Also, find out how to spy on the universe from the comfort of your living room. Plus, the four-century-old history of the telescope... and Galileo didn't invent it!

It's the kick off to the International Year of Astronomy - so scope it out!


Jan 04, 2009
Everything you always wanted to know.

We all know how sex begins: a dimly-lit room, a come-hither smile, and a surfeit of parasol-shaded cocktails. But long before all that, the gentle currents of the ancient sea floor set the mood. It was there, 570 million years ago, that two ropy sea creatures found each other and changed the course of evolution.

Hear how sex began and where it's headed: if you think your love life is mechanical now, just wait until you're cozying up to titanium skin and the latest emotion software.


Dec 28, 2008
In defense of the smart-set.

There are two kinds of people: those who are unstylish, socially inept, yet academically gifted, and those who tease them. Being a nerd is rough; it's no fun to sit alone in the cafeteria or be forced to dine on beach sandwiches. But revenge is sweet: the world depends more than ever on the witty and gifted to keep it technologically and scientifically turning. So who gets the last laugh? Just ask Bill Gates. Then again, have attitudes towards eggheads really matured? Just ask Al Gore.


Dec 21, 2008
Can the two get along?

Leonardo da Vinci is considered a genius for combining art and science. But how usual is this for us mere mortals? Can science and art sucessfully inform each other?

We'll hear how the insights of French writer Marcel Proust anticipated modern neuroscience. Also, a debate over the evolutionary function of art. Does it have survival value? We meet a robot whose painting talents have garnered it a job in one of America's top museums. And, hear - or don't hear - why some of our relatives don't monkey around with music.


Dec 14, 2008
Why We Believe.

Half of all Americans believe in ghosts - despite any compelling evidence of their existence. Find out why we believe in what we can't see, and why loneliness may increase our chances of a poltergeist experience. Hear the tale of the Toys R Us ghost, and scope out the latest in haunted real estate.

Also, why our Hollywood skeptic is tired of wild ghost chases and Phil Plait speaks out on lapses in critical thinking. This week: vaccination and autism.

 

It's Skeptical Sunday... but don't take our word for it!