Inquiring Minds

By Indre Viskontas & Kishore Hari

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Category: Social Sciences

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Rebecca Y.
 Aug 5, 2018


Each week Inquiring Minds brings you a new, in-depth exploration of the place where science, politics, and society collide. We’re committed to the idea that making an effort to understand the world around you though science and critical thinking can benefit everyone—and lead to better decisions. We endeavor to find out what’s true, what’s left to discover, and why it all matters with weekly coverage of the latest headlines and probing discussions with leading scientists and thinkers. Produced in partnership with Climate Desk, a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact of a changing climate and consisting of The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.

Episode Date
The Material That Will Revolutionize the World

We talk to chemist Joseph Meany about his book Graphene: The Superstrong, Superthin, and Superversatile Material That Will Revolutionize the World.

Aug 14, 2018
Up To Date | Google Glass Lives! and Breaking Dog Urine News

This week: A Standford study used Google Glass to help kids with autism understand others people’s emotions; and breaking news regarding the way dogs pee. 


Aug 12, 2018
Up To Date | How Plants Tell Time, Lab-Grown Pig Lungs, Stolen Fields Medal

This week: A new study from the University of Bristol showing the way plants accumulate sugar helps them tell what time it is; scientists have successfully transplanted lab-grown lungs into pigs; and Caucher Birkar was awarded the Fields Medal—and then it was immediately stolen. 


Aug 03, 2018
The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers

Ben Goldfarb is a writer covering wildlife conservation and fisheries management. We talk to him about his new book Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter.

Jul 31, 2018
Up To Date | A Lake on Mars, Dog Empathy, and TBI & the Military

This week: Italian scientists found a body of liquid water on mars using radar; a new study suggests that while dogs do feel empathy for us, training them to be therapy dogs doesn’t make them care more, it makes them more obedient; and research shows that military training can result in traumatic brain injuries even outside of combat. 


Jul 28, 2018
Revisiting Flint: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope

We talk to Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who first proved that Flint’s kids were exposed to lead about her new book What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City.


Jul 24, 2018
Up To Date | GMO Acceptance, Elle Macpherson, and Friendly Fish

This week: New research suggests labeling can increase GMO acceptance; Elle Macpherson’s terrible new boyfriend (it’s relevant, I swear); and research looking into the personality of caught fish.

Links mentioned:

Jul 21, 2018
How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius

We talk to sports and business journalist Zach Schonbrun about his new book The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius.

Jul 17, 2018
Up To Date - Killing Cancer Cells and Exploring the Sunk Cost Fallacy (In Rats)

This week: New research into using CRISPR to destroy cancer cells with other cancer cells and a study suggesting rodents aren’t immune to the sunk cost fallacy. 


Jul 14, 2018
Nikola Tesla: Inventor of the Modern

We talk to author Richard Munson about his new Nikola Tesla biography Tesla: Inventor of the Modern.

Jul 10, 2018
Up To Date | Air Pollution and Diabetes, Large Scale Microbiome Studies, and Why Driving Makes You Sleepy

This week: New research exploring the link between air pollution and diabetes; the huge potential of doing large scale microbiome studies; and a look into why driving makes babies (and the rest of us) sleepy.

Links mentioned:

Jul 07, 2018
Aroused: The History of Hormones

We talk to Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D, lecturer at Yale university, writer in residence at Yale Medical School, and author of the new book Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.

Jul 03, 2018
Up To Date | Longevity Pioneers, Leaky Methane, and Predicting Earthquakes

This week: New research shows mortality rates level off if you can reach a certain age; the problem of methane gas leaking from power plants; and a new likely candidate for where California’s next big earthquake will take place.

Links mentioned:

Jun 29, 2018
Motherhood in the Animal Kingdom

We talk to biologist and science writer Carin Bondar about her latest book Wild Moms: Motherhood in the Animal Kingdom.

Jun 26, 2018
Up To Date | Mind Controlling Robots, Viral Alzheimer's Link, and Remembering Koko

This week: New research into controlling robot arms with your brain, a surprising link between a common virus and Alzheimer's Disease, and remembering Koko the gorilla.

Jun 23, 2018
Intelligent Machines Are Changing Everything

How do we create artificial intelligence that isn't bigoted? Can we teach machines to work exactly like our brains work? “You don’t program a machine to be smart,” says our guest this week, “you program the machine to get smarter using data.”

We talk to James Scott, statistician, data scientist, and co-author (with Nick Polson) of the new book AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together.

Jun 18, 2018
Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection

We talk to Peter Rubin, editor at Wired and author of Future Presence: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Human Connection, Intimacy, and the Limits of Ordinary Life.

Jun 12, 2018
Up To Date | Don’t Eat Clay, Do Eat Dark Chocolate

This week: New research shows a 6-month treatment for breast cancer is nearly as successful as the previously-standard 12-month course; the surprising effects that clay can have on your body; and a look into new studies that give new reasons why dark chocolate is good for you.

Huge thanks to guest co-host Adam Bristol!

Links mentioned:

Jun 09, 2018
The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

We talk to Carl Zimmer, New York Times columnist and author of 13 books about science about his latest book She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

Jun 05, 2018
Up To Date | Where Happiness Comes From, and Why

In this mini-episode, Kishore talks to neuroscientist and author Dean Burnett about his new book Happy Brain: Where Happiness Comes From, and Why.

Jun 01, 2018
Why We're Addicted to Screens

We talk to Adam Alter, author and marketing and psychology professor at NYU's Stern School of Business about his book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

May 28, 2018
Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

We talk to planetary scientist and New Horizons’ mission leader Alan Stern and astrobiologist David Grinspoon about their new book Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto.

May 22, 2018
Up To Date | Snail Memory Transplants, Eyes In The Back Of Your Head, and Treating Epilepsy with CBD

This week: There are reports that scientists have ‘transferred a memory' in snails—what does the research actually say?; we examine a study that suggests people can form a “sphere a sensitivity” around their heads; and we look at new research on using Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from the cannabis plant as treatment for a severe form of epilepsy.

Links mentioned:

May 18, 2018
The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods

We talk to Danna Staaf, a science writer with a PhD in invertebrate biology from Stanford University, about her new book Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods.

May 14, 2018
Up To Date | Pre-pregnancy Genome Sequencing, Mass Prescribing Antibiotics, and the Trolley Problem

This week: A study looking at how much actionable information pre-pregnancy genome sequencing can actually give you; the benefits and consequences of mass mass prescribing antibiotics; and a new study looking at the trolley problem and how peoples’ hypothetical judgment compares to their real-life behavior.

Links mentioned:

May 12, 2018
The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor

We talk to science writer and neurobiologist Lone Frank about her latest book The Pleasure Shock: The Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation and Its Forgotten Inventor.

May 07, 2018
Up To Date | Genetically Editing Fat Tissue, A Turing Test For Water, and Another Mars Lander

University of Copenhagen scientists managed to genetically delete an enzyme in mice that made it impossible for them to get fat, even on a very fatty diet; Alan Turing wrote a paper in 1952 that is still having impacts on science today in ways you may not expect; and NASA sends the InSight Lander to Mars.

May 05, 2018
Losing the Nobel Prize

We talk to astrophysicist Brian Keating about new his book Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor.

May 01, 2018
Up To Date | Anonymous Study Subjects, Genetically Engineered Livestock, and Asteroids Delivering Water

This week: Scott Pruitt’s fight against anonymous study subjects, a debate on should be regulating genetically engineered livestock, and new research that shows asteroids could have delivered water to the early Earth.

Apr 28, 2018
How We Evolved to Have Free Will

We talk to biologist Kenneth R. Miller about his new book The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will.

Apr 23, 2018
Up To Date | Night Owl Death, Space Launches, and Viagra’s Greater Purpose

This week: new research shows being a night owl might mean you’re at a greater risk of dying early, multiple interesting space launches are happening, and there’s new research into using phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors like Viagra and Cialis to help other drugs do their job better.

Apr 20, 2018
Creating Empathy With Immersive Virtual Reality

We talk to the founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Jeremy Bailenson. Bailenson’s lab studies how virtual reality can affect empathy—how it makes you feel to virtually embody someone else. VR offers the ability to be in someone else’s shoes in a way that you can’t recreate in real life—and those immersive experiences, whether it be facing a day in the life of a person experiencing homelessness, or diving to the corals that are right now being bleached by climate change, have lingering effects on all of us.

Apr 16, 2018
Up-To-Date | Does It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence

Kishore talks to Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti, authors of Does It Fart?: The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence.

Apr 13, 2018
The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics

We talk to astrophysicist Adam Becker about his new book What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics.

Apr 09, 2018
Up-To-Date | James Webb, Shrimp, and Chilled-Out Monkeys

We're introducing a new, additional weekly episode! Every Friday, listen to Indre and Kishore do a quick recap of some of the week's most interesting science news.

Today, we talk about why shrimp and lobster fishing might be worse for the environment than you think, the ongoing troubles with the James Webb Space Telescope, and a study that sort of shows monkeys who go to the spa are more relaxed.

Apr 07, 2018
The Neuroscience of How We Think

We have a big announcement! After 220 episodes, we are striking out on our own. Thanks to Mother Jones for being our home for the past 5 years. Look for new segments and episodes as we expand creatively, while still bringing you in depth conversations with scientists.

This week, we talk to neuroscientist Daniel Krawczyk about his book Reasoning: The Neuroscience of How We Think.

Dan also studies traumatic brain injury in veterans, using virtual reality as a part of cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Apr 02, 2018
Jellyfish Science

We talk to ocean scientist and science writer Juli Berwald about her new book Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone.

Mar 27, 2018
The Politics of Rainforests

We talk to Rhett Butler, editor-in-chief and CEO of Mongabay, a nonprofit organization which seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife, while examining the impact of emerging trends in climate, technology, economics, and finance on conservation and development.

Mar 20, 2018
What We Really Know About Gun Violence

We talk to Stanford law professor and economist John Donohue who for the better part of the last 20 years has been doing research into understanding gun violence.

Mar 13, 2018
100% Renewable Energy by 2050

We talk to Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering Mark Jacobson about his research that shows it’s possible for the world to be using 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050.

Mar 06, 2018
The Broad Potential of Psychoactive Drugs

We talk to journalist and science writer Hamilton Morris about his Viceland docuseries “Hamilton's Pharmacopeia” and the history and science of psychoactive drugs.

Feb 27, 2018
The Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance

We talk to Alex Hutchinson, author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.

Feb 19, 2018
It's Time to Rethink Ocean Conservation

We talk to marine biologist, policy expert, and conservation strategist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson about why we need to rethink ocean conservation.

Feb 06, 2018
Science Got Women Wrong

We talk to science journalist and author Angela Saini about her latest book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story.

Jan 23, 2018
A Volcano Scientist Runs for Congress

We talk to Jess Phoenix, a volcanologist, geologist, and 2018 Democratic candidate seeking election to California's 25th Congressional District.

Jan 16, 2018
Mapping Human Brains

We talk to neuroscientist Lucina Uddin about her work mapping human brains.

Jan 09, 2018
Losing Genes but Gaining Music | [BONUS EP] Cadence | S02 Episode 01

Happy new year! It’s a bonus podcast: episode one of the second season of Indre’s other podcast, Cadence. 

Subscribe to Cadence here:



This season, we’re going to focus on music as medicine—telling the stories of people whose lives have been immeasurably improved with music. In this episode, we talk about William’s Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes heart problems, intellectual disabilities and a profound love of music. We hear from 31-year-old Benjamin Monkaba, who has the condition, his mother Terry, and Jennifer Latson, author of The Boy Who Loved Too Much, a book about William's Syndrome.

Jan 01, 2018
How One Emotion Connects Altruists and Psychopaths

We talk to professor of psychology & neuroscience Abigail Marsh about her new book The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between.

Dec 25, 2017
Lessons in Investigating Death

We talk to Ken Holmes, who worked in the Marin County Coroner’s Office for thirty-six years, starting as a death investigator and ending as the three-term, elected coroner. A new book, The Education of a Coroner: Lessons in Investigating Death, chronicles his life spent studying death.

Dec 19, 2017
Lost Einsteins: Left Behind by the Innovation Economy

We talk to celebrated Stanford economist Raj Chetty about his work focusing on using empirical evidence—often big data—to inform the design of more effective governmental policies.

Dec 12, 2017
Getting Politicians to Talk About Science

We talk to Sheril Kirshenbaum, executive director of Science Debate (, a nonpartisan organization that asks candidates, elected officials, the public and the media to focus more on science policy issues of vital importance to modern life.

Dec 05, 2017
Black Hole Blues

We talk to theoretical astrophysicist Janna Levin about her book Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.

Nov 28, 2017
Why Dinosaurs Matter

We talk to paleontologist, professor, expeditioner, and science communicator Ken Lacovara about his recent book Why Dinosaurs Matter.

Nov 21, 2017
What's Going on in the Brain of a Fetus?

We talk to pediatric neuroscientist Moriah Thomason about her research into what we can learn by imaging the brains of fetuses before they're born.

Nov 14, 2017
How Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History

We talk to sports writer Erik Malinowski about his new book Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History.

Nov 07, 2017
A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides

In a joint production with Stevie Lepp and the Reckonings podcast we hear from Jerry Taylor, a former professional climate change skeptic who switched sides entirely.

Oct 30, 2017
Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything

We talk to cartoonist and author Zach Weinersmith about his latest book, Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything, co-written with his wife, parasitologist Kelly Weinersmith.

Oct 24, 2017
A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump

We talk to renowned psychiatrist Allen Frances about his latest book Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.

Oct 17, 2017
Molecules From Caesar's Last Breath Are Inside You

We talk to science writer Sam Kean about his latest book Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us.

Oct 03, 2017
Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology

We talk to Oliver Uberti and James Cheshire, authors of the new book Where the Animals Go: Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics.

Sep 27, 2017
Why Buddhism is True

We talk to journalist, scholar, and prize-winning author Robert Wright about his latest book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.

Sep 18, 2017
The Psychology of Hate

We talk to clinical psychologist Ali Mattu about the psychology of dehumanization and hate.

Sep 12, 2017
Jonathan Lynn on Why US Healthcare Is Worthy of Ridicule

We talk to award winning writer and director Jonathan Lynn about his latest novel, Samaritans, which is a satirical look at the US healthcare system. His films as director include Clue, Nuns on the Run (both of which he wrote), My Cousin Vinny, The Distinguished Gentleman and The Whole Nine Yards.

Aug 31, 2017
The Great American Solar Eclipse

We talk to astronomer Andrew Fraknoi about the upcoming total solar eclipse—the first total solar eclipse over North America in decades—on August 21st, 2017, and how you can best enjoy it.

Aug 15, 2017
The Science of Game of Thrones

We talk to English comedian and writer Helen Keen about her new book The Science of Game of Thrones: A myth-busting, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping and fun-filled expedition through the world of Game of Thrones.

Aug 07, 2017
Why Are We Curious?

We talk to acclaimed astrophysicist Mario Livio about his new book Why?: What Makes Us Curious.

Jul 31, 2017
We've Got to Start Eating Insects

We talk to entomologist Brian Fisher about his his research on ants in Mozambique and his new initiative to get entomologists more directly involved in conservation—a big part of which involves edible insects.

Jul 24, 2017
186 Jason Silva - Origins: The Journey of Humankind

We talk to Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s new show Origins: The Journey of Humankind.

Jul 17, 2017
185 Jennifer Latson - A True Story of Pathological Friendliness

We talk to journalist Jennifer Latson about Williams syndrome and her new book The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness.

Jul 03, 2017
184 Zeynep Tufekci - Twitter and Tear Gas

We talk to Zeynep Tufekci, writer and associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, about her book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.

Jun 26, 2017
183 Dean Buonomano - The Neuroscience and Physics of Time
We talk to neuroscientist Dean Buonomano about his new book “Your Brain Is a Time Machine: The Neuroscience and Physics of Time.”
Jun 19, 2017
182 Ty Tashiro - The Science of Being Awkward
We talk to psychologist Ty Tashiro about his new book “Awkward: The Science of Why We're Socially Awkward & Why That's Awesome.”
Jun 06, 2017
181 Mike Drucker - How to Write Science Into Comedy
We talk to Mike Drucker, co-head writer for Bill Nye Saves the World, writer for Adam Ruins Everything, the Tonight Show, and much more about incorporating science into comedy writing.
May 29, 2017
180 The Unique Challenge of Being a Woman in Engineering [Collaboration with Cited]
In this second and final special collaborative episode with the Cited podcast, Indre and guest host Alexander B. Kim focus on women in engineering and the obstacles they face throughout their careers.
May 22, 2017
179 The Leaky Pipeline of Women in Science [Collaboration with Cited]
In this special collaborative episode with the Cited podcast, Indre and guest host Alexander B. Kim look into the “leaky pipeline” of women in science. There are many stages you go through from early school to a career in science and there are points along the way at which women seem to disproportionately slip out of that pipeline. This week we talk to researchers trying to learn more about why that happens and what we can do about it.
May 15, 2017
178 Teresa Zimmers - The Murky Science of Lethal Injection
We talk to associate professor of surgery at Indiana University Teresa Zimmers about her work on whether or not lethal injection drugs actually provide a humane, painless death as promised.
May 09, 2017
177 Bill Nye - Let’s Change the World
We talk to Bill Nye about his approach to communicating climate change and what he hopes will change in the future.
May 05, 2017
176 Paul Doherty - The Actual Science Behind Outlandish Deaths
We talk to Paul Doherty, senior staff scientist at San Francisco’s famed Exploratorium Museum about his new book “And Then You're Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara.”
Apr 25, 2017
175 Sharon Begley - Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions
We talk to science writer Sharon Begley about her new book “Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions.”
Apr 17, 2017
174 James Beacham - The Exciting World of Particle Hunters
We talk to James Beacham, particle physicist with the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN about what it’s like to hunt for strange new subatomic particles.
Apr 10, 2017
[BONUS EP] Cadence | Episode 01: What Is Music?
It's the first episode of Indre's new podcast, Cadence! (Don’t worry, she’s not leaving Inquiring Minds.) Cadence is a podcast about music and how it affects your mind. What is music? How would you define it? Does it defy definition? In this episode we try to get answers to those questions from from a pioneer in music cognition research, a musicologist, and an otolaryngologist who surgically restores hearing and studies the brain basis of musical improvisation. If you like this first episode and want to hear more, subscribe to Cadence here: iTunes: RSS:
Apr 04, 2017
173 Mary Roach - Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
We talk to science writer Mary Roach about the science of your guts and her book “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.”
Apr 04, 2017
172 Dan Ariely - The Surprising Science of What Motivates Us
We talk to Dan Ariely, the James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University about what actually motivates us to get things done—to finish that novel, to stick to a diet, or even to want to get up and go to work every day.
Mar 27, 2017
171 Siddhartha Roy - The Science Behind the Flint Water Crisis
We talk to Siddhartha Roy, a PhD student and graduate researcher in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. Roy is a founding member of the Virginia Tech Flint Water Study and has worked on the ground in Flint applying his research on corrosion and plumbing to the crisis.
Mar 20, 2017
170 Steven Hatch - Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story
We talk to Dr. Steven Hatch, a specialist in infectious diseases and immunology about his latest book “Inferno: A Doctor's Ebola Story,” an account of his time in Liberia during the height of the ebola epidemic in 2014.
Mar 13, 2017
169 Daniel Levitin - The Emerging Epidemic of the Silent Home
We talk to neuroscientist, music producer, and best-selling author Daniel Levitin about his recent research into how playing music in the home affects us.
Mar 06, 2017
168 Alison Van Eenennaam - Gene Editing Livestock
We talk to researcher in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at UC Davis Alison Van Eenennaam about the science of gene editing livestock.
Feb 27, 2017
167 Haider Warraich - Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life
We talk to physician, writer, and clinical researcher Haider Warraich about his most recent book "Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life."
Feb 20, 2017
166 Alan Burdick - Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation
We talk to Alan Burdick, staff writer and former senior editor for The New Yorker, about his most recent book "Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation.”
Feb 13, 2017
165 Nate Allen - Why Science Is Huge on Reddit
We talk to Nate Allen, chemist and head moderator of one of the internet’s largest science communities: Reddit’s r/science subreddit.
Feb 06, 2017
164 Alexandra Wolfe - Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story
We talk to author and Wall Street Journal reporter Alexandra Wolfe about her new book Valley of the Gods: A Silicon Valley Story.
Jan 23, 2017
163 Dave Levitan - The Return Of "I'm Not a Scientist”
This week, as we near the inauguration of Donald Trump, we revisit a conversation with science journalist Dave Levitan about his book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science.
Jan 16, 2017
162 Paul Bloom - Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
We welcome back cognitive scientist Paul Bloom to talk about his new book Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.
Jan 09, 2017
161 Patrick Wolff - How to Become a Grandmaster Chess Champion
We talk to American chess Grandmaster Patrick Wolff.
Dec 23, 2016
160 Helen Czerski - The Little Bits of Physics in Everyday Life
We talk to physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski about her new book Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life.
Dec 16, 2016
159 David Grinspoon - Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future
We talk to astrobiologist David Grinspoon about his latest book Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future.
Dec 09, 2016
158 Lee van der Voo - The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate
We talk to investigative journalist Lee van der Voo about her new book The Fish Market: Inside the Big-Money Battle for the Ocean and Your Dinner Plate.
Dec 02, 2016
157 Erik Vance - The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal
We talk to science writer Erik Vance about his new book Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain's Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal.
Nov 25, 2016
156 Heather Hill - Taking a Second Look at SeaWorld
We talk to marine biologist and marine mammal specialist Heather Hill about her work on marine mammal training and why it might disagree with much of what we covered in episode #146 with John Hargrove.
Nov 18, 2016
155 Chris and Evan Hadfield - An Astronaut Explores the Arctic
We talk to Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield and his son Evan Hadfield about their recent exploration into the Arctic and Greenland on the legendary icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov.
Nov 12, 2016
154 Changing Political Minds - The Deep Story With Arlie Hochschild and Reckonings
We team up with Stephanie Lepp from the Reckonings podcast and talk to sociologist Arlie Hochschild about whether or not this election is causing more people than usual to change their minds about politics. We then hear from two voters who did in fact make some kind of transformation during this election season—one young voter who was voting in his second presidential election and one long-time voter and political insider who has been voting for 40 years.
Nov 04, 2016
153 Merlin Tuttle - The Secret Lives of Bats
We talk to ecologist, conservationist and wildlife photographer Merlin Tuttle about his book The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals.
Oct 28, 2016
152 Abigail Tucker - How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World
We talk to science writer Abigail Tucker about her new book The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.
Oct 22, 2016
151 Irva Hertz-Picciotto - Should We Worry More About Toxic Environmental Chemicals?
We talk to Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Professor at the University of California Davis MIND Institute, Director of the NIH-funded UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center, and co-founder of Project TENDR, a collaborative effort of scientists, clinicians, policy-makers and advocates that aims to decrease the incidence of neurodevelopmental disorders by reducing neurotoxicant exposures that contribute to them.
Oct 14, 2016
150 Stuart Firestein - Why Science Needs to Fail
We talk to Stuart Firestein, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, about his latest book Failure: Why Science Is So Successful.
Sep 30, 2016
149 Sarah Ballard / Jackie Speier - The Appalling Reality of Harassment in Science
We talk to exoplanetary astronomer Sarah Ballard and congresswoman Jackie Speier about sexual harassment within the scientific community.
Sep 23, 2016
148 Judith Schwartz - Hope for a Thirsty World
We talk to science journalist Judith Schwartz about her new book Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World.
Sep 16, 2016
147 Dave Levitan - How Politicians Mangle Science
We talk to science journalist Dave Levitan about his new book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science.
Sep 09, 2016
146 John Hargrove - Taking on SeaWorld
We talk to former Senior killer-whale trainer for SeaWorld and supervisor of Killer Whale Training for Marineland in the South of France about his book Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.
Aug 26, 2016
145 Carin Bondar - Wild Sex
We talk to biologist Carin Bondar about her new book Wild Sex: The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom.
Aug 19, 2016
144 Ed Yong - I Contain Multitudes
We talk to award-winning British science writer Ed Yong about his recent book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.
Aug 12, 2016
143 The Stories That Collection Museums Hold
We talk about the significance of collection museums with Emily Grasile, Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum; Shannon Bennett, Chief of Science at the California Academy of Sciences; and Jack Dumbacher, chairman and curator of the California Academy of Science’s Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy.
Aug 08, 2016
142 Hank Greely - The End of Sex
We talk to Hank Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University’s School of Medicine about his new book The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction.
Jul 22, 2016
141 Marek Glezerman - The Science of Gender Medicine
We talk to Marek Glezerman, professor emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology and currently chairman of the Ethics Committee at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University about his book Gender Medicine: The Groundbreaking New Science of Gender- and Sex-Based Diagnosis and Treatment.
Jul 15, 2016
140 Janna Levin - This Is the Sound of Two Black Holes Colliding
We talk to Janna Levin, professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College and author of Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space.
Jul 08, 2016
139 Peter Willcox - Adventures in Protecting the Future of Our Planet
We talk to Peter Willcox, Captain for Greenpeace for over 30 years and author of Greenpeace Captain: My Adventures in Protecting the Future of Our Planet.
Jul 01, 2016
138 Mary Roach - The Curious Science of Humans at War
We welcome best-selling science writer Mary Roach back on the show to talk about her latest book Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.
Jun 24, 2016
137 Jonah Berger - The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior
We talk to professor of marketing and New York Times bestselling author Jonah Berger about his latest book Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.
Jun 17, 2016
136 Siddhartha Mukherjee - An Intimate History of the Gene
We talk to cancer physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee about his latest book The Gene: An Intimate History.
Jun 10, 2016
135 Sean Carroll - Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself
We talk to theoretical physicist Sean Carroll about his latest book The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.
Jun 03, 2016
134 Anders Ericsson - How to Do Everything Better
Does it take 10,000 hours to become an expert at something? Probably not, says our guest this week—who happens to be the author of the paper which was the basis for Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule in the first place. We talk to psychologist Anders Ericsson about his new book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
May 20, 2016
133 Ben Beard - How Global Warming Is Making Some Diseases Even Scarier
We talk to Ben Beard, associate director for climate change and chief of the bacterial diseases branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
May 13, 2016
132 Hope Jahren - The Joy and Otherness of Trees
This week we talk to geobiologist Hope Jahren about her recent book Lab Girl.
May 06, 2016
131 Josh Willis - Greenland Is Melting!
Evidence is mounting that Greenland is melting at a faster and faster rate. We talked to Josh Willis—senior scientist at NASA JPL’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) project—about how changing water temperatures in our oceans are affecting the Greenland ice sheet.
Apr 29, 2016
130 Bill Nye - Fighting Climate Denial
We talk to Bill Nye about climate change denial and what we can do to fight it.
Apr 22, 2016
129 Greg Marcus - Understanding Heart Disease With Big Data
We talk to Dr. Greg Marcus, the Director of Clinical Research for the UCSF Division of Cardiology about heart disease and how things like smart watches might help us learn more about it.
Apr 15, 2016
128 Sy Montgomery - The Soul of an Octopus
We talk to naturalist and author Sy Montgomery about her latest book The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness.
Apr 08, 2016
127 Carl Zimmer - The Mysterious World of Viruses
We talk to science writer and New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer about viruses. Viral fragments make up 8% of our entire genome—how much do we actually know about them?
Apr 01, 2016
126 Maria Konnikova - The Science of Why We Fall for Cons
We talk to Maria Konnikova about her new book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time.
Mar 25, 2016
125 Anthony James - How Deadly Are Mosquitoes?
We talk to Anthony James, distinguished professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UC Irvine about the most deadly animal to human beings: the mosquito.
Mar 11, 2016
124 Joanne Ruthsatz & Kimberly Stephens - Is There a Link Between Prodigy and Autism?
We talk to Joanne Ruthsatz and Kimberly Stephens, authors of The Prodigy's Cousin: The Family Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Talent.
Mar 04, 2016
123 Kenji López-Alt - Better Home Cooking Through Science
On the show this week we talk to Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.
Feb 26, 2016
122 Nancy Krieger - Police Involved Killings Are Public Health Data
On the show this week we talk to social epidemiologist Nancy Krieger about her research that suggests we should start tracking law enforcement involved deaths as public health data.
Feb 19, 2016
121 Marah Hardt - Sex in the Sea
On this special Valentine’s Day episode we talk to marine biologist Marah Hardt about 8-foot long whale penises, shark ejaculation systems, vagina mazes, fish orgies, and all the other crazy sex-stuff happening in our oceans. She’s the author of Sex in the Sea: Our Intimate Connection with Sex-Changing Fish, Romantic Lobsters, Kinky Squid, and Other Salty Erotica of the Deep.
Feb 12, 2016
120 Eric Weiner - The Geography of Genius
On the show this week we talk to bestselling author Eric Weiner about his latest book The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley.
Feb 05, 2016
119 Kara Platoni - Hacking Human Perception
On the show this week we talk to science reporter Kara Platoni about her new book We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians, and Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time.
Jan 29, 2016
118 Kim Cobb - The Evolution of El Niño
On the show this week we talk to climate scientist Kim Cobb about the science of El Niño and climate change—and how studying coral can help us understand both.
Jan 22, 2016
117 Douglas Fields - The Science of Rage and Why We Snap
On the show this week we talk to neurobiologist Douglas Fields about his new book Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain.
Jan 15, 2016
116 Indre and Kishore’s 2016 Science Predictions
On the show this week Indre and Kishore share their predictions for what some of the big science stories of 2016 will be.
Jan 08, 2016
115 Chris Ferguson - Violence in Video Games
On the show this week we return to the topic of violence in video games. We spoke to psychologist Chris Ferguson who offers a contrasting view on the subject. For more discussion, check out episodes 106 & 107.
Dec 18, 2015
114 Mark Schatzker - The Dorito Effect
On the show this week we talk to Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, “a lively and important argument from an award-winning journalist proving that the key to reversing America’s health crisis lies in the overlooked link between nutrition and flavor.”
Dec 11, 2015
113 Robert Sapolsky - Being Human
Robert Sapolsky is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research at the National Museum of Kenya. We talked to Sapolsky about what it means to be human, what we humans can learn from other species, and why he—despite being a self-described pessimist—feels optimistic about our prospects as a species. This week’s episode was recorded live in San Francisco for the 2015 Bay Area Science Festival and was produced in collaboration with The Leakey Foundation and their podcast Origin Stories.
Dec 04, 2015
112 Ed Lu - The Real Threat of Asteroids
Ed Lu is a former astronaut and current CEO of the B612 Foundation. On the show this week we talked to him about the threat of asteroids hitting our planet—and what we can do about it.
Nov 27, 2015
111 Steve Croft - The Feeding Habits of Supermassive Black Holes
On the show this week we talk to UC Berkeley astronomy researcher Steve Croft about the science of supermassive black holes.
Nov 20, 2015
110 Cady Coleman - Our Calling to Space
On the show this week we talk to astronaut Dr. Cady Coleman about the human side of space exploration. “Leaving the planet is just something people are going to do because we live off the planet as well as on—we live in the universe.”
Nov 13, 2015
109 Dava Newman - The Future of Space Exploration
Dava Newman is the Deputy Administrator of NASA. On the show this week we talked to her about the future of space exploration.
Nov 06, 2015
108 Adam Galinsky & Maurice Schweitzer - The Science of Sex, Power, and Competition
On the show this week we talk to Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer about the research behind their new book Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both. “A lot of what we call gender differences are really just power differences in disguise. The big irony is that women and men get affected by power in very similar ways yet because women have less power in society, there’s a constraint on their ability to act with that power.”
Oct 30, 2015
107 Ariel Waldman - Hacking Science
Ariel Waldman makes “massively multiplayer science”, instigating unusual collaborations that spark clever creations for science and space exploration. On the show this week we talk to her about Science Hack Day,, how she ended up working for NASA, and much more. This episode also features a follow-up interview with last week’s guest Brad Bushman on video games and violence.
Oct 25, 2015
106 Brad Bushman - The Science of Gun Violence
On the show this week we talk to psychologist Brad Bushman about the science of gun violence. Brad Bushman is a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University and a professor of communication science at the VU University Amsterdam. For over 25 years he has studied the causes, consequences, and solutions to the problem of human aggression and violence. He is a member of President Obama’s committee on gun violence, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on the topic of youth violence.
Oct 16, 2015
105 Brad Voytek - We Neuroscientists Don't Really Know What Your Brain Is Doing
The website for neuroscientist Brad Voytek’s lab begins like this: “Do not buy into the false belief that neuroscientists actually know what the brain is doing.” On the show this week we talked to Voytek to find out what he actually means by that. Brad Voytek is an Assistant Professor of Computational Cognitive Science and Neuroscience at UC San Diego.
Oct 09, 2015
104 Justin Rubinstein - Humans Are Causing Earthquakes in Oklahoma
In 2014 there were 585 magnitude three or above earthquakes in Oklahoma. In 2013 that number was only 109. And it turns out we’re to blame for the increase. On the show this week we talk to Research Geophysicist and Deputy Chief of the USGS Induced Seismicity Project Justin Rubinstein to find out more about induced earthquakes—and why they’re happening in places you might not expect.
Oct 02, 2015
103 M. R. O'Connor - Resurrection Science and the Precarious Future of Wild Things
On the show this week we talk to M. R. O'Connor about her book Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things.
Sep 25, 2015
102 Beth Shapiro - The Science of De-Extinction
How do you clone a mammoth? We asked Beth Shapiro. Shapiro is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the author of How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction.
Sep 18, 2015
101 Lucky Yates - The Science of Archer
This week we have an extra special episode: It was recorded live on stage in Atlanta for this year’s Dragon Con. We talk about the science of Archer—the hit FX series TV series created by Adam Reed. To do that, we welcome to the show Dr. Krieger himself, Lucky Yates, as well as forensic chemist and former Inquiring Minds guest Raychelle Burks—a.k.a. Dr. Rubidium. Check out behind the scenes photos and video of the entire show at Note: We swear more than usual on this episode and you might not want to listen to it with your kids. Sorry about that. Or, you're welcome.
Sep 11, 2015
100 Steve Silberman - Remembering Oliver Sacks / The Legacy of Autism
This week, on our 100th episode, we remember Oliver Sacks, neurologist, author, and mentor to Indre. We talk to Steve Silberman—who was also close with Sacks, about his legacy and influence on, among many other things, Silberman's latest book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.
Sep 04, 2015
99 Marc Lewis - Why Addiction Is Not a Disease
Marc Lewis is a neuroscientist, professor of developmental psychology, and author of the new book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease. On the show this week we talk to Lewis about the biology of addiction—and what it does to our brains.
Aug 21, 2015
98 Fred Perlak - Inside the Mind of a Monsanto Scientist
The science behind genetically modified food is a very divisive issue for a lot of people. We’ve already talked about it a few times on the show, but this week we sought out a new perspective and talked to Fred Perlak, a Monsanto Distinguished Science Fellow. He’s been with Monsanto since 1981 and his work has focused on Bt genes, insect control, and plant gene expression. In this episode, he talks about his research and responds to concerns about GM health safety, risks to our eco-system, and the economics associated with food security.
Aug 14, 2015
97 Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis - How Music Plays the Mind
Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis was trained as a concert pianist and is now the director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas. On the show this week we talk to Margulis about her latest book On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind.
Aug 07, 2015
96 David Casarett - A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana
On the show this week we talk to David Casarett, M.D. about his latest book Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jul 31, 2015
95 Wade Roush - How Disasters Affect Science
On the show this week we talk to journalist and educator Wade Roush about how disasters can affect our appreciation of the science behind them—and what we can do to be sure the right story gets out. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jul 24, 2015
94 Michael Hiltzik - The Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex
On the show this week we talk to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Michael Hiltzik about his new book Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jul 17, 2015
93 Alvin Roth - The New Economics of Who Gets What—and Why
On the show this week we talk to Nobel Memorial Prize winning economist Alvin Roth about his latest book Who Gets What—and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jul 10, 2015
92 Will Walker & Kevin Czinger - The Future of 3D Printing
On the show this week we explore the future of 3D Printing. To do so, Indre goes to SolidCon—a conference about “Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things”—and talks to people from two companies in attendance: Will Walker, a sculptor, designer, and educator from Formlabs and Kevin Czinger, the founder and CEO of Divergent Microfactories, Inc. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jun 26, 2015
91 Rachel Kalmar - The Power of Wearable Technology
Rachel Kalmar is a neuroscientist, data scientist, and world record holder for number of wearable sensors worn daily. On the show this week we talk to Kalmar about the power of collecting data from yourself by wearing sensors directly on your body. We explore the limits and possibilities of wearable technology—and some of the amazing things we might eventually be able to accomplish with it. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jun 19, 2015
90 Will Smith & Norman Chan - Understanding Virtual Reality
On the show this week we talk all things virtual reality with Will Smith and Norman Chan from Did VR fail in the 90s?How many times does it have to fail to succeed? What’s it useful for besides video games and Lawnmower Men? If you’re confused by the recent VR comeback, Will and Norm have answers. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jun 12, 2015
89 Eric Cheng - The Science Behind Drones
Eric Cheng is an award-winning photographer and publisher, and is the Director of Aerial Imaging and General Manager of the San Francisco office at DJI, the makers of the popular Phantom aerial-imaging quadcopter. On the show this week we talk to Cheng (from atop a mountain in the middle of San Francisco) about the science behind drones; why some people are afraid of them, how they work, and why they’re so useful for so many people—especially scientists. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Jun 05, 2015
88 Alan Levinovitz - The Gluten Lie
Alan Levinovitz is an assistant professor of Chinese philosophy and religion at James Madison University and author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat. On the show this week we talk to Levinovitz about gluten and gluten-free diets. Should everyone go gluten-free? What does the actual science about it say? Why is a professor of religion is writing about diets in the first place? Listen and find out. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
May 29, 2015
87 Stephen Dubner - Freakonomics and the Danger of Certainty
On the show this week we talk to Stephen Dubner, award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality. He is best-known for writing, along with the economist Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, which have sold more than 5 million copies in 35 languages. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
May 22, 2015
86 Adam Rogers - The Science of Booze
Adam Rogers is an editor at Wired and the author of Proof: The Science of Booze. On the show this week we talk to Rogers about alcohol and the science behind it—from yeast, to bourbon, to Star Trek’s synthehol.
May 15, 2015
85 James Krupa - Teaching Evolution in Kentucky
James Krupa is a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky. On the show this week we talk to Krupa about a recent article he wrote for Orion magazine called Defending Darwin, in which he explains what it’s really like to teach evolution to students in Kentucky. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
May 08, 2015
84 Ivan Oransky - The Fetishization of Scientific Papers
Ivan Oransky is vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and co-founder of Retraction Watch. On the show this week we talk to Oransky about retractions and the gospel of the scientific paper. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
May 02, 2015
83 Traci Mann - The Science of Weight Loss
On the show this week we talk to Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of the new book Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Apr 24, 2015
82 Alex Garland - The Science of Ex Machina
Alex Garland is the writer and director of Ex Machina, a recently released film about what happens when someone is asked to interact with what might be the world's first true artificial intelligence (as well as the writer of Dredd, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later). On the show this week guest host Rebecca Watson talks to Garland about the science behind the film, and what he learned in the process of making it. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Apr 17, 2015
81 Sanjoy Mahajan - Street-Fighting Mathematics
On the show this week we talk to Sanjoy Mahajan, Associate Professor of Applied Science and Engineering at Olin College of Engineering, Visiting Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and author of Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Apr 10, 2015
80 Norman Doidge - How Plastic Is Your Brain?
Norman Doidge, M.D., is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on faculty at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, and Research Faculty at Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York. On the show this week we talk to Doidge about neuroplasticity—once you reach adulthood, is your brain in a kind of fixed state, or does it keep changing? And can you do things to make it change? iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Apr 03, 2015
79 Ken Caldeira - Can Geoengineering Save the Planet?
On the show this week we talk to Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist working for the Carnegie Institution for Science, Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. He investigates issues related to climate, carbon, and energy systems. In the interview, we focus on geoengineering—the process of making big changes to the Earth’s climatic system in an attempt to solve issues related to climate change. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher: Tumblr:
Mar 27, 2015
78 Bill Gifford - Can Science Keep You Young Forever?
On the show this week we talk to Bill Gifford, author of the new book Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying). iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 20, 2015
77 Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo - Sugar Science
On the show this week, we talk to Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Professor of Medicine and Director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital. She’s part of a new project called Sugar Science, which focuses on evidence-based information on added sugar to your diet. The team reviewed 8,000 articles and underscored the scientific consensus: there is a causal link between increased consumption of added sugar and increased risk of chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. Kirsten specifically focuses on communities at most risk—often times teens and poor and minority communities. And she believes we’re in a public health emergency. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 13, 2015
76 Jonathan Eisen - The Tiny World of Microbes Inside You
On the show this week we talk to evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen, who studies the evolution and ecology of microbes and genomes. We delve into the tiny world of the microbiome—the thousands of microorganisms that live inside all of us. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 06, 2015
75 Kevin Kelly - What Technology Wants
On the show this week we talk to Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine and former editor of the incredibly influential Whole Earth Catalog. We talk about the agenda and biases of technology, why the internet really wants to track you, and why he thinks, in the end, technology is a force for good. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 27, 2015
74 Kathleen Hall Jamieson - Fact Checking Science
On the show this week we talk to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC runs, which now includes SciCheck, a program that “focuses exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy.” iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 20, 2015
73 David J. Morris - The History and Science of PTSD
On the show this week we talk to David J Morris, former Marine infantry officer, war correspondent, and author of The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We explore the history of PTSD and the science that surrounds it. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 13, 2015
72 Andy Weir - The Science of The Martian
On the show this week we talk to author Andy Weir about The Martian, his hit science fiction novel about a man stranded on Mars—which is now being made into a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. The Martian is not only packed full of science, it's packed full of science that makes sense. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 06, 2015
71 Ed Boyden - Blowing Up the Brain
Ed Boyden is the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Synthetic Neurobiology research group and he wants blow up the brain. Sort of. He and his team have discovered a way to examine brain tissue by physically expanding it—a process that lets them look at tissue which would normally be extremely difficult to see even under a microscope. Boyden explains how it all works—and a lot more—on this week’s episode. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 30, 2015
70 Brian Fisher - The Real Ant-Man
Brian Fisher is really into ants. And after listening to him talk about them on this week’s show, I suspect he might convince you to appreciate them more than you probably do right now. Fisher is an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences and we talk to him about all things ants—from how many “words” they can use, to how we can use them to figure out what parts of forests are most important to protect. We also have a huge announcement this week: Our new permanent co-host is Kishore Hari! iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 23, 2015
69 Katie Mack - Dark Matter: Invisible, and Probably Flying through You Right Now
Dark matter: it makes up 80 to 85 percent of the matter in the universe, it’s invisible, you can’t touch it, and according to this week’s guest astrophysicist Katie Mack, it’s probably passing through you right now. Dark matter is weird. On the show this week Indre talks to Mack about dark matter, dark energy, and the big bang. This episode also features guest host Rebecca Watson of, who you can follow at iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 16, 2015
68 Matt Walker - Why Did We Evolve to Sleep?
On the show this week we talk to Matt Walker, Principal Investigator at UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab. Walker opens our eyes to exactly how important (and bizarre) sleep is—from the insane effects not sleeping enough can have on you both physically and cognitively, to the fact that, after having fought through ages of natural selection, it’s amazing our brains still need it at all. Once again we welcome back guest host Kishore Hari, Director of the Bay Area Science Festival. You can follow him on Twittter @sciencequiche. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 09, 2015
67 Gabriele Oettingen - Rethinking Positive Thinking
On the show this week we talk to Professor of Psychology Gabriele Oettingen about her new book Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Oettingen has over twenty years of research on the science of motivation under her belt and in this book she outlines her main findings—and turns the conventional wisdom that focusing on fulfilling our goals will help us realize them on its head. We also welcome back guest host Kishore Hari, who is Director of the Bay Area Science Festival. You can follow him on Twittter @sciencequiche. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 02, 2015
66 Adam Savage - The Joy of Being a Maker
On the show this week we talk to Mythbusters host and friend of the show Adam Savage. We caught up with Savage shortly after our live show with him (episode 58) at his workshop in San Francisco. Indre talks to Savage about the future of Mythbusters, Hollywood, exploding turkeys, the joy of being a maker, #Gamergate, and what it's like to be a rock-star science communicator. You can also watch this interview: iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Dec 26, 2014
65 Matt Parker - Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension
On the show this week Indre talks to mathematician and comedian Matt Parker about how math is way more fascinating that you probably think—and how it's connected to everything from credit card numbers to autocorrect. They talk about his new book, Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension: A Mathematician's Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity, and More. We also welcome back guest host Kishore Hari, director of the Bay Area Science Festival. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Dec 19, 2014
64 Sharman Apt Russell - Chasing Tiger Beetles as a Citizen Scientist
On the show this week we talk to nature and science writer Sharman Apt Russell about citizen science—real scientific research done by people who are not professional scientists. We talk about her latest book, Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World. Today’s co-host is microbiological assay development and validation scientist Charles Rzadkowolski. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieRzadko. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Dec 12, 2014
63 Donald Johanson - Lucy's Legacy, 40 Years Later
On the show this week guest host Cynthia Graber talks to paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, most well known for discovering the fossil of a female hominid australopithecine, or "Lucy.” iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Dec 05, 2014
62 Christine Kenneally - How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures
On the show this week we talk to journalist and science writer Christine Kenneally about her latest book, The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures. And we’re joined again by guest host Cynthia Graber, science reporter and co-host of Gastropod. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Nov 28, 2014
61 George Church - Hacking Mosquitoes to Fight Malaria
On the show this week guest host Cynthia Graber talks to George Church—a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and the author of Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. Church explains how, using cutting-edge genetic manipulation techniques, we may be able to help eradicate some of the world's worst diseases. Cynthia and Church also talk about everything from HIV/AIDS research to efforts to engineer an animal that will closely resemble the long-extinct woolly mammoth. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Nov 21, 2014
60 Paul Bloom - Babies and the Origins of Good and Evil
On the show this week we talk to cognitive scientist Paul Bloom about the morality of babies. Most of us think of babies as selfish, impulsive, and for the most part out of control. We tend to think of their morality as shaped by experience—by society, by their parents, by early childhood events. But Bloom and his collaborators at Yale have some pretty compelling evidence that at least some parts of our moral compass are innate—that is that babies are born with the capacity to tell good from bad just as they are born with a capacity to develop motor or language skills. And by understanding how our morality develops throughout childhood, we can gain some insight into how our own gut feelings and biases shape our moral lives as adults. We also welcome guest-host Kishore Hari, director of the Bay Area Science Festival, to talk about, among other things, a recent study involving brains and spiders. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Nov 14, 2014
59 David Grinspoon - The Science of Interstellar
On the show this week we welcome guest host David Corn, political journalist and Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones. Corn interviews astrobiologist David Grinspoon about the science behind Christopher Nolan’s new movie, Interstellar—what it gets right, and what it gets wrong. Corn also talks to Indre about what the recent elections mean for those of us who value science. Spoiler: it’s not looking great. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Nov 07, 2014
58 Adam Savage - Live on Stage in San Francisco
On the show this week Indre talks to Adam Savage about the future of science communication (and why it’s terrifying TV networks), why he’s worried Elon Musk might become a Marvel supervillain, and why it’s so important to him that women be better represented in his field. Indre also talks to host of The Story Collider, Ben Lillie, about the Antares Rocket explosion, flavonols, and Ben explains why he's fascinated by institutional review boards. This episode was recorded live on stage in San Francisco as part of the 2014 Bay Area Science Festival. Note: This episode contains occasional strong language. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Oct 31, 2014
57 William Gibson - The Future Will View Us as a Joke
On the show this week we talk to author William Gibson about time travel, cronuts, and his new 22nd century novel. We also talk to infectious disease doctor and co-founder of Wellbody Alliance, Dan Kelly, who is currently in Sierra Leone fighting the Ebola outbreak. Kelly explains what the situation looks like from the ground, what work he’s doing there, and what we can do to help. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Oct 24, 2014
56 Steven Johnson - Innovations That Made the Modern World
On the show this week we talk to Steven Johnson, author of the new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. In it, Johnson argues that seemingly mundane scientific breakthroughs have changed our world in profound ways—impacting everything from life expectancy to women's fashion. We also welcome guest host Cynthia Graber who talks about a recent article she wrote for Nova on the “Diseaseome”; and Indre wonders if you are, in fact, smarter than a kindergartner. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Oct 17, 2014
55 Daniel Levitin - The Organized Mind
On the show this week we talk to cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, musician, and writer Daniel Levitin about his new book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. We also talk to microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles about the Ebola virus—what the risks really are, and why many people might be overreacting. Also, Chris has a huge announcement. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Oct 10, 2014
54 Steven Pinker - The Science Behind Writing Well
San Francisco! Come see us interview Adam Savage live on Oct. 28! On the show this week we talk to celebrated Harvard cognitive scientist and psycholinguist Steven Pinker about his new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Pinker explains how to write in clear, "classic" prose that shares valuable information with clarity (but never condescension). He also tells us why so many of the tut-tutting grammar "rules" that we all think we're supposed to follow—don't split infinitives, don't use the passive voice, don't end a sentence with a preposition—are just nonsense. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Oct 02, 2014
53 Naomi Klein - Climate Changes Everything
Come see us interview Adam Savage live in San Francisco on Oct. 28! On the show this week we talk to author and social activist Naomi Klein about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In it, Klein argues that we are past the time when incremental change can get us to where we need to be to properly address the challenge of climate change—we’re in a situation, she says, where no non-radical choices are left. This episode also features a discussion on new research that suggests gut bacteria could be affecting our minds, and a study that examines the cross-species influence of a babies’ cries. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Sep 26, 2014
52 Al Gore - The Politics of Climate Change
On the show this week we talk to former Vice President Al Gore. He shares his thoughts on President Obama's global warming record, the upcoming United Nations climate meeting, the impact of fracking, and China's plans for a massive carbon market. This episode also features a discussion inspired by an article written by Cailin O’Connor at Slate on the often overlooked influence of random noise on our cells—and its influence on genetics. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Sep 17, 2014
51 Brendan Nyhan - Will Facts Matter in the 2014 Election?
On the show this week we talk to Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, who has focused much of his research on employing the tools of social science to study fact-checking—why it so often fails, and what can be done to make it work better. The cynical view on fact-checking is "too negative," argues Nyhan. "I think you have to think about what politics might look like without those fact-checkers, and I think it would look worse." This episode is guest co-hosted by Rebecca Watson of, filling in for Indre who is out this week. It also features a discussion of a new study suggesting that religious and non-religious individuals are equally moral, and new research on gender discrimination in job performance evaluations, particularly by men with traditional views of gender roles. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Sep 12, 2014
50 William Poundstone - Understanding Randomness
On the show this week we talk about randomness with science writer William Poundstone, author of the new book Rock Breaks Scissors. Poundstone explains why we’re so terrible at trying to come up with random sequences ourselves—and how understanding these pitfalls can actually help you predict, with accuracy above chance, what someone else is going to do even when he or she is trying, purposefully, to act randomly. These predictions are at the core of Poundstone's book, which offers a practical guide to outguessing and outwitting almost anybody—in activities ranging from Rock, Paper, Scissors (men tend to go with rock, so you can beat them with paper) to investing in stocks. On the show this week we also talk about researchers who are growing mushrooms on diapers to help them biodegrade and Chris disagrees with Neil deGrasse Tyson about something (but still loves him). iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Sep 05, 2014
49 Arie Kruglanski - The Science of What Makes a Terrorist
"Its Islam over everything." So read the Twitter bio of Douglas McAuthur McCain—or, as he reportedly called himself, "Duale Khalid"—the San Diego man who is apparently the first American to be killed while fighting for ISIS. According to NBC News, McCain grew up in Minnesota, was a basketball player, and wanted to be a rapper. Friends describe him as a high school "goofball" and "a really nice guy." So what could have made him want to join the ranks of other Americans drawn towards militant Islam like John Walker Lindh and Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn? And how can we explain the dozens of other Americans who have also gone off to fight as jihadists in Syria, for ISIS and other militant groups? According to University of Maryland psychologist and terrorism expert Arie Kruglanski, who has studied scores of militant extremists, part of the clue may lie in that Twitter tagline of McCain's. Not just its content, but the mindset that it indicates—one that sees the world in sharp definition, no shades of gray. "These extreme ideologies have a twofold type of appeal," explains Kruglanski on this week’s episode. "First of all, they are very coherent, black and white, right or wrong. Secondly, they afford the possibility of becoming very unique, and part of a larger whole." We talked to Kruglanski about what motivates people like McCain in the first place—and about the science of what makes a terrorist. This episode also features a discussion of a new Pew report showing that social media may actually discourage the expression of some opinions (rather than enabling them), and of how neuroscientists and filmmakers are working together to understand how people's perceptions actually work in a movie theater. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Aug 29, 2014
48 K Clancy, R Nelson, J Rutherford, & K Hinde - The Epidemic of Harassment in Scientific Field Work
One of the most difficult parts of getting a Ph.D. is finishing your dissertation. Beyond the mountain of work a dissertation requires, graduate students also have to face feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and anxiety about the looming job search. Sometimes, they need a gentle, supportive push to quit stressing about every last comma and—after years of blood, sweat, and tears— finally turn it in. So when Kate Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, chided an old friend who was still a graduate student about taking that last step to finish her thesis, she thought she was doing her a favor. But she was floored by her friend's response. Clancy remembers her friend saying, "Well, I was sexually assaulted in the field, and every time I open the dissertation files I have flashbacks." That conversation, says Clancy, "was the first time that it really hit me how much these kinds of experiences can not only emotionally traumatize women, but also explicitly hold them back in their research." So she joined up with three fellow female scientists to study the extent to which sexual harassment and sexual assault occur in the field. On the show this week, the four co-authors—Clancy, anthropologists Robin Nelson and Julienne Rutherford, and evolutionary biologist Katie Hinde— discuss their recently-published survey of scientists who have worked in the field. This episode also features a short interview with University of Chicago geoscientist Ray Pierrehumbert, who argues that we've been worrying too much about methane emissions from natural gas, and a discussion of a study finding that kids' drawings at age 4 are an "indicator" of their intelligence 10 years later. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Aug 22, 2014
47 Anthony Ingraffea - The Science of Fracking
On the political right, it's pretty popular these days to claim that the left exaggerates scientific worries about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." In a recent National Review article, for instance, a Hoover Institution researcher complains that 53 percent of Democrats in California support a fracking ban "despite the existence of little if any credible scientific evidence of fracking's feared harms and overwhelming scientific evidence of its environmental benefits, including substantial reductions in both local and global pollutants." Three or four years ago, a statement like that may have seemed defensible. The chief environmental concern about fracking at that time involved the contamination of drinking water through the fracking process—blasting water, sand, and chemicals underground in vast quantities and at extreme pressures to force open shale layers deep beneath the Earth, and release natural gas. But the science was still pretty ambiguous, and a great deal turned on how "fracking" was defined. The entire mega-process of "unconventional" gas drilling had clearly caused instances of groundwater contamination, due to spills and leaks from improperly cased wells. But technically, "fracking" only refers to the water and chemical blast, not the drilling, the disposal of waste, or the huge industrial operations that accompany it all. How things have changed. On the show this week we talked to Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea about the science behind fracking—and had him explain why, nowadays, the scientific argument against fracking is more extensive. It involves not simply groundwater contamination, but also earthquake generation and the accidental emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This episode also features a discussion of the science on racial prejudice and guns, and, in the wake of the suicide of the beloved actor Robin Williams, the science of depression. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Aug 15, 2014
46 David Casarett - The Science of Death
On the show this week we talk to University of Pennsylvania professor of medicine David Casarett about his book Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead. Casarett explains the science of resuscitation—and what exactly it means to be “dead.” We talk about cryonics, the idea that you might be able to preserve your brain—or your whole body—by freezing it immediately after you die, and then bring it back to life in the future once science figures out how to do that. We also talk to Casarett about how likely it is that one day we might be able to put humans in a state of hibernation or suspended animation. This episode also features a conversation with Tara Smith, an epidemiologist who is an expert on the Ebola virus, and has been debunking a large number of myths about the latest outbreak. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Aug 08, 2014
45 Barb Oakley - The Science of Learning
Charles Dickens, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian novelists, was a man of strict routine. Every day, notes his biographer Claire Tomalin, Dickens would write from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. After that, he would put his work away and go out for a long walk. Sometimes he walked as far as 30 miles; sometimes, he walked into the night. "If I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish," Dickens wrote. According to engineering professor Barbara Oakley, author of the new book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Dickens wasn't just a guy who knew how to keep himself healthy. Rather, his habits are indicative of someone who has figured out how to make his brain function at a very high level. And for this, Dickens' walks were just as important as his writing sessions. "That sort of downtime, when you're not thinking directly about what you're trying to learn, or figure out, or write about—that downtime is a time of subconscious processing that allows you [learn] better," explains Oakley on this week’s episode. We learn about her new book—and how you can train your brain to learn more efficiently. This episode also features a short conversation with neuroscientist Lucina Uddin, author of a recent paper finding that autistic kids have less brain flexibility, as well as a discussion of recent research suggesting that musical ability is innate and that fist-bumps are far superior to handshakes as a greeting, assuming you don't want to spread germs. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jul 31, 2014
44 David Epstein - The Science Behind the World's Greatest Athletes
What makes a great athlete? Talent? Training? Or is mostly genetic? On the show this week we get some answers from sports writer David Epstein while discussing his new book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Epstein explains a lot—from why growing up in a small town increases your likelihood of becoming a professional athlete to how softball pitcher Jennie Finch made striking out so many Major League Baseball batters during the 2004 Pepsi All-Star Softball Game look easy. This episode also features a discussion with pediatrician Clay Jones about the terrifying consequences of parents refusing Vitamin K shots for their newborns; and we talk about a new study that attempted to experimentally test the idea that we're "born believers." iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jul 25, 2014
43 Naomi Oreskes - The Collapse of Western Civilization
You don't know it yet. There's no way that you could. But 400 years from now, a historian will write that the time in which you're now living is the "Penumbral Age" of human history—meaning, the period when a dark shadow began to fall over us all. You're living at the start of a new dark age, a new counter-Enlightenment. Why? Because too many of us living today, in the years just after the turn of the millennium, deny the science of climate change. Such is the premise of a thought-provoking new work of "science-based fiction" by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, two historians of science best known for their classic 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. In a surprising move, they have now followed up that expose of the roots of modern science denialism with a work of "cli-fi," or climate science fiction, entitled The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. In it, Oreskes and Conway write from the perspective of a historian, living in China (the country that fared the best in facing the ravages of climate change) in the year 2393. The historian seeks to analyze the biggest paradox imaginable: Why humans who saw the climate disaster coming, who were thoroughly and repeatedly warned, did nothing about it. So why did two historians turn to sci-fi? On the show this week we talked to one of them—Naomi Orekes—to find out exactly that. This episode also features a discussion of questionable claims about "drinkable" sunscreen, and a new study finding that less than 1 percent of scientists are responsible for a huge bulk of the most influential research. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jul 18, 2014
42 Arthur I. Miller - How Science Is Revolutionizing Art
On the show this week we welcome Arthur I. Miller—physics Ph.D., science historian, philosopher—and an art aficionado to boot. We talked to Miller about his new book, Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art, in which he makes the case for the existence of a "third culture" that, today, is mashing together art, science, and technology into one big domain. "There are still people who think science is science, and art is art," says Miller. "But that is very far from the situation because it is very, very common and meaningful today for artists to indulge in science and technology in doing their work." This episode also features a short discussion with Joe Hanson, writer and host of the "It's Okay to Be Smart" video series, about the science of Game of Thrones, what blowing on Nintendo cartridges has to do with your cognitive biases, new evidence disproving Bigfoot, the relationship between seeing UFOs and alcohol consumption, why men born in winter are more likely to be left-handed… and more. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jul 11, 2014
41 Amy Stewart - The Science Behind the World's Alcohol
It's the 4th of July, and you love your country. Your likely next step: Fire off some small scale explosives, and drink a lot of beer. But that last word ought to trouble you a little. Beer? Is that really the best you can do? Isn't it a little, er, uncreative? Amy Stewart, our guest this week, has some better ideas for you. Author of the New York Times bestselling book The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World's Great Drinks, she's a master of the wild diversity of ways in which, since time immemorial, human civilizations (virtually all of them) have created alcoholic drinks from the sugars of their native plants. It seems human beings pretty much always find a way when it comes to getting hammered. Indeed, when you think about it, you can argue that learning how to do so was one of the first human sciences. In a sense, it's closely akin to capturing and using solar energy: Making alcohol, too, hinges upon tapping into the power created by the sun. "It is not much of an exaggeration to claim that the very process that gives us the raw ingredients for brandy and beer is the same one that sustains life on the planet," writes Stewart in The Drunken Botanist. This episode also features a conversation with Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden about how the Supreme Court flubbed reproductive health science in the Hobby Lobby case, and of Facebook's troubling recent study that involved trying to alter users' emotional states. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jul 04, 2014
40 Zach Weinersmith - Baby Catapulting and Other Great Terrible Hypotheses
There's nothing quite as satisfying as a really good joke. Someone has made a clever new connection between two mundane things that we've all encountered—and suddenly we have a lovely "aha" moment. We find it funny. That sense of revelation accompanying a good joke or comic is very similar to what many scientists experience when they finally figure out a great explanation for some kind of previously unknown phenomenon. But don't take it from us. Take it from the scientifically-trained author and illustrator Zach Weinersmith (née Weiner), creator of the popular webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC), known for its science-themed humor. "I suspect what's actually going on with people who are thought of as very creative is they're good at two skills, one of which is generating connections rapidly, and two, editing out the garbage quickly," explains Weinersmith on this week's episode. In Weinersmith's case, some of funniest jokes are actually about just plain bad scientific thinking—and they teach a lesson about what science is, and what it isn't. The comic artist is now one of the main forces behind an event series, entitled the "Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses," that specializes in "celebrations of well-argued and thoroughly-researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory." The winner takes home a sculpture of Charles Darwin, "shrugging skeptically." The first festival took place at MIT in late 2013. On the show this week we talked to Weinersmith about science, comics, and how to make a really great bad hypothesis. This episode also features a short discussion with Cynthia Graber, author of the new PBS/NOVANext article "The Next Green Revolution May Rely on Microbes," and a discussion of the science of why human biting is so dangerous, and of how our hormones influence political choices. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jun 27, 2014
39 Jordan Ellenberg - Why Math Is The Ultimate BS Detector
Chances are that when you think about math—which, for most of us, happens pretty infrequently—you don't think of it in anything like the way that Jordan Ellenberg does. Ellenberg is a rare scholar who is both a math professor (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) and a novelist. And in his fascinating new book, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, he deploys analyses of poetry, politics, and even religion in a bold recasting of what math is in the first place. For Ellenberg, the stuff you hated about math in high school isn't the core of the thing. He's emphatic that mathematics isn't simply about the calculations involving, you know, numbers; rather, it's a highly nuanced approach to solving problems that we all, unavoidably, encounter. Ellenberg's chapters range from showing how mathematical thinking undermines many popular proofs for the existence of God (Paley's design argument, Pascal's wager), to explaining how math helps us understand why smoking causes lung cancer (contrary to claims by one early statistician who actually argued that the causation might be reversed—that lung cancer might cause smoking!). On the show this week we talked to Ellenberg about his book, and math: why you’re probably thinking about it all wrong, and why it’s so powerful. This episode also features a short interview with Tasneem Raja, author of the must-read new article "We Can Code It: Why computer literacy is key to winning the 21st century" in Mother Jones, and a discussion of new findings about autism and possibly how to stop it—by making brain cells better able to communicate with one another. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jun 20, 2014
38 Sam Kean - These Brains Changed Neuroscience Forever
We've all been mesmerized by them—those beautiful brain scan images that make us feel like we're on the cutting edge of scientifically decoding how we think. But as soon as one neuroscience study purports to show which brain region lights up when we are enjoying Coca-Cola, or looking at cute puppies, or thinking we have souls, some other expert claims "it's just a correlation," and you wonder whether researchers will ever get it right. But there's another approach to understanding how our minds work. In his new book The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, Sam Kean tells the story of a handful of patients whose unique brains—rendered that way by surgical procedures and unfortunate, freak accidents—taught us much more than any set of colorful scans. Kean recounts some of their unforgettable stories on this week’s episode. "As I was reading these [case studies] I said, 'That's baloney! There's no way that can possibly be true,'" Kean remembers, referring to one particularly surprising case in which a woman's brain injury left her unable to recognize and distinguish between different kinds of animals. "But then I looked into it, and I realized that, not only is it true, it actually reveals some important things about how the brain works." This episode also features an exclusive brief interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson about the meaning of the just-completed Cosmos series; a discussion of whether the famed and controversial hormone oxytocin might be capable of extending the span of human life; and a breakdown of the physics of how soccer balls travel through the air (just in time for the World Cup). iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jun 13, 2014
37 Raychelle Burks - Zombie Repellent and Other Awesome Uses for Chemistry
Remember those stick-figures of chemical compounds you were forced to memorize in high school? Remember how useless it seemed at the time? Can you still articulate the difference between a covalent bond and an ionic one (without checking Wikipedia)? If not, pay attention: You might be caught flat-footed during the zombie apocalypse. The CDC suggests (half-seriously) having a zombie-preparedness kit (after all, it would also be useful in case of pandemics and hurricanes). But chemist and blogger Raychelle Burks has a simpler solution—one that would have greatly de-grossified a famous scene from The Walking Dead, in which Rick and his fellow apocalypse survivors slathered the guts of dead humans all over themselves, to jam the zombies' chemosenses with the smell of rotting flesh and thereby, escape. "They used chemical camouflage," explains Burks, to trick the zombies into thinking they were fellow undead. The only problem: Icky and dangerous exposure to blood, guts, and pathogens. Burks has a better idea. "There's a couple of key chemicals that smell really stinky," she explains on this week’s episode. "Two right off the top would be—and they've got great names—cadaverine and putrescine…and they do smell like their names." In fact, these chemicals are used to train cadaver dogs, which search for dead bodies. "You could make up a death cologne," Burks continues. "Kind of use chemical camouflage to your advantage so that you can sneak through a zombie horde." Known as Dr. Rubidium on Twitter—a name she chose because element 37 of the periodic table, Rubidium, has the symbol "RB," the same as her initials—Burks is a self-described "magical unicorn": A black, female, analytical chemist working at Nebraska's Doane College. Professionally, much of her research has focused on how to create quick chemical tests to help law enforcement officials detect the presence of explosives, and particularly those that are peroxide based, which are both extremely dangerous, and also fairly easy to make. On the show this week, we talked to Burks about a wide range of chemistry-related topics, including the widespread confusion over terms like "natural," "organic," and "chemical." This episode also features a discussion of a controversial study concluding that hurricanes with female names are deadlier, as well as new research into how spiders use their webs to detect sound vibrations. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jun 05, 2014
36 Harry Collins - Why Googling Doesn't Make You a Scientific Expert
Remember "Climategate"? It was the 2009 non-scandal scandal in which a trove of climate scientists' emails, pilfered from the University of East Anglia in the UK, were used to call all of modern climate research into question. Why? Largely because a cursory reading of those emails—showing climate scientists frankly discussing how to respond to burdensome data requests and attacks on their work, among other content—showed a side of researchers that most people aren't really used to seeing. Suddenly, these "experts" looked more like ordinary human beings who speak their minds, who sometimes have emotions and rivalries with one another, and (shocker) don't really like people who question the validity of their knowledge. In other words, Climategate demonstrated something that sociologists of science, or those in the so-called field of "science studies," have know for some time—that scientists are mortals, just like all the rest of us. "What was being exposed was not something special and local but 'business as usual' across the whole scientific world," writes Cardiff University scholar Harry Collins, one of the original founders of the field of "science studies," in his masterful new book, Are We All Scientific Experts Now? But that means that Climategate didn't undermine the case for human-caused global warming at all, says Collins. Rather, it demonstrated why it is so hard for ordinary citizens, who don't have a lot of experience of how the scientific community works, to understand what is going on inside of it—much less to snipe and criticize from the outside. That's a case that Collins makes not only about the climate issue—but also to rebut vaccine deniers, HIV-AIDS skeptics, and all manner of scientific cranks and mavericks. All of them, he argues, are failing to understand what's so important and powerful about a group of experts coming to a scientific consensus. On the show this week we talked to Collins about why scientific expertise matters—especially in a world where more and more people are getting their answers from Google searches. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
May 30, 2014
35 Richard Alley - West Antarctica Is Melting and We Can't Stop It
If you want to truly grasp the scale of the Earth's polar ice sheets, you need some help from Isaac Newton. Newton taught us the universal law of gravitation, which states that all objects are attracted to one another in proportion to their masses (and the distance between them). The ice sheets covering Antarctica and Greenland are incredibly massive—Antarctica's ice is more than two miles thick in places and 5.4 million square miles in extent. These ice sheets are so large, in fact, that gravitational attraction pulls the surrounding ocean towards them. The sea level therefore rises upward at an angle as you approach an ice sheet, and slopes downward and away as you leave its presence. This is not good news for humanity. As the ice sheets melt due to global warming, not only do they raise the sea level directly; they also exert a smaller gravitational pull on the surrounding ocean. So water sloshes back towards the continents, where we all live. "If Antarctica shrinks and puts that water in the ocean, the ocean raises around the world, but then Antarctica is pulling the ocean towards it less strongly," explained the celebrated Penn State glaciologist Richard Alley on this week’s episode. "And as that extra water around Antarctica spreads around the world, we will get a little more sea level rise in the US than the global average." Alley, a self-described “registered Republican” and host of the PBS program Earth: The Operators’ Manual, spoke on the occasion of truly dire news, of the sort that ice sheet experts like him have been dreading for some time. Last week, we learned from two separate research teams that the ice sheet of West Antarctica, which comprises just one relatively small part of Antarctic ice overall but contains enough frozen water to raise global sea levels by some 10 or 11 feet, has been irrevocably destabilized. Scientists have long feared that of all the planet's great ice sheets, West Antarctica would be the first to go, because much of it is marine-based—the front edge of the ice sheet is bathing in increasingly warm water, which is melting it from beneath. On the show this week we talked to Alley about the science of ice sheets and what this most recent news means for our future. This episode also features a discussion of a controversial project to replicate some of the most famous studies in social science, and of new research on whether firstborn children are more politically conservative than their later-born siblings. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
May 22, 2014
34 John Oliver - This World Will Be a Ball of Fire Before It Stops Being Funny
In late April, former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver kicked off his HBO news-satire program, Last Week Tonight. Oliver, who spent nearly eight years at The Daily Show and has a solid background in political satire, is off to a good start. His weekly series—which offers biting commentary on the past week's biggest news stories, both national and international—is barely into its inaugural season, and it seems to be hitting the right notes. The premiere episode, for example, featured an exclusive televised interview with Gen. Keith Alexander (Ret.), his first since stepping down as director of the National Security Agency. In another recent episode, Oliver expressed his frustration with the so-called climate "debate" in America by staging a more representative debate between a few climate skeptics and nearly a hundred scientists. One of the guys on the correct side of the "debate" was Bill Nye, who was booked for the show basically at the last minute. "We just wanted to really play with that idea that the very fact that the climate debate is framed as a debate at all is problematic," Oliver says. On Inquiring Minds this week, guest host Asawin Suebsaeng talked to John Oliver about Last Week Tonight, politics, climate change, and how he went about finding a, um, very specific kind of model for the show. This episode also features a discussion of surprising new scientific findings about why we don't remember much from our childhoods—because we were so busy growing new brain cells. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
May 15, 2014
33 David Amodio - The Science of Prejudice
When the audio of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling telling his girlfriend not to "bring black people" to his team's games hit the Internet, the condemnations were immediate. It was clear to all that Sterling was a racist, and the punishment was swift: the NBA banned him for life. It was, you might say, a pretty straightforward case. When you take a look at the emerging science of what motivates people to behave in a racist or prejudiced way, though, matters quickly grow complicated. In fact, if there's one cornerstone finding when it comes to the psychological underpinnings of prejudice, it's that actual out-and-out or "explicit" racists—like Sterling—are just one part of the story. Perhaps far more common are cases of so-called "implicit" prejudice, where people harbor subconscious biases, of which they may not even be aware, but that come out in controlled psychology experiments. Much of the time, these are not the sort of people whom we would normally think of as racists. "They might say they think it's wrong to be prejudiced," explains New York University neuroscientist David Amodio, an expert on the psychology of intergroup bias, on this week’s episode. Amodio says that white participants in his studies "might write down on a questionnaire that they are positive in their attitudes about black people…but when you give them a behavioral measure, to how they respond to pictures of black people, compared with white people, that's where we start to see the effects come out." On the show this week we talk to Amodio about his research on the neuroscience of prejudice, its implications, and what we can do about it. This episode of also features a discussion of how scientists turned to a group of video gamers to help solve a complex problem involving how the human retina detects motion, and of the release of the groundbreaking National Climate Assessment. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
May 09, 2014
32 Katharine Hayhoe - Climate Science and Christianity
Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, has had quite the run lately. A few weeks back, she was featured in the first episode of the Showtime series The Years of Living Dangerously, meeting with actor Don Cheadle in her home state of Texas to explain to him why faith and a warming planet aren't in conflict. Then, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2014; Cheadle wrote the entry. Why is Hayhoe in the spotlight? Simply put, 25 to 30 percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and their belief in the science of global warming is well below the national average. And if anyone has a chance of reaching this vast and important audience, Hayhoe does. "I feel like the conservative community, the evangelical community, and many other Christian communities, I feel like we have been lied to," explains Hayhoe on this week’s episode. "We have been given information about climate change that is not true. We have been told that it is incompatible with our values, whereas in fact it's entirely compatible with conservative and with Christian values." On the show this week we talked to Hayhoe about climate change, science, religion, and not only why Evangelicals should care about our changing climate, but why they should feel compelled to do something about it. This episode also features a discussion of recent findings that laboratory mice respond differently to male researchers, and new breakthroughs in "therapeutic cloning," or the creation of embryonic stem cell lines from cloned embryos. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
May 02, 2014
31 Mary Roach - The Science of Your Guts
Mary Roach has been called "America's funniest science writer." Master of the monosyllabically titled bestseller, she has explored sex in Bonk, corpses in Stiff, and the afterlife in Spook. Her latest book, now out in paperback, is Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. It's, you know, completely gross. But in a way that you can't put down. What kind of things might you learn in a Mary Roach book about the alimentary canal, that convoluted pipeline that runs from where you food goes in all the way to where something else comes out? Well, how about why suicide bombers don't carry bombs in their rectums: Their bodies would absorb much of the explosion and prevent any chance of achieving their deadly objective. It's one of the "reasons to be thankful for your anus," observes Roach on this week's episode. On the show, Roach took host Indre Viskontas on a quick tour of the colon and discussed some uses of the alimentary canal that are surely outside the normal range of advised behavior (just Google "hooping"—not the Hula Hoop kind—and you'll see what we mean). But this isn't all funny; the science of the gut can help you live more, er, comfortably. We talk to Roach about all that and more on this week’s show. This episode also features a discussion of whether humans differ, genetically, in our sensitivity to pain, and on the latest dismal survey showing just how much scientific knowledge Americans refuse to accept. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Apr 25, 2014
30 Jared Diamond - The Third Chimpanzee
Jared Diamond, author of a suite of massive, bestselling books about the precarious state of our civilization (including the Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel), calls himself "cautiously optimistic" about the future of humanity. What does that mean? "My estimate of our chances that we will master our problems and have a happy future, I would say the chances are 51 percent," Diamond explains on this week’s episode. "And the chances of a bad ending are only 49 percent," he adds. Diamond didn't start out as the globe-romping author, prognosticator, and polymath whose books—kind of like those of Stephen Hawking—we feel like we have to have read in order to feel moderately intelligent. Rather, after a Cambridge training in physiology, Diamond at first embarked on a career in medical research. By the mid-1980s, he had become recognized as the world's foremost expert on, of all things, the transport of sodium in the human gall bladder. But then in 1987, something happened: his twin sons were born. "I concluded that gall bladders were not going to save the world," remembers Diamond. "I realized that the future of my sons was not going to depend upon the wills that my wife and I were drawing up for our sons, but on whether there was going to be a world worth living in in the year 2050." The result was Diamond's first book, The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. It's the book that came before Guns, Germs, and Steel, but it very much lays the groundwork for that later work, as well as for Diamond's 2005's ecological jeremiad Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In a sense, The Third Chimpanzee ties together Diamond's thinking: It's a sweeping survey of who we humans are—evolutionarily speaking, that is—and what that says about whether we can solve the "various messes that we're making now," as Diamond puts it. And this month, The Third Chimpanzee has been released in a new, shortened and illustrated edition for young adults, underscoring Diamond's sense that our entire future depends on "enabl[ing] young people to make better decisions than their parents." In other words, if you want to really, really simplify Diamond's message these days, it would be something like this: Go forth, young chimpanzees, and clean up the mess we made. Or else. For Diamond, the story of who we are is also the story of what we must do. The younger among us, anyway. This episode also features a discussion of the science (and superstition) behind this week's "blood moon," and the case of K.C., the late amnesiac patient who taught us so much about the nature of human memory. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Apr 18, 2014
29 Neil Shubin - Your Inner Fish
We all know the Darwin fish, the clever car-bumper parody of the Christian "ichthys" symbol, or Jesus fish. Unlike the Christian symbol, the Darwin fish has, you know, legs. Har har. But the Darwin fish isn't merely a clever joke; in effect, it contains a testable scientific prediction. If evolution is true, and if life on Earth originated in the oceans, then there must have once been fish species possessing primitive limbs, which enabled them to spend some part of their lives on land. And these species, in turn, must be the ancestors of four-limbed, land-living vertebrates like us. Sure enough, in 2006, scientists found one of those transitional species: Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million-year-old Devonian period specimen discovered in the Canadian Arctic by paleontologist Neil Shubin and his colleagues. Tiktaalik, explains Shubin this week’s episode, is an "anatomical mix between fish and a land-living animal." "It has a neck," says Shubin, a professor at the University of Chicago. "No fish has a neck. And you know what? When you look inside the fin, and you take off those fin rays, you find an upper arm bone, a forearm, and a wrist." Tiktaalik, Shubin has observed, was a fish capable of doing a push-up. It had both lungs and gills. It's quite the missing link. On the show this week, we talk to Shubin about Tiktaalik, his bestselling book about the discovery, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body, and the recently premiered three-part PBS series adaptation of the book, featuring Shubin as host who romps from Pennsylvania roadsides to the melting Arctic in search of fossils that elucidate the natural history of our own anatomy. This episode also features a discussion of the growing possibility of an El Nino developing later this year, and the bizarre viral myth about animals fleeing Yellowstone Park because of an impending supervolcano eruption. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Apr 10, 2014
28 John Hibbing - The Biology of Ideology
Thomas Jefferson was a smart dude. And in one of his letters to John Adams, dated June 27, 1813, Jefferson made an observation about the nature of politics that science is only now, two centuries later, beginning to confirm. "The same political parties which now agitate the United States, have existed through all time," wrote Jefferson. "The terms of Whig and Tory belong to natural, as well as to civil history," he later added. "They denote the temper and constitution of mind of different individuals." Tories were the British conservatives of Jefferson's day, and Whigs were the British liberals. What Jefferson was saying, then, was that whether you call yourself a Whig or a Tory has as much to do with your psychology or disposition as it has to do with your ideas. At the same time, Jefferson was also suggesting that there's something pretty fundamental and basic about Whigs (liberals) and Tories (conservatives), such that the two basic political factions seem to appear again and again in the world, and have for "all time." Jefferson didn't have access to today's scientific machinery—eye tracker devices, skin conductance sensors, and so on. Yet these very technologies are now being used to reaffirm his insight. At the center of the research are many scholars working at the intersection of psychology, biology, and politics, but one leader in the field is John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln whose "Political Physiology Laboratory" has been producing some pretty stunning results. This week, we talk to Hibbing about his research and what he says we actually do now know about these important differences between liberals and conservatives. This episode also features a discussion of whether we are finally on the verge of curing AIDS, and new research suggesting that great landscape painters, like JMW Turner, were actually able to capture the trace of volcanic eruptions, and other forms of air pollution, in the color of their sunsets. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Apr 04, 2014
27 Ethan Perlstein - Scenes from the Postdocalypse
How do you become a scientist? Ask anyone in the profession and you'll probably hear some version of the following: get a Bachelor's of Science degree, work in a lab, get into a PhD program, publish some papers, get a good post-doctoral position, publish some more papers and then apply for a tenure-track job at a large university. It's a long road—and you get to spend those 10 to 15 years as a poor graduate student or underpaid postdoc, while you watch your peers launch careers, start families, and contribute to their 401(k) plans. And then comes the academic job market. According to Brandeis University biochemist Dr. Gregory Petsko, who recently chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee on the postdoctoral experience in the US, less than 20 percent of aspiring postdocs today get highly coveted jobs in academia. That's less than one in five. Naturally, many more end up in industry, in government, and in many other sectors—but not the one they were trained for or probably hoping for. "We're fond of saying that we should prepare people for alternative careers," explains Pesko, "without realizing that we're the alternative career." Ethan Perlstein was one of these postdocs—before he decided he'd had enough. He had gotten his Ph.D. at Harvard under Stuart Schreiber, the legendary chemist, and then gone on to a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship in genomics at Princeton. He'd published in top journals, like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Genetics. He'd put in 13 years. But that "came to a close at the end of 2012," says Perlstein on this week’s episode, "when I encountered what I have been calling the postdocalypse, which is this pretty bad job market for professionally trained Ph.Ds—life scientists, in particular." After two years of searching for an assistant professorship, going up against an army of highly qualified, job-hungry scientists, he gave up. We talked to Perlstein about the postdocalypse, what it means for science, and what he’s doing about it. This episode also features a story about the upcoming release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report on global warming impacts, and a discussion about the difficult question of when screening for disease conditions is (and isn't) a good idea. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 28, 2014
26 Phil Plait - Just After the Big Bang
We all heard the cosmos-stretching news this week. On Monday, a team of researchers working with a special telescope at the South Pole confirmed that they had observed evidence of "inflation," the sudden and rapid expansion of the universe that occurred in an unimaginably small slice of time just after the Big Bang, the beginning of space and time some 13.8 billion years ago. The researchers achieved this feat by examining what is known as the cosmic microwave background or CMB, which has been called the "residual heat of creation." It is a light glow that suffuses the universe and that is nearly as old as the Big Bang itself—its leftover radiation and, you might say, its signature. For most of us, though, all this talk of "inflation"—which quickly gets even more complicated, with phrases like "gravitational waves" and "polarized light" getting thrown around—can seem pretty intimidating. But that's the wrong way to look at it. If we don't understand the stunning insights of modern astrophysics and cosmology, it's just because nobody has explained them to us well enough—yet. There are science communicators out there who are more than up to the task, though, and one of them is Slate blogger and self-described "bad astronomer" Phil Plait. On the show this week, we talk to Plait about this recent discovery—he explains what is actually going on, and what we can take away from it. This episode of Inquiring Minds also features a discussion of troubling new research on the melting of Greenland, and on whether or not basketball players actually get "hot," statistically speaking, becoming more likely to make future shots if they have already made several shots in a row. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 21, 2014
25 Neil deGrasse Tyson - Finally, Science Is Cool
Last week, Fox's and National Geographic's new Cosmos series set a new milestone in television history. According to National Geographic, it was the largest global rollout of a TV series ever, appearing on 220 channels in 181 countries, and 45 languages. And, yes, this is a science show we're talking about. You will have to actively resist the force of gravity in order to lift up your dropped jaw, and restore a sense of calm to your stunned face. At the center of the show is the "heir apparent" to legendary science popularizer and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who we interview on this week's episode about what it's like to fill Sagan's shoes. Tyson discusses topics ranging from what we know now about the Cosmos that Sagan didn't to why science seems to have gotten so supercool again. This episode also features a discussion of whether bringing extinct species back to life is a good idea, and of new research suggesting that climate change led to the rise of Genghis Khan. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 14, 2014
24 Jennifer Ouellette - Is The Self an Illusion, or Is There Really a “You” In There?
Who are you? The question may seem effortless to answer: You are the citizen of a country, the resident of a city, the child of particular parents, the sibling (or not) of brothers and sisters, the parent (or not) of children, and so on. And you might further answer the question by invoking a personality, an identity: You're outgoing. You're politically liberal. You're Catholic. Going further still, you might invoke your history, your memories: You came from a place, where events happened to you. And those helped make you who you are. Such are some of the off-the-cuff ways in which we explain ourselves. The scientific answer to the question above, however, is beginning to look radically different. Last year, New Scientist magazine even ran a cover article entitled, "The great illusion of the self," drawing on the findings of modern neuroscience to challenge the very idea that we have seamless, continuous, consistent identities. "Under scrutiny, many common-sense beliefs about selfhood begin to unravel," declared the magazine. "Some thinkers even go so far as claiming that there is no such thing as the self." What's going on here? When it comes to understanding this new and very personal field of science, it's hard to think of a more apt guide than Jennifer Ouellette, author of the new book Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. Not only is Ouellette a celebrated science writer; she also happens to be adopted, a fact that makes her life a kind of natural experiment in the relative roles of genes and the environment in determining our identities. The self, explains Ouellette in this episode, is "a miracle of integration. And we haven't figured it out, but the science that is trying to figure it out is absolutely fascinating." This episode also features a discussion about a case currently before the Supreme Court that turns on how we determine, scientifically, who is intellectually disabled, and of the recent discovery of a 30,000 year old "giant virus" frozen in Arctic ice. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Mar 07, 2014
23 Edward Frenkel - What Your Teachers Never Told You About Math
As Edward Frenkel sees it, the way we teach math in schools today is about as exciting as watching paint dry. So it's not surprising that when he brings up the fact that he's a mathematician at dinner parties, the eyes quickly glaze over. "Most people, unfortunately, have a very bad experience with mathematics," Frenkel says. And no wonder: the math we learn in school is as far from what Frenkel believes is the soul of mathematics as a painted fence is from The Starry Night by Van Gogh, Frenkel's favorite painter. The Russian born Berkeley mathematician, whose day job involves probing the connections between math and quantum physics, wants to change that. Rather than alienating drudgery, Frenkel views math as an "archipelago of knowledge" that's universally available to all of us, and he's been everywhere of late spreading the word. In particular, Frenkel is intent on warning us about how people are constantly using (or misusing) math to get our personal data, to hack our emails, to tank our stock markets. "The powers that be sort of exploit our ignorance, and manipulate us more when we are less aware of mathematics," says Frenkel, on this week’s episode. If you hated math in high school, maybe that will catch your attention. This episode also features a discussion about whether offshore wind farms can protect our coasts from hurricanes, and new insights on the possible physical location of memory within the brain. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 28, 2014
22 Jennifer Francis and Kevin Trenberth - Is Global Warming Driving Crazy Winters?
Just when weather weary Americans thought they'd found a reprieve, the latest forecasts suggest that the polar vortex will, again, descent into the heart of the country next week, bringing with it staggering cold. If so, it will be just the latest weather extreme in a winter that has seen so many of them. California has been extremely dry, while the flood-afflicted UK has been extremely wet. Alaska has been extremely hot (as has Sochi), while the snow-pummeled US East Coast has been extremely cold. They're all different, and yet on a deeper level, perhaps, they're all the same. This weather now serves as the backdrop—and perhaps, as the inspiration—for an increasingly epic debate within the field of climate research. You see, one climate researcher, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory to explain winters like this. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream—in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we've all been experiencing. On the other hand, in a letter to the journal Science last week, five leading climate scientists—mainstream researchers who accept a number of other ideas about how global warming is changing the weather, from worsening heat waves to driving heavier rainfall—strongly contested Francis's jet stream claim, calling it "interesting" but contending that "alternative observational analyses and simulations have not confirmed the hypothesis." One of the authors was the highly influential climate researcher Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who we welcomed on the show this week alongside Francis to debate the matter. This episode also features a discussion about Indre's new 24 lecture course "12 Essential Scientific Concepts," which was just released by The Teaching Company as part of the "Great Courses" series. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 21, 2014
21 Steven Novella - No, GMOs Won't Harm Your Health
With historic drought battering California's produce and climate change expected to jeopardize the global food supply, there are few questions more important than what our agriculture system should look like in the future. And few agricultural issues are more politically charged than the debate over genetically modified organisms. Even as companies like Monsanto are genetically engineering plants to use less water and resist crop-destroying pests, activists are challenging the safety and sustainability of GM foods. On this week’s episode, we speak with Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University. Novella is a prominent voice in the skeptical movement, a scientific movement that, as he describes it, focuses heavily on explaining the truth behind "common myths—things that people believe that aren't true." So we asked him to help sort out fact from fiction when it comes to industrial agriculture in general—and GMOs in particular. This episode also features a discussion of the US Olympic team's new high-tech ski suits and analysis of disturbing new evidence that Americans are increasingly likely to confuse astrology with science. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 14, 2014
20 Maria Konnikova - How to Make Your Brain Work Better
You're a busy person. Keeping up with your job, plus your life, is the very definition of multitasking. It doesn't help that when working, you're distracted not only by your mobile devices, but also by your computer. You average 10 tabs open in your browser at any one time, which you compulsively click amongst. One's your email, which never stops flowing in. At the end of the day, you sleep less than you know you probably should, but as you tell yourself, there's just never enough time. If this is how you live, then Maria Konnikova has a simple message for you: Pause, step back, and recognize the actual costs of your habits. A psychology Ph.D. and popular writer for The New Yorker, Konnikova circles back, again and again, to a common theme: How we thwart our own happiness, and even sometimes harm our brains, in our quest for a simply unattainable level of productivity. "The way that we've evolved, the way our minds work, the way we work at our most optimal selves, is really not the way we have to operate today," Konnikova explains on this week's episode. "I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle, but I hope that if there are enough voices out there, someone will finally hear that, 'Hey, this attempt at hyper productivity is making us much less productive.'" This episode also features a report by Climate Desk's Tim McDonnell on how climate change is threatening winter sports, and a special guest appearance by science communicator Dr. Kiki Sanford, who helps us break down what happened in the widely watched Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham creationism debate earlier this week. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Feb 07, 2014
19 Kari Byron - How to Safely Blow Stuff Up When You're Pregnant
Most expecting women ask their doctors whether it's okay to eat blue cheese, or have the odd glass of wine, while they're pregnant. Or maybe whether to stay away from fish, because of the mercury. When she was pregnant with her daughter several years ago, though, MythBusters' Kari Byron took her maternal Q & A to a whole different level. "I'd be going to my doctor saying, 'All right, so, when do I have to stop shooting guns because she has ears?'" recalls Byron on this week’s episode. "And the doctor would say, 'Hmm, I have never, ever had that question before. I'll get back to you.' I come back a little later: 'How far away do I need to be from an explosion of this much C-4?' 'Huh, I've never had that question asked. I have no idea, I don't even know where to refer you right now, I'll get back to you.'" As a co-host of arguably the most successful science-based show on television, Byron has developed a reputation as a courageous and fun-loving guide to testing the truth behind so many ideas that we take for granted. On Inquiring Minds this week, we talk to Byron about Mythbusters, bear repellents, zombie escapes, and how an artist can make you love science. This episode also features a report by Mother Jones' Brett Brownell on our growing ability to detect extra-solar planets, and a discussion of, yes, the myth that antioxidant vitamins protect against cancer. iTunes: RSS: Stitcher:
Jan 31, 2014
18 Eugenie Scott & Ann Reid - The Assault on Science Education
In recent decades, there have been countless infringements, and attempted infringements, upon accurate science education across the country. The "war on science" in national politics has nothing on the war playing out every day in public schools, even if the latter is usually less visible. The attacks are diverse and ever-changing, showing an array of tactics and strategies that almost rivals biological life itself. "If nothing else evolves," explains evolution defender Eugenie Scott on this week’s episode, "religion does. Creationism does." Scott spoke to us on an auspicious occasion: She is stepping down as the director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an organization she founded in her basement 27 years ago, and that has since become the chief tracker of attacks on science education across the US. Joining the conversation was Scott's successor Ann Reid, who led the sequencing of the 1918 flu virus at the Army Institute of Pathology in the mid 2000s, and most recently served as director of the American Academy of Microbiology. This week’s episode also features a discussion looking back at the science in the last three State of the Union addresses, and examines a recent science-of-memory study, which suggests walking through doorways might actually be making us forget things. Subscribe:
Jan 24, 2014
17 Michael Pollan - The Science of Eating Well (And Not Falling For Diet Fads)
The Paleo diet is hot. Those who follow it are attempting, they say, to mimic our ancient ancestors—minus the animal-skin fashions and the total lack of technology, of course. The adherents eschew what they believe comes from modern agriculture (wheat, dairy, legumes, for instance) and rely instead on meals full of meat, nuts, and vegetables—foods they claim are closer to what hunter-gatherers ate. The trouble with that view, however, is that what they’re eating is probably nothing like the diet of hunter-gatherers, says Michael Pollan, author of a number of best-selling books on food and agriculture, including Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. "I don't think we really understand well the proportions in the ancient diet," argues Pollan on this week’s episode. "Most people who tell you with great confidence that this is what our ancestors ate—I think they're kind of blowing smoke." This week on the show, guest host Cynthia Graber has a wide-ranging conversation with Pollan that covers the science and history of cooking, the importance of microbes—tiny organisms such as bacteria—in our diet, and surprising new research on the intelligence of plants. This episode also features a discussion of the new popular physics book Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn, by Amanda Gefter, and new research suggesting that the purpose of sleep is to clean cellular waste substances out of your brain. Subscribe:
Jan 16, 2014
16 Deborah Blum - The Science of Poisoning
As a writer, Deborah Blum says she has a "love of evil chemistry." It seems that audiences do too: Her latest book, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, was not only a bestseller, but was just turned into a film by PBS. The book tells the story of Charles Norris, New York City's first medical examiner, and Alexander Gettler, his toxicologist and forensic chemist. They were a scientific and medical duo who brought real evidence and reliable forensic techniques to the pressing task of apprehending poisoners, who were running rampant at the time because there was no science capable of catching them. On the show this week we talk to Blum about this “golden age for poisoners” and the science that goes along with it. This episode also features an interview with Quartz meteorology writer Eric Holthaus about whether global warming may be producing more extreme cold weather in the mid-latitudes, just like what much of America experienced this week. Subscribe:
Jan 10, 2014
15 Mark Ruffalo - Our 100 Percent Clean Energy Future
For Mark Ruffalo, environmental activism started out with something to oppose, to be against: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It all began when the actor, perhaps best known for his role as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) in Marvel's The Avengers, was raising three small children in the town of Callicoon, in upstate New York. At that time the Marcellus shale fracking boom was coming on strong, even as the area also saw a series of staggering floods, each one seemingly more unprecedented than the last. In response, Ruffalo launched Water Defense, a nonprofit that takes on fracking and extreme or unconventional energy extraction in general (from mountaintop removal mining to deep sea drilling), and does so with a focus on grassroots activism. In the process, he's become quite the visible spokesman. But if you think Ruffalo is just another celeb with an anti-corporate tilt, you're missing the story. His true passion is promoting a clean energy solution to our climate and water problems, and demonstrating how feasible it is. Today. Like, now. On the show this week we talk to Ruffalo about his vision for a clean energy future, what he’s doing about it, and how you can help. This episode also features a discussion of what the year 2013 meant for climate and energy. Subscribe:
Jan 03, 2014
14 Carolyn Porco - Why Seeing Earth From Space Matters
On Valentine's Day 1990, from more than four billion miles away, the Voyager 1 spacecraft snapped our photo. From that distance, there wasn't much to see; the resulting shot simply showed several light beams with a tiny speck in one of them. Earth. But that didn't stop the late celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan from writing rapturously about the meaning of this image, which he famously dubbed the "Pale Blue Dot." "To me," Sagan wrote of the picture, "it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Sagan infused the "Pale Blue Dot" with significance, but the truth is that, thanks in part to the difficulty of the shot, it was never a very good image. Enter planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, one of Sagan's scientific disciples and head of imaging science for the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Saturn and sending us back stunning images on a regular basis. "From day one," explains Porco, in this week’s episode, "I had it in my mind that I wanted to do that picture, only better. I wanted to make it beautiful." In our interview with Porco, she talks about the new Pale Blue Dot image she unveiled last month—appropriately enough, at a celebration for Sagan, dedicating his papers to the Library of Congress; and more broadly, why seeing Earth from space matters. This episode also features a discussion of the psychology of New Years' Eve: When do New Years' resolutions to lose weight actually work, and when do they fail? And what does marking time through significant dates (birthdays, anniversaries, and years' ends) do to the identities that we create for ourselves? Chris and Indre discuss the latest research on both topics. Subscribe:
Dec 27, 2013
13 Ara Norenzayan - Why Do Atheists Exist?
Americans don't like atheists much. It's something we get reminded of every December, as Fox News commentators decry a secularist "war on Christmas." But the distrust spans seasons: Barely half of Americans say they would vote for an atheist for president; forty eight percent, meanwhile, would disapprove of their child marrying one. Still, atheist America is growing: One fifth of the public is now religiously unaffiliated. So how do you build an atheist? Or a whole country of them like the Czech Republic, where 48 percent of the public opts for the description "not a religious person" and another 30 percent is a "convinced atheist"? In the last decade, a growing body of research has begun to home in on an answer. In this week’s show we cover all of that and more with Ara Norenzayan, a pioneering researcher on the psychology of religion. This special Christmas episode also features a discussion of whether buying your kids tablets for Christmas so they can play lots of video games is bad for their brains (you'll be surprised at the answer), and how Santa Claus will soon be Canadian if Canada succeeds in its dastardly plan to claim the North Pole. Subscribe:
Dec 20, 2013
12 Joshua Greene – The New Science of Morality
It's an old distinction: Science tells us what the world is like, but it can never tell us how we ought to behave in such a world. That's the realm of morality, and here we consult ethicists or perhaps priests—but something other than just data. It's pretty tough to keep science hemmed in, though; and in the past decade a group of researchers have begun to transform how we think about morality. They've put our sense of right and wrong in lab, and even in the fMRI machine. And while their findings may or may not ultimately tell you what you ought to do, they dramatically illuminate how we make such decisions...and, perhaps, fundamentally redefine what morality is in the first place. Harvard's Joshua Greene, a leader in this new wave of research and author of the new book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, is our guest on this week’s show. Subscribe:
Dec 13, 2013
11 Maryn McKenna - Our Scary Post-Antibiotic Future
It's flu season. And we're all about to crisscross the country to exchange hugs, kisses and germs. We're going to get sick. And when we do, many of us will run to our doctors and, hoping to get better, demand antibiotics. And that's the problem: Antibiotics don't cure the flu (which is viral, not bacterial), but the over-prescription of antibiotics imperils us all by driving antibiotic resistance. This threat is growing, so much so that in a recent widely read Medium article, Wired science blogger and self-described "scary disease girl" Maryn McKenna painted a disturbingly plausible picture of a world in which antibiotics have become markedly less effective. That future is the focus of the interview in this week's show. This episode also features a discussion of the surprising reasons that US students are so bad at math (just 26th in the world, in a recent study). Plus, Indre takes apart a highly controversial new study purporting to show that male-female gender stereotypes are rooted in different wiring of our brains. Subscribe:
Dec 06, 2013
10 Simon Singh - How the Simpsons Have Secretly Been Teaching You Math
Simon Singh isn't exactly your average fan of Fox's The Simpsons. He has a Ph.D. in particle physics from Cambridge, and made an award-winning documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem. Let's be frank: He's a math geek. But then, so are a surprisingly large number of the show's writers. You may not have realized it, but as Singh shows in his new book, The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets, a seemingly endless supply of mathematical jokes and references are crammed into each Simpsons episode. We talk to Singh about The Simpsons, as well as his work in science advocacy and libel reform. This episode also features a discussion of some of the science behind Thanksgiving: Why gratitude is good for us, and what kinds of food safety issues you should know about when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers. Subscribe:
Nov 22, 2013
9 Michael Mann - From Computer Geek to Political Giant Slayer
On the show this week we talk to climate researcher Michael Mann about how he, as a self-described math and computer nerd working in an esoteric field known as paleoclimatology, wound up front and center in a nationally watched political campaign. His situation traces back to the world famous "hockey stick" graph, originally published by Mann and his colleagues in a 1998 scientific paper, and then prominently displayed by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2001 Third Assessment Report. Because of its stark depiction of just how dramatically humans have altered the climate in a relatively short time period, the figure may well be the most controversial chart in history. Not scientifically controversial, mind you: politically controversial. This episode also features a discussion of the myth that left-brained people are logical and right brained people are creative, and the legacy of Carl Sagan and its lessons for today's science wars. Subscribe:
Nov 15, 2013
8 Alison Gopnik - We All Start Out as Scientists, But Some of Us Forget
This week we feature a conversation with psychologist Alison Gopnik, recorded live at the 2013 Bay Area Science Festival. Gopnik talks about her latest book, The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. She explains that babies are natural explorers, and way smarter than we used to think. But along the way, we lose that cognitive flexibility and openness—some of us more than others. This episode also features a discussion about a recent study that shows different cells—different cells in the same brain—can have different DNA; and a recent New York Times story that draws attention to the fact that now more than ever, many people who get Ph.Ds don’t get jobs afterwards. Subscribe:
Nov 07, 2013
7 George Johnson - Why Most of What You've Heard About Cancer is Wrong
This week, we speak with veteran science journalist George Johnson, whose new book The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery helps turn much traditional thinking about cancer on its head. It's a provocative and also a personal exploration of the myths and misunderstandings that surround this most formidable enemy to our health and well being. This episode also features a discussion of the science of hangovers (timed just for Halloween weekend, we know) and new findings about the origins of the SARS virus. Subscribe:
Nov 01, 2013
6 Jonathan Haidt - This is Why Your Political Opponents Hate You
Why is America so polarized? Why are our politicians so dysfunctional? Why do they sometimes even seem to downright hate each other? In this episode of Inquiring Minds, moral psychologist and bestselling The Righteous Mind author Jonathan Haidt explains that our differences are, at root, the result of sharply contrasting moral systems and the emotions that underlie them. These emotions differ from left to right. And in politics, we feel first and think later. As a result, even though political partisans today tend to think their adversaries are wrong and immoral, the truth is actually that they are too moral, albeit in a far more visceral than intellectual sense. This episode also contains a discussion of Glenn Beck's recent flubbing of basic statistics, and of why a primate species—the marmoset—may in some ways be better at communicating than today's Democrats and Republicans. Subscribe:
Oct 25, 2013
5 Dan Kahan and Stephan Lewandowsky - How Do You Make People Give a Damn About Climate Change?
As two top researchers studying the science of science communication—a hot new field that combines psychology with public opinion research—Dan Kahan and Stephan Lewandowsky agree about most things. There's just one problem. The little thing that they disagree on—whether it actually works to tell people, and especially political conservatives, that there's a "scientific consensus" on climate change—has huge practical significance. In this episode, Kahan and Lewandowsky debate the issue. It also features a discussion of the strange and disturbing disappearance of moose across much of the United States, and of Oprah's recent claim that self-described atheist swimmer Diana Nyad isn't actually an atheist. Subscribe:
Oct 18, 2013
4 Randy Schekman - This 2013 Nobel Laureate Says College Is Way Too Expensive
This week we talk to Randy Schekman, the University of California-Berkeley cell biologist who was just awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on how cells regulate the protein “traffic” that is at the core of their communication with other cells. In the interview with co-host Indre Viskontas, Schekman not only explains his scientific breakthroughs—he also tells us why he wants to take a stand about the steeply rising cost of public higher education, which is driving huge student debt loads and rendering college simply too expensive for some. Affordable higher education, says Schekman, is “really in peril all over the country." In addition to being a Nobel laureate, Schekman is also a winner of the coveted Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the former editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This episode also features a (spoiler free) discussion of the science behind the hit sci-fi movie Gravity, and the controversy this year over the Nobel Prize in physics. Subscribe:
Oct 11, 2013
3 Sylvia Earle - Why the Oceans Are Not Too Big to Fail
This week we talk to scientist and explorer Sylvia Earle, a woman who has spent almost a year of her life under water. She explains why the oceans are "not too big to fail." But she also says that just maybe, we're growing wise enough to save them. Earle is the National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence, and former chief scientist at NOAA—plus she's a TED Prize winner who used that award to form Mission Blue, an ocean conservation initiative. Her unofficial titles go further: Time called her "Hero of the Planet," and many others call her "Her Deepness." She has set several underwater depth records, including diving to 1,250 feet, without a tether, in 1979. Back in 1970, when some institutions of higher education were still refusing to admit women, Earle was leading female aquanauts on expeditions to the sea floor. The Tektite Program featured a team of women who lived in an undersea laboratory off the Virgin Islands for two weeks, conducting research. This episode also features a discussion of the the latest research on how conspiracy theories fuel the denial of science on issues ranging from climate change to vaccinations, and on how scientists are reconsidering the origins of life and, yes, bringing Mars into the picture. Subscribe:
Oct 04, 2013
2 Alan Weisman - Can We Finally Have a Serious Talk About Population?
This week, Chris Mooney talks to environmental journalist Alan Weisman, who explains why, following on his 2007 New York Times bestseller The World Without Us, he decided to centrally take on the issue of human population. For his just-published book Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?, Weisman traveled to 21 countries—from Israel to Mexico, and from Pakistan to Niger—to report on how different cultures are responding to booming populations and the strain this is putting on their governments and resources. Importantly, Weisman is no supporter of coercive population control measures such as China's infamous one-child policy. Rather, he makes a powerful case that the best way to manage the global population is by empowering women, through both education and access to contraception. This episode of Inquiring Minds also features a discussion of the latest myths circulating on global warming, and the brave new world of gene therapy that we're entering—where being rich might be your key ticket to the finest health care. Subscribe:
Sep 27, 2013
1 Marsha Ivins - What It's Like To Spend 55 Days in Space
There aren't many people on Earth who have spent more of their life in space than Marsha Ivins. A veteran of five space shuttle missions, Ivins has spent a total of 55 days in orbit, on missions devoted to such diverse tasks as deploying satellites, conducting scientific research, and docking with Mir and the International Space Station. This episode features an interview with Ivins, where she relates some of her in-orbit experiences—such as how your body and brain slowly adapt to the fact that no single direction is up or down. Plus, for the benefit of geeks across the universe, she also explains why the Borg cube from Star Trek can maneuver just as well in space as any starfighter that Hollywood has dreamed up. She discusses why publicly supported space missions are still vital, what it will take to get us to Mars and beyond, and why solving advanced space travel problems (energy, propulsion) might simultaneously help us solve many of our problems on Earth—perhaps including global warming. This episode also features a discussion about new developments in science, including research suggesting that political biases are so pervasive that they can interfere with your ability to do math, and mounting evidence of the dangers of head injuries received from playing football. Subscribe:
Sep 20, 2013