300 episodes

A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

BBC Inside Science BBC

    • Science
    • 4.4 • 215 Ratings

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A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    Malaria: what's in it for the mosquito?

    Malaria: what's in it for the mosquito?

    Malaria, a disease that infects hundreds of millions of people and kills hundreds of thousands each year. It is caused after a plasmodium parasite is passed from a blood-feeding mosquito into a human host. Subject to much research over hundreds of years, of both host and parasite, one of the evolutionary mysteries has been why the plasmodium so prospers in the mosquito populations in infected areas. Why haven’t mosquitoes’ immune systems learned to fight back for example? In short, what’s in it for the mozzies?

    Ann Carr, working with Laurence Zwiebel at Vanderbuilt University, reports in the journal Nature Scientific Reports how they managed to discover a mutual symbiotic relationship between the plasmodium and the mosquito. Using advanced sequencing technology they discovered that the infected insects can live longer, and have enhanced sensing (olfaction) and egg positioning than their uninfected brethren. This, in turn, could help them finds meals better, bestowing higher numbers of infection opportunities for the parasite, and benefitting both.

    NASA this week successfully launched its DART mission, which will next year attempt to nudge an asteroid in its orbit by smashing a mass into it. Could this method allow future humans, endangered by an impending collision push an asteroid out of the way to save the planet? It is billed as human’s first ever “earth-defence mission”, but as relieved-sounding mission leads Nancy Chabot and Andy Rivkin of Johns Hopkins University told the BBC, it is perhaps finally time to stop talking about these sorts of things and have a go.

    Less relieved perhaps are astronomers around the world, as the James Webb Space Telescope team announce a further small delay to its launch to sometime after December 22nd. The BBC’s John Amos a few weeks ago stood in the presence of the telescope before it was coupled to the launch vehicle, and spoke with ESA’s Peter Jensen about its cost and complexity. BBC Inside Science is planning a special episode devoted to the instrument to accompany the launch of this successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Watch, as they say, this space...

    And finally an insight perhaps into the origin of words and language. Apart from onomatopoeia, where a word can sound like the noise of a noise-making thing, can a word sound like other properties, such as for example its shape? In the late 1920s psychologists found that different people would match certain made-up words with the same abstract shapes. This “Bouba/ Kiki” effect has been studied since, where the word “Bouba” is associated with rounded blobby shapes, and “Kiki” with spikier, angular forms.

    But there wasn’t so much evidence whether or not the effect worked across different languages or different written alphabets, until now.

    Aleksandra Ćwiek of Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft in Berlin tells Gaia of her international study (published in Royal Society Phil. Trans. B) looking at the effect in 25 different languages and cultures. The effect is robust across the different writing systems and locations, so the link is not simply about the shape of a letter b or letter k when written in a latinate alphabet, but could allude to something much deeper.

    Presented by Gaia Vince
    Produced by Alex Mansfield
    Assistant Producer, Emily Bird

    Made in Association with The Open University.

    • 36 min
    Yet More Space Junk; COP-up or COP-out; The End of Bias.

    Yet More Space Junk; COP-up or COP-out; The End of Bias.

    Earlier in the week the current ISS crew had to prepare to evacuate after Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon, spreading thousands of high velocity shards of ex-satellite into a reasonably low-earth orbit and potentially endangering many other earth observation and communication satellites of all nations. How can we clear this and all the other debris? BBC Space Correspondent Jonathan Amos tells Gaia Vince about the Russian test and of efforts to de-orbit some other deceased orbital vehicles.

    Simon Evans, deputy editor of the website Carbon Brief, was one of many attending the COP26 summit which ended at the weekend. How do all the declarations, promises and the "Glasgow Pact" itself add up in the great carbon ledger we all need to worry about?

    And the last of BBC Inside Science's Royal Society book prize nominees, Jessica Nordell talks to Gaia about writing her book "The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias". Her investigation into the science of all of our preconceptions and unacknowledged prejudices surprized even herself.


    Presented by Gaia Vince
    Produced by Alex Mansfield
    Studio production by Anna Buckley and Bob Nettles

    Made in Association with The Open University

    • 37 min
    Propane: Keeping Your Cool as the World Warms Around You

    Propane: Keeping Your Cool as the World Warms Around You

    How propane might prevent air conditioning and refrigeration becoming an even bigger burden as our planet warms. Also, covid antiviral pills, and how we forgot to breathe properly.

    The Montreal Protocol is famous for reducing CFC emissions to help protect the Ozone Layer. We only started using things like CFCs as refrigerants in our fridges and air-conditioning because they weren't as flammable as many alternatives. They were mainly replaced by HFCs, though these are also on the way out. The reason? Their huge greenhouse warming potential (or GWP). Propane has long been thought to be an alternative because of its comparatively tiny GPW, but the safety standards haven't been in place in much of the world for many of the types of application that would make the big difference. Sophie Geoghegan, Climate Campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Asbjørn Vonsild who has been working on some of the new standards, due to become normal in Europe next year tell Gaia what greenhouse savings there are to be made, both in terms of efficiency and the contents of the systems themselves. If public opinion and consumer choice can drive the transition as our cities heat up.

    This week two new Anti-viral pills that are designed to fight SARS CoV2 infections have made headlines in the UK. Professor Penny Ward is Chair of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine’s Policy Expert Group, and explains how they work, how they were developed, and when they will be properly available.

    And in the penultimate of our 2021 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize shortlisted authors, science journalist James Nestor describes his book, Breath: The new science of a lost art. The book documents James’s journey around the world investigating traditional eastern practices, the latest pulmonology research, and learning from the palaeontology of ancient skulls, and he attempts to cure himself with better breathing habits.

    Presented by Gaia Vince
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in association with The Open University

    • 38 min
    How Whales Farmed For Food, COP progress, and The Last Stargazers

    How Whales Farmed For Food, COP progress, and The Last Stargazers

    Gaia Vince hears how blue whales' huge appetites and energetic eating behaviours helped generate more food for themselves. Also, an update from COP26, and Emily Levesque on The Last Stargazers.

    New research published this week in the journal Nature reveals new insights into blue whales eating habits. Matthew Savoca and colleagues suggest these biggest of marine animals actually eat up to three times the mass of krill previously estimated. And they do this by finding the blooms of krill and using a spectacular lunging approach to open their massive mouths and filter the gulp of seawater for tonnes of food.

    But how come, since the near destruction of their population by commercial whaling in the twentieth century, are current krill populations lower than when the voracious whales themselves were far more numerous? Shouldn't there be more krill now than then?

    The answer, as Victor Smetacek, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, describes to Gaia is that whales themselves help to keep iron in the upper waters of the southern oceans, re-fertilizing it for the lower ecosystem member like phytoplankton, and their powerful diving lunges and defecation effectively plough the waters, akin to herds of bison treading manure into prehistoric grass plains.

    Former GSO David King, of the Centre For Climate Repair at Cambridge University, is beginning experiments next year that seek to mimic this whale-defecation effect to bring about eventual repopulation of whales and fish to allow the oceans to restart this historical cycle.

    From Glasgow, above the hubbub of delegates and dignitaries CarbonBrief's deputy editor Simon Evans talks to Gaia about his perceptions of progress so far at the COP26 climate summit. Amongst the flurry of declarations so far this week, what are the details and how do they add up towards our eventual recovery back down to the 1.5C rise everybody is talking about?

    And in the latest of Inside Science's interviews with shortlisted finalists of this year's Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize, Prof Emily Levesque, an astronomer at Washington State University tells Marnie Chesterton of her adventures and astronomical anecdotes at some of the world's most famous observatories. Researching her book, "The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers", she interviewed hundreds of practicing and practical astronomers, many of whose jobs, she suggests, will soon be transformed as the act of observation becomes more remote, automated, and data-heavy.

    Presented by Gaia Vince
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in Association with The Open University

    • 34 min
    Atmospheric Pollutants and Where to Find Them

    Atmospheric Pollutants and Where to Find Them

    This week London's Ultra Low Emission Zone was extended to 18 times its previous size. In an effort to cut levels of various nitrogen oxides and other gases dangerous to humans from urban air, cities encouraging lower emission vehicles is a trend soon stretching across the UK and other European countries. But some are sceptical as to their efficacy. Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College London is author of The Invisible Killer, and has been studying the air in London and elsewhere since these zones began.

    As COP26 begins in Glasgow, a wealth of climate science is being published and publicised. Victoria Gill describes a couple of stories this week that point out quite how complex the science is, let alone the diplomacy and economics. Whilst the world's forests taken as a whole undoubtedly still capture more CO2 than they release, research this week shows that ten of Unesco's World Heritage Forests - making up for an area twice the size of Germany - have in the last ten years actually moved from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. There are several reasons, land use pressure being one of them, but also extreme climate events like wildfires (and even a hurricane in one instance) have tipped the balance, and show what how sharp the knife edge is for natural resilience. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that scientists have found an unexpected outflow of methane into the atmosphere from a site very close to the COP26 conference centre in Glasgow, highlighting just how great a challenge net zero will be.

    Alongside some of humans' most earth-changing achievements, the domestication of the horse stands as something outstanding in human history. Without it, war, traded and culture would be unrecognizable. But quite when and where the modern horse originated has been something of a mystery. In Nature this week, researchers have published an extensive study into ancient DNA that seems to pinpoint finally a moment and a place where this happened, 4,200 years ago. Geoff Marsh takes Marnie for a canter through the mystery.

    Presenter: Marnie Chesterton
    Producer: Alex Mansfield

    Made in association with The Open University

    • 33 min
    The Possible Impact of false-negative PCR Tests

    The Possible Impact of false-negative PCR Tests

    As many as 43,000 PCR tests for people living in and around the South West of England could have been wrongly returned as negative recently, thanks to a seemingly unknown error, or errors, at a laboratory near Wolverhampton. For an extraordinarily long time the mistakes went undetected, and every day many hundreds of people who really had Covid, were told they hadn't.

    To discuss the numbers and difficulty in calculating the full tragic consequences of the events, Marnie Chesterton speaks to Dr Deepti Gordasani of Queen Mary, University of London, and Dr Kit Yates, of Bath University.

    How many people may have died as a result of this? BBC Inside Science's back-of-the-envelope suggests 500-1000 preventable deaths, and counting..

    As accusations of fossil fuel lobbying begin to encircle the pre-negotiations of the COP26 negotiations, we heard last week of the sad death of Dutch climate scientist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh. Listeners to BBC Science programmes will recognise his work from earlier this year, as flash floods and heatwaves ravished Europe and North America, when he and his colleagues at the World Weather Attribution Initiative were able to say unambiguously that these events could only have happened because of anthropogenic climate change. Roland Pease looks at Geert Jan's work and legacy.

    And the latest of the Royal Society Book Prize finalists to speak to BBC Inside Science is Stuart Ritchie, a psychologist at Kings College London. His book explores the murkier corners of science as a process. Certainly the so-called replication crisis has dogged psychological sciences for several years, but in "Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth" Stuart outlines quite how deep some of the flaws in the modern experimental reporting and publishing model go, and in almost all fields.

    However, as he explains to Marnie, there may be ways of rescuing the great achievement of the scientific method by tweaking some of our peer-review norms.

    Presented by Marnie Chesterton
    Produced by Alex Mansfield

    Made in association with The Open University

    • 38 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
215 Ratings

215 Ratings

mkcheshire ,

Great show

Great show.

Mantis79 ,

Too Woke

I enjoyed this podcast for a while because it talked about science, but lately the topics are more social, too woke, too biased.

TiffanyDesiree ,

Favorite science podcast

This is a must-listen podcast. I enjoy all the different hosts and contributors, but Marnie is excellent.

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