A weekly programme that illuminates the mysteries and challenges the controversies behind the science that's changing our world.
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
Early Alzheimer's Alert
Marnie Chesterton hears of a simple test for the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease. She finds out about UK scientists using robots to map radiation at Chernobyl, and talks to Merlin Sheldrake about fungi.
Roland Pease travels to Bath University to meet scientists who may have developed a way to diagnose Alzheimer's in the earliest stages of the disease. Dr George Stothart, has led the team in the development of this simple 2 minute test.
Prof Thomas Scott of Bristol University and team develop robotic techniques to scan areas of high radiation that would otherwise be unsafe for humans to enter. Their rolling, quadruped or even flying robots have recently been deployed in and around the reactor building at the Chernobyl disaster site. Authorities there have recently been licensed to begin disassembling remains inside the vast concrete shield, but as they do so, areas of intense radiation are likely to shift from day to day. Being able to map these changes in 3D at the end of each working shift should enable workers to avoid the areas of biggest danger.
Dr Merlin Sheldrake is one of the nominees for this years Royal Society Insight Investment Book Prize. "Entangled Life - How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, & Shape Our Futures" is a rich tale of interconnectedness and subtle intrusion and extrusion between different living things, and particularly fungi's huge influence on human existence, from beer, bread and psychedelia to the whole history of life on earth.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Alex Mansfield
Made in Association with The Open University
Surprising choice for Nobel prizes in a pandemic?
This week saw the announcement of the Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine, chemistry and physics. None of them reward research connected with Covid. Roland Pease, science journalist and Nobel watcher, and Gaia Vince discuss the decisions, which some have said are controversial in this pandemic year.
The BepiColombo space craft, a joint European and Japanese mission, has just completed its first fly-by of Mercury, after a three year journey. Professor Dave Rothery, a planetary geologist at the Open University, who’s been involved since the early days of the mission in the 1990s, talks about what Mercury's cameras have seen and what the mission aims to find out when it finally gets into orbit around the planet in 2026.
Plants remove carbon from the air during photosynthesis, and forests will be a key part of meeting our climate goals. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about how forests will react as temperatures and CO2 rise. Now researchers at University of Birmingham have bathed ancient oak trees in the sort of carbon dioxide concentrations we expect in 2050, and measured the impact. Anna Gardner led the research from a forest in Staffordshire.
The shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021 was announced last week. Inside Science will be featuring the six authors.
The first is The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. She's a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who’s been described as “a detective of the mind”. Suzanne O’Sullivan specialises in epilepsy but this leads her to see a number of patients with symptoms such as unexplained paralysis or blindness. For The Sleeping Beauties, she travelled around the world investigating what is often referred to as psychosomatic illness. Sometimes whole groups of people have been affected in mysterious ways. Claudia Hammond spoke to her about the strange case of refugee children in Sweden who fell asleep for years at a time.
Covid vaccine boosters; why we don't have a tail; cassowary domestication; Royal Society Science book prize shortlist
Booster vaccines are now being offered to people in England most at risk of Covid, who had their second jab at least 6 months ago. Most people are getting an mRNA vaccine as a booster, mainly the Pfizer one. Dr Andrew Ustianowski, national clinical lead for the UK COVID Vaccine Research Programme, and infectious diseases consultant in Manchester, explains why people are not being offered new vaccines, specifically tweaked to prevent the current highly transmissible delta variant. And he talks about a trial with a new vaccine that works against more than just the spike protein.
Why don’t we have a tail? We share that absence with our primate cousins, the great apes. What made the difference genetically speaking has eluded scientists, until now. Professor Jef Boeke of NYU Langone Health tells Gaia Vince why it was a change in just one gene that caused us to lose our tail.
New research just published in PNAS pushes back the origins of farming by thousands of years. Professor Kristina Douglass of Penn State University and team studied 18 000 year old eggshells of cassowaries, found in human shelters in New Guinea. She explains how the finds suggest that these Pleistocene people had domesticated these large flight less birds.
And six authors this week learned that their books have made the shortlist of the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize for 2021. Chair of the judges, Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin, tells Gaia how the panel made their choices from the 350 books entered.
La Palma volcano; wind energy in the UK; origins of SARS-Cov2; Formula 1 safety
Thousands of people have been forced to flee the path of the lava that has been spewing from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma since Sunday 18th September. Dr Rebecca Williams of Hull University is an expert on the geology of the Canary Islands and tells Gaia Vince that eruptions are regular events on the islands.
There's been much discussion about where we are going to get our energy from in the UK. Gas prices are soaring, a fire has knocked out a key power cable, and the weather has affected the amount of power that can be generated from our wind turbines. And to meet our climate targets we're going to become ever more dependent on renewable, and variable, sources. Tom Butcher from the Met Office talks about wind forecasting. He says that the winds have been between 10% and 20% lower in intensity this summer.
Professor Deborah Greaves, of Plymouth University and Head of the Supergen Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, explains how the UK is planning to increase the number of wind turbines, moving into deeper waters.
A team from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, investigating bats in caves in Northern Laos, has found bats that are infected with a coronavirus that’s genetically almost identical to the one now causing Covid in humans. Lead researcher Dr Marc Eloit discusses what they have discovered and how coronaviruses could move from bats to humans.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had what looked like a very serious crash at their recent Formula 1 race in Italy. Max Verstappen’s car landed on top of Lewis Hamilton’s, but amazingly Hamilton got out unscathed. The safety features on these cars which can travel at more than 200 mph, are very sophisticated. Nick Wirth, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering who has many years experience of engineering in the F1 world, describes the Halo which saved Lewis Hamilton's life.
Perseverance drills on Mars; space tourism; Australian fire debris and algal blooms; DNA vaccines against Covid
NASA's Perseverance rover has been trundling around the Jezero crater since it landed successfully in February 2021. A few weeks ago it made its first attempt at collecting a sample of rock. Unfortunately the rock turned out to be so crumbly it disintegrated away. But Perseverance lives up to its name and has been drilling elsewhere and has now collected two samples. The rover has stored them in special canisters for later collection. Katie Stack-Morgan, Deputy Project Scientist of the Mars 2020 mission at NASA, tells Gaia Vince what they've found out so far.
The Inspiration 4 mission has just blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center with 4 civilian astronauts on board. Unlike previous billionaire space flights, which have shot up far enough to officially cross into space before immediately returning, these four are going further out than the International Space Station, where they will orbit the earth for three days. BBC Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos talks about the recent boom in space tourism, and about the Chinese rover on Mars.
The terrible Australian wildfires of the summer of 2019/20 had a devastating impact, burning across more than 18 million hectares and causing loss of life and livelihoods.. Now, it turns out the impacts stretched far beyond Australia. Climate scientists have been looking at satellite images of the vast Southern Ocean, which plays a major role in controlling the global climate, and found massive algal blooms, fertilised by debris blown thousands of kilometres from the fires. Gaia discusses the observations with Nicolas Cassar of Duke University, one of the authors on a recent Nature paper, and what they tell us about geoengineering to cool down the earth.
This month India licensed the world’s first DNA vaccine against Covid. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Virology at the University of Nottingham, is involved with a DNA vaccine that is just starting in clinical trials. He explains the pros and cons of this kind of vaccine. It could be of benefit to those who are needle phobic.
Favorite science podcast
This is a must-listen podcast. I enjoy all the different hosts and contributors, but Marnie is excellent.
These guys are great at it. I have to give them that. I thought listening to the news from another English-speaking country would provide keen insight but I was wrong. Someone needs to tell these guys that the issue of global warming was changed. The name was changed to climate change. That’s because global warming has been widely debunked.
I doubt that anyone on this show is concerned. You have however, delegitimized yourselves.
Yes, where is Adam?
Marnie is good, but Adam is why I tune in.
Update 17 May- Have I missed an announcement? Is Adam on leave or has he left the program?
June 12 - Is Adam ever coming back? Why has there been no announcement? Not the same show anymore. Unsubscribed for now and will keep reading Adam’s books.
So...somehow I missed that Adam had Covid! Bad case as well. Terrifying. Then he was back and now he’s gone again. I can’t keep up. I just hope he is well. The new guy sounds a lot like Adam, but now it’s someone different every week. I give up. There is nothing distinct about this program anymore. The same topics are covered elsewhere with more experienced presenters. This podcast has gone from five to two stars.