We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.
Why do we gossip?
Gossip often has negative connotations, but does get a bad rap? Might it serve a useful function and should we think of gossiping as an advanced social skill rather than a personality defect? CrowdScience listener Jayogi thinks it might be useful, and has asked CrowdScience to dig into the reasons why we find it so hard to resist salacious stories.
Presenter Datshiane Navanayagam meets a scientist who views gossip as a key evolutionary adaption - as humans started to live in bigger cooperative groups, gossiping was a way of bonding and establishing acceptable group behaviour as well as cementing reputations of trustworthiness.
Datshiane heads to the local park to catch some real gossiping in action and finds out that whilst people like to gossip they don’t consider themselves gossipers.
Datshi asks a team of scientists what information we are most keen to share and glean in these interactions and if there is such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gossip. She hears that in some group settings – like in the workplace - gossip can enhance cooperation and limit free-riders, but that it can also have a more self-serving dark side.
Datshiane finds out if our stone-age gossipy minds are fit to operate in the world of mass communication and social media – is our fixation on celebrities related to our being hard wired to gossip?
Presenter: Datshiane Navanayagam
Producer: Melanie Brown
[Image: Gossiping people. Credit: Getty Images]
If a tree falls in a forest… does it make a sound?
If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? This is an age-old debate that listener Richard and his family have been arguing about for years. Can CrowdScience settle it once and for all?
Caroline Steel speaks to experts in hearing, biology, philosophy, physics and sound design, which takes her to some unexpected places.
Professor Stefan Bleek is an expert in psychoacoustics who says that sounds only exist in our heads.
Dr Eleanor Knox and Dr Bryan Roberts are philosophers that make her question if anything exists outside our own perception. Professor Lilach Hadany wonders if it’s limited to humans and animals - could other plants hear the falling tree too?
And Mat Eric Hart is a sound designer who says that sound is subjective – it’s always tangled up with our own interpretations.
Things get truly weird as we delve into the strange implications of quantum physics. If there is such a thing as reality, doesn’t it change when we’re there to observe it? Does the tree even fall if we aren’t there?
Presented by Caroline Steel
Produced by Anand Jagatia for the BBC World Service
Image: Fallen Tree. Credit: Getty Images
Do animals use medicine?
Animals experience all the colds, stomach pains, headaches, parasites, and general illnesses that humans do. But unlike us, animals can’t just grab a painkiller off the shelf at the supermarket to cure it. They don’t have a pharmacy to browse… or at least, not the sort that we’d recognise.
Listener Andrew Chen got in touch to ask whether animals use any kind of medicine themselves. After all, our own drugs largely come from the plants and minerals found in wild habitats. So perhaps animals themselves are using medicines they find in nature.
Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks with the primate researcher who stumbled across a chimp chewing on a bitter leaf 35 years ago, Professor Mike Huffman, whose observations opened up a whole new field of research. We discover why plants contain the medicinal compounds they do, and how butterflies with brains no bigger than a pin-head are still able to select and use medicine to protect their young.
We think of medicine as a human invention - but it turns out that we’ve learnt a lot of what we know from copying the birds, bugs and beasts.
Presented by Anand Jagatia
Produced by Rory Galloway
Image: Chimp eating. Credit: Getty Images
Can space exploration be environmentally friendly?
The space industry, with its fuel-burning rockets, requirements for mined metals and inevitable production of space junk, is not currently renowned for its environmental credentials. Can space exploration ever be truly environmentally friendly? Presenter Marnie Chesterton answers a selection of listeners’ questions on the topic of space environmentalism. She starts by examining the carbon footprint of spaceship manufacturing here on Earth, and asking whether reusable rocket ships such as Space X or Virgin Galactic offer a green route for commuting or tourism in low Earth orbit.
Just beyond our atmosphere, space junk and space debris are multiplying at an exponential rate, jeopardising our communications and mapping satellites, and even putting our access to the wider solar system at risk. As more probes and landers head to the Moon and Mars, what plans are in place to deal with space debris far beyond Earth?
Presented by Marnie Chesterton
Produced by Jen Whyntie for the BBC World Service
[Image: Space Junk. Credit: Getty Images]
How does my mind talk to my body?
This week CrowdScience investigates the information superhighway connecting mind with body. The Vagus nerve is part of our parasympathetic nervous system, delivering information from all our major organs to the brain stem, and stimulating it can help us switch off our fight or flight response and calm us down. But listener Mags wants to know what science says about its impact on our general wellbeing? Marnie Chesterton learns some deep breathing techniques and discovers how the length of our exhale is closely linked to our heart rate, all of which is important for developing something called vagal tone. Cold water immersion also said to stimulate the Vagus, so Marnie braves a freezing shower, only to discover she needs to get her face wet but keep the rest of her body dry, to avoid what scientists called autonomic conflict, which is when your stress response and calming response are both switched on by the same event. Activating both arms of the nervous system in this way can lead to serious heart problems in some people. New research into the gut-brain axis has shown that the Vagus nerve may be responsible for transporting the so-called happy hormone serotonin, which could have important implications for the treatment of depression. And innovations in electrical stimulation of this nerve means implanted devices may soon be used to treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Presented by Marnie Chesterton and produced by Marijke Peters for the BBC World Service
Dr Lucy Kaufmann, Adjunct Professor of Neurology, NYU
Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology, University of Porstmouth
Mark Genovese, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Stanford University
Dr Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld, Brain Body Institute, McMaster University
[Image credit: Getty Images)
Why does it feel so good to swear?
The sudden agony of stubbing a toe or burning a finger can make even the most polite among us swear our heads off. It’s like a reflex, a quick-release valve for the shock. But why do expletives give us such a sense of relief? Why does it sometimes feel so good to swear?
We set out to explore the science of swearing, prompted by a question from our listener Gadi. Psychological studies have shown bad language can relieve pain, or even make us stronger; we test out these theories for ourselves, and try to figure out why certain words are charged with such physical power.
We don’t just use strong words in shock or anger, either. They can help us to bond with others, to express joy, solidarity, or creativity. And although people curse all over the world, it’s not quite the same everywhere. We hear what people like to swear about in different countries, and whether swearing in a second language can ever be quite so satisfying.
Presented by Anand Jagatia
Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service
(Photo: Woman swearing. Credit: Getty Images)
Customer ReviewsSee All
One of the best
This is definitely one of the best science podcasts I’ve listened to and that’s coming from a real lover of science who’s listened to quite a few. This podcast is entertaining, really accessible for non-scientists but not dumbed down to the point that you feel patronised. Thank you to the CrowdScience team!
Brilliant podcast, the episode about conspiracy theories in particular was a masterpiece. Thorough in depth and entertaining - this is a wonderful show!
Terrific program, well paced and researched