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Brain fun for curious people.

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Brain fun for curious people.

    Book Club Finale, Floating Nuclear Plants. Oct 30, 2020, Part 2

    Book Club Finale, Floating Nuclear Plants. Oct 30, 2020, Part 2

    Pushing Boundaries In Fantastical Fiction
    The Science Friday Book Club has spent all of October immersed in short stories by Indigenous, Black, Chicanx and South Asian authors. But at the end of the day, where do these stories fit in the bigger picture of fiction writing in 2020?

    In the final conversation of this fall’s speculative fiction focus, SciFri’s Book Club joins writer and ‘New Suns’ editor Nisi Shawl in a conversation about the expanding footprint of writers of color in science fiction and fantasy, and the ways both science and science fiction can be re-imagined and redefined when you look outside of the perspectives of white, Western authors who have dominated these genres in the past. 

    Shawl suggests broadening what stories we call science fiction. What happens when we think of writing, or even religion, as forms of technology? 

    SciFri producer Christie Taylor and Journal of Science Fiction editor Aisha Matthews join Nisi Shawl in front of a live Zoom audience for this conversation about the diverse and dynamic future of science fiction.

    Shipping Nuclear Power Out To Sea
    When the Green New Deal was proposed last year, it called for the United States to become fully energy independent, moving to 100% renewable energy sources within the next decade. It specifically mentions solar and wind power as two alternatives the country should invest in. And it conspicuously leaves out nuclear power. 

    But the nuclear industry is fighting to be part of the renewable conversation. While it’s been innovating at a slower pace, there is one old idea that engineers say still holds water: floating nuclear power plants. 

    Ira talks to Nick Touran, a nuclear engineer and reactor physicist from Seattle, Washington about the advantages of shipping nuclear out to sea, as well as some newer technology keeping nuclear power in the renewable energy conversation.

    • 47 min
    Science And The Election, Disinformation, Vampire Bats. Oct 30, 2020, Part 1

    Science And The Election, Disinformation, Vampire Bats. Oct 30, 2020, Part 1

    Choosing the next U.S. president is not the only decision voters will make in the upcoming 2020 elections. Major science policies are also on the ballot. In some states, people will be casting votes on propositions that influence scientific research and the environment. While in other local elections, candidates with scientific backgrounds are in the running for public office. Jeffrey Mervis of Science Magazine talks about California stem cell research policies and Nevada renewable energy propositions, and how a science platform could help or harm candidates.


    Plus, this election season has been filled with disinformation—unverified stories of voter fraud, rumors of uncounted and tossed out mail-in ballots, claims of third parties hacking voter results, and other false information. And with possible delayed election results due to the overwhelming number of absentee ballots, driven in part by COVID, there could be even more of this disinformation spread before the final polls are announced. Disinformation expert Deen Freelon discusses how these unverified and fake news stories take hold. Freelon also provides techniques on how to decipher fact from fiction in your overfilled news feeds.


    Relatedly, the November election will likely have big consequences for climate policy in the United States. It comes at a critical time. Scientists say major action is needed by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of global warming. President Donald Trump does not have a climate policy. His administration has rolled back Obama-era climate initiatives. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is promising to put the country on a path toward a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions from the U.S. no later than 2050. Polls show about 70% of Pennsylvanians want their state lawmakers to do more to address climate change. But polls rarely carry examples of what actions people want. A recent StateImpact survey shows Pennsylvanians want a lot — from state and federal lawmakers. The one-question survey attracted responses from more than 200 people, who asked for everything from specific policy proposals such as Pennsylvania’s entrance into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Green New Deal, to desperate pleas such as “listen to science!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Read the full piece at ScienceFriday.com.)


    And it’s almost Halloween, which means it’s time to get a little spooky. A perfect time for the newest installment of our Charismatic Creature Corner!

    This month, we’re diving into the wild world of vampire bats. These little mammals are native to Central and South America, and have bodies about the size of a mouse. 

    And yes, let’s address the elephant in the room: Vampire bats have a diet that consists entirely of blood. They gravitate toward livestock, but have been known to feed on people too. Their status as blood-suckers makes them one of the only mammals classified as parasites.

    Despite their gruesome diets, vampire bats are extremely social creatures, and are known to display acts of friendships with other bats. In fact, a study last year found that vampire bat friendships forged in captivity actually last when the bats are released into the wild. Friendships are important for vampire bats: They result in food sharing, which is integral to keeping everyone fed and happy.

    Science Friday’s Charismatic Creature Correspondent, producer Kathleen Davis, is back to convince Ira that this creature is worthy of entry into the Charismatic Creature Corner Hall of Fame. Joining them is Dan Riskin, an evolutionary biologist and adjunct professor of biology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.

     

     

     

     

     

    • 47 min
    Should We Trust Election Forecasting, COVID Dreams. Oct 23, 2020, Part 1

    Should We Trust Election Forecasting, COVID Dreams. Oct 23, 2020, Part 1

    The first “scientific” election poll was conducted in 1936 by George Gallup, who correctly predicted that Franklin D. Roosevelt would win the presidential election. Since Gallup, our appetite for polls and forecasts has only grown, but watching the needle too closely might have some unintended side effects.

    Solomon Messing, chief scientist at ACRONYM, a political digital strategy nonprofit, tells us about a study he co-authored that found people are often confused by what forecast numbers mean, and that their confidence in an election’s outcome might depress voter turnout. Sunshine Hillygus, professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, also joins to tell us about the history of polling in the United States.


    Next up, say you're standing in a crowded room and realizing nobody is wearing a mask. Or a family dog that has passed away protectively guarding grandkids. Maybe having a pleasant get-together with someone you haven’t thought of in years, then suddenly realizing everyone is a little too close, and a little too sick.

    Do any of these instances sound familiar? A few weeks ago, we asked Science Friday listeners if their dreams have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We heard from many listeners who said yes, their dreams have become more vivid, with elements of the pandemic included.

    A change in dreams due to a crisis is very common, says Deirdre Barrett, a dream researcher and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When we’re in a dream state, the brain is processing the same things we think about during the day. But when we’re asleep, the parts of our brain that handle logic and speech are damped down. The parts that handle visuals, however, are ramped up.

    Barrett has been collecting dreams from people all over the world since the start of the pandemic. She says common dream themes range from actually getting the virus, natural disasters and bug attacks. Healthcare workers have regularly reported the highest level of stressful COVID-19 dreams, according to her data.

    “The typical dream from the healthcare workers is really a full-on nightmare,” Barrett says. “Just as bad as you’d see in war zones.”

    Barrett joins SciFri producer Kathleen Davis to talk about her research into crisis dreams, and what people can do if they want to experience stressful dreams less often.


    And, search engine giant Google was served an antitrust lawsuit by the Justice Department this week, which alleges the company abuses its near-monopoly status to harm consumers and competitors. This is the first such action against the company, which, over the last couple decades, has grown into one of the more powerful tech companies in history. 

    Meanwhile, early data from New York City schools shows a promising picture of what back-to-school in the age of COVID means. Out of more than 16,000 randomly tested students and staff members, only 28 positive results came back—20 from staff members, and eight from students. While COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools across the country are not zero, low rates are the norm so far. 

    Joining Ira to talk about these stories and other news from the week is Nsikan Akpan, a science editor at National Geographic in Washington, D.C.

     

    • 47 min
    Teaching in a Pandemic, Inheriting Stress, Book Club. Oct 23, 2020, Part 2

    Teaching in a Pandemic, Inheriting Stress, Book Club. Oct 23, 2020, Part 2

    Even In A Pandemic, Science Class Is In Session
    This academic year, school campuses across the United States look very different. Instead of crowded hallways and bustling classrooms, students are spaced six feet apart, sometimes behind plastic barriers, while others are at home on camera in a video call. Since some states do not weigh in on school operations, communities witnessed a myriad of learning approaches, such as fully virtual, fully in-person, or a mixture of both. All are subject to change as COVID-19 rates fluctuate throughout regions. For instance, on October 1, all New York City public schools reopened and shifted 500,000 students to in-person class. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, October 21, Boston Public Schools announced that it suspended all in-person learning as numbers of COVID-19 cases rose in the region.

    Teachers, students, parents, caregivers, and staff have all felt the stress and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation is academically, mentally, and emotionally overwhelming. While the pandemic has presented many challenges in learning, STEAM educators are adapting. They are coming up with creative solutions to continue to meet the needs of all students, like holding outdoor biology classes, dissecting flowers at home, and even delivering materials and devices to students who need them.  

    STEAM educators Rabiah Harris, Josa Rivas, and Rick Erickson join Ira for a roundtable discussion on how the pandemic has impacted school this academic year. 

    Can Trauma Today Affect Future Children?
    We typically think of a traumatic event as a sudden thing—something that has a beginning and an end. Stress and trauma can of course have lasting psychological effects—and, in some cases, physical effects such as elevated blood pressure or premature aging. But now researchers are considering whether stress to an organism can be somehow transmitted to that animal’s future offspring, via epigenetic changes that modify how genetic code is expressed in the young.

    Bianca Jones Marlin is a neuroscientist studying such changes. In one study, she found that if researchers trained mice to associate the smell of almonds with an electric shock, the offspring of the mice tended to be afraid of an almond smell—even if they were raised separately, by foster parents that had no experience with the odor.

    Jones Marlin joins Ira to talk about her research, and her experience as a young researcher starting her own lab in the neurosciences.

    Making Peace With The End Of Your Species
    Welcome to week four of the Science Friday Book Club’s reading of ‘New Suns’! Our last short story assignment is ‘The Shadow We Cast Through Time’ by Indian writer Indrapramit Das. On a far-off planet, a human colony has been cut off from the rest of space: but they’ve also encountered other life, a fungus-like organism that infects and distorts human bodies into horned “demon”-like creatures. And as one human woman, Surya, approaches her death at their hands willingly, she makes a discovery that speaks of a new future for both species.

    Author Indrapramit Das joins SciFri producer Christie Taylor and Journal of Science Fiction managing editor Aisha Matthews to talk about creating new worlds, and the “modern mythology” of writing science fiction and fantasy.

    • 47 min
    U.S. COVID Spikes, Blockchain Chicken Farm, Book Club: Chicanafuturism. Oct 16, 2020, Part 2

    U.S. COVID Spikes, Blockchain Chicken Farm, Book Club: Chicanafuturism. Oct 16, 2020, Part 2

    Across The Country, A Spike In Coronavirus Cases
    Over 217,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and many states are seeing an upswing in case numbers as we head into fall. 

    In rural Wyoming, there have been over 8,100 cases, with 57 deaths to date. More populated Wisconsin has seen over 167,000 cases—and recently crossed the grim threshold of 1,500 deaths due to the disease. Both states have reported more hospitalizations, with Wisconsin this week opening a field hospital to help deal with the increased demand for medical care and pressure on hospitals.

    In this State of Science segment, Ira talks with Bob Beck, news director at Wyoming Public Radio, and Will Cushman, associate editor for WisContext, about how their communities are responding to the pandemic.

    Blockchain And Big Tech In China’s Countryside
    Many of us are familiar with blockchain: the decentralized, anonymous ledger system. In the U.S., blockchain is usually talked about in terms of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. But in China, chicken farmers are using blockchain to monitor food safety. 

    There are hundreds of million people living in the Chinese countryside. Chinese tech companies are investing in all sorts of projects in the country’s rural areas—from villages built around e-commerce to internet gaming sites getting into the pork industry. In Blockchain Chicken Farm: And Other Stories of Tech in China’s Countryside, author Xiaowei Wang traveled through China to investigate how this technology is shaping the people and countryside.  

    Science Friday Book Club: Conjuring An Alternate History Of Colonization
    It’s week three of the SciFri Book Club’s exploration of New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. This week’s story is ‘Burn the Ships,’ by author Alberto Yáñez. It’s set in a world that could be the Cortés-conquered Aztec Empire of 1520—but in this fictional version, the Spanish conquerors have modern guns, radios, railroads, and even scientific developments like vaccines. And as the Indigenous people are contained and slaughtered in camps, they use powerful magic to animate their dead against the invaders.

    SciFri producer Christie Taylor, Journal of Science Fiction managing editor Aisha Matthews and University of California Santa Cruz professor Catherine S. Ramirez talk about how a story about the past can still be science fiction, and introduce Chicanafuturism—a literary cousin of the Afrofuturism we discussed in last week’s conversation about Andrea Hairston’s story ‘Dumb House.’

    • 47 min
    The Black Hole At The Center Of The Galaxy, Shipwreck Microbes. Oct 16, 2020, Part 1

    The Black Hole At The Center Of The Galaxy, Shipwreck Microbes. Oct 16, 2020, Part 1

    The 2020 Nobel Prize winners have been announced, and among them is UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez, who split the prize with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel. Ghez, also the fourth woman to ever win the Physics prize, won for her 1998 work that resolved a decades-old debate among astronomers: What lurks at the difficult-to-observe heart of the Milky Way?

    After innovating new ways to peer through the obscuring gas and dust, Ghez and her team observed the orbits of stars around the galaxy’s seemingly empty center—and found they fit a pattern explained so far only by a supermassive black hole of at least four million times the mass of our Sun. In the decades since, she and her team have investigated the gravitational forces of the galactic center, and how well they match Einstein’s theory of relativity. (So far, her team has concluded, Einstein seems mostly right, but his theories may not fully explain what’s going on.)

    Ira talks to Ghez about how our understanding of the center of the galaxy has evolved, plus the questions that still puzzle her.


    Plus, off the coast of North Carolina is a large lagoon called the Pamlico Sound, which supports a diverse ecological landscape. It’s also home to the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck, a World War II vessel that’s partially submerged in the Sound. This wreck has become an artificial reef, and the life that surrounds it, big and small, is ripe for research.

    Just as humans have their own microbiomes, which are different for everyone, shipwrecks have microbiomes, too. Scientists study them to better understand what’s living on these sunken ships, and how to preserve them for future generations.

    While the vessel is not a natural part of the Sound, its role as an artificial reef makes it an important part of the ecosystem. By better understanding its microbes, scientists hope to help preserve this non-renewable cultural artifact.

    Joining Ira to talk about the marvelous microbes on the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck is Erin Field, assistant professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. 

    • 47 min

Customer Reviews

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Thanks4AllTheFish ,

Venus contaminated by Russia

Could the probes sent by Russia contaminated Landers.

wolfie/wolf ,

Science going backwards

Because of politics and cancel culture. Science is going back to the dark ages. If any scientists disagree with another’s research especially about climate change they are condemn by the non scientific activist. Ganged up on and all research funds dry up. So any research that in anyway disagrees is scared to show it. It’s a mob mentality. No matter how sloppy a research is as long as it goes with the mobs thinking it’s praised. What has happen to debate? What’s happening to our scientists who care more about diversity and political thinking than good excellence and results

Positive Peg ,

I love SCIENCE.

So sorry I found this to be yet another liberal political platform. Try staying on the supposed focus of science and less on the politics or rename your program.

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