Big Picture Science Latest Shows
Monsters don’t exist. Except when they do. And extinction is forever, except when it isn’t. So, which animals are mythical and which are in hiding?
Bigfoot sightings are plentiful, but real evidence for the hirsute creature is a big zilch. Yet, the coelacanth, a predatory fish thought extinct, actually lives. Today, its genome is offering clues as to how and when our fishy ancestors first flopped onto land.
Meanwhile, the ivory-billed woodpecker assumes mythic status as it flutters between existence and extinction. And, from passenger pigeons to the wooly mammoth, hi-tech genetics may imitate Jurassic Park, and bring back vanished animals.Guests:
- Donald Prothero – Paleontologist, geologist, former professor at Occidental College, co-author of Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids
- Chris Amemiya – Biologist and geneticist at the University of Washington and the Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle
- John Fitzgerald – Ornithologist and director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University
- Ben Novak – Visiting biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, lead coordinating scientist of “The Great Comeback” at the Revive and Restore project, Long Now Foundation
Imagine a world without algebra. We can hear the sound of school children applauding. What practical use are parametric equations and polynomials, anyway? Even some scholars argue that algebra is the Latin of today, and should be dropped from the mandatory curriculum.
But why stop there? Maybe we should do away with math classes altogether.
An astronomer says he’d be out of work: we can all forget about understanding the origins of the universe, the cycles of the moon and how to communicate with alien life. Also, no math = no cybersecurity + hackers (who have taken math) will have the upper hand.
Also, without mathematics, you’ll laugh < you do now. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has peppered his animated show with hidden math jokes.
And why mathematics = love.Guests:
- Andrew Hacker – Professor of political science and mathematics at Queens College, City University of New York. His article, “Is Algebra Necessary?”, appeared in The New York Times in 2012.
- Bob Berman – Astronomy editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the author of The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet, and columnist for Astronomy Magazine. His article, “How Math Drives the Universe” is the cover story in the December 2013 issue.
- Simon Singh – Science writer, author of The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets
- Rob Manning – Flight system chief engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for NASA’s Curiosity rover
- Edward Frenkel – Professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, author of Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality. His article, “The Perils of Hacking Math,” is found on the online magazine, Slate.
ENCORE We’ve all had an “oops” moment. Scientists are no exception. Sometimes science stumbles in the steady march of progress. Find out why cold fusion is a premier example why you shouldn’t hold a press conference before publishing your results. Also, how to separate fumbles from faux-science from fraud.
Plus, why ignorance is what really drives the scientific method.
And our Hollywood skeptic poses as a psychic for Dr. Phil, while our Dr. Phil (Plait) investigates the authenticity of a life-bearing meteorite.Guests:
- Phil Plait – Skeptic and author of Slate Magazine’s blog Bad Astronomy
- Michael Gordin – Historian of science at Princeton University, author of The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
- David Goodstein – Physicist, California Institute of Technology
- Stuart Firestein – Neuroscientist, chair of the biology department, Columbia University, and author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science
- Jim Underdown – Executive Director, Center for Inquiry, Los Angeles
First released January 28, 2013.
After the winds and water of Typhoon Haiyan abated, grief and hunger swept though the Philippines, along with the outbreak of disease. Are monster storms the new normal in a warmer world? Some scientists say yes, and if so, climate change is already producing real effects on human life and health.
A hotter planet will serve up casualties from natural disasters, but also higher rates of asthma, allergies and an increase in mosquito-borne diseases. It is, according to one researcher, the greatest challenge of our time, straining health care efforts worldwide. But could a “medical Marshall Plan” save us?
Also, why the conservative estimates from the U.N.‘s climate change group don’t help people prepare for worst-case scenarios. And, a controversial approach to saving our overburdened planet: a serious limit on population growth.Guests:
- Jeff Masters – Meteorologist, Wunderground
- Linda Marsa – Investigative journalist, contributing editor at Discover, author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and how we can save ourselves
- Fred Pearce – Freelance author and journalist, environment consultant for New Scientist. His article, “Has the U.N. Climate Panel Outlived It’s Usefulness?” appeared on the website Yale Environment 360
- Alan Weisman – Author, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
A computer virus that bombards you with pop-up ads is one thing. A computer virus that shuts down a city’s electric grid is another. Welcome to the new generation of cybercrime. Discover what it will take to protect our power, communication and transportation systems as scientists try to stay ahead of hackers in an ever-escalating game of cat and mouse.
The expert who helped decipher the centrifuge-destroying Stuxnet virus tells us what he thinks is next. Also convenience vs. vulnerability as we connect to the Internet of Everything. And, the journalist who wrote that Google was “making us stupid,” says automation is extracting an even higher toll: we’re losing basic skills. Such as how to fly airplanes.Guests:
- Ray Sims – Computer Technician, Computer Courage, Berkeley, California
- Eric Chien – Technical Director of Security Technology and Response, Symantec
- Paul Jacobs – Chairman and CEO of Qualcomm
- Shankar Sastry – Dean of the College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, director of TRUST
- Nicholas Carr – Author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains and the forthcoming “The Glass Cage”. His article, “The Great Forgetting,” is in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic.
ENCORE Time keeps on ticking, ticking … and as it does, evolution operates to produce remarkable changes in species. Wings may appear, tails disappear. Sea creatures drag themselves onto the shore and become landlubbers. But it’s not easy to grasp the expansive time scales involved in these transformative feats.
Travel through millennia, back through mega and giga years, for a sense of what can occur over deep time, from the Cambrian Explosion to the age of the dinosaurs to the rise of Homo sapiens.Guests:
- Lorna O’Brien – Evolutionary biologist, University of Toronto
- Ivan Schwab – Professor of ophthalmology, University of California, Davis. His blog
- Don Henderson – Curator of dinosaurs, Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Canada
- Gregory Cochran – Physicist, anthropologist, University of Utah
- Todd Schlenke – Biologist, Emory University
First released April 2, 2012
“Sorry, closed for business.” That sign hung on doors of national laboratories when the US government shut down. What that meant for one Antarctic researcher: her critically important work was left out in the cold.
So just what do we lose when public funds for science fade? The tools for answering big questions about our universe for one, says a NASA scientist … while one of this year’s Nobel Prize winners fears that it is driving our young researchers to pursue their work overseas.
Yet one scientist says publically funding isn’t even necessary; privatizing science would be more productive.
Plus, an award-winning public-private research project changes the way we use GPS … and a BBC reporter on the fate of international projects when Americans hang up their lab coats.Guests:
- Jill Mikucki – WISSARD principal investigator and a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee
- Max Bernstein – Lead for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
- James Rothman – Professor and chairman of the department of cell biology at Yale University, recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine
- Alexandre Bayen – Civil engineer and computer scientist, University of California, Berkeley
- Pat Michaels – Director for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute
- Roland Pease – BBC science reporter
It was the most famous invasion that never happened. But Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast sure sounded convincing as it used news bulletins and eyewitness accounts to describe an existential Martian attack. The public panicked. Or did it? New research says that claims of mass hysteria were overblown.
On the 75th anniversary of the broadcast: How the media manufactured descriptions of a fearful public and why – with our continued fondness for conspiracies – we could be hoodwinked again
Plus, journalism ethics in the age of social media. Can we tweet “Mars is attacking!” with impunity?
And why we’re obsessed with the Red Planet.Guests:
- Michael Socolow – Associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine
- Jesse Walker – Senior editor at Reason Magazineand author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory
- Katy Culver – Assistant professor at the school of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Kevin Schindler – Outreach manager at the Lowell Observatory
Your brain is made up of cells. Each one does its own, cell thing. But remarkable behavior emerges when lots of them join up in the grey matter club. You are a conscious being – a single neuron isn’t.
Find out about the counter-intuitive process known as emergence – when simple stuff develops complex forms and complex behavior – and all without a blueprint.
Plus self-organization in the natural world, and how Darwinian evolution can be speeded up.Guests:
- Randy Schekman – Professor of molecular and cell biology, University of California, Berkeley, 2013 Nobel Prize-winner
- Steve Potter – Neurobiologist, biomedical engineer, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Terence Deacon – Biological anthropologist, University of California, Berkeley
- Simon DeDeo – Research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute
- Leslie Valiant – Computer scientist, Harvard University, author of Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World
Discovering bacteria on Mars would be big news. But nothing would scratch our alien itch like making contact with intelligent life. Hear why one man is impatient for the discovery, and also about the new tools that may speed up the “eureka” moment. One novel telescope may help us find E.T. at home, by detecting the heat of his cities.
Also, the father of modern SETI research and how decoding the squeals of dolphins could teach us how to communicate with aliens.Guests:
- Lee Billings – Journalist and author of Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
- Olivier Guyon – Optical physicist, astronomer, University of Arizona and Suburu telescope; 2012 McArthur Genius award winner
- Jeff Kuhn – Physicist, Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Colossus Telescope
- Frank Drake – Astronomer, SETI Institute
- Denise Herzing – Behavioral biologist and research director of the Wild Dolphin Project
Let there be light! Well, it’s easy to do: just flip a switch. But it took more than the invention of the light bulb to make that possible. It required new technology for the distribution of electricity. And that came, not so much from Thomas Edison, but from a Serbian genius named Nikola Tesla.
Hear his story plus ideas on what might be the breakthrough energy innovations of the future. Perhaps hydrogen-fueled cars, nuclear fusion electrical generators or even orbiting solar cells?
Plus, a reminder of cutting-edge technology back in Napoleon’s day: lighthouses.Guests:
- W. Bernard Carlson – Professor of science, technology and society, University of Virginia, and author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
- Michael Dunne – Physicist, program director for laser fusion energy, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
- R. Tom Baker – Chemist, director of the Center for Catalysis Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa
- Paul Young – Radio engineer, director of Powersat Ltd.
- Theresa Levitt – Historian, University of Mississippi, and author of A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse
You can’t see it, but it’s there, whether an atom, a gravity wave, or the bottom of the ocean … but we have technology that allows us to detect what eludes our sight. When we do, whole worlds open up.
Without telescopes, asteroids become visible only three seconds before they slam into the Earth. Find out how we track them long before that happens. Also, could pulsars help us detect the gravity waves that Einstein’s theory predicts?
Plus, why string theory and parallel universes may remain just interesting ideas … the story of the woman who mapped the ocean floor … and why the disappearance of honeybees may change what you eat.Guests:
- David Morrison – NASA space scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute
- May Berenbaum – Entomologist, University of Illinois
- Scott Ransom – Astronomer, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
- Lee Smolin – Theoretical physicist, Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Canada, author of Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe
- Hali Felt – Author of Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor
Imagine: Your pint-sized pup is descended from a line of predatory wolves. We have purposefully bred a new species – dogs – to live in harmony with us. But interactions between species, known as co-evolution, happen all the time, even without deliberate intervention. And it’s frequently a boon to survival: Without the symbiotic relationship we have with bugs in our gut, one that’s evolved with time, we wouldn’t exist.
Discover the Bogart-and-Bacall-like relationships between bacteria and humans, and what we learn by seeing genes mutate in the lab, real time. Also, the dog-eat-dog debate about when canines were first domesticated, and how agriculture, hip-hop music, and technology can alter our DNA (eventually).
Plus, why some of the fastest humans in history have hailed from one small area of a small Caribbean island. Is there a gene for that?Guests:
- Greger Larsen – Evolutionary biologist, department of archaeology, Durham University
- Peter Richerson – Professor emeritus, University of California, Davis, department of Environmental Science and Policy, author of Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution
- Dave van Ditmarsch – Biologist, post-doctoral researcher, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- David Epstein – Senior writer, Sports Illustrated, author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
ENCORE The Day After. 2001. Prometheus. There are sci-fi films a’plenty … but how much science is in the fiction? We take the fact checkers to Hollywood to investigate the science behind everything from space travel to human cloning.
Plus, guess what sci-fi film is the most scientifically accurate (hint: we’ve already mentioned it). Also, why messing with medical facts on film can be dangerous … and the inside scoop from a writer of one of television’s most successful sci-fi franchises.
And, a robot who surpasses even Tinseltown’s lively imagination: a humanoid that may become a surrogate you.Guests:
- David Kirby – Senior lecturer in science communication studies at the University of Manchester in the U.K. and author of Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema
- Lucas Kavner – Reporter, Huffington Post, author of a piece on the rise of robot surrogates
- Wayne Grody – Medical geneticist, director of the DNA diagnostic Laboratory, UCLA Medical Center
- Andre Bormanis – Television writer and science consultant for Star Trek
First released July 30, 2012.
ENCORE Let there be light. Otherwise we couldn’t watch a sunset or YouTube. Yet what your eye sees is but a narrow band in the electromagnetic spectrum. Shorten those light waves and you get invisible gamma radiation. Lengthen them and tune into a radio broadcast.
Discover what’s revealed about our universe as you travel along the electromagnetic spectrum. There’s the long of it: an ambitious goal to construct the world’s largest radio telescope array … and the short: a telescope that images high-energy gamma rays from black holes.
Also, the structure of the universe as seen through X-ray eyes and a physicist sings the praises of infrared light. Literally.
And, while gravity waves are not in the electromagnetic club, these ripples in spacetime could explain some of the biggest mysteries of the cosmos. But first, we have to catch them!Guests:
- Anil Ananthaswamy – Journalist and consultant for New Scientist in London
- Harvey Tananbaum – Director of the Chandra X-Ray Center, located in Cambridge Massachusetts at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
- David Reitze – Executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), California Institute of Technology
- Albert Lazzarini – Deputy director, LIGO, California Institute of Technology
- Alan Marscher – Professor of astronomy at Boston University
First released March 19, 2012
Hi ho, hi ho … it’s out with work we go! As you relax this holiday weekend, step into our labor-atory and imagine a world with no work allowed. Soft robots help us with tasks at home and at the office, while driverless cars allow us to catch ZZZZs in the front seat.
Plus, the Internet of Everything interconnects all your devices, from your toaster to your roaster to … you. So there’s no need to ever get off the couch. But is a machine-ruled world a true utopia?
And, the invention that got us into our 24/7 rat race: Edison’s electric light.Guests:
- Barry Trimmer – Professor of biology, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering at Tufts University, and editor-in-chief, Soft Robotics
- Red Whittaker – Roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University
- Ernest Freeberg – Historian, University of Tennessee, and author of The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
- Rob Chandhok – Computer scientist, president of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms
- Andre Bormanis – Television writer, producer, screenwriter and science advisor to Star Trek and Cosmos