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Science Diction

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Science Diction

Science Friday and WNYC Studios

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What does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it “Spanish flu” when it was never Spanish? Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories within them. If you like your language with a side of science, Science Diction has you covered. Brought to you by Science Friday and WNYC Studios.
 
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New Cold Storage Method Solves Freezer Burn—And Saves Energy Have you ever pulled a long-anticipated pint of ice cream out of the freezer, only to find the strawberries crunchy and the normally creamy substance chalky and caked with ice? Freezer burn, a phenomenon caused by water in food crystallizing into ice inside the ice cream or fruit or meat …
 
A More Delicious COVID Screener One of the most bizarre symptoms of COVID-19—a nearly surefire way to know if you have been infected—is a loss of taste or smell. Estimates of how many people are impacted range wildly, with the highest estimates reaching 75 to 80% of COVID-19 survivors. There’s still a lot scientists don’t understand about why this …
 
In 2014, a grad student in Kolkata named Ujaan Ghosh came across an old book by a Scottish missionary. And as Ghosh paged through the book, he noticed the missionary kept using a word over and over: Juggernaut. But the missionary wasn’t using it the way we do today—to mean an unstoppable, overwhelming force. He was using it to talk about a place: a…
 
Blunting The Force Of Disease Is Complicated COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe disease. But their efficacy in lab-controlled trials may not exactly correlate to how well they work in the real world. David Kaslow, chief scientific officer at the global public health nonprofit PATH, explains that a factor known as the “force…
 
Here’s How Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Addresses Science President Joe Biden signed a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill into law this Monday. The measure focuses on a range of sectors. It would funnel billions into cleaning up pollution in the air and water with efforts that include eliminating lead service lines and cleaning up old, polluted …
 
As Wildfire Intensity Rises, So Does The Human Toll Of Blazes It was Labor Day 2020, and Mammoth Pool Reservoir, in California’s Sierra Nevada, was buzzing with campers. Karla Carcamo and her parents, siblings, cousins, and countless others, mostly from the Los Angeles area, have been coming here every Labor Day for 17 years. “Most of it is my fami…
 
Psilocybin Effective In Treating Serious Depression Depression is often treatable with medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. But some 30% of patients don’t respond well to existing medications—and may try multiple antidepressant drugs with little or no improvement. This week, researchers reported that a new trial suggests psychedelics m…
 
Fact Check My Feed: More Kids Can Get COVID-19 Vaccines. Now What? Many parents around the U.S. breathed a sigh of relief—or an even more intense emotional reaction—at the long-awaited news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had signed off on advising the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 this week. T…
 
Behind The FDA’s Decision To Vaccinate Kids Under 12 This week, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 12 was officially recommended by the CDC, after a unanimous vote from its independent advisory committee and the FDA’s authorization based on safety and efficacy data. In their analysis, the FDA said the benefits of the vaccine “clearly outweigh…
 
Head on over to plainlanguage.gov, and you’ll find a helpful table, dedicated to simplifying and demystifying military jargon. On one side of the table, there’s the jargon term, and on the other, its plain language equivalent. “Arbitrarily deprive of life”? Actually just means “kill people.” “Render nonviable”? Also means “kill people.” “Terminate …
 
Younger Kids Next In Line For COVID-19 Vaccines This week, an FDA advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend that the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer vaccine be approved for children as young as 5. If the FDA concurs and the CDC agrees, lower-dose Pfizer vaccinations could soon be available for children ages 5 to 11, via local pediatricians. Jus…
 
The Science Behind Cryptid Sightings People around the world have long been fascinated by the idea that there are strange creatures out there, ones that may or may not exist. Tales circulate about cryptids–animals whose existence can’t be proved—like Bigfoot hiding out in American forests, or sea serpents lurking just below the water in coastal tow…
 
The Ancient Neanderthal Traces Hidden In Your Genome Just how much of your genome is uniquely human? It turns out the number of genetic components in the human genome that trace back only to modern humans, and not to other human lineages or ancient ancestors, are surprisingly small. In a paper published recently in the journal Science Advances, res…
 
Biden’s Administration Preps For A Crucial Climate Conference This week, CDC advisers gave their support to approve COVID-19 vaccine boosters for those who received Moderna and J&J vaccines. The recommendations would follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of “mixing and matching” booster shots from different vaccine developers…
 
When high schooler Gracie Cunningham posted a TikTok asking where algebra came from, she probably didn’t expect to become a viral sensation. There were the usual Twitter trolls, but some unexpected voices also began piping up, causing a flurry in the math world.Thank you to Chad, the listener who suggested that we do an episode on algebra. If you h…
 
On Long Island, A Tribal Nation Faces Growing Pressures The Hamptons on Long Island are known as a mansion-lined escape for wealthy New Yorkers. But the area is also home to the Native residents of the Shinnecock Tribal Nation. An estimated 1,500 Shinnecock members are left in the U.S., and about half live on the Nation’s territory on Long Island. …
 
More Boosters, For More People This week, an FDA advisory committee met to pore over data and debate the role of COVID vaccine boosters. And on Thursday, they voted to recommend Moderna boosters for older Americans, as well as people in certain at-risk groups. This recommendation came just a few weeks after the FDA authorized a Pfizer booster for s…
 
The Hot And Cold Past Of The Air Conditioner In the Northeast, the leaves have started changing colors, heralding the season of pumpkins, sweaters, and the smell of woodsmoke. But in some parts of the country, the heat hasn’t let up. In cities like Dallas, Phoenix, and Miami, temperatures were up in the high 80s and low 90s this week—and with clima…
 
First Malaria Vaccine Is Approved by WHO The malaria parasite is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, killing on average about 500,000 people per year—half of them children under the age of 5, nearly all of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Now, the World Health Organization has finally approved RTS,S or Mosquirix, the first vaccine against …
 
Looking Back On A Century of Science In 1921, the discovery of radium was just over 20 years in the past. And the double helix of DNA was still over thirty years in the future. That year, a publication that came to be the magazine Science News started publication, and is still in operation today. Editors Nancy Shute and Elizabeth Quill join Ira to …
 
Healthcare Is Hard Enough to Get. If You’re A Trans Youth, It’s Even Harder Healthcare can be difficult to access for anyone—that’s been made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. But for transgender youth, the barriers are exponentially higher. A new study from the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that trans youth don’t get the care they need because o…
 
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant To Say Goodbye To Its Radioactive Waste Just before Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth is expected to reach a historic milestone. All the radioactive fuel that generated electricity—and controversy—for nearly half a century will finally be removed from the reactor building. It will be stored outsid…
 
Ice-Hunting Lunar Rover Robot Gets A Landing Site This week, NASA announced that it had selected a destination for a planned robotic lunar rover called VIPER, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover. The mission is planned for launch in 2023, and will rove about the Moon’s south pole, mapping the location and concentration of water ice …
 
Nighttime Streetlights Are Stressing Out Urban Insects As insect populations—including bees, moths, and other pollinators—decline worldwide, researchers have established a variety of potential causes, including climate change, pesticides, and habitat loss. But now, new findings suggest yet another culprit may be part of the equation: night-time lig…
 
Scientists Potty Train Cows To Lower Greenhouse Gasses Scientists have known it for a long time: Cattle are a major source of nitrogen emissions, contributing to the global warming crisis. Alternatives have been tossed around for years: from eating less meat to feeding cows seaweed. Now, a new study out of Germany and New Zealand has a more outside…
 
Journalists Kevin McLean and Shalina Chatlani join us for a round of Diction Dash, where Johanna tries - and usually fails - to guess the true meaning or origin of a word. If you’re curious about a word, get in touch! Give us a call, leave a message, and we might play it on the show. The number is 929-499-WORD, or 929-499-9673. Or, you can always s…
 
New Policies Emerge In The Wake Of Climate-Connected Disasters This week, people across the United States continued to be reminded of the results of a shifting climate—with people in the Gulf states still recovering from Ida, northeastern states dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida-induced flooding, and western states battling wildfires and …
 
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