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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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In 1920, a Czech writer was stumped. He’d written a play about a future where machines that looked like people do our bidding. They were the perfect workers: obedient, hard working, and never demanded a pay raise. But what was the writer to call these marvelous machines? There wasn’t yet a word for this type of creation. He had initially chosen lab…
 
Reprogramming Labor In Tech More than 6,000 warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama are midway through voting on whether they should unionize. If the ‘yes’ votes win, it would be unprecedented for the company: The last time a unionization vote was held by Amazon’s United States employees, back in 2014, a group of 30 technicians ultimately voted not …
 
Fauci Says Majority Of U.S. Adults Likely To Be Vaccinated By Late Summer We’re about a month shy of a big anniversary: one year since the World Health Organization officially labeled COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, a lot has changed—and a lot has not. We have more information than ever about COVID-19, but there are still a lot of unknowns about t…
 
On December 5th, 2012, a bill landed on President Barack Obama’s desk, meant to do one thing: remove the word “lunatic” from the federal code. This is because in 2012, you could still find the word in laws about banking and controlling estates, among others. And not only was it offensive, it was antiquated—ancient, in fact. The word lunacy comes fr…
 
Seeing The World Through Salmon Eyes The saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” But for fish, the eyes are the window to the stomach. As one California biologist recently learned, the eyes of Chinook salmon are like a tiny diet journal of everything it ate. But to read that journal, you have to peel back the layers of the eye, like it’…
 
Two Masks Are Better Than One Masks have been a big issue throughout the pandemic, from supply shortages to debates about when they should be required to be used. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out research and guidance on the effectiveness of double masking—wearing one mask over another. Engineer and aerosol scientis…
 
In the late 18th century, a doctor showed up in Paris practicing some very peculiar medicine. He would escort patients into dimly lit rooms, wave his arms over their bodies, and touch them with a magnetic wand. Patients would react to these treatments violently: crying, sweating, convulsing or shrieking. But then they would emerge healed. According…
 
National Bison Range Returns To Indigenous Management Hundreds of years ago, tens of millions of bison roamed North America. They were an essential resource and cultural foundation for many Native American tribes. And by 1890, European colonists had hunted them nearly to extinction. When President Theodore Roosevelt moved to conserve the remaining …
 
Will Vaccines Work Against New Variants Of The Coronavirus? The rollout of COVID-19 vaccination programs around the world has been anything but smooth. Complicating the effort is the virus itself. The original coronavirus genome that the current vaccines were based on has mutated. Now, there are three virus variants, and experts are somewhat concer…
 
Science Diction is back with a new season all about mind control—what happens when we decide to create new minds and they refuse to be controlled, why we’ve long believed the moon had the power to control our minds, and the extremes the government has gone to in order to pry us away from our favorite mind-altering substance. The first episode of ou…
 
A Skeletal Record Of Medieval England Society If you’ve ever fractured a bone, that skeletal trauma stays with you forever, even after it heals. So researchers across the pond are using bones from medieval times to put together a picture of what life was like. The bones in the study came from ordinary people in medieval Cambridge in the United King…
 
Everything You Want To Know About COVID-19 Vaccines The U.S. has been vaccinating people against COVID-19 for a little over a month. While there have been plenty of hiccups, over 20 million people in the country have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna shots. For the past few weeks, Science Friday has been collec…
 
Orange Is The New Black—For Bats For a newly-described bat from West Africa, dubbed Myotis nimbaensis (mouse-eared bat from the Nimba Mountains), scientists are reaching for a different part of the color wheel. While Myotis does have some black on its body, the overwhelming majority of the bat’s fur is bright orange. A team of scientists from the A…
 
After Flint’s Crisis, An Algorithm Helps Citizens Find Lead Pipes It’s been nearly seven years since the beginning of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, when high levels of lead from corroded lead pipes led to water shortages and health issues for city residents. Since then, many other cities around the country have had their own problems with lead. R…
 
How The West Is Battling COVID-19 And Valley Fever For the past year, the COVID-19 crisis has taken up much of our attention. But the pandemic can come with complications: Some states face an onslaught of pre-existing diseases. In the American West, doctors, scientists, and patients continue to battle valley fever, a respiratory illness caused by b…
 
How Did A Vaccine Get Developed In Less Than A Year? From the first discovery of a strange new respiratory virus in Wuhan, China, in January of 2020, it took less than a year to get a vaccine into the arms of frontline healthcare workers. More than two dozen vaccine candidates have made it from basic safety trials to Phase 3, where efficacy against…
 
Fact Check My Feed: What’s Up With These COVID-19 Mutations? It’s a new year, and that means there’s a whole slew of new COVID-19 news to dive into, including an overwhelming amount of new information about vaccines and mutations. The U.S. has now administered roughly five million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, far behind the nation’s goal of vaccinat…
 
Finding New Particles On The Frontier of Physics As a theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek has made a career out of dreaming up new ways to understand our physical universe—and he’s usually right. In the early 1980’s, he predicted the existence of a new quasiparticle, called the anyon—which was confirmed in experiments last summer. In 2004, Wilczek…
 
Where Did The Word ‘Vaccine’ Come From? As we head into 2021, there’s one word on all of our minds: Vaccine. It may be in headlines right and left these days, but the word was actually coined more than a century ago. In the 1700s, smallpox seemed unbeatable. People tried all sorts of things to protect themselves, from taking herbal remedies to toss…
 
They Might Be Giants With A Timely Reminder: “Science Is Real” Fans of the band They Might Be Giants are likely to be familiar with the band’s version of the 1959 Tom Glazer song “Why Does The Sun Shine?” As they sing, “The sun is a mass / of incandescent gas / a gigantic nuclear furnace.” In their album “Here Comes Science,” the band revisits that…
 
2020: The Year In Science, With Wendy Zukerman It’s the end of the year, and time to reflect. While there’s no doubt the coronavirus and efforts to combat it led the science pages this year, there was more to this year than masks and hand sanitizer. Wendy Zukerman, host and executive producer of the Gimlet podcast Science Vs, joins Ira to talk abou…
 
Nature’s Own Holiday Light Show The spectacular glowing green of the Northern Lights is caused by charged particles from the solar wind interacting with gas molecules, atoms, and ions in the atmosphere. Protons and electrons streaming from the sun follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines, accelerating down towards the poles. The aurora process is si…
 
What Would Happen If You Fell Into A Black Hole? A new book, Black Hole Survival Guide, explores different theories of what would happen if you jumped into a black hole. Most of them are grizzly. As the reader traverses one of the great mysteries of the universe, they meet different fates. Author Janna Levin, a physics and astronomy professor at Ba…
 
How The Past Hints About Our Climate’s Future Ask a climate scientist how much the earth will warm as a result of the carbon dioxide we’re emitting right now, and the answer will be a range of temperatures: likely anywhere from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius. But all the models we have to predict the future are based on data from the past, most of it colle…
 
Trump Administration Rushes To Sell Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Land For Drilling In a last-minute push, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it plans to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in just over a month, setting up a final showdown with opponents before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. T…
 
COVID-19 Vaccinations Begin In The U.K. This week, the U.K. began its vaccination effort against COVID-19 with Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old woman from Coventry, becoming the first U.K. resident to receive the shot. She received a first dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, and will require a second dose in several weeks to achieve the …
 
Science Friday’s Second Life: The Voyage Home Do you remember Second Life? That online virtual world where you can create an avatar, build whatever you want, and meet people? It was a hit in the late 2000s, quickly becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Within the first few years, an average of 38,000 users were logged in at any given time. Second Life…
 
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