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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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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 …
 
To Breed An Oyster In the ocean, climate change involves more than just warming temperatures. Water levels are shifting, and ocean chemistry is changing. Changes to ocean salinity caused by shifting amounts of freshwater could have big effects on the health of oysters, who need a certain range of saltiness in the water to be happy. As part of her d…
 
Fact Check My Feed: Why Are People Taking Discredited Horse Medicine For COVID-19? If you’ve been online at all in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen discussion about the drug ivermectin. It was originally developed as an antiparasitic treatment for livestock, and in 2015, the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to scientists who found that it helpe…
 
Nation Grapples With Several Climate Disasters At Once Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc on the eastern U.S. this week. It all started in Louisiana, leaving daunting damage and a long road to recovery for residents. Even though Ida was downgraded to a tropical storm after leaving the state, it left a trail of destruction through the eastern U.S. and mid-…
 
When Isabel Briggs Myers imagined that her homegrown personality test would change the world, she couldn’t have pictured this. Today, millions take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator each year. Countless organizations use it, from General Motors to the CIA. But there’s one field that mostly rolls its eyes at the test: psychology. In our final chapter,…
 
A Skeletal Record Of Medieval England Society Whether you like it or not, a record of your life is constantly being chronicled. No, not through the internet or on social media—through your bones. 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 med…
 
Pfizer’s Vaccine Is Now Fully Approved. What’s Next For The Pandemic? This week, the COVID-19 vaccine marketed by Pfizer finally received full FDA approval, moving out of the realm of “emergency use” to the status of a regular drug. In the wake of that change, many organizations—from the Pentagon to Ohio State University to the city of Chicago—are …
 
At first, it seemed like Isabel Briggs Myers would have nothing to do with personality typology. That was her mother Katharine’s passion project, not hers. But when Isabel enters a tumultuous marriage, she discovers that her mother’s gospel of type might just be the thing to save it. In Chapter 2, Isabel picks up her mother’s work, and decides to t…
 
You, Too, Can Be All Thumbs. Or At Least Three. Take a look at your hand and fingers—and imagine that instead of five digits, you had an additional thumb, approximately opposite your natural thumb. Researchers at University College London built what they call the “Third Thumb”—a flexible, 3D-printed prosthetic device, controlled by pressure on sens…
 
Why The Delta Variant Will Make More Kids Sick As cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to spike around the U.S., children are one of the hardest-hit groups. As children under 12 remain ineligible for vaccination, they and other unvaccinated groups are facing the highest rates of infection and hospitalization of the enti…
 
If you’re one of the 2 million people who take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator every year, perhaps you thought Myers and Briggs are the two psychologists who designed the test. In reality, a mother-daughter team created the test essentially at their kitchen table. In this episode, we look at the unlikely origins of the Myers-Briggs, going all the w…
 
A Stomp, A Roar, An Elephantquake? An adult African elephant, the largest land animal on Earth, can weigh as much as two tons. Their activities—walking, playing, even bellowing—might shake the ground beneath them. But research in the journal Current Biology finds that the signals from an elephant’s walk are capable of traveling as far as three kilo…
 
This Fish Is The Master Of The Poignant Pause When listening to a well-practiced speaker, like during a lecture, a political event or during a favorite public radio show, you may notice they use pauses for dramatic effect. This type of nuance in communication may seem distinctly human, but we’re not the only species that takes advantage of pauses i…
 
How Imperfect Data Leads Us Astray Datasets are increasingly shaping important decisions, from where companies target their advertising, to how governments allocate resources. But what happens when the data they rely on is wrong or incomplete? Ira talks to technologist Kasia Chmielinski, as they test drive an algorithm that predicts a person’s race…
 
President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill Sees The End Of The Road President Biden’s huge infrastructure bill is finally seeing the end of the road. The nearly 2,000 page bill covers infrastructure improvements—everything from roads to broadband. The package also includes funding for projects that would build up the country’s climate change resilience.…
 
Honeymoon: It just seems like a word that would have a lovely story behind it, doesn’t it? When a listener named Eric emailed us from Centerville, Ohio asking about the word, that’s what we were hoping to find. Instead, we found a more bittersweet origin stretching all the way back to an early modern poem. Plus: We take a look at what’s going on in…
 
Getting To Know The Fungus Among Us (In Our Guts) Your gut microbiome is composed of more than bacteria—a less populous, but still important, resident is fungi. Many people’s lower digestive tract is home to the yeast Candida albicans, the species implicated in vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush. But new research published in the scientific j…
 
With Delta Rising, New Rules On Masks And Vaccines This week, the CDC released new guidelines for mask use in the U.S., just months after many cities and towns relaxed mask mandates. The guidance says that “to reduce their risk of becoming infected with the Delta variant and potentially spreading it to others: CDC recommends that fully vaccinated p…
 
Billions Of Sea Creatures, Lost To Heat Waves A couple weeks ago, the Pacific Northwest saw record-breaking temperatures. News coverage captured countless people suffering, and dying, during triple-digit heat the region had never seen before. Portland and Seattle reached their highest temperatures ever recorded. Canada set a new record for the high…
 
Flooding Worldwide Fits Climate Change Models While the western United States is burning again this summer, other parts of the world are drowning. Germany, Belgium, and China saw floods this week after intense rainstorms that dropped many inches of rain in matters of hours, killing hundreds and displacing thousands. In Turkey and Nigeria, less dead…
 
Songbirds Suffer Mystery Illness From The East Coast To The Midwest The reports started in late May: Songbirds in Washington, D.C. and neighboring regions were being found dead, often with swollen and crusty eyes. In the days that followed, similar sightings came from many states, including Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Now, the…
 
Research For New Battery Technology Is Gaining Steam As countries around the world set their goals for decarbonizing their economies, it’s becoming clear that batteries may play a pivotal role in smoothing out the peaks and valleys of solar and wind power productions, as well as driving a shift to electric vehicles, and providing power for other pa…
 
Sniffing Out How To Save African Wild Dogs One of the most endangered mammals on Earth, African wild dogs are known for their oversized ears, social bonds, and highly efficient hunting style. That predatory nature is now contributing to their threatened status, as their territory in sub-Saharan Africa increasingly overlaps with human farmers, who o…
 
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