Science news


Feb 10, 2013

Every year, flocks of Rufa red knot shorebirds migrate from the southern tip of Argentina to the Canadian Arctic. That's about 9,000 miles. One extraordinary Rufa, called B95, has traveled that route so many times he has flown the distance to the moon and almost half way back, earning him the nickname "moonbird." But in B95's lifetime, most of the red knot population has disappeared, a decline largely due to human activity. On Monday, the writer Phillip Hoose joins us to talk about the life of B95, which he chronicles in a new book.

Fooling Houdini

Feb 7, 2013

In the insular world of magic, the ability to deceive is the most prized attribute of all. It takes training and skill, but it also relies on exploiting human psychology. Science journalist Alex Stone has been obsessed with magic since he was five, but when he wrote a revealing article about the Magic Olympics, he was kicked out of his society. Now he's written a book and joins us to talk about the subculture of magicians and how the mechanics of our brains make us susceptible to illusion. (Rebroadcast)


Feb 4, 2013

Humans spend nearly a third of their lives sleeping. Most of us love sleep, and yet we have little idea how it affects us. Indeed, sleep is largely a mystery. Even scientists don’t know why, exactly, we need to sleep. The reporter David Randall tours the Land of Nod in a new book, exploring the odd, sometimes disturbing and often fascinating things that happen when we’re in dreamland. That’s actually the name of the book—Dreamland—and Randall joins Doug on Monday to talk about it. (Rebroadcast)

Max Aguilera-Hellweg / <i>The Atlantic</i>

Anesthesia is often cited as one of the greatest advances in modern medicine. However, every once in a while, something goes wrong and a person wakes up in the middle of a procedure. The results can be deeply traumatic. The truth is, we don’t know how some anesthetic medicines work. But if we could find out, not only would patients remain safely comatose, the journalist Joshua Lang says we’d also close in on some deep questions about what it means to be conscious. Lang’s written an article about anesthesia and consciousness and he joins us Tuesday to discuss it.


Jan 14, 2013

In his latest book, the neuroscientist Oliver Sacks writes about his own history using psychoactive drugs. He’s said that apart from being both pleasurable and dangerous, those experiences gave him empathy for his patients suffering from hallucinations. Sacks says hallucinations are far more common than we realize, and his book is filled with bizarre encounters with the unreal brought on by disease, syndromes and disorders. Doug talks to Oliver Sacks about the many and fascinating ways we perceive things that aren’t there. (Rebroadcast)

A few years ago, the writer Steve Hendricks felt overweight, and he resolved to shed 20 pounds. His weight loss method might strike some as reckless: he fasted for over three weeks. Vanity, he writes, wasn't his only concern. He was informally testing theories which suggest that fasting can alleviate numerous maladies and symptoms and improve general health, much like exercise. Hendricks wrote about the benefits of an empty stomach for Harper's. Doug talked with him about it in March, and we're rebroadcasting that conversation on Friday. (Rebroadcast)


Dec 27, 2012

Thursday, Doug’s joined by the science writer David Quammen. Twelve years ago, Quammen began researching the concept of “spillover,” the sudden transfer of disease from one species to another. He traveled around the world, investigating the science, history and human impact of diseases like AIDS, SARS and Ebola. In his newest book, Spillover, Quammen says that what he’s learned makes clear “the old Darwinian truth that humanity is a kind of animal, inextricably linked with other animals: in origin and in descent, in sickness and in health.” (Rebroadcast)

The Rx for Technology

Dec 14, 2012
Image by Jeff Meyer via Flickr,

David Strayer has known for a long time that there's a restorative power in nature. The University of Utah psychologist is an avid hiker, but his latest research quantifies the benefits of turning off your technology and getting outdoors. After 4 days in the wilderness with no cell phones, laptops or gadgets, people were 50% better at creative problem-solving. On Monday, Doug talks to Strayer and Stanford's Clifford Nass about how technology may be rewiring our brains and what we can do about it.

Doubting Bigfoot

Dec 10, 2012

When we spoke last year with anthropologist Jeffrey Meldrum about his research on Bigfoot, not all of our listeners were impressed. Among them was science writer Brian Switek who says that focusing on fantastic tales comes at a cost: it blurs the line between belief and scientific method and it distracts us from the astonishing species that do exist. Well, Sasquatch is in the news again and Tuesday, Switek joins us to explain why rumors of Bigfoot DNA don't impress him either.

When photographer James Balog first headed to the Arctic for National Geographic in 2005, he says he was a skeptic about climate change. What he saw there though put his career on a new course. Balog is the founder of the Extreme Ice Survey – a project that captures visually dramatic manifestations of climate change. Thursday, Balog and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski join us to talk about the stunning documentary "Chasing Ice," which follows James Balog as he risks his life to document the impact of warming temperatures on the world's glaciers.