NPR Picks

Saturday
Sep222018

San Diego Rhino Finds A New Home In Tanzania

"A rhinoceros born and raised in San Diego is getting used to a new home in Tanzania. The eastern black rhino is one of about 740 of the critically endangered animals left alive, and he recently completed a 68-hour journey to Africa."

"'That was quite the feat,' said Beverly 'Beezie' Burden who works at the African reserve managed by the Singita Grumeti Fund."

"'It involved two trucks. Three different airplanes. Five countries. And I think something like 10,000 miles. So he came quite a long way, but he did it. And we did it. And it happened with a great amount of celebration when he landed here,' Burden said."

Thursday
Sep202018

In Lab Turned Casino, Gambling Monkeys Help Scientists Find Risk-Taking Brain Area

"Experiments with two gambling monkeys have revealed a small area in the brain that plays a big role in risky decisions."

"When researchers inactivated this region in the prefrontal cortex, the rhesus monkeys became less inclined to choose a long shot over a sure thing, the team reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology."

"'They did not like the gambles anymore,' says Veit Stuphorn, an author of the study and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University."

The finding in our fellow primates adds to the evidence that human brains are capable of constantly adjusting our willingness to take risks, depending on factors such as what's at stake.

"'For a long time, people thought that this is like a personality trait, that some people are risk-takers and others are not,' Stuphorn says. But recent research has shown that the same person who is very cautious about personal investments may be an avid bungee jumper."

 

Wednesday
Sep192018

Have A Cool Idea To Help End World Hunger? Pitch It To The U.N.

"Let's figure out how to end hunger forever. And do it fast."

"That's the lofty goal of the World Food Programme's Innovation Accelerator, a two-year-old venture inspired by the startup scene. It's gathering an arsenal of ideas to help fight hunger — both by brainstorming internally and supporting outside entrepreneurs — to test out in the real world as quickly as possible."

"There are more than two dozen projects already underway. Some are still in early stages of development, such as an artificial intelligence program that can analyze images collected by drones after a natural disaster. The plan is to train it to automatically flag potential problems, like a collapsed bridge. Other concepts are further along, such as Dalili, a smartphone app designed to help needy families who buy food at shops that have been contracted by WFP to provide food assistance. The app lists what's available where and for what price, so customers can better plan out their grocery shopping. A pilot program was launched in two cities in Lebanon last November, and it's now gone nationwide."

"This progress is monitored from the Accelerator's modern offices in downtown Munich, which sit atop the headquarters of Rischart, one of Germany's best-known bakeries. So, fittingly, the scent of fresh bread and pastries wafts up each morning to greet the 25-person staff, a mix of folks dedicated to project management, fundraising, partnerships and communications."

 

Tuesday
Sep182018

Japanese Billionaire Books First Moonshot Aboard SpaceX's 'Big Falcon Rocket'

"Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa stood before the audience gathered at SpaceX headquarters Monday evening and was greeted by cheers when he echoed a line from a famous speech by President John F. Kennedy, proclaiming 'I choose to go to the moon.'"

"Maezawa was introduced by SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk in Hawthorne, Calif. He is the first to book a trip as a private passenger with the commercial space company for a voyage that hasn't been attempted since NASA's Apollo missions ended in 1972."

"Forbes ranks Maezawa as the 18th richest person in Japan. While he might not be a household name in the West, he is famous in his own country as the founder of the Amazon-like shopping portal Zozotown, Japan's largest online retailer. He is best known elsewhere for paying a record $110 million last year for a 1982 painting by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat."

 

Monday
Sep172018

Study: A Daily Baby Aspirin Has No Benefit For Healthy Older People

"Many healthy Americans take a baby aspirin every day to reduce their risk of having a heart attack, getting cancer and even possibly dementia. But is it really a good idea?"

"Results released Sunday from a major study of low-dose aspirin contain a disappointing answer for older, otherwise healthy people."

"'We found there was no discernible benefit of aspirin on prolonging independent, healthy life for the elderly,' says Anne Murray, a geriatrician and epidemiologist at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis, who helped lead the study."

"The study involved more than 19,000 people ages 65 and older in the United States and Australia. The results were published in three papers in the New England Journal of Medicine."

"There is still strong evidence that a daily baby aspirin can reduce the risk that many people who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke will suffer another attack."

"And there is some evidence that daily low-dose aspirin may help people younger than 70 who have at least a 10 percent risk of having a heart attack avoid a heart attack or stroke, according to the latest recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force."

Friday
Sep142018

Here Are The 2018 National Book Award Longlists, Featuring A Fresh Category

"Every year the National Book Foundation features a few fresh faces or unfamiliar names among the nominees for its annual literary prize. This time around, though, there's a twist. One of the actual National Book Award categories is something readers have not seen for quite some time: a prize for a work in translation."

"Not since the early 1980s — that heady (and brief) era when the prize was renamed the American Book Award — has the National Book Foundation formally recognized translated literature. The group hasn't even added a new category, period, for more than two decades."

"But this November, when the organization holds its ritzy gala in New York City, honors will be doled out to one exemplary work of fiction or nonfiction that has been translated into English and published in the U.S."

"For now, 10 books remain in the running for that prize."

"That's the case for the classic categories, as well. Check out the longlists of nominees for the National Book Awards below, and check back here on Oct. 10, when the finalists are expected to be announced."

 

Thursday
Sep132018

Champagne Makers Bubble Over A Bumper Crop Caused By European Drought

"Bells toll at the abbey where Dom Perignon is buried in the French region of Champagne. The Benedictine monk is said to have discovered the method for turning wine into champagne here more than 300 years ago."

"As far as the eye can see, neat rows of vines look as if they're stitched across the rolling hillsides."

"This time of year, those vines are laden with clumps of dark purple grapes — pinot noir and pinot meunier — as well as light green chardonnay grapes. The three varieties are blended to make champagne. This year, the grapes are plentiful and plump, which is not always the case in France's northernmost wine making region."

"'Champagne's climate is harsh,' says Vincent Chaperon, a cellar master at Dom Perignon Champagne. We have 'a lot of frost – winter frost — but spring frost as well. The average temperature is quite low, there's not so much sun. And 200 days of rain [a year]. But with the evolution of climate, things have been moving in the good way, so less rain, more sun, warmer temperatures, less frost. At this moment and for about the last 15 years, the impact has been positive.'"

 

Wednesday
Sep122018

6-Figure Price Tag Expected For Rare Apple-1 Computer At Auction

"Before Apple was a trillion-dollar company, before its phones and laptops came to dominate the tech industry, it was just a California startup working out of a garage. Now, one of the first products the company ever made — the Apple-1 computer — is about to be the star of a live auction on Sept. 25 in Boston."

"'The Apple-1 is so iconic of that era, of the garage era of Silicon Valley, that I think there is almost no other object that really encapsulates what it does culturally and technologically,' says Dag Spicer, senior curator for the Computer History Museum, which has an Apple-1 in its collection. Spicer says it's one of their most popular pieces."

"Looking at an Apple-1 is kind of like looking at the Rosetta Stone. You don't totally understand what you're seeing, but you sense its significance."

"'The Apple-1 didn't come with a keyboard, didn't come with a monitor or anything like that,' says Corey Cohen, an expert who restores Apple-1 computers. 'It really was just the board, but the board itself was really the first you could only 'buy assembled' computer.'"

 

Sunday
Sep092018

Infectious Theory of Alzheimer's Disease Draws Fresh Interest

"Dr. Leslie Norins is willing to hand over $1 million of his own money to anyone who can clarify something: Is Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia worldwide, caused by a germ?"

"By 'germ' he means microbes like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In other words, Norins, a physician turned publisher, wants to know if Alzheimer's is infectious."

"It's an idea that just a few years ago would've seemed to many an easy way to drain your research budget on bunk science. Money has poured into Alzheimer's research for years, but until very recently not much of it went toward investigating infection in causing dementia."

"But this 'germ theory' of Alzheimer's, as Norins calls it, has been fermenting in the literature for decades. Even early 20th century Czech physician Oskar Fischer — who, along with his German contemporary Dr. Alois Alzheimer, was integral in first describing the condition --noted a possible connection between the newly identified dementia and tuberculosis."

"If the germ theory gets traction, even in some Alzheimer's patients, it could trigger a seismic shift in how doctors and understand and treat the disease."

 

Saturday
Sep082018

Where Are The Most Viruses In An Airport? Hint: It's Probably Not The Toilet

"When you go through airport security, you might wish you had a pair of gloves on like the TSA agents do."

"Researchers have evidence that the plastic trays in security lines are a haven for respiratory viruses. The trays likely harbor more of these pathogens than the flushing button on the airport toilets, researchers reported last week in BMC Infectious Diseases."

"Eww."

"'Yeah. When I walk into the security line and see the TSA agents wearing those gloves, I'm like, 'Don't touch me with those,' " says Dr. Mark Gendreau, at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals in Beverly, Mass., who specializes in aviation medicine and wasn't involved in the study. (Note: Per protocol, TSA agents are supposed to use fresh gloves before touching a passenger.)"

"The study was teeny-weenie. Virologists looked for viruses on 90 surfaces at the Helsinki Airport. And they took only eight samples from the plastic security trays over the course of three weeks. Half of those samples showed signs of at least one respiratory virus, such as influenza A or a coronavirus that can cause severe respiratory infections. (In contrast, none of the 42 samples taken from surfaces around the toilets showed traces of these viruses.)"

 

Friday
Sep072018

Paul Simon Tinkers With His Classics On 'In The Blue Light'

"Paul Simon says he's ready to stop touring and retire from music. But first, he's going back through his discography to do a little tinkering."

"'Simon has released his fourteenth and possibly final album. In the Blue Light, out now, is a collection of the famed singer-songwriter's older songs, rearranged — and in some cases, partially rewritten — to fix the things Simon didn't like about them the first time around. But don't call him a perfectionist. "I have nothing against the word,' Simon says. 'It just doesn't apply to me. You can't be perfect. It's either musical or it's not musical.'"

"Simon says the reworks of classics like 'The Sound of Silence' and 'Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy' are a good example of 'fixing things that I thought could be fixed.' Some of the tracks on the album have new verses while others have different production and emotive inflections."

"Although he doesn't feel he's made an absolutely flawless song, Simon says some of his hits, like his 1970 Grammy-winning signature song,'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' have stood the test of time in a gratifying way."

"'I think the big measuring thing is, 'Will something last a hundred years?' If you write a song and it lasts a hundred years I'd say, 'Well, that's a hit.' And I have a couple songs that I have a shot at it, you know?'"

"Simon spoke with NPR's David Greene about In the Blue Light, the luxury of fixing flaws while he still can and why his fans are really the last composers. Hear their conversation at the audio link."

 

Thursday
Sep062018

'Predatory Bacteria' Might Be Enlisted In Defense Against Antibiotic Resistance

"Here's a bold idea to fight back against bacteria that can't be stopped by antibiotics: Go after them with germ-eating microbes. That reasoning lies behind an intriguing line of research that might also be put to use in the event of a germ-warfare attack."

"It might seem strange to think of microbe-eating microbes, but "actually they're found in almost every ecosystem on Earth," says Brad Ringeisen, deputy director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency."

"They're even living inside us, but at levels so low that they aren't effectively battling back against dangerous germs. DARPA has been funding research to see if these predatory bacteria can be harnessed as our allies."

"It's been very exciting," Ringeisen says, as this exploratory phase of research is gradually coming to a successful conclusion.

 

Wednesday
Sep052018

Grizzlies Have Recovered, Officials Say; Now Montanans Have To Get Along With Them

"A record number of grizzly bears are being killed by cars as they roam the roads in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. At the same time, they're causing an unprecedented amount of damage to crops and livestock."

"The grizzly population in this area, known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, is growing at about 2.3 percent a year. Bear biologists estimate there are more than 1,000 bears here, inhabiting an 8 million-acre swath of land encompassing Glacier National Park and numerous national forests. It is the largest grizzly population in the continental U.S."

"The grizzly has been federally protected since 1975, but last year the Trump administration took a different population of grizzlies — the Greater Yellowstone grizzly — off the endangered species list, arguing that the population had recovered. The first grizzly hunt in the lower 48 in decades was slated to begin in Idaho and Wyoming on Sept. 1."

"But last week a federal judge in Missoula put a temporary, two-week hold on the hunt. The judge is considering a number of lawsuits challenging the decision to remove federal protections from the Yellowstone grizzlies."

 

Tuesday
Sep042018

The World Of An Oyster: Scientists Are Using Microphones To Spy On Reef Life

"A North Carolina State University researcher is using underwater microphones to help better understand the extensive array of animals living in the state's oyster reefs."

"In the 1600s, oysters reefs were so robust in U.S. waterways that they created a hazard for ships. But centuries of harvesting the delicious bivalve have decimated these reefs, which serve as breeding grounds for future oysters."

"That's why nearly every U.S. state with a coastline has a program to rebuild oyster reefs."

"The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's division of marine fisheries uses barges to haul massive piles of spent oyster shells and other hard materials, like granite marl and concrete, to reef sites in Pamlico Sound. They then use large water cannons to blow it all off the deck and into the shallow, sandy waters. The shells and other materials provide habitat for oyster larvae to attach to, so they can grow and be harvested."

"The fisheries division knows the reef program is good for the state's $2.4 million oyster industry. But it's still unclear what the larger impact of these reefs are in terms of increasing biodiversity."

 

Monday
Sep032018

Do Sustainable Certifications For Coffee Really Help Coffee Growers?

"Most of the time, we don't know how our coffee were made. We don't know if children's hands handled the berries when they might have been handling pencils, if workers had respirators to protect against harsh agrochemicals or if global coffee prices shafted the farmer this year. Sustainable certifications, like the Rainforest Alliance's green frog tag or Fairtrade's yellow and blue sticker, are a way people try to verify their coffee is up to a certain standard."

"But, according to a recent paper from the Center for Global Development reviewing roughly 100 studies from the last decade, it's almost impossible to tell if those certifications have any measurable effect on coffee growers. 'To do good analysis of impact, you need to plan that in from the beginning,' says Kimberly Elliott, the author of the paper and a political scientist at the Center, an economic research nonprofit. 'It's expensive to do that and, in the beginning, nobody was doing that.'"

"For example, there weren't many defined baselines for how farmers were doing before they got certified, and people weren't comparing certified farmers to similar but uncertified farmers, Elliott says. Certification organizations haven't been able to directly monitor may of the growers that they certify either, Elliott says. 'There's very little actual monitoring or measuring of the outcomes that you want to see going on,' she says. 'For example, studies suggest [after certification programs] there's more safety equipment for workers. Do they actually use it? Are they healthier? Not clear.'"

 

Sunday
Sep022018

Centuries-Old Plant Collection Now Online — A Treasure Trove For Researchers

"There's a new effort underway make hundreds of thousands of dried and preserved plants collected along the East Coast available through a digital database."

"For centuries, explorers, scientists, and amateur botanists scoured the country to document and preserve plant species. Once prized like fine art, the collections were often bequeathed to institutions that housed herbaria, or libraries for plants."

"Over time these collections became obscure, and fell out of use. Aside from the occasional researcher who had to schedule an appointment to view the records, and often travel long distances, these plant collections were difficult to access for most people."

"Rick McCourt, botany curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, helps manage the oldest herbarium in North America. The herbarium has an estimated one and a half million plant species in its collection. About 35,000 plant species were collected along the East Coast."

 

Saturday
Sep012018

Insulin's High Cost Leads To Lethal Rationing

"Diabetic ketoacidosis is a terrible way to die. It's what happens when you don't have enough insulin. Your blood sugar gets so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate and your body stops functioning."

"Diabetic ketoacidosis is how Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son. Three days before his payday. Because he couldn't afford his insulin."

"'It shouldn't have happened,' Smith-Holt says looking down at her son's death certificate on her dining room table in Richfield, Minn. 'That cause of death of diabetic ketoacidosis should have never happened.'"

"The price of insulin in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2012 alone. That's put the life-saving hormone out of reach for some people with diabetes, like Smith-Holt's son Alec Raeshawn Smith. It's left others scrambling for solutions to afford the one thing they need to live. I'm one of those scrambling."

Friday
Aug312018

When Paris Empties Out In August, Some Are Happy To Stay

"You can forget working. You can also forget making a doctor's appointment, getting your car fixed, visiting your accountant or just about anything else you might want to get done. Nearly everyone is gone, and everything has to wait until September."

"With the city half-empty, many shops are shuttered. Some proprietors tape little handwritten notes to their doors announcing their fermeture annuelle."

"'Annual Closing – we will reopen September 1st,' reads the scrawled message on one of my neighborhood butcher shops."

"An American friend who recently arrived in Paris was so struck by how empty the city was that he asked me if there was some sort of French government regulation mandating that people take their vacation in August. It made me laugh, but in fact there are actually terms for those who take the month of July off and those who take August. They're called Juillettistes and Aoûtiens. The two are irreconcilable. And just when the Juillettistes are coming home, the Aoûtiens are heading out, creating the biggest traffic jams of the year."

Thursday
Aug302018

Coffee Does Not Merit Cancer Warning Label Ordered In California, FDA Says

"The Food and Drug Administration has stepped into a simmering debate in California as to whether coffee should come with a cancer warning label."

"In March, a judge sided with a nonprofit organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which argued that coffee contains high levels of acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical compound produced as beans roast."

"Coffee companies didn't deny acrylamide's presence but argued that it was found at low levels that posed no significant health risk and was outweighed by other health benefits. That argument wasn't compelling to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle."

"He ordered coffee companies in California to carry a cancer warning label under Proposition 65, the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law, which requires the state to maintain a list of harmful substances and businesses to notify customers of exposure, has led to both a reduction in carcinogenic chemicals and quick settlements over labels on foods."

Wednesday
Aug292018

Survival Of The Sluggish: Scientists Find An Upside To A Low Metabolism

"New research suggests one effective evolutionary strategy: be lazy."

"Species of mollusks that are now extinct had higher metabolic rates than the species that exist today, scientists announced in a paper published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B."

"Metabolic rates are the amount of energy that organisms need to carry out their daily lives. Luke Strotz, a paleontologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Kansas who is lead author of the paper, says that a high basal metabolic rate has already been shown to lead to a higher likelihood of death at the individual level."

"'But that that scales up to the level of the species is probably the big finding of this study,' he tells NPR. 'That you can take something that's happening at the level of all those individuals, scale it up to this level of the species, and see that at the species level higher metabolic rates actually has an influence on the likelihood of that species actually going extinct.'"

"Researchers looked at the metabolic rates of 299 species of mollusks that have lived since the mid-Pliocene era, a span of roughly 5 million years. They specifically analyzed bivalves (clams, mussels) and gastropods (snails, slugs)."