NPR Picks

Tuesday
Mar202018

Pathogens On A Plane: How To Stay Healthy In Flight

"If you want to cut your risk of catching the flu on your next flight, pick a window seat and stay put."

"That's a key take-home message of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

"'I have always chosen window seats,' says Vicki Hertzberg, a biostatistician at Emory University, who co-led the research with scientists at The Boeing Co. 'But after this study, I have stopped moving around as much on flights.'"

"People in window seats come into contact with fewer passengers, Hertzberg and her team found, because they leave their seats less often than those sitting near the aisle. And they are farther away from the action in the aisle, with its potentially coughing and otherwise germy passersby."

""So the window seats are a little less risky than the aisle seats,' Hertzberg says."

Monday
Mar192018

Are There Risks From Secondhand Marijuana Smoke? Early Science Says Yes

"The inspiration arrived in a haze at a Paul McCartney concert a few years ago in San Francisco."

"'People in front of me started lighting up and then other people started lighting up,' says Matthew Springer, a biologist and professor in the division of cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco. 'And for a few naive split seconds I was thinking to myself, 'Hey, they can't smoke in AT&T Park! I'm sure that's not allowed.' And then I realized that it was all marijuana.'"

"Recreational pot was not legal yet in the state, but that stopped no one. 'Paul McCartney actually stopped between numbers and sniffed the air and said, 'There's something in the air — must be San Francisco!' ' Springer recalls."

"As the visible cloud of pot smoke took shape, so did Springer's idea to study the effects of secondhand marijuana smoke."

 

Saturday
Mar172018

50 Years After The My Lai Massacre, An Opera Confronts The Past

"One of the most horrible events of the Vietnam War took place 50 years ago this week. The story of Hugh Thompson, Jr., the American soldier who tried to stop the My Lai Massacre, has been made into an opera being performed all over the country, most recently at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA — the same location composer Jonathan Berger gathered instrumentalist Van-Anh Vanessa Vo and Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington to discuss the collaboration in the first place."

"I was 13, 14 years old when it happened," Berger says of the massacre. "A riveting moment. For me, it was sort of my political awakening."

Later, Berger would learn of U.S. Army pilot Hugh Thompson, Jr., who witnessed American soldiers on a bloody rampage, raping and killing Vietnamese civilians that day.

Friday
Mar162018

Scientists Are Amazed By Stone Age Tools They Dug Up In Kenya

"Our ancestors in Kenya's Southern Rift Valley made some pretty innovative tools. And they made them far earlier than previously thought."

"The oldest innovations were axes designed to be held in the palm of the hand. They were shaped like a tear drop, with a rounded end and a pointed eye. The edges were wavy and sharp. And they look as if they were great at chopping down branches — or chopping up the carcass of a large animal."

"'I think of the hand axes as the Swiss army knife of the Stone Age,' says paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins program at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and one of the lead scientists in a new study by a team of international scientists."

"The researchers also found that the next technological revolution, marking the beginning of the Middle Stone Age happened tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought."

Thursday
Mar152018

Life's Nice In The Nordic Ice: Finland, Neighbors Top U.N. Happiness Index

"Sure, Norway may have dominated the Winter Games last month in Pyeongchang, handily sweeping the Olympic medal count — but the country has just been knocked from its perch atop another international ranking: the World Happiness Report. The country's Nordic neighbor, Finland, has unseated the Norwegians with a smile."

"As of this writing, the Finns are the happiest people in the world."

"At least, that's according to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Solutions Network — which on Wednesday released its annual rankings of 156 countries, using a statistical model based on a gamut of considerations ranging from their citizens' healthy life expectancy and income to their governments' levels of social support and government corruption. This model showed Finland leaping from its fifth-place finish in last year's report to first."

"Don't cry for Norway, though. The Olympic powerhouse fell no further than second."

"In fact, this list's leaders may have shuffled a bit — but, as the report explains, "the top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years." And that means a very Nordic leaderboard: Of those 10, only Switzerland (5), Canada (7), New Zealand (8) and Australia (10) hail from somewhere other than Europe's northern reaches."

 

Wednesday
Mar142018

Stephen Hawking, Who Awed Both Scientists And The Public, Dies

"There aren't very many scientists who achieved rock star status. Stephen Hawking, who has died at the age of 76, family members told British media early Wednesday, was definitely a contender."

"'He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,' the family statement said, according to The Guardian. 'His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him for ever.'"

"Hawking was probably the best-known scientist in the world. He was a theoretical physicist whose early work on black holes transformed how scientists think about the nature of the universe."

"But his fame wasn't just a result of his research. Hawking, who had a debilitating neurological disease that made it impossible for him to move his limbs or speak, was also a popular public figure and best-selling author. There was even a biopic about his life, The Theory of Everything, that won an Oscar for the actor, Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Hawking."

 

Monday
Mar122018

This Is Why You Don't See People-Sized Salmon Anymore

"While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales' main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast."

"Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it's hard now to believe the old photos in which fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more."

"'This has been a season of unusually large fish, and many weighing from 60 to 70 pounds have been taken,' The Oregonian reported in 1895."

"Now, more than a century later, 'it's not impossible that we see individuals of that size today, but it's much, much rarer,' University of Washington research scientist Jan Ohlberger says."

Sunday
Mar112018

Medical Cargo Could Be The Gateway For Routine Drone Deliveries

"One shred of solace that surfaced as hurricanes and tropical storms pummeled Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico last fall was the opportunity to see drones realize some of their life-saving potential."

"During those disasters unmanned aircraft surveyed wrecked roads, bridges and rail lines. They spotted oil and gas leaks. They inspected damaged cell towers that had left thousands unable to call for help. "Drones became a literal lifeline," former Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta told the agency's drone advisory committee in November."

"The drones used needed a special exemption from a set of FAA rules, known as Part 107, that normally require small drones to fly below 400 feet, stay within the operator's visual line of sight and avoid populated areas."

Saturday
Mar102018

Penguins Mug For Camera, Take A Pretty Great 'Selfie'

"Emperor penguins are known to be social and curious. But you probably didn't know that they are also reasonably good at framing a video shot."

"When an expeditioner with the Australian Antarctic Division left his camera on the ice while visiting a penguin colony, the birds quickly hustled over to investigate."

"It's worth noting that the penguins did not actually push the record button – it was already rolling — but did manage to produce a hilarious 38-second video."

"'[I]t didn't take long for the naturally curious birds to seize the opportunity for a selfie,' the Australian Antarctic Division said."

Friday
Mar092018

Reinventing Community College To Reach Millions Of Workers — Online

"The workforce is changing dramatically and there's a widespread recognition that new skills — and new ways of teaching adults those skills — are needed and needed fast. In California, the state's 114 community colleges are facing the challenge of offering the credentials, classes and training that will help workers choose a career or adapt to a new one."

"The system right now can't serve all of these workers. But there's a new idea that could come to the rescue: Create a new, online community college for people in the workforce who've been shut out of higher education."

"It's the brainchild of Eloy Ortiz Oakley. He's a product of California's community college system — and now its chancellor. He says it's a system that urgently needs to re-think how it delivers the courses students need, when and where they need them."

Thursday
Mar082018

A Political Dispute Puts A Wrinkle In Time, Slowing Millions Of European Clocks

"For the past few weeks, something strange has been happening in Europe. Instead of time marching relentlessly forward, it has been slowing down imperceptibly, yet with cumulatively noticeable results, so that millions of clocks the Continent-over are now running behind."

"The European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity released a statement Tuesday saying that since mid-January, Europe's standard electrical frequency of 50 hertz has fallen ever so slightly to 49.996 hertz."

"For electric clocks that rely on the frequency of the power system — typically radio, oven and heating-panel clocks — the cumulative effect was "close to six minutes," according to the agency."

"Some Europeans reported on Twitter that the delay was impacting their lives."

Wednesday
Mar072018

21 Tech Companies Band Together Against Wildlife Trafficking

"Twenty-one top tech companies are banding together to try to stop wildlife traffickers from trading endangered species on their platforms."

"The Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, organized by Google and the World Wildlife Fund, was announced Wednesday morning. It includes companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, eBay, Facebook, Instagram, and Microsoft, and they're pledging to 'work together to collectively reduce wildlife trafficking across platforms by 80% by 2020.'"

"'We've realized that law enforcement on its own can't handle this global surge in illegal trade in wildlife that's happening online and we recognize that the companies themselves are very keen to try and help solve the problem,' said Crawford Allan, senior director of TRAFFIC, a WWF-affiliated wildlife trade monitoring network."

Wednesday
Jan242018

Philippine Volcano Erupts, Causing 56,000 To Flee

"Mount Mayon, the Philippines' most active volcano, erupted for eight minutes on Monday afternoon, spewing a 3-mile-tall column of debris and volcanic gas. It exploded at least five more times Monday night and Tuesday morning."

"'The lava fountains reached 500 meters to 700 meters [1,640 feet to 2,297 feet] high and generated ash plumes that reached 2.5 kilometers to 3 kilometers [1.6 miles to 1.9 miles] above the crater,' reported the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology."

"The institute said two 'explosion-type earthquakes' had occurred, as well as 18 tremor events — some of which sent forth fountains of lava. One of the lava flows advanced nearly 2 miles from the summit's crater."

"Authorities raised the volcano's alert level to 4 out of a possible 5, indicating "intense unrest" and the possibility of a hazardous eruption within days. The alert extends the danger zone around Mayon to approximately 5 miles."

Tuesday
Jan232018

What Do Asthma, Heart Disease And Cancer Have In Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma

"'Trauma' is a heavy and haunting word. For many Americans, it conjures images of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The emotional toll from those wars made headlines and forced a healthcare reckoning at the Department of Veterans Affairs."

"Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, would like to see a similar reckoning in every doctor's office, health clinic and classroom in America — for children who have experienced trauma much closer to home."

"Burke Harris is the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. She's spent much of her career trying to spread awareness about the dangers of childhood toxic stress. Her 2014 TED talk on the subject has more than 3.5 million views; the message is simple and research-based:"

"Two-thirds of Americans are exposed to extreme stress in childhood, things like divorce, a death in the family or a caregiver's substance abuse. And this early adversity, if experienced in high enough doses, "literally gets under our skin, changing people in ways that can endure in their bodies for decades," Burke Harris writes in her new book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity."

Monday
Jan222018

Amazon's Cashier-Less Seattle Grocery Opens To The Public

"Amazon on Monday will open its automated grocery in Seattle to the public, replacing cashiers with a smartphone app and hundreds of small cameras that track purchases."

"For the past year, the 1,800-square foot mini-mart has been open to the company's employees."

"There is no waiting in line for check out at Amazon Go, as the store is called – instead, its computerized system charges the customer's Amazon account as they exit the store."


Sunday
Jan212018

When A Tattoo Means Life Or Death. Literally

"The man was unconscious and alone when he arrived at University of Miami Hospital last summer. He was 70 years old and gravely ill."

"'Originally, we were told he was intoxicated,' remembers Dr. Gregory Holt, an emergency room doctor, 'but he didn't wake up.'"

"'He wasn't breathing well. He had COPD. These would all make us start to resuscitate someone,' says Holt. "But the tattoo made it complicated.'"

"The tattoo stretched across the man's chest. It said "Do Not Resuscitate." His signature was tattooed at the end."

"'We were shocked,' remembers Holt. 'We didn't know what to do.'"

"The tattoo, and the hospital's decision about what it required of them, has set off a conversation among doctors and medical ethicists around the country about how to express one's end-of-life wishes effectively, and how policymakers can make it easier."

Saturday
Jan202018

Scientists Peek Inside The 'Black Box' Of Soil Microbes To Learn Their Secrets

"A tablespoon of soil contains billions of microscopic organisms. Life on Earth, especially the growing of food, depends on these microbes, but scientists don't even have names for most of them, much less a description."

"That's changing, slowly, thanks to researchers like Noah Fierer, at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Fierer think microbes have lived in obscurity for too long. 'They do a lot of important things for us, directly or indirectly, and I hope they get the respect they deserve,' he says."

"'These microbes create fertile soils, help plants grow, consume and release carbon dioxide, oxygen and other vital elements. But they do it all anonymously. Scientists haven't identified most of these species and don't know much else about them, either, such as "what they're doing in soil, how they're surviving, what they look like,' Fierer says."

"According to Fierer, they've been extremely difficult to study, in part, because most of them refuse to grow anywhere but in the dirt, 'so we can't take them out of soil and study them in the lab.'"

Friday
Jan192018

Scientists Edge Closer To A Blood Test To Detect Cancers

"Researchers say they have taken a step toward developing a blood test that would detect eight common cancers, possibly even before symptoms appear."

"As they report Thursday in the journal Science, they're hoping their idea would eventually lead to a $500 test that can screen for cancer and identify people with the disease when it's in its earliest stages and more treatable."

"But they have a long way to go."

"There have been many attempts over the decades to develop blood tests to screen for cancers. Some look for proteins in the blood that appear with cancer. Others more recently have focused on DNA from tumors. But these methods alone don't give reliable results."

"So Nickolas Papadopoulos, a professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, collaborated with many colleagues at the medical school to develop a new approach. It combines two methods into one test."

 

Thursday
Jan182018

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record

"2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration."

"The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures."

"'Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010,' NASA said in a press release."

"The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt."

"Despite colder than average temperatures in any one part of the world, temperatures over the planet as a whole continue the rapid warming trend we've seen over the last 40 years," said Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Wednesday
Jan172018

Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment In Dedicated Listening

"In Clint Eastwood's 1988 film Straight No Chaser, Thelonious Monk road manager Bob Jones tells a story about Monk appearing on a television show sometime in the late '50s. Monk is asked what kind of music he likes, to which he replies 'all kinds.' The interviewer, hoping for a "gotcha" moment, smugly asks "even country?" to which the maverick pianist coolly deadpans, 'I said all kinds.'"

"Me too. It has been said that we are living in a golden age of music fandom; with a single click, we can access almost every piece of music ever recorded, and for less than it would cost to hear a single song on a jukebox in 1955. But I've begun to feel that my rabid consumption of music, when coupled with the unprecedented access encouraged by new technology, has endangered my ability to process it critically."

"Streaming has become the primary way we listen to music: in 2016, streaming surpassed both physical media and digital downloads as the largest source of recorded music sales. There are plenty of valid complaints about a music world dominated by streaming. Among the many arguments musicians level against Spotify, for example, one typically repeated is that the artist is the only link in the food chain getting the proverbial shaft. This argument is often predicated on notions of economics, intellectual property and ethics. Missing from a larger discussion is the radical idea that maybe it is the consumers who are being done the greatest disservice, and that this access-bonanza may be cheapening the listening experience by transforming fans into file clerks and experts into dilettantes. I don't want my musical discoveries dictated by a series of intuitive algorithms any more than I want to experience Jamaica via an all-inclusive trip to Sandals."