NPR Picks


Why European Restaurants Are Much More Vigilant About Food Allergies

"During a visit to London last month, I was pretty excited to try the slow-cooked curries at Masala Zone. Almost as soon as I sat down, however, the manager told me he didn't want my business."

"As is fairly routine in London restaurants, he asked if anyone at the table had any food allergies. As it happens, I'm allergic to peanuts. He explained that the Indian restaurant grinds peanuts into various sauces and can't guarantee that traces won't show up in any dish on the menu. He handed me a small card stating that it's Masala Zone's policy not to serve people with peanut allergies. "We do not operate in a surgical environment," the card states."

"It's unusual — but not unique — for a London restaurant to turn away diners who have food allergies. But almost every type of restaurant there asks patrons about allergies. Restaurants in the United Kingdom are generally far more vigilant, in this regard, than restaurants in the United States."

"'It doesn't cost you anything to ask about allergies,' says Joseph Johnson, a waiter at Kym's, a high-end Chinese restaurant in London's financial district."



When Temperatures Rise, So Do Health Problems

"A little Shakespeare came to mind during a recent shift in the Boston emergency room where I work."

"'Good Mercutio, let's retire,' Romeo's cousin Benvolio says. 'The day is hot, the Capulets abroad, and, if we meet, we shall not 'scape a brawl.'"

"It was hot in Boston, too, and people were brawling. The steamy summer months always seem to bring more than their fair share of violence."

"But the ER was full of more than just brawlers. Heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems — the heat appeared to make everything worse."

"I wasn't the first to notice this effect. In 1938, a statistician named Mary Gover found a surprising association between heat waves and increased mortality from all causes. Only about a quarter of deaths during these periods could be attributed to heatstroke, a dangerous form of heat illness that occurs when temperatures outstrip the body's ability to shed heat."

"In heatstroke, proteins begin to unravel once the core temperature exceeds 104 degrees. Enzymes become inert. Cells' ability to produce energy fails near 106, ultimately causing multiple organ failure, shock and death."



Scientists Attempt Controversial Experiment To Edit DNA In Human Sperm Using CRISPR

"First it was human embryos. Now scientists are trying to develop another way to modify human DNA that can be passed on to future generations, NPR has learned."

"Reproductive biologists at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City are attempting to use the powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR to alter genes in human sperm. NPR got exclusive access to watch the controversial experiments underway."

"The research is aimed at finding new ways to prevent disorders caused by genetic mutations that are passed down from men — including some forms of male infertility. The team is starting with a gene that can increase the risk for breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers."

"The experiments are just starting and have not yet been successful. But the research raises many of the same hopes — and fears — as editing the DNA of human embryos. Nevertheless, the researchers defend the work."

"'I think it's important from the scientific point of view to investigate in an ethical manner to be able to learn if it's possible,' says Gianpiero Palermo, a professor of embryology in obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine, who runs the lab where the work is being conducted."



Want To Know What's In Your Sweat? There's A Patch For That

"If you wanted to measure your heart rate or step count during exercise, you would use a fitness tracker. But what if you wanted a device to tell you when when you need to drink more water or should reach for a sports drink?"

"Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, designed a patch that can measure sodium in sweat and determine sweat rate directly from the skin. Their findings about the effectiveness of their invention were published Friday in the journal Science Advances."

"Sweat is easy to stimulate and has a rich chemical composition, which makes it an ideal body fluid to measure health and athletic performance, explains Mallika Bariya, an engineer at the University of California at Berkeley and one of the authors of the study."

"Their findings suggest that knowing your sweat rate and sweat composition could help you customize your post-workout beverage or help you decide how much of it you need to drink to rehydrate and replenish your body. 'That's a clear application in the very near term,' says John Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, who is developing his own sweat patch with the sports drink company Gatorade. Rogers wasn't involved in the study."



Artists Take On Global Migration: 'It's Hard To Watch And It's Hard Not To Watch'

"A 10-minute drive from the White House — where immigration has a top spot on the President's "to-do" list — a museum has filled three of its floors with artists' reactions to displacement, relocation and flight."

"'The Warmth of Other Suns - Stories of Global Displacement' at The Phillips Collection features some 75 paintings, photographs, videos and installations exploring the global refugee crisis. The works were chosen by curators from the New Museum in New York and many of the artists are immigrants themselves."

"'Every day brings stories about immigration — on radio, TV, social media. What can art say that's different? "Art has a language of its own,' says Dorothy Kosinski, director of The Phillips Collection. 'It's very direct.'"

"Artists don't necessarily look at suffering in a different way, 'but they know how to express it,' says Dani Levinas, chairman of the Phillips board."

"Albanian artist Adrian Paci explores hope, impatience and frustration in his videoCentro di permanenza temporanea (Temporary Detention Center). 'What you see in this video is a stairway — the kind that you would use to board an airplane on an empty tarmac,' says New Museum curator Natalie Bell. 'What's absent in this film is the airplane, so you see a number of men attempting to board, climbing up the stairs, and waiting.'"



How Much Hotter Are The Oceans? The Answer Begins With A Bucket

"If you want to know what climate change will look like, you need to know what Earth's climate looked like in the past — what air temperatures were like, for example, and what ocean currents and sea levels were doing. You need to know what polar ice caps and glaciers were up to and, crucially, how hot the oceans were."

"'Most of the Earth is water,' explains Peter Huybers, a climate scientist at Harvard University. 'If you want to understand what global temperatures have been doing, you better understand, in detail, the rates that different parts of the ocean are warming.'"

"Easier said than done."

"To know how ocean temperature is changing today, scientists rely on more than a century's worth of temperature data gathered by sailors who used buckets to gather samples of water."

"It's the best information available about how hot the oceans were before the middle of the 20th century, but it's full of errors and biases. Making the historical data more reliable led researchers on a wild investigation that involved advanced statistics and big data, along with early 20th century shipbuilding norms and Asian maritime history.

To know how ocean temperature is changing today, scientists rely on more than a century's worth of temperature data gathered by sailors who used buckets to gather samples of water.

It's the best information available about how hot the oceans were before the middle of the 20th century, but it's full of errors and biases. Making the historical data more reliable led researchers on a wild investigation that involved advanced statistics and big data, along with early 20th century shipbuilding norms and Asian maritime history.



Marium, The Dugong Who Charmed Thailand, Dies After Ingesting Plastic

"Marium, an orphaned dugong cared for by biologists in southern Thailand, had what it takes to win over the Internet. Few could resist pictures and videos of the button-eyed mammal being fed sea grass and bottled milk and even being cuddled by her caregivers, all while seeming to wear a satisfied smile."

"But it seems 8-month-old Marium fell victim to another modern-day phenomenon: the growing presence of plastic in the water. An autopsy performed Saturday found numerous tiny plastic pieces in her intestines, according to Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation."

"Dugongs are marine mammals related to the manatee that graze on sea grass in warm, shallow waters from East Africa to Australia. Their population is already threatened by habitat loss from water pollution and coastal development, according to the World Wildlife Fund."

"Marium was found motherless near a beach in southern Thailand in April. For months, veterinarians and volunteers would paddle out to her in canoes, feeding her multiple times a day and giving her checkups, reports The Associated Press."

"Regularly updated videos, including one of her being sung to tenderly, allowed Marium's fans to keep up with her progress, and she became a symbol of Thailand's conservation efforts."

"But last week, her caregivers found her listless and bruised, reports the AP."



These Experimental Shorts Are An 'Exosuit' That Boosts Endurance On The Trail

"Say the word "exosuit" and superheroes come to mind — somebody like Tony Stark from Marvel Comics, whose fancy suit enables him to become Iron Man."

"But scientists at Harvard University have been developing an actual exosuit — a wearable machine that they say can improve a mere mortal's strength and stamina. This new prototype is novel because it improves a wearer's performance while walking and running — just one example of progress in what's become a surging field."

"This suit looks kind of like bike shorts, with some wires and small machines around the waist and cables down the legs. When it's turned on, a person expends less energy while moving."

"'Essentially, we've kind of re-created an artificial muscle on the outside of the human body that's working in parallel with the underlying biological muscle,' explains lead researcher Conor Walsh, an engineering professor at Harvard."



'Lithium' Is A Homage To A Drug — And To The Renegade Side Of Science

"Like any good story about a scientific discovery, Walter A. Brown's account of the history of lithium features plenty of improvisation, conjecture and straight-up kismet."

"Unlike many such stories, though, it also features a fair share of personal bias, senseless puttering and random speculation — on part of these scientific researchers."

"Brown, a practicing psychiatrist and university professor of more than 40 years, seems to have been drawn to write Lithium: A Doctor, A Drug and a Breakthrough as much because of lithium's fluky history and overlooked importance (for many years, he argues, it was "the Cinderella of psychiatric drugs") as by the profound impact it's had on countless sufferers of bipolar disorder and depression."

"Lithium is a homage, not just to a drug, but to the renegade side of science. Its heroes are researchers scattered around the globe, short on funding and frequently unaware of each other's work, without whom a commonly available substance would never have been recognized as a treatment for one of the most baffling psychiatric illnesses. By celebrating these men, Brown hopes to do a lot more than simply raise awareness about an underappreciated substance. He aims to demolish what remains of the myth that scientific progress is driven by rigorous dispassion."



How Woodstock Changed The Little Town Of Bethel, N.Y.

"Fifty years ago, the tiny town of Bethel, N.Y., was transformed into a teeming city of more than 400,000 people brought together by peace, love and music. Today, the site of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, as it was officially called, is on the National Register of Historic Places. For some who were there, it's a place of pilgrimage, memories and the site of a museum full of memorabilia."

"'I remember that sign. A farmer put it out on the side of the road,' Carl Porter says as he tours the Woodstock exhibition in the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Museum, which sits on the actual site of the festival. Porter was 21 years old in 1969 and his leave from the service coincided with Woodstock. But as thrilled as Porter was to be there, lots of other locals weren't."

"'It's actually an old porcelain tabletop that he scribbled that sign on to chase away the hippies,' Porter continues. 'It says, 'Local people speak out. Stop Max's hippie music festival. No 150,000 hippies here.' "



California's Largest Legal Weed Farms Face Conflict In Wine Country

"The Santa Rita Hills, nestled in Santa Barbara County, are ideal for pinot noir, a notoriously finicky grape. That's why Kathy Joseph came here to plant Fiddlestix Vineyard."

"'The plants are over 20 years old, which comes through in the wines we make. The topography is just right; the proximity to the ocean is incredible,' Joseph says. 'Difficult to find a pinot noir district this good.'"

"Neighboring grape vines extend to the west as far as the eye can see. In the other direction, there's a new neighbor in town. This spring, a cannabis farmer started building hoop houses on the 100-acre parcel. So far, a quarter of the land is growing pot. Joseph has seen plenty of vegetable farms there before."

"'We've lived together with other vegetables, lettuces and cauliflower, and broccoli and snap peas, and walnuts very happily,' she says."


Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better For The Planet? Here's The Science

"For the environmentally minded carnivore, meat poses a culinary conundrum. Producing it requires a great deal of land and water resources, and ruminants such as cows and sheep are responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, according to the World Resources Institute."

"That's why many researchers are now calling for the world to cut back on its meat consumption. But some advocates say there is a way to eat meat that's better for the planet and better for the animals: grass-fed beef."

"But is grass-fed beef really greener than feedlot-finished beef? Let's parse the science."

"What's the difference between grass-fed and feedlot beef?"

"Feedlot calves begin their lives on pasture with the cow that produced them. They're weaned after six to nine months, then grazed a bit more on pasture. They're then "finished" for about 120 days on high-energy corn and other grains in a feedlot, gaining weight fast and creating that fat-marbled beef that consumers like. At about 14 to 18 months of age, they are sent to slaughter. (One downside of the feedlot system, as we've reported, is that a diet of corn can lead to liver abscesses in cattle, which is why animals who eat it receive antibiotics as part of their feed.)"


From Pain To Purpose: 5 Ways To Cope In The Wake Of Trauma

"Could it happen here? It's a question a lot of people ask in the wake of a traumatic event."

"Even if you're not directly connected to the events in El Paso, Gilroy or Dayton, chances are you've felt the weight of them."

"'People do feel traumatized,' says family therapist Jonathan Vickburg, of Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. The idea that an act of violence could happen anywhere makes us anxious. People may think twice about attending a music festival or walking into a WalMart."

"But, there are strategies to counter the fear — and move forward."

"Rian Finney, 16, knows the feeling of vulnerability all too well. He's never witnessed a mass shooting, but he's grown up surrounded by violence."

"As a young kid in west Baltimore, he'd fall asleep to the sound of fireworks — or at least that's what he thought. Then, one day his parents told him he was hearing gunshots."

"It was just shock, that those [shootings were] happening right outside my house," Finney says. Living amid violence began to take its toll, especially in moments when he felt threatened. "I just felt this sense of, like, fear and anxiety going through my entire body," he says.



A Century Later: The Treaty Of Versailles And Its Rejection Of Racial Equality

"A century ago, a new world order began."

"The Treaty of Versailles concluded the war to end all wars. Constructed through diplomacy, a fragile peace replaced global bloodshed."

"The treaty's proclamations are now iconic: that nations should have the right to self-determine, that a war's victors should negotiate how to move forward, that the defeated powers should be held responsible for the damage."

"Yet the treaty, negotiated by the key players in World War I — notably France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States — was deeply flawed and could not fend off the rise of fascism, the Nazi Party, and eventually, World War II."

"Versailles' mixed legacy is even further complicated by a little-known attempt by Japan, one of the emerging players at the table, to move the world forward on the issue of racial equality."

"Japan asked for, and nearly got approved, a clause in the treaty that would have affirmed the equality of all nations, regardless of race or nationality."

"For all of the history forged, some historians believe the Great Powers missed a pivotal opportunity to fashion a much different 20th century."


The Swaying Power Of Scented Spaces Isn't Always Right Under Our Nose

"There's a new smell tingling tourists' noses in the Big Apple, far above the trash bag-lined sidewalks — and this scent is by design."

"Atop One World Trade Center, New York City's tallest building, a fragrance carrying hints of citrus, beech trees and red maples wafts through the glass-enclosed observatory deck."

"When the observatory commissioned the custom scent to diffuse through the floor's HVAC system, Managing Director Keith Douglas told the New York Times that he wanted it to elicit a 'positive thought,' and offer a "a subtle complement to the experience" of visiting the space."

But not everyone is keen on the scent. One tourist described the smell as "sickly," according to the Times, which first documented the new aromatic experience in lower Manhattan.

It's a marketing strategy businesses are increasingly deploying to lure customers into stores and entice them to stay longer. The smell of cinnamon fills Yankee Candle stores, Subway pumps a doughy bread scent through its vents. International Flavors & Fragrances, the same company that developed clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch's notoriously pungent "Fierce" cologne, known to linger on clothes long after their purchase, designed One World's scent.



Here's What Tourists Might See If They Were Allowed To Visit Gaza

"It's not easy to find a tour guide in Gaza. Even clerks at the local Tourism Ministry, a vestige of the 1990s that remarkably still exists, struggle to recommend professional guides, before suggesting a man who hasn't led tourists around for 20 years."

"Ayman Hassouna seems delighted to spend a sweltering day in a suit jacket, showing off the historical sites, colorful markets and delicious grilled fish of his native Gaza — among other unexpected gems made even more precious by the reality that most people in the world are unable to experience them."

"Gaza used to be an ancient crossroads connecting Arabia to Europe and, in more recent years, a magnet for international visitors exploring the Holy Land. Today this narrow strip on the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most isolated spots on Earth."


To Slow Global Warming, U.N. Warns Agriculture Must Change

"Humans must drastically alter food production to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming, according to a new report from the United Nations panel on climate change."

"The panel of scientists looked at the climate change effects of agriculture, deforestation and other land use, such as harvesting peat and managing grasslands and wetlands. Together, those activities generate about a third of human greenhouse gas emissions, including more than 40% of methane."

"That's important because methane is particularly good at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And the problem is getting more severe."

"Emissions from agricultural production are projected to increase," the authors warn. "Delaying action" on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they continue, "could result in some irreversible impacts on some ecosystems."

"This is the latest in a series of reports from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The new report adds weight and detail to a warning put out by the same panel of scientists last fall, in which they sounded the alarm about the inadequacy of the pledges countries have made so far to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."



'Drive-Thru Dreams' Explores America's Love-Hate Relationship With Fast Food

"Do you want fries with that? It's complicated."

"Americans have a torturous relationship with fast food. We often vilify it for expanding our waistlines, yet we also look at it as a way to treat ourselves. And part of the reason we seek the guilty pleasures to be found in burgers, shakes and fries is the familiarity such foods evoke, says writer Adam Chandler."

"'Even for people who haven't had fast food in 5 or 10 years, they still have fond memories of sneaking out of high school with their friends and going to Taco Bell during their lunch breaks, or going to McDonald's for a birthday party when they were kids,' says Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom."

"In his book, Chandler describes the unshakable bond between Americans and fast food — which he explored during his travels across the country, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. This bond is defined by fast food's connection to American history, as well as its ability to adapt to different times, palates, and cultures."



Trust In Scientists Is Rising, Poll Finds

"In a time of climate change denial and vaccine resistance, scientists worry they are losing public trust. But it's just the opposite, a survey released Friday finds."

"Public trust of scientists is growing. It's on a par with our trust of the military and far above trust of clergy, politicians and journalists."

"The survey by the Pew Research Center finds 86% of those surveyed say they have a fair amount or a great deal of faith that scientists act in our best interests. And that's been trending higher — it was 76% in 2016."

"The proportion of people who say they have a "great deal" of confidence in scientists to act in the public interest increased from 21% in 2016 to 35% in 2019."

"But the picture isn't entirely rosy. "It tends to be kind of a soft support," says Cary Funk, director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center and co-author of the report."



Living With Puffins? Better Duck And Cover

"Every summer, a handful of interns and research assistants are selected from hundreds of applicants to camp in primitive conditions on a tiny, treeless island several miles off Maine's coast. Their job description calls for 'a sense of humor and love ... of adventure, the outdoors and birds.'"

"The coveted jobs are with the National Audubon Society's Project Puffin, an unusual seabird restoration project that got its start on Eastern Egg Rock in the 1970s."

"It takes about 30 minutes by boat to reach the 7-acre island, which is bordered by slippery, seaweed-covered boulders. Hundreds of screeching terns and gulls circle overhead. Sarah Guitart says she sometimes wishes the birds weren't quite so loud."

"You gotta remember that you're in a seabird colony and it's pretty wonderful."

"Guitart is the crew lead for the four interns and research assistants living and working on the island from May to August. She wears earplugs to get to sleep in her tent at night."