NPR Picks


Turks Examine Their Muslim Devotion After Poll Says Faith Could Be Waning

"Turkey has been governed for most of the past two decades by a party steeped in political Islam. So when a pollster recently surveyed personal beliefs, there was a finding that stood out: Levels of piety were flat, or even declining, compared with a decade ago."

"The apparent shift is not seismic, but it has Turks talking about where their country is headed."

"The survey, by the pollster Konda, is a follow-up to a similar poll in 2008, and the company broke down the results from each side by side to illustrate the comparison."

"While some see changes a decade later as a natural progression, Turkish analysts say the shift could be a backlash, especially among the young, against a religious president and his push to form what he calls a 'pious generation.'"

"Faith down, religious education up."

The percentage-point change for many of the questions is not dramatic: Respondents identifying as "pious" slid from 13 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2018, and those choosing "religious" dipped from 55 to 51 percent. Figures for "nonbeliever" and "atheist," which barely registered in 2008, are now at 2 and 3 percent, respectively.



Why We Can't Break Up With Big Tech

"Kashmir Hill wanted Amazon out of her life, completely."

"It was the first week of a six-week experiment in living without tech giants. She had a virtual private network, or VPN, that would keep her devices walled off from any Amazon product. She would avoid Whole Foods and power down her Kindles."

"But she had a problem. A small, chipper problem."


"She couldn't connect her Amazon Echo to the VPN. But if she just unplugged the smart speaker, someone, like her husband, might forget and plug it back in."

"Then a colleague suggested that she hide it. Say, in a drawer."

"Hill was so used to Alexa's constant presence, the convenient timers and music on demand, that she hadn't even considered putting the device away."

"'We've only had it for two years, and it already has the level of prominence where I couldn't have imagined just taking it off the counter,' she told NPR's Weekend Edition. 'I just can't believe that, especially since I'm a privacy reporter.'"


As Magnetic North Pole Zooms Toward Siberia, Scientists Update World Magnetic Model

"North is on the move, and that's a problem for your smartphone's maps."

"Earth's geographic north pole is fixed. But the planet's magnetic north pole — the north that your compass points toward — wanders in the direction of Siberia at a rate of more than 34 miles per year."

"That movement may seem slow, but it has forced scientists to update their model of Earth's magnetic field a year earlier than expected so that navigational services, including map-based phone apps, continue to work accurately."

"The drift results from processes taking place at the center of the planet. Molten iron and nickel slosh and spin in the planet's core, essentially serving as a metallic conductor for Earth's magnetic field. Changes in that fluid flow lead to changes in the magnetic field."

"As a result of those changes, the accuracy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's World Magnetic Model (WMM) — a mathematical representation of the magnetic field — slowly deteriorates in the five-year periods between updates."



Hungary's New Holocaust Museum Isn't Open Yet, But It's Already Causing Concern

"Nearly 75 years ago, Hungarian police forced Rozsa Heisler onto a train, along with thousands of other Hungarian Jews."

"'We were crammed together for five days without food or water,' she recalls. 'We didn't know where we were going. Then we reached Auschwitz.'"

"Heisler's mother and grandfather were murdered at the concentration camp. She and her sister, sent on to a labor camp, survived on leftover potato peels."

"Now 93, the bright-eyed great-grandmother lives in a cozy apartment in Budapest, a city she proudly calls home. But she has no illusions about the role her country played decades before. 'We didn't see any German soldiers until we reached Auschwitz,' she says. 'It was Hungarians who deported us.'"

"She says Hungary has never been able to face its complicity. That's why she and many other Hungarian Jews are skeptical of a new Holocaust museum in development in Budapest, costing more than $23 million and financed by the Hungarian state. The building was finished in 2015, but unease over what it will present has delayed its opening in the years since."


2018 Was Earth's Fourth-Hottest Year On Record, Scientists Say

"Once again, the world was unusually hot in 2018. In fact, on average it was the fourth-hottest year around the planet since modern record-keeping began in 1880."

"If a warming planet were an Olympic sport, fourth wouldn't make the podium. But consider the context: The hottest five years on record are, in fact, the last five years. The year 2016, which was 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average, holds the top spot, with 2018 at 1.42 degrees F warmer."

"Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA, says the message is clear: 'The planet is warming. The long-term trends are extremely robust. There's no question.' And the cause is clear too, he adds: 'It's because of the increases in the greenhouse gases that we put into the atmosphere over the last 100 years.'"

"The climate report is an annual summary of research compiled by scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data are derived from both land-based and satellite monitoring, which Schmidt says is more accurate than ever."


Key West To Ban Popular Sunscreen Ingredients To Protect Coral Reef

"Key West voted late Tuesday to ban the sale of sunscreens containing certain chemicals linked to coral reef bleaching. The ban is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2021."

"The Key West City Commission voted 6-1 to ban the sale, within city limits, of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate, the Miami Herald reports. Some studies have linked the chemicals to cellular damage in coral reefs. But industry officials challenged the ban, saying the link between the chemicals and coral bleaching isn't proven."

"Only one living coral reef exists in North America, and it lives about six miles off the Keys. 'We have one reef, and we have to do one small thing to protect that,' said Mayor Teri Johnston. 'It's our obligation.'"


Life Along The Shores Of The Caspian Sea

"Photographer Chloe Dewe Mathews' newest book, Caspian: The Elements, takes the reader on a meandering journey through oil-rich central Asia following traces of natural elements such as fire, gas, salt and water in people's everyday lives. Her images work as small, fascinating stories about how the region's residents interact with their environment in surprising ways."

"Natural elements show up in Dewe Mathews' photos through religion, ancient therapeutic practices and recreation. In one of the most striking series of images, Dewe Mathews shows people bathing in the region's celebrated crude oil at a spa in Naftalan, Azerbaijan. In other images she explores Ramsar, Iran, an area with some of the highest known levels of naturally occurring radiation. A more abstract image shows what water looks like as it slowly becomes ice in the Volga Delta in Astrakhan, Russia."

"Dewe Mathews worked on the project between 2010 and 2015. She was awarded the Robert Gardner photography fellowship in 2014 to help her finish the project. The book was published in collaboration with the Peabody Museum Press and Aperture in October 2018."

"What drew you to the Caspian region?"

"It all started in 2010 when my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to do an ambitious journey from Asia to Europe, from east to west. We wanted to physically experience the cultural shift between the two continents, so we flew to India for a friend's wedding and then made our way to Xinjiang, China's northwest province. That was where the proper journey started. From there, we hitchhiked through Central Asia and Europe, back to Britain."



Super Bowl Ads 2019: Stunts, Self-Deprecation And Celebrity Sightings

"Pepsi should have chosen a different slogan for its ads during this year's Super Bowl."

"The company's slogan was 'More than OK.' Well, not really. In fact, most of the high-priced commercials we saw between the football plays were just OK. They were so careful to avoid scandal and backlash that they felt leached of originality or bite."

"That's pretty much what Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Beverages North America, predicted when I asked him last week what this year's spots would look like: nothing controversial."

"'The Super Bowl is a time for people to enjoy themselves and enjoy the ads,' Lyons said, deftly avoiding direct mention of the elephant in this particular room — allegations that the NFL blackballed former quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his silent protests over social justice issues, leading to the hashtag #Imwithkap trending before the big game started."

"Super Bowl ad time was costly — CBS charged up to $5.3 million for each 30 seconds of time — so the commercials sidestepped anything that might offend. That left viewers with a lot of spots centered on emotional tributes to first responders and soldiers; artificial intelligence and robots acting out; and awkward celebrity cameos. One example: Charlie Sheen reading a newspaper as Mr. Peanut speeds by in a car shaped like a peanut, looking up to say,'And people think I'm nuts.' Really."



Exploring The Mysterious Origins Of Mars' 3-Mile-High Sand Pile

"Mars, may be made largely from dust and sand."

"To get the data for that surprising conclusion, the researchers MacGyvered a navigation instrument on the NASA rover Curiosity, and turned it into a scientific instrument."

"The idea for repurposing the Rover Inertial Measurement Unit came from Kevin Lewis."

"'It kind of frustrated me that we didn't have a surface gravimeter on Mars,' says Lewis, a member of the Curiosity science team, and an assistant professor in earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University."

"'You can learn a lot about the geology of a planet by measuring subtle changes in its gravity. High-density rocks give a stronger gravity-signal than low-density rocks.'"

"But to make measurements of gravity, you usually need to have an instrument called a gravimeter."

"One day, Lewis started thinking about something that popped up regularly on the rover's daily activity schedule."

"'Turns out, every day we don't drive with the rover, there's this little rover activity called the SAPP-RIMU data activity,' Lewis says."


As Grizzlies Come Back, Frustration Builds Over Continued Protections

"Trina Jo Bradley squints down at a plate-sized paw print, pressed into a sheet of shallow snow."

"She reaches down with fingers outstretched, hovering her palm over a sun-softened edge. Her hand barely covers a third of the track."

"'That's a big old foot right there,'she says, with a chuckle. 'That's the one where you don't want to be like: 'Oh! There he is right there!'"

"Bradley, like many ranchers, applies a wry sense of humor to things that feel out of her control."

Growing up here on the Rocky Mountain Front, where prairie meets mountain, she rarely saw grizzlies. Now, she sees them all of the time. Some nights, her family watches the massive carnivores lumber by outside their living room window. Bradley says they're majestic.

"As long as they mind their own business and stay out of my cows, I could really care less if they're here," she says. "I enjoy having them here and I think most ranchers do."



New U.S. Experiments Aim To Create Gene-Edited Human Embryos

"A scientist in New York is conducting experiments designed to modify DNA in human embryos as a step toward someday preventing inherited diseases, NPR has learned."

"For now, the work is confined to a laboratory. But the research, if successful, would mark another step toward turning CRISPR, a powerful form of gene editing, into a tool for medical treatment."

"A Chinese scientist sparked international outrage in November when he announced that he had used the same technique to create the world's first gene-edited human babies. He said his goal was to protect them from infection with HIV, a claim that was criticized because there are safe, effective and far less controversial ways of achieving that goal."

"In contrast, Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist at Columbia University, says he is conducting his experiments'for research purposes.' He wants to determine whether CRISPR can safely repair mutations in human embryos to prevent genetic diseases from being passed down for generations."

"So far, Egli has stopped any modified embryos from developing beyond one day so he can study them."



Massive Starfish Die-Off Is Tied To Global Warming

"The skin lesions are the first sign that something is wrong. Then limbs fall off and the body disintegrates, collapsing in on itself as it liquefies. In the end, what was once a sea star is only a puddle on the ocean floor."

"Since 2013, sea star wasting disease has killed so many starfish along the Pacific Coast that scientists say it's the largest disease epidemic ever observed in wild marine animals. Where there used to be dozens of stars, scuba divers now report seeing none."

"And while the epidemic itself is a naturally occurring (if particularly devastating) phenomenon, newly published research suggests that climate change may have exacerbated the disease's deadliness."

"'What we think is that the warm water anomalies made these starfish more susceptible to the disease that was already out there,' says Joe Gaydos, the science director at the University of California, Davis' SeaDoc Society and one author of a study out today in the journal Science Advances."


CBD Is Budding In Popularity. But What Is The Cannabis Extract, Exactly?

"As more states across the U.S. legalize medical or recreational marijuana, another aspect of cannabis is budding in popularity: CBD."

"It's popping up everywhere — in beverages, cosmetics and even pet food. But what exactly is it?"

"Dr. Jeff Chen (@drjeffchen), director of the Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA, explains that CBD, or cannabidiol, is simply a part of the cannabis plant."

"'CBD is cannabidiol, not to be confused with cannabinoid. So a cannabinoid is a family of compounds that are unique to the cannabis plant,' he tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. So THC, which is responsible for the psychoactivity of cannabis, that's a cannabinoid. CBD is also a cannabinoid."

"'They both are part of the cannabinoid family, and they both tend to be the most abundant cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.'"



Polar Vortex Hits The Midwest With Life-Threatening Cold Temperatures

"A polar vortex is descending upon the Midwest this week, bringing the coldest weather there in a generation. Snow has already blanketed Chicago, and that will be followed by life-threatening arctic temperatures that will extend from Illinois west through North and South Dakota until Thursday."

"Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, tells NPR, 'These are probably some of the coldest temperatures that the area has seen, parts of the upper Midwest, since the mid-'90s.'"

"'Otto says wind will drive the temperatures down even further.' The other thing to consider with the cold temperatures are going to be the winds, and so the winds in combination with the cold temperatures are going to allow for some dangerously cold wind chills, values as cold as minus 30 to minus 50 degrees in a couple locations, and even colder as you get farther north, into parts of Minnesota, where some of those wind chills could get down to minus 60," Otto says."


Survivors Mark Holocaust Remembrance Day On 74th Anniversary Of Auschwitz Liberation

"Former prisoners of Auschwitz gathered at the former Nazi concentration camp on the 74th anniversary of its liberation by Soviet forces."

"In the site that once housed the largest Nazi death camp, a group of survivors, politicians and foreign dignitaries marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a ceremony Sunday."

"'Auschwitz has shown what can happen when the worst qualities in people come to bear,' said Armin Laschet, premier of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia."

"Survivors gave testimonies and Poland's chief rabbi read out the names of all the concentration camps, where many of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust were killed. Over a million people were killed in Auschwitz alone, most of them Jews. Poland's prime minister and the ambassadors of Israel and Russia also attended the ceremony."



Muscles May Preserve A Shortcut To Restore Lost Strength

"Can muscles remember their younger, fitter selves?"

"Muscle physiology lore has long held that it is easier to regain muscle mass in once-fit muscles than build it anew, especially as we age. But scientists haven't been able to pin down how that would actually work."

"A growing body of research reviewed Friday in the journal Frontiers in Physiologysuggests that muscle nuclei — the factories that power new muscle growth — may be the answer. Rather than dying as muscles lose mass, nuclei added during muscle growth persist and could give older muscles an edge in regaining fitness later on, new research suggests."

This work could affect public health policy and anti-doping efforts in sports, says Lawrence Schwartz, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst who wrote the review. But some scientists caution against extrapolating too far from these studies into humans while conflicting evidence exists.

"One thing is for sure: Muscles need to be versatile to meet animals' needs to move. Muscle cells can be sculpted into many forms and can stretch to volumes 100,000 times larger than a normal cell. Muscle cells gain this flexibility by breaking the biological norm of one nucleus to a cell; some muscle cells house thousands of nuclei."



Docudrama On Jews In Nazi Germany Can't Decide On Docu- Or Drama: 'The Invisibles'

"In 1943, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels announced that Berlin was now "Jew-free." The four young protagonists of The Invisibles know this isn't true: They're Jewish and still there. But none of them has any idea that an estimated 7,000 other Jews had thus far also escaped the dragnet. One of the terrors this docudrama evokes is isolation."

"The first of the four to appear onscreen is Cioma Schonhaus (Max Mauff), an art student who's just beginning to develop the document-forging skills that will allow him to live and even prosper. Before introducing the other three, director and co-writer Claus Rafle cuts to the real Schonhaus, filmed a decade ago."

"The Invisibles is something of a thriller, but the survival of its main characters is never in doubt. The movie is based on hours of 2009 interviews with the people it portrays (two of whom have since died)."

"Rafle terms The Invisibles a "hybrid." Like the recent Who Will Write Our History, the film mixes reenactments, archival footage, and relatively recent interviews. But the two movies balance these ingredients differently. The Invisibles is mostly dramatization, which makes the interviews distracting. They're interesting on their own, but here they play like DVD extras that managed to infiltrate the main feature — and sometimes hold it hostage."



Concern About Global Warming Among Americans Spikes, Report Says

"In 2018, Americans watched as California towns were incinerated by fires, hurricanes devastated coastal communities and a government report sounded the alarm about the impacts of a changing climate."

"All those factors contributed to significant changes in perceptions of global warming in the U.S., according to the authors of a new public opinion survey."

"The proportion of Americans who said global warming is ''personally important' to them jumped from 63 percent to 72 percent from March to December of last year."

"There has also been an 8-percent rise in the number of Americans who are "very worried" about global warming – 29 percent said they feel that way, while 40 percent said they are '''somewhat worried.'"

"And 56 percent of Americans said their family will be harmed by global warming.


Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist Russell Baker Dies At 93

"Russell Baker, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer who penned thousands of columns for The New York Times, and hosted the PBS television program "Masterpiece Theatre," died Monday at his home in Leesburg, Va. He was 93."

"Baker got his start as a news reporter with the Baltimore Sun, but became known for his "Observer" column in the Times, where he commented on modern life with unmistakable whimsy. Though often pegged to the specifics of the time, many of his observations are just as relevant today as they were when published decades ago. A family member tells NPR that Baker was 'a beautiful man.'"

"'We couldn't have asked for a better father,' said his son, Allen Baker, according to the Baltimore Sun. 'He was a tender and loving man to his family. ... He was just a Regular Joe with an extraordinary job.' His son says Baker died after complications from a fall."

"Then Baker moved from Washington to New York in 1974, the scope of his column expanded, the Times says in its obituary. At first political, it soon grew to encompass all aspects of day-to-day life. Baker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1979. It was the first Pulitzer for commentary awarded to a humorist, the Times says."



Researchers Find A Web Of Factors Behind Multiple Sclerosis

"As the story goes, nearly 80 years ago on the Faroe Islands - a stark North Atlantic archipelago 200 miles off the coast of Scotland — a neurologic epidemic may have washed, or rather convoyed, ashore."

"Before 1940 the incidence of multiple sclerosis on the Faroes was near, if not, zero, according to the tantalizing lore I recall from medical school. Yet in the years following British occupation of the islands during World War II, the rate of MS rose dramatically, leading many researchers to assume the outbreak was caused by some unknown germ transmitted by the foreign soldiers."

"We now know that MS is not infectious in the true sense of the word. It is not contagious in the way, say, the flu is."

"But infection does likely play a role in MS."

"As may be the case in Alzheimer's disease, it's looking more and more like MS strikes when infectious, genetic and immune factors gang up to eventually impair the function of neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Researchers are hoping to better understand this network of influences to develop more effective ways to treat MS, and perhaps prevent it in the first place."