NPR Picks


Behind The Genius Of Guinness, Ireland's Most Popular Tourist Attraction

"When it comes to tourism, Ireland punches well above its weight."

"Last year, the tourists who visited the island outnumbered residents by about 3 million. They went to see the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle and the Ring of Kerry, the 111-mile scenic circular route in the southwest. But the biggest attraction was the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin."

"One of the first things you notice when you walk into the storehouse is a waterfall bathed in blue light — a symbol of the water from the nearby Wicklow Mountains that Guinness uses to brew its stout."

"The storehouse is a cross between a museum and an interactive marketing campaign."

"Upstairs, ingredients are vaporized so that visitors can smell individual flavors."

"Colm O'Connor, a beer specialist, explains some of the aromas: 'This is hops. I'm getting slightly grassy notes. Floral, it would definitely remind you of the garden. In terms of flavor, it's going to give a bitterness.'"


Scientists Say A Fluctuating Jet Stream May Be Causing Extreme Weather Events

"A new study suggests that the polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over the parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and that's affecting weather in Europe and North America."

"The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way, however. When those meanders occur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes in Europe and North America. And that affects how warm or rainy it is on those continents."

"Researchers at the University of Arizona and the Swiss Federal Research Institute studied tree rings to get a fix on how widely and how often the jet stream meanders."

"Biologist Valerie Trouet took samples from four species of trees in Europe, including Scots pine, dating back to 1725. These revealed what kind of weather Europe had each year. And that helped them establish the normal pattern of the jet stream's fluctuations."



Science Says That To Fight Ignorance, We Must Start By Admitting Our Own

"Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it's a way of behaving in the world."

"But since tribalism and polarization have made "alternative facts" a reality of public life, there is something we can learn from science to help us navigate the troubled waters and find a more resilient civic life."

"The lesson begins with understanding the right relationship not to knowing but to not knowing. To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own."

"Last year, I wrote about the dangerous public turn away from expertise. As Tom Nichols wrote in his book The Death of Expertise, we've found ourselves in a strange position in which people who know almost nothing about difficult and complicated subjects are righteous in their rejection of others who have spent years studying those very same fields."


Environmentalists Warn Of Mediterranean Pollution From Lebanon Land Reclamation

"On a bright, beautiful October day, Lebanese fisherman Emilio Eid is in his boat on the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's scenic mountain ranges are clear in the distance."

"But the water around him is brown and littered with pieces of floating plastic. He spots bottles, a toothbrush, a used condom. An acrid smell burns his eyes and throat."

"Eid says, and turns to look toward the coast."

"There, a huge mound rises out of the water. A steady stream of trucks drives onto it, emptying loads of waste onto compressed trash and dirt extending hundreds of feet into the Mediterranean."

"It is a form of land reclamation – the process of adding to the coastline. In this case, the process involves dumping thousands of tons of trash directly into the sea."


What You Need To Know About This Year's Flu Season

"Aja C. Holmes planned to go to work last week, but her flu symptoms — a cough, fever and severe body aches that worsened overnight — had other ideas."

"'It felt like somebody took a bat and beat my body up and down,' said Holmes, 39, who works as a residential life director at California State University, Sacramento. 'I couldn't get out of bed.'"

"The nation is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad flu season."

"Flu is widespread in 46 states, including California, according to the latest reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

"Nationally, as of mid-December, at least 106 people had died from the infectious disease, according to the CDC. At least 27 Californians younger than 65 had died as of Friday, seven of them during the week before Christmas, according to the California Department of Public Health. And states across the country are reporting higher-than-average flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits."


New Report Shows Weather Disasters In 2017 Cost More Than $300 Billion

"Before it got cold this winter, it was warm. Very warm. In fact, new data out Monday shows 2017 was the third warmest year recorded in the lower 48 states."

"And it was also a smackdown year for weather disasters: 16 weather events each broke the billion-dollar barrier."

"First, the heat. Last year was 2.6 degrees F warmer than the average year during the 20th century."

"That may be hard to remember in the thick of winter. But climate scientist Deke Arndt points out that even in a warm year, we still have frigid weather that invades from the north. "We still have very cold poles and we still have the same weather systems that pull cold air away from those poles into places where we live," he explains."


When The Cash Register Doesn't Take Cash

"General manager Erica Ritchie smiled politely before breaking the news to the young woman with a $10 bill in her hand."

"'We're actually cashless,' said Ritchie inside Bluestone Lane, a bright cafe in the shadow of City Hall in downtown Philadelphia."

"'Oh,' said the young woman, a bit sheepishly, before handing over a credit card to pay for her small coffee."

"By now, Ritchie is used to the exchange, though it's not terribly common anymore. Most of Bluestone's customers are regulars who come because it's close to work — and because they rarely carry cash. They like the reassurance in this food-crazed city that they won't need it."

"'I can't remember the last time I got out cash. Probably like a few weeks ago – a month ago? Maybe something like that,' said Samuel Foote, a social worker in the office building above the cafe, as he waited for banana toast. 'And it was like to give money to my father who doesn't have Venmo.'"



It's Not Just A Cold, It's 'Sickness Behavior'

"It's just a cold. But even though I know I'm not horribly ill, I feel this overwhelming need to skip work, ignore my family and retreat to the far corner of the sofa."

"I'm not being a wimp, it turns out. Those feelings are a real thing called "sickness behavior," which is sparked by the body's response to infection. The same chemicals that tell the immune system to rush in and fend off invading viruses also tell us to slow down; skip the eating, drinking and sex; shun social interactions; and rest."

"'Those messages are so powerful they can't be ignored,' says Philip Chen, a rhinologist at the University of Texas, San Antonio. But that doesn't mean we don't try. Symptoms like a stuffy nose are obvious, Chen notes, but we're less aware that changes in mood and behavior are also part of our bodies' natural response to infection."

"It might behoove us to pay attention. There is plenty of evidence that having a cold impairs moodalertness and working memory and that brain performance falls off with even minor symptoms."



NPR Host Robert Siegel Signs Off

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median number of years that American workers have been working for their current employer is a little over four."

"I say that to acknowledge how unusual it is that I have been working at National Public Radio for a little over 40 years — 41, to be precise."

"For the past 30 years, I've been doing the same job: hosting All Things Considered. And doing it very happily."

"No one is more surprised by my tenure than I am."

"I came to NPR on what I thought was an unfortunate but necessary detour that — I hoped and figured — would last a couple of years."

"I'm a native New Yorker and the New York FM radio station where I worked was sold in 1976 and — to put it mildly — I didn't figure in the new owner's plans."


While The Eastern U.S. Freezes, It's Too Warm In Alaska

"While above-average temperatures might sound good to much of the U.S. right now, it's too warm in rural Alaska. High temperatures 10 to 20 degrees above average are upsetting everything from recreation to hunting for food."

"Last Saturday, Maurice Andrews won the Kuskokwim River's first sled dog race of the season."

"'It felt awesome, man,' Andrews said, 'Finally! Finally good to be out.'"

"The race in southwest Alaska had been scheduled to happen two weeks before. But warm weather — just above freezing — made the trails unsafe. Temperatures dropped and a dusting of snow fell. The entire race usually runs 35 miles up the frozen river. This time it had to run over land."


Ancient Human Remains Document Migration From Asia To America

"In Alaska, scientists have uncovered something they say is remarkable: the remains of two infants dating back more than 11,000 years."

"Their discovery is evidence of the earliest wave of migration into the Americas."

"'It's incredibly rare,' says Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska who is among the researchers on the project, at a site called Upward Sun River in central Alaska. 'We only have a handful of human remains that are this old in the entire Western Hemisphere.' The findings were published Wednesday by the journal Nature."

"The remains were in such good condition that geneticists were able to extract DNA from one of them. They compared the sample with the genes of people from around the world."

"They conclude that the ancestors of these infants started out in East Asia about 35,000 years ago. As they traveled east, they became genetically isolated from other Asians. At some point during the last ice age they crossed a frozen land bridge from Siberia to Alaska called "'Beringia.'"


Neuroscientist Predicts 'Much Better Treatment' For Alzheimer's Is 10 Years Away

"British neuroscientist Joseph Jebelli first set out to study Alzheimer's because of his grandfather, who developed the disease when Jebelli was 12."

"In the years that followed, Jebelli watched as his grandfather's memory started to disappear. But Jebelli points out that although a certain amount of memory loss is a natural part of aging, what happened to his grandfather and to other Alzheimer's patients is different."

"'Losing your keys, forgetting where you put your glasses, is completely normal,' he says. 'But when you find your glasses and your keys and you think, 'What are these for?' — that's a sign that there's something else going on, that it's not just a memory loss.'"



Scientists Still Seek A Reliable DUI Test For Marijuana

"This spring, 16 state patrol officers from Colorado and Wyoming took a couple days off their usual work schedule to do something special. They assembled in a hotel conference room in Denver. As instructed, they wore street clothes for their first assignment: going shopping at nearby marijuana dispensaries."

"'It's a brave new world,' said instructor Chris Halsor, referring to the years since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana."

"There are now more marijuana dispensaries in Colorado than there are Starbucks shops, said Halsor, a Denver lawyer and former prosecutor. And though consuming cannabis is legal across the state, driving under its influence is not."

"The cops in that conference room, with their buzz cuts and Mountain Dew, are all part of the force charged with keeping the roads safe. But first, they needed a formal pot education — to learn how to identify various marijuana products and paraphernalia when they pull over a driver they suspect is under the influence."



How Pirates Of The Caribbean Hijacked America's Metric System

"If the United States were more like the rest of the world, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder might be known as the McDonald's 113-Grammer, John Henry's 9-pound hammer would be 4.08 kilograms, and any 800-pound gorillas in the room would likely weigh 362 kilos."

"One reason this country never adopted the metric system might be pirates. Here's what happened:

"In 1793, the brand new United States of America needed a standard measuring system because the states were using a hodgepodge of systems."

"'For example, in New York, they were using Dutch systems, and in New England, they were using English systems,' says Keith Martin, of the research library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology."

"This made interstate commerce difficult."


Researchers Gather Health Data For 'All Of Us'

"Federal taxpayers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a quest for blood samples, medical information and fitness readouts from a million Americans. It's called the All of Us precision medicine initiative, and it's the biggest push ever mounted to create a huge public pool of data that scientists — and anybody else who is interested — can mine for clues about health and disease."

"Proponents say this big data approach to medicine will be revolutionary. Critics aren't so sure."

"The plan is to recruit a million Americans to sign up for a program that will not only gather all sorts of medical data about them but will also follow them for at least a decade, possibly much longer. Their electronic medical records could end up in huge databases. The physical samples of blood and urine will end up in an industrial park in Rochester, Minn."

"Mine Cicek, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the Mayo Clinic, leads me into a vast building with more than an acre and a half of floor space. 'This used to be an old warehouse, but when we moved in three to four years ago, we really built a laboratory, and it's in the space,' she says."



The Photos That Tell Some Of 2017's Biggest International Stories

As 2017 draws to a close, we take a look at powerful photos from around the world that tell some of the year's most important stories.

The toll of Syria's civil war:

The war between Syrian rebels and government forces began in 2011 and has displaced millions and left hundreds of thousands dead. Much of Aleppo — Syria's centuries-old city known as its economic capital and celebrated for its beauty, history and culture — lay in ruins after years of fighting. After President Bashar Assad's military recaptured the city in late 2016, residents including 70-year-old Mohammed Mohiedin Anis returned and found homes damaged or destroyed. "He played one of his favorite songs," AFP photographer Joseph Eid told Time magazine — a recording by Syrian singer Mohamed Dia al-Din. "He is so attached to his past and to the things that he always cherished and loved, and without them he will lose his identity," Eid said. "That's why he insists on staying and getting back his life again."


In Memoriam 2017: The Musicians We Lost

Bright voices from every corner of the music world left us this year — from virtuoso players to visionary composers, from charismatic bandleaders to golden-eared producers, from influential inventors to critics and commentators who interrogated and elevated the art they covered. Explore their legacies here.


Size (And Sound) Matters When It Comes To Bubbles In Your Sparkling Wine

"Oenophiles have debated the most desirable characteristics of bubbles in champagne and sparkling wines for centuries, with most purists swearing that the smaller the bubble, the better the wine. But up until recently, few thought to listen to the bubbles themselves for answers."

"Scientists at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas in Austin normally measure the sound of inflating fish bladders and bubble curtains that dampen noise from underwater drilling. This time, they decided to listen in on champagne bubbles. "It was just nerdy curiosity," says Kyle Spratt, who led the research at UT."

"'Our first inclination was to drop a hydrophone (underwater microphone) into a glass and see what sort of sounds we heard,' Spratt says."

"And, how do sparkling wine bubbles sound? With the right listening equipment, 'they ring like bells,' he says. And the more expensive bottle did indeed have smaller bubbles, he found."


As Corals Wither Around The World, Scientists Try IVF

"A couple hours after sunset, everyone is donning a wetsuit. In minutes, 15 to 20 dark figures are standing in a graveyard on the west coast of Guam. But they're not here for the tombstones. They've come to help rescue something from dying in the waters nearby — the corals."

"Corals along Guam's coastlines have been dying in recent years, and they're not alone. Warming seawater and increasing ocean acidity are damaging reef ecosystems around the world. Some scientists and environmentalists fear a worldwide collapse by 2050."

"The coral reefs we see are actually colonies of millions of tiny animals. In a single night, the corals cast a fog of sperm and eggs into the water, some of which fertilize to make baby coral larvae. And some of those larvae settle back onto the reef, making it grow."

"Dirk Petersen says, 'OK, let's go. It's gonna be the night, guys. Spawning time.'"


North Korea Designed A Nuke. So Did This Truck Driver

"This year, deep inside a mountain, North Korea detonated a giant nuclear bomb."

"The weapon was powerful; at least 10 times more destructive than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The North claimed it was an advanced, thermonuclear design. The test came just months after a report that some intelligence officials believed North Korea had successfully "miniaturized" some of its nukes in order to fit them on top of missiles."

"The apparently rapid progress alarmed politicians and pundits, and it worried average Americans, many of whom hadn't thought much about nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War."

"But a 71-year-old truck driver named John Coster-Mullen wasn't surprised. Nuclear weapons are not particularly "hard" to design and build, he says. "Compared to what they do in manufacturing today for making a light bulb, these are simple. They really are," he says."