NPR Picks


Is Inflammation Bad For You Or Good For You?

"Chronic, low-level inflammation seems to play a role in a host of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer and even depression. And even though the science on inflammation and disease is far from settled, tests and treatments are being promoted that claim to reduce that risk."

"That's even though inflammation is also a force for good, protecting against infection and injury. Acute inflammation occurs when you sprain your ankle or get a paper cut. It's part of the immune system's box of tricks to spark a defense and promote healing."

"But when that response is constantly triggered, over time it can damage the body instead of healing it. That's what happens in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. And increasingly, inflammation has been implicated in more common chronic diseases, too, though its exact role hasn't been nailed down."


Say Goodbye To X+Y: Should Community Colleges Abolish Algebra?

"Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads."

"It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country. So if you're not a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, math), why even study algebra?"

"That's the argument Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system, made today in an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel."

"At American community colleges, 60 percent of those enrolled are required to take at least one math course. Most — nearly 80 percent — never complete that requirement."



Elon Musk Warns Governors: Artificial Intelligence Poses 'Existential Risk'

"Tesla CEO Elon Musk, speaking to U.S. governors this weekend, told the political leaders that artificial intelligence poses an "existential threat" to human civilization."

"At the bipartisan National Governors Association in Rhode Island, Musk also spoke about energy sources, his own electric car company and space travel. But when Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, grinning, asked if robots will take everyone's jobs in the future — Musk wasn't joking when he responded."

"Yes, 'robots will do everything better than us,' Musk said. But he's worried about more than the job market."

"'AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization, and I don't think people fully appreciate that,' Musk said. He said he has access to cutting-edge AI technology, and that based on what he's seen, AI is 'the scariest problem.'"

"Musk told the governors that AI calls for precautionary, proactive government intervention: 'I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it's too late,' he said."


That Drug Expiration Date May Be More Myth Than Fact

"The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates – possibly toxic, probably worthless."

"But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?"

"Cantrell called Roy Gerona, a University of California, San Francisco, researcher who specializes in analyzing chemicals. Gerona had grown up in the Philippines, and had seen people recover from sickness by taking expired drugs with no apparent ill effects."


Artificial Sweeteners Don't Help People Lose Weight, Review Finds

"The theory behind artificial sweeteners is simple: If you use them instead of sugar, you get the joy of sweet-tasting beverages and foods without the downer of extra calories, potential weight gain and related health issues."

"In practice, it's not so simple, as a review of the scientific evidence on non-nutritive sweeteners published Monday shows."

"After looking at two types of scientific research, the authors conclude that there is no solid evidence that sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose help people manage their weight. And observational data suggest that the people who regularly consume these sweeteners are also more likely to develop future health problems, though those studies can't say those problems are caused by the sweeteners."



Beam Me Up, Scotty ... Sort Of. Chinese Scientists 'Teleport' Photon To Space

"These days, advances in science seem to be sounding more like science fiction."

"Chinese scientists have announced they successfully 'teleported' information on a photon from Earth to space, spanning a distance of more than 300 miles."

"So is this like "beaming" in Star Trek or "apparating" wizards in Harry Potter? Kind of, says Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University."

"'It's somewhere in between,' Greene tells NPR's David Greene (no relation) on Morning Edition. 'But honestly, you should be super excited about that. It's a crazy, wonderful thing that we can do this.'"

"But before you start dreaming about teleporting into work when you're running late, let's talk about what that all actually means."



'Living Drug' That Fights Cancer By Harnessing Immune System Clears Key Hurdle

"A new kind of cancer treatment that uses genetically engineered cells from a patient's immune system to attack their cancer easily cleared a crucial hurdle Wednesday."

"A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee unanimously recommended that the agency approve this 'living drug' approach for children and young adults who are fighting a common form of leukemia. The agency doesn't have to follow the committee's recommendation but usually does."

"The treatment takes cells from a patient's body, modifies the genes, and then reinfuses those modified cells back into the person who has cancer. If the agency approves, it would mark the first time the FDA has approved anything considered to be a 'gene therapy product.'"


Is The Universe Conscious?

"The history of science — in particular the physical sciences, like physics and astronomy — can be told as the incremental realization that there is large-scale coherence in the universe."

"By large-scale coherence, I mean that some of the same physical laws hold at scales as diverse as the atom and the galaxy, and even the universe as a whole. In a sense, the universe speaks one language and scientists act as the interpreters, translating this language in terms that humans can understand and relate to."

"For example, physicists base many of their theories on the law of energy conservation, that energy is always transformed but not created or destroyed — or on fancier ones, such as electric-charge conservation, which states that the total amount of electric charge is the same before and after subatomic particles such as electrons and protons interact: The particles before and after the interactions may change, but not the total amount of electric charge. That these laws hold not only in a controlled laboratory environment but also in the Earth's or Jupiter's atmospheres, in the core of stars, and even near the Big Bang itself is nothing short of amazing."


Pairing Wine And Weed: Is It A California Dream Or Nightmare?

"In the epicurean world, Northern California is famous for two intoxicants — wine and weed. With recreational marijuana about to be legal in the Golden State, some cannabis entrepreneurs are looking to the wine industry as a model."

"On the elegant terrace of a winery overlooking the vineyard-covered hills of Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, a dozen invited guests are sipping pinot noir, nibbling hors d'oeuvres and taking hits off a water pipe."

"They have come for a farm-to-table meal of kale salad, roasted vegetables and grilled flatiron steak paired with wine and certain types of marijuana."

"'What we've found so far is that sativas go well with whites, indicas go well with reds,' says Sam Edwards, president of the Sonoma Cannabis Company."


NASA Spacecraft Gets Up Close With Jupiter's Great Red Spot

"Scientists are about to get an up-close and personal look at the planet Jupiter's most famous landmark, the Great Red Spot."

"NASA's Juno spacecraft will be directly over the spot shortly after 10 p.m. ET Monday, July 10, about 5,600 miles above the gas giant's cloud tops. That's closer than any spacecraft has been before."

"The spot is actually a giant storm that has been blowing on Jupiter for centuries. It's huge, larger than Earth in diameter."

"'It's lasted a really long time,' says Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and principal scientist for NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter. 'No scientists really understand exactly how that storm is created or why it could last so long.'"


While Corals Die Along The Great Barrier Reef, Humans Struggle To Adjust

"Nearly a hundred miles off the shore of Port Douglas, Australia, tourists jump into the water of the outer reef. On their dive, they see giant clams, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish, all swimming above brightly colored coral."

"On a boat, marine biologist Lorna Howlett quizzes the tourists in the sunshine. 'How many people out there saw a coral highlighter-yellow?' she asks, eliciting a show of hands. 'What about highlighter-blue? Yeah? Anyone see some hot pinks?'"

"Eager hands shoot up among the few dozen tourists lounging on the deck of the boat in their wetsuits. Everyone's still smiling from their Technicolor tour of the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site that encompasses the world's biggest coral reef system and is home to some 400 different types of coral."


Frida Kahlo Celebrated With An Attempt At A World Record

"The rules were clear; to participate, you needed four things:"

"A floral-printed dress (knee length), a shawl (red or pink), artificial flowers in your hair (three, at a minimum), but most important of all, of course, was the unibrow."

"Hundreds of people came together at the Dallas Museum of Art Thursday night, in an attempt to set the record for the largest gathering ever of people dressed like Mexican artist Frida Kahlo."

"Her work is on display at the museum as part of a wildly popular exhibit that also features paintings by Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco. The exhibit is among the museum's top 10 most successful since 2000, according to the Dallas Morning News, with more than 75,000 visitors as of mid-June."


60 Years Ago, 2 Boys Met And The Beatles Began

"Sixty years ago, two young musicians happened upon each other in Liverpool, England, in a meeting that would change the course of popular music forever."

"It was July 6, 1957. John Lennon, then 16, was playing with his skiffle group The Quarrymen at a church garden party in the midst of a stultifying heat wave. Paul McCartney, 15, was in the crowd, wearing a white sports jacket with a pink carnation."

"In the documentary The Beatles Anthology, McCartney remembers the spectacle of Lennon strutting around in a checked shirt,'and sort of blondish kind of hair, little bit curly, [sideburns], looking pretty cool. And he was playing one of these guitars — guaranteed not to crack, not a very good one — but he was making a very good job of it.'"


Scientists Are Not So Hot At Predicting Which Cancer Studies Will Succeed

"Science relies on the careful collection and analysis of facts. Science also benefits from human judgment, but that intuition isn't necessarily reliable. A study finds that scientists did a poor job forecasting whether a successful experiment would work on a second try."

"That matters, because scientists can waste a lot of time if they read the results from another lab and eagerly chase after bum leads."

"'There are lots of different candidates for drugs you might develop or different for research programs you might want to invest in,' says Jonathan Kimmelman, an associate professor of biomedical ethics at McGill University in Montreal. 'What you want is a way to discriminate between those investments that are going to pay off down the road, and those that are just going to fizzle.'"


You're A Firework (Scientifically Speaking)

"Take a basic firework — a mortar shell shot up into the air during Fourth of July displays. The explosive black powder in that firework contains almost the exact same amount of energy as a simple hot dog."

"The firework uses the energy in black powder to fill the sky with light. We use the energy in a hot dog to do everything — move, breathe, think, stay alive."

"And here's the surprising thing: the firework and your body use the same basic chemical process to get at that energy. Luckily, as Skunk Bear's latest video explains, our version of this reaction is a bit less explosive."

"Want to learn more about fireworks? This Skunk Bear video explains the chemistry behind their bright colors. (Hint: It has something to do with everyday table salt.)"


Tesla's Long-Awaited, Lower-Priced Model 3 To Arrive Friday

"The first-ever mass-market Tesla should roll out of the factory this week."

"CEO Elon Musk tweeted late Sunday that the company's Model 3 car 'passed all regulatory requirements for production two weeks ahead of schedule. Expecting to complete SN1 on Friday,' using an abbreviation for serial number one."

"Musk also tweeted that production would increase 'exponentially' with 100 cars in August, more than 1,500 in September and 20,000 per month in December. Musk also announced a July 28 'handover party' for the first 30 buyers of the Model 3."

"As NPR has reported, the fully electric Model 3 is expected to cover a range of 215 miles on one charge and, most notably, sell at a sticker price of $35,000 (or $27,500 after federal electric car tax credits). Until now, Tesla has sold only luxury cars at luxury prices, beginning — on the low end — at roughly double the Model 3's price."

"A successful rollout of the Model 3 is crucial for Tesla, not only for Musk's so-called 'master plan' of moving consumers to sustainable energy sources, but also for the company's financial future."


'One Of A Kind' Collection Of Animal Eyeballs Aids Research On Vision Problems

"There is a little room at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that is filled with the eyeballs of animals — everything from the duck-billed platypus to the two-toed sloth to the boa constrictor."

"'We think we're the largest collection of animal eyeballs,' says Dick Dubielzig, who founded the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin in 1983, but he admits that this is hard to prove. 'Maybe we should go to the Guinness people and see if they have an answer to that.'"

"If there's a bigger collection out there, though, he has never heard of it. And every day, the mail brings about 20 more specimens to the lab. 'About two-thirds of what we get are globes,' Dubielzig says. 'That means the whole eyeball.'"

"The collection now has more than 56,000 eye specimens. Most are from dogs, cats and horses — sent in by vets who wanted help diagnosing eye disease. But the lab also has about 6,000 specimens from more exotic species."


Wildlife Activists Plan Lawsuits To Protect Yellowstone Grizzlies

"Advocates for Yellowstone National Park's grizzly bears filed notice Friday that they're prepared to sue to reverse the bears' recent removal from the endangered species list."

"Grizzlies have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, when only 136 of them lived in the Yellowstone region, The Associated Press reports."

"The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last week that the park's population of about 700 of the iconic carnivores would no longer receive federal protections."

"AP says the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States and WildEarth Guardians are among the groups that have filed a 60-day notice of intent to block the move by suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That step is required under the Endangered Species Act and is intended to give the agency a chance to address the groups' concerns before they file a lawsuit."


Meet The Indiana Jones Of Ancient Ales And Extreme Beverages

"He's sometimes known as the Indiana Jones of his area of research – ancient ales, wines and extreme beverages. Others call him Dr. Pat."

"Patrick McGovern has spent decades searching for and analyzing the residues of fermented drinks that can be hundreds or thousands of years old – and then re-creating them."

"His latest book, Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Re-created, delves into the early history of fermentation. He takes us all the way back to supposedly drunken monkeys feasting on fermented fruit juice or honey they found, long before any human had figured out how to brew beer. And he takes us through his modern re-creations of some of these ancient brews and their cultural importance."


Sony Will Start Making Vinyl Records Again In Japan, After Nearly 30-Year Hiatus

"Sony Music is preparing to make its own vinyl records again in Japan, in another sign that albums are back from the brink of being obsolete. The company says it's installing record-cutting equipment and enlisting the help of older engineers who know how to reproduce the best sound."

"Vinyl sales have seen a resurgence since around 2008. And while records are still a small part of the market, the fact that in 2016 "a format nearly a century old generated 3.6 percent of total global revenues is remarkable," as NPR's Andrew Flanagan has reported."

"Years of double-digit growth in record sales have left vinyl press plants in the U.S., Japan, and elsewhere struggling to meet demand. Sony's plan reportedly includes the possibility that it will press records on contract."