NPR Picks


Grizzlies Have Recovered, Officials Say; Now Montanans Have To Get Along With Them

"A record number of grizzly bears are being killed by cars as they roam the roads in and around Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. At the same time, they're causing an unprecedented amount of damage to crops and livestock."

"The grizzly population in this area, known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, is growing at about 2.3 percent a year. Bear biologists estimate there are more than 1,000 bears here, inhabiting an 8 million-acre swath of land encompassing Glacier National Park and numerous national forests. It is the largest grizzly population in the continental U.S."

"The grizzly has been federally protected since 1975, but last year the Trump administration took a different population of grizzlies — the Greater Yellowstone grizzly — off the endangered species list, arguing that the population had recovered. The first grizzly hunt in the lower 48 in decades was slated to begin in Idaho and Wyoming on Sept. 1."

"But last week a federal judge in Missoula put a temporary, two-week hold on the hunt. The judge is considering a number of lawsuits challenging the decision to remove federal protections from the Yellowstone grizzlies."



The World Of An Oyster: Scientists Are Using Microphones To Spy On Reef Life

"A North Carolina State University researcher is using underwater microphones to help better understand the extensive array of animals living in the state's oyster reefs."

"In the 1600s, oysters reefs were so robust in U.S. waterways that they created a hazard for ships. But centuries of harvesting the delicious bivalve have decimated these reefs, which serve as breeding grounds for future oysters."

"That's why nearly every U.S. state with a coastline has a program to rebuild oyster reefs."

"The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's division of marine fisheries uses barges to haul massive piles of spent oyster shells and other hard materials, like granite marl and concrete, to reef sites in Pamlico Sound. They then use large water cannons to blow it all off the deck and into the shallow, sandy waters. The shells and other materials provide habitat for oyster larvae to attach to, so they can grow and be harvested."

"The fisheries division knows the reef program is good for the state's $2.4 million oyster industry. But it's still unclear what the larger impact of these reefs are in terms of increasing biodiversity."



Do Sustainable Certifications For Coffee Really Help Coffee Growers?

"Most of the time, we don't know how our coffee were made. We don't know if children's hands handled the berries when they might have been handling pencils, if workers had respirators to protect against harsh agrochemicals or if global coffee prices shafted the farmer this year. Sustainable certifications, like the Rainforest Alliance's green frog tag or Fairtrade's yellow and blue sticker, are a way people try to verify their coffee is up to a certain standard."

"But, according to a recent paper from the Center for Global Development reviewing roughly 100 studies from the last decade, it's almost impossible to tell if those certifications have any measurable effect on coffee growers. 'To do good analysis of impact, you need to plan that in from the beginning,' says Kimberly Elliott, the author of the paper and a political scientist at the Center, an economic research nonprofit. 'It's expensive to do that and, in the beginning, nobody was doing that.'"

"For example, there weren't many defined baselines for how farmers were doing before they got certified, and people weren't comparing certified farmers to similar but uncertified farmers, Elliott says. Certification organizations haven't been able to directly monitor may of the growers that they certify either, Elliott says. 'There's very little actual monitoring or measuring of the outcomes that you want to see going on,' she says. 'For example, studies suggest [after certification programs] there's more safety equipment for workers. Do they actually use it? Are they healthier? Not clear.'"



Centuries-Old Plant Collection Now Online — A Treasure Trove For Researchers

"There's a new effort underway make hundreds of thousands of dried and preserved plants collected along the East Coast available through a digital database."

"For centuries, explorers, scientists, and amateur botanists scoured the country to document and preserve plant species. Once prized like fine art, the collections were often bequeathed to institutions that housed herbaria, or libraries for plants."

"Over time these collections became obscure, and fell out of use. Aside from the occasional researcher who had to schedule an appointment to view the records, and often travel long distances, these plant collections were difficult to access for most people."

"Rick McCourt, botany curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, helps manage the oldest herbarium in North America. The herbarium has an estimated one and a half million plant species in its collection. About 35,000 plant species were collected along the East Coast."



Insulin's High Cost Leads To Lethal Rationing

"Diabetic ketoacidosis is a terrible way to die. It's what happens when you don't have enough insulin. Your blood sugar gets so high that your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate and your body stops functioning."

"Diabetic ketoacidosis is how Nicole Smith-Holt lost her son. Three days before his payday. Because he couldn't afford his insulin."

"'It shouldn't have happened,' Smith-Holt says looking down at her son's death certificate on her dining room table in Richfield, Minn. 'That cause of death of diabetic ketoacidosis should have never happened.'"

"The price of insulin in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2012 alone. That's put the life-saving hormone out of reach for some people with diabetes, like Smith-Holt's son Alec Raeshawn Smith. It's left others scrambling for solutions to afford the one thing they need to live. I'm one of those scrambling."


When Paris Empties Out In August, Some Are Happy To Stay

"You can forget working. You can also forget making a doctor's appointment, getting your car fixed, visiting your accountant or just about anything else you might want to get done. Nearly everyone is gone, and everything has to wait until September."

"With the city half-empty, many shops are shuttered. Some proprietors tape little handwritten notes to their doors announcing their fermeture annuelle."

"'Annual Closing – we will reopen September 1st,' reads the scrawled message on one of my neighborhood butcher shops."

"An American friend who recently arrived in Paris was so struck by how empty the city was that he asked me if there was some sort of French government regulation mandating that people take their vacation in August. It made me laugh, but in fact there are actually terms for those who take the month of July off and those who take August. They're called Juillettistes and Aoûtiens. The two are irreconcilable. And just when the Juillettistes are coming home, the Aoûtiens are heading out, creating the biggest traffic jams of the year."


Coffee Does Not Merit Cancer Warning Label Ordered In California, FDA Says

"The Food and Drug Administration has stepped into a simmering debate in California as to whether coffee should come with a cancer warning label."

"In March, a judge sided with a nonprofit organization called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics, which argued that coffee contains high levels of acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical compound produced as beans roast."

"Coffee companies didn't deny acrylamide's presence but argued that it was found at low levels that posed no significant health risk and was outweighed by other health benefits. That argument wasn't compelling to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle."

"He ordered coffee companies in California to carry a cancer warning label under Proposition 65, the state's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law, which requires the state to maintain a list of harmful substances and businesses to notify customers of exposure, has led to both a reduction in carcinogenic chemicals and quick settlements over labels on foods."


Survival Of The Sluggish: Scientists Find An Upside To A Low Metabolism

"New research suggests one effective evolutionary strategy: be lazy."

"Species of mollusks that are now extinct had higher metabolic rates than the species that exist today, scientists announced in a paper published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B."

"Metabolic rates are the amount of energy that organisms need to carry out their daily lives. Luke Strotz, a paleontologist and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Kansas who is lead author of the paper, says that a high basal metabolic rate has already been shown to lead to a higher likelihood of death at the individual level."

"'But that that scales up to the level of the species is probably the big finding of this study,' he tells NPR. 'That you can take something that's happening at the level of all those individuals, scale it up to this level of the species, and see that at the species level higher metabolic rates actually has an influence on the likelihood of that species actually going extinct.'"

"Researchers looked at the metabolic rates of 299 species of mollusks that have lived since the mid-Pliocene era, a span of roughly 5 million years. They specifically analyzed bivalves (clams, mussels) and gastropods (snails, slugs)."



What Makes A Human Brain Unique? A Newly Discovered Neuron May Be A Clue

"Scientists have taken another step toward understanding what makes the human brain unique."

"An international team has identified a kind of brain cell that exists in people but not mice, the team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience."

"'This particular type of cell had properties that had never actually been described in another species,' says Ed Lein, one of the study's authors and an investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle."

"The finding could help explain why many experimental treatments for brain disorders have worked in mice, but failed in people. It could also provide new clues to scientists who study human brain disorders ranging from autism to Alzheimer's disease to schizophrenia."

"'It may be that in order to fully understand psychiatric disorders, we need to get access to these special types of neurons that exist only in humans,' says Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped fund the research."

"Researchers have suggested several other brain cells that might be unique to humans. But these cells have either been found in other species, or the evidence for them has been less convincing."


In Psychology And Other Social Sciences, Many Studies Fail The Reproducibility Test

"The world of social science got a rude awakening a few years ago, when researchers concluded that many studies in this area appeared to be deeply flawed. Two-thirds could not be replicated in other labs."

"Some of those same researchers now report those problems still frequently crop up, even in the most prestigious scientific journals."

"But their study, published Monday in Nature Human Behaviour, also finds that social scientists can actually sniff out the dubious results with remarkable skill."

"First, the findings. Brian Nosek, a psychology researcher at the University of Virginia and the executive director of the Center for Open Science, decided to focus on social science studies published in the most prominent journals, Science and Nature."

"'Some people have hypothesized that, because they're the most prominent outlets they'd have the highest rigor,' Nosek says. 'Others have hypothesized that the most prestigious outlets are also the ones that are most likely to select for very 'sexy' findings, and so may be actually less reproducible.'"



Life With Leonard Bernstein

"Jamie Bernstein can't call her childhood a typical one. On any given weekend, she might find Lauren Bacall, Isaac Stern, Richard Avedon, Mike Nichols, Stephen Sondheim, Lillian Hellman or Sidney Lumet hanging out at her house. Jamie's father was Leonard Bernstein."

"The celebrated conductor, composer of West Side Story and host of television's Young People's Concerts was born 100 years ago, Aug. 25, 1918. To mark the centennial, Jamie Bernstein has published Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein, a frank recollection of family life and the struggle to find herself amid the "blinding light" that was Leonard Bernstein, who died in 1990."

"Jamie Bernstein calls her father 'a handful' who could be obnoxious. But she also remembers his warmth, genius, quick wit and the power of his sometimes misunderstood music. From her Manhattan home, Jamie Bernstein spoke openly about her book, why she chose talking about music rather than making it herself, and about her life growing up the child of one of America's most recognizable personalities."



No Amount Of Alcohol Is Good For Your Health, Global Study Say

"Countless scientific studies have espoused the idea that a glass of red wine a day can be good for the heart, but a new, sweeping global study published in The Lancet on Friday rejects the notion that any drinking can be healthy."

"No amount of alcohol is safe, according to The Global Burden of Diseases study, which analyzed levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016."

"While the study's authors say that moderate drinking may safeguard people against heart disease, they found that the potential to develop cancer and other diseases offsets these potential benefits, as do other risks of harm. The report urges governments to revise health guidelines to suggest lower levels of consumption."

"'Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none,' the report states. 'This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day.'"

"The study looked at a broad range of risks posed by alcohol consumption, including diseases, driving accidents and self-harm. According to the report, alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for disease worldwide, the study found, accounting for almost 10 percent of deaths among those ages 15 to 49."



Drought In Central Europe Reveals Cautionary 'Hunger Stones' In Czech River

"A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as "hunger stones," that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences."

"The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany."

"'Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border,' the AP writes."

"One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words 'Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine': 'If you see me, weep.'"

"A team of Czech researchers described that stone in detail in a 2013 paper about the history of droughts in Czech lands."

"The stone is also chiseled with 'the years of hardship and the initials of authors lost to history," the researchers wrote:'

It expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people. Before 1900, the following droughts are commemorated on the stone: 1417, 1616, 1707, 1746, 1790, 1800, 1811, 1830, 1842, 1868, 1892, and 1893."


Ancient Bone Reveals Surprising Sex Lives Of Neanderthals

"In the Altai mountains of southern Siberia, there's a cave that was inhabited for millennia. It's called Denisova, and it shelters something remarkable: the bones of different types of ancient human relatives."

"Back in 2010, researchers analyzed a fossilized pinky finger bone found in the cave, and discovered a whole new branch of the human family tree. They were dubbed Denisovans: a group of now-extinct hominins genetically different from either Neanderthals or modern humans, who were roaming the planet at the same time."

"After that discovery, researchers kept sifting through thousands of bone fragments in the cave, many of them from animals, until they found one that seemed like it could be from some kind of human relative. It turned out to belong to a young female who lived 90,000 years ago, whom they call Denisova 11."

"Now they have sequenced her genome, and as they announced in Nature on Wednesday, they found something quite surprising: She had a Neanderthal for a mother and a Denisovan for a father."



World's Largest Shipping Company Heads Into Arctic As Global Warming Opens The Way

"Maersk, the world's largest container line, is about to test the frigid waters of the Arctic in a trial of shorter shipping lanes that could become viable as warmer temperatures open up the Northern Sea Route."

"On or around Sept. 1, Denmark-based Maersk plans to send its first container ship through the Arctic to explore whether the once inhospitable route could become feasible in the future. Many analysts see the test as a turning point for both the shipping industry and the Arctic."

"Over the past decade, as Earth has warmed, global shipping companies have increasingly eyed the Arctic as a way to cut precious — and expensive — travel time. Some shipping companies, including Maersk's main rival, China-based Cosco, are already plying Arctic waters carrying heavy equipment, such as wind turbines."

"However, conditions have been seen as too harsh and unpredictable for massive shipping containers. Now Maersk is going to give it a try with what it says is a one-off voyage. It is sending the Venta Maersk — a new ship with a reinforced hull and a capacity of 3,600 containers — into the polar sea."



Alleged Nazi Labor Camp Guard Deported To Germany

"U.S. officials say a 95-year-old former Nazi labor camp guard named Jakiw Palij who lied about his wartime work when he immigrated to the United States has been deported to Germany."

"Palij, who lived in Queens in New York City, was investigated and denaturalized more than a decade ago. His deportation was ordered in 2004. But for years, no country would take him in."

"On Monday, he was sent to Germany, according to the State Department. The Department of Justice says Palij is the 68th Nazi removed from the U.S."

"Palij has previously denied that he worked at a camp, and maintained that he served as a Nazi guard only because his family was threatened."

"In a statement, the White House praised the work of administration agencies, particularly Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, in deporting Palij."


South Koreans Prepare For Rare Family Reunions With Long-Lost Relatives In The North

"In August 1950, 14-year-old Ahn Seung-choon was still asleep at home early one morning when her mother woke her up, screaming that her 17-year-old brother had been taken by North Korean soldiers."

"'Someone took your brother, and you are still sleeping!' Ahn recalls her mother shouting. Her mother had tried to chase the boy and his abductors, but she had babies to take care of at home and couldn't follow them for long."

"'After that day, we didn't hear anything about him,' Ahn says 68 years later in Suwon, a city south of the capital Seoul."

"The summer of 1950 marked the start of a brutal three years for Ahn, now 82, and millions of other Koreans caught up in a war that involved the U.S., China and the United Nations. The Cold War conflict left more than 3 million Koreans dead, wounded or missing."

"Amid fighting, Ahn and her family fled their village near Pyeongchang; she was wounded in a bombing as she and her mother and siblings crossed a mountain pass."



Should You Get That Scan? Your Doctor Might Not Be Great At Helping You Decide

"Your doctor probably nags you to schedule cancer screening tests like mammograms and colonoscopies. These tests, after all, can be life-saving, and most doctors want to make sure you get them done."

"But when it comes to explaining the ways that certain screenings can cause you harm, your doctor may not be doing such a good job."

"A study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at how well doctors talked about the risks and benefits of lung cancer screening — and, well, they could use some help."

"The study was small — only 14 doctors' visits were evaluated — but it examined uncensored conversations between doctors and patients, providing a window into what actually goes on in the exam room."

"Published as part of a JAMA series called Less Is More, the study is part of a growing body of research on the costs — both financial and otherwise — of too much treatment and testing."


A Grand Noodle Riddle, Cracked: Here's How To Snap Spaghetti Into Just 2 Pieces

"Perhaps you've heard that classic anecdote about Richard Feynman, the Nobel-winning theoretical physicist, who famously spent hours with a buddy puzzling over why uncooked spaghetti always breaks into more than two pieces."

"Perhaps you're one of those incorrigible monsters who break their pasta before boiling it (how dare you) and wonder why you end up having to vacuum afterward."

"Or perhaps you have no idea what we're talking about. In which case, just watch this slow-motion video of spaghetti snapping, set to some truly moving piano music."

"Whatever the case may be, you've probably noticed there's a mystery here: Why the hell doesn't spaghetti just snap in half — and is there anything in this wide world that can make it actually do so?"

"As it turns out, a pair of scientists figured out the answer to that first question more than a decade ago: Essentially, the dry noodle bends before it breaks, so that when it breaks, it does so with more power, sending vibrations racing back through the remaining pieces, bending and breaking them in turn. The discovery won them an Ig Nobel for silly or surprising research — but it did not, in fact, answer how anyone can overcome this effect and make a single clean break."



'Respect' Wasn't A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One

"On this day 50 years ago, a little-known gospel singer from Detroit went into a New York City recording studio to try to jump-start her career. No one saw it coming, but the song Aretha Franklin laid down on Valentine's Day 1967 would go on to become one of the greatest recordings of all time."

"'Respect' hit the top of the charts four months later and turned Aretha Franklin into a feminist champion. The track was actually a clever gender-bending of a song by Otis Redding, whose original reinforced the traditional family structure of the time: Man works all day, brings money home to wife and demands her respect in return."

"Franklin's version blew that structure to bits. For one, Redding's song doesn't spell out "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" like Franklin's does. It also doesn't have the backup singers and their clever interplay. So much of what made 'Respect' a hit — and an anthem — came from Franklin's rearrangement. She remembered how it all came together when she spoke with WHYY's Fresh Air in 1999."