NPR Picks


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."


You Don't Have To Go No-Carb: Instead, Think Slow Carb

"It's trendy to go low-carb these days, even no carb. And, yes, this can lead to quick weight loss."

"But ditching carbs is tough to do over the long haul. For starters, you're swimming upstream. On average, adults in the U.S. get about 50 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. And, if you truly cut out all carbs, you'll have to give up fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans — which are the building blocks of a healthy diet."

"So, why do carbs get such a bad rap? Well, as we discuss in our new Life Kit podcast, a lot of us are choosing the wrong kind of carbs."

"'We've known for decades that different foods affect the body differently,' says Dr. David Ludwig. He's a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center Boston Children's Hospital."


Before Black Lung, The Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster Killed Hundreds

"Southern West Virginia is a playground for hikers, cyclists and rock climbers, but in the heart of that lush landscape rests the site of what many consider the worst industrial disaster in American history."

"Today, from a picturesque overlook on the mountain above, tourists can see the gate of the Hawks Nest Tunnel, located on the New River in Gauley Bridge. There, water rushes through 16,240 feet of steel and rock."

"But almost 90 years ago, thick clouds of dust blurred the eyes and choked the lungs of workers inside the tunnel. The project attracted thousands of men, hoping to find work during the Great Depression. Three-fourths were African-Americans fleeing the South."

"To these men, going to West Virginia was like going to heaven — a new land, a new promised land — and when they got here, they found that they had ended up in a hellhole," says Matthew Watts, a minister and amateur historian in Charleston, W.Va."

"Hundreds of workers would die after working in the tunnel from exposure to toxic silica dust, a mineral that slices the lung like shards of glass."



You Don't Look A Day Over 100 Million, Rings Of Saturn

"Saturn is famous for its lovely rings, but a new study suggests the planet has spent most of its 4.5 billion years without them."

"That's because the rings are likely only 10 million to 100 million years old, according to a newly published report in the journal Science that's based on findings from NASA's Cassini probe."

"Cassini spent some 13 years orbiting Saturn before plunging down and slamming into its atmosphere. During its final orbits, the spacecraft dove between the planet and its rings. That let scientists measure the gravitational effect of the rings and get a good estimate of the ring material's mass."

What they found is that it's only about 40 percent of the mass of Saturn's moon Mimas, which is way smaller than Earth's moon.



Heads-Up For Sunday, A Super 'Blood Moon' Is On The Way

"A full 62 luxurious minutes of totality," says Sky and Telescope Magazine.

"The Only Total Lunar Eclipse of 2019," promises NASA.

"This full moon will appear to be one of the largest of 2019," reports

"North and South America will get the best view of the super "blood moon," as it's known, but Europeans and Africans will also be able to watch (weather permitting). So, let's break down the hype, starting with the eclipse."

"Unlike a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, a total lunar eclipse occurs when Earth aligns to block the sun's light from the moon. That can only happen when the moon is on the opposite side of Earth from the sun. About once a month, a full moon is visible when it nears that far point and shines brightly as Earth covers up most of the sun. But approximately once a year, as the moon travels along its tilted axis, it ends up directly behind Earth and is thrust into near darkness."

  • "At 9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, the moon will start to creep into the part of Earth's shadow known as the penumbra. Not much darkening will be visible yet, according to NASA.
  • By 10:33 p.m. ET, you should see Earth's shadow start to move across the surface of the moon, growing larger and larger and larger until it completely covers it up.
  • 11:41 p.m. ET will mark the totality of the eclipse, as the moon is fully shaded by Earth. That's where the "blood" comes in. There's no violence involved. Instead, the term comes from a reddening of the moon as light leaks around the edge of Earth."

Matchmaking Scientists Find Romeo The Frog His Own Juliet

"While Shakespeare's Romeo spent only about two days banished in Mantua, away from his beloved Juliet, Romeo the frog has remained in complete isolation — sans love interest, cousins, friars or friends — living in a laboratory for the last 10 years. But that's all about to change."

"The world-famous amphibian was believed to have been the last of his kind – a Bolivian Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare) – and lived under the protection of researchers at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d'Orbigny in Cochabamba City. They have made it their mission to find Romeo a special lady friend who might respond positively to his plaintive mating calls and help save the species from becoming extinct."

"Year after year, scientist scoured Bolivia's cloud forests for signs of other googly-eyed, orange-bellied Sehuencas, but they've always come up empty, until recently."

"On Tuesday, the museum's chief of herpetology, Teresa Camacho Badani, announced that after days of searching, her expedition team had found five healthy frogs, including two females. One is a little young for the frog-world's hottest bachelor, but the second, named Juliet (naturally), appears to be an ideal match of reproductive age."



One Of The Last Navajo Code Talkers Dies At 94

"One of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers, who relayed messages that were never decoded by enemies in World War II, has died at age 94."

"Alfred Newman died Sunday afternoon at a New Mexico nursing home, one of his sons, Kevin Newman, tells NPR."

"He says his father was a quiet yet courageous man. 'My dad told me that the U.S. was in trouble and when they were calling for him, he needed to answer that call with the armed forces,' he says."

"As a boy, Alfred Newman attended a boarding school that, like many schools at the time, forbade Indian students from speaking in their native tongue, Dine."

"That complex language proved to be vital to the United States during World War II. As the Japanese cracked classified U.S. military codes, armed forces turned to members of the Navajo Nation. The messages they transmitted in the Pacific Theater were impenetrable to enemies."



A Surgeon Reflects On Death, Life And The 'Incredible Gift' Of Organ Transplant

"When Joshua Mezrich was a medical student on the first day of surgical rotation, he was called into the operating room to witness a kidney transplant."

"What he saw that day changed him."

"After the donor kidney came out of ice and the clamps on it were released, he says, 'it turned pink and literally, in front of my eyes, this urine just started squirting out onto the field.'"

"Mezrich was blown away: 'I just had this sense like, 'This is so amazing, what we're doing, and what an incredible gift. And could I ever do this? Could I ever be part of this exchange, this beautiful thing?' "

He went on to become a transplant surgeon and has since performed hundreds of kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. He also has assisted in operations involving other organs.

Each organ responds to transplant in a different way.