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Big Picture Science

Seth Shostak, Molly Bentley, SETI Institute

503
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8.1K
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Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

Seth Shostak, Molly Bentley, SETI Institute

503
Followers
8.1K
Plays
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About Us

The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

Latest Episodes

Soap, Skin, Sleep

Some safeguards against COVID-19 don’t require a medical breakthrough. Catching sufficient Z’s makes for a healthy immune system. And, while you wash your hands for the umpteenth time, we'll explain how soap sends viruses down the drain. Plus, your body’s largest organ – skin – is your first line of defense against the pandemic and is also neglected because of it. Find out why we're suffering from "skin hunger" during this crisis. Guests: Cody Cassidy– Author, “Who Ate the First Oyster: The Extraordinary People Behind the Greatest Firsts in History.” Nina Jablonski– Anthropologist, paleobiologist at Pennsylvania State University and author of “Skin: A Natural History.” Eti Ben Simon– Neuroscientist and sleep researcher,Center for Human Sleep Science, University of California, Berkeley

51 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Soap, Skin, Sleep

Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)

Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road. But will Alexa laugh atyourjokes? Will she groan at your puns? Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I. Find out what’s involved in tickling A.I.’s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite debate about the wisdom of transmitting messages to space, one group sends radio signals to E.T. anyway. Find out how they crafted a non-verbal message and what it contained. Plus, why using nuanced language to connive and scheme ultimately turned us into a more peaceful species. And yes, it’s all gouda: why melted cheese may be the cosmic message of peace we need. Guests: Julia Rayz–Computer scientist and associate professor at Purdue University’s Department of Computer and Informat...

51 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)

Vaccine, When?

It will be the shot heard ‘round the world, once it comes. But exactly when can we expect a COVID vaccine? We discuss timelines, how it would work, who’s involved, and the role of human challenge trials. Also, although he doesn’t consider himself brave, we do. Meet a Seattle volunteer enrolled in the first coronavirus vaccine trial. And, while we mount an elaborate defense against a formidable foe, scientists ask a surprising question: is a virus even alive? Guests: Nigel Brown– Emeritus Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh Ian Haydon– Public information specialist at the University of Washington, Seattle Bonnie Maldonado– Professor of Pediatrics and InfectiousDiseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine Paul Offit– Head of the Vaccine Education Center, and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

51 MIN2 w ago
Comments
Vaccine, When?

To the Bat Cave

To fight a pandemic, you need to first understand where a virus comes from. That quest takes disease ecologist Jon Epstein to gloomy caverns where bats hang out. There he checks up on hundreds of the animals as his team from the EcoHealth Alliance trace the origins of disease-causing viruses.But their important work is facing its own threat; the Trump administration recently terminated funding to the Alliance because of its collaboration with Chinese scientists. Hear how Dr. Epstein finds the viruses, what kind of human activity triggers outbreaks, and how science counters the unsubstantiated claim that the virus escaped from a lab. Guests: Jon Epstein–Veterinary epidemiologist with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance Meredith Wadman–Staff writer for the journalScience.Read her article about the cancellation of the NIH bat coronavirus grant.

51 MIN3 w ago
Comments
To the Bat Cave

Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)

A new theory about life’s origins updates Darwin’s warm little pond. Scientists say they’ve created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life. Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose as an inevitable consequence of matter shape-shifting to dissipate heat. Could physics be the driving force behind life’s emergence? Guests: Caleb Scharf–Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, New York Laurie Barge– Research scientist in astrobiology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Bruce Damer–Research scientist in biomolecular engineering, University of California, Jeremy England–Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

51 MINMAY 4
Comments
Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)

Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy

Nature abhors a vacuum, but conspiracy theorists love one.While we wait for scientists to nail down the how and why of the coronavirus, opportunists have jumped into the void, peddling DIY testing kits and fake COVID cures like colloidal silver.They’ve even cooked up full-blown conspiracy theories about a lab-grown virus. Find out why this crisis has dished up more than the usual share of misinformation and hucksterism, and how these interfere with our ability to navigate it safely. Guests: Whitney Phillips- Professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, and author of three books, most recentlyYou Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polluted Information Joan Donovan- Research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

51 MINAPR 27
Comments
Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy

Treating the Virus

Treating the Virus It’s not like waiting for Godot, because he never arrived. A coronavirus vaccine will come. But it is still months away. Meanwhile, scientists are adding other weapons to our growing arsenal against this virus. The development of antibody tests, antibody cures, and antivirals offer hope that we can soon have the tools to battle those who’ve been sickened by the COVID-19 virus while we wait for the inoculation that will prevent it. Guests: Deepta Bhattacharya– Immunologist at the University of Arizona whose lab is making a coronavirus antibody test. Mark Denison–Professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

50 MINAPR 20
Comments
Treating the Virus

The Other Living World

Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer. He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible for us to reconnect not just with humanity, but also with the other living world? Guest: Carl Safina–An ecologist and McArthur Fellow who writes extensively about the human relationship with the natural world. He is the founding president of the Safina Center, a professor at Stony Brook University, and author of many books – most recently, “Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace”

50 MINAPR 13
Comments
The Other Living World

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks

What do a zombie attack and a viral pandemic have in common? They are both frightening, mindless, and relentless in their assault. And both require preparedness. That’s why the author of “World War Z” – a story about a battle against zombies – lectures at West Point. Max Brooks has also recorded a public service announcement with his celebrated father, Mel Brooks, touting the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. His newest novel portrays a different assailant: Bigfoot. Whether our enemy is the undead, a hirsute forest dweller, or an invisible virus, panic won’t help us survive. Find out what will. Guest: Max Brooks–Lecturer at West Point’s Modern War Institute. Author of “Zombie Survival Guide,” “World War Z,” and the forthcoming “Devolution.”

50 MINAPR 6
Comments
Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks

Let's Take a Paws

Humans aren’t the only animals stressed-out by social distancing. Narwhals send out echolocation clicks to locate their buddies and ease their loneliness. And a plant about to be chomped by a caterpillar knows that the world can be a scary place. In this episode, from dogs to narwhals to plants, we put aside human-centric stories to find out how other living creatures map their world, deal with stress, and communicate. Guests: Alexandra Horowitz–Dog cognition researcher, Barnard College, and author of "Being A Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.” Susanna Blackwell–Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences Simon Gilroy–Professor of botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison

50 MINMAR 30
Comments
Let's Take a Paws

Latest Episodes

Soap, Skin, Sleep

Some safeguards against COVID-19 don’t require a medical breakthrough. Catching sufficient Z’s makes for a healthy immune system. And, while you wash your hands for the umpteenth time, we'll explain how soap sends viruses down the drain. Plus, your body’s largest organ – skin – is your first line of defense against the pandemic and is also neglected because of it. Find out why we're suffering from "skin hunger" during this crisis. Guests: Cody Cassidy– Author, “Who Ate the First Oyster: The Extraordinary People Behind the Greatest Firsts in History.” Nina Jablonski– Anthropologist, paleobiologist at Pennsylvania State University and author of “Skin: A Natural History.” Eti Ben Simon– Neuroscientist and sleep researcher,Center for Human Sleep Science, University of California, Berkeley

51 MIN4 d ago
Comments
Soap, Skin, Sleep

Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)

Your virtual assistant is not without a sense of humor. Its repertoire includes the classic story involving a chicken and a road. But will Alexa laugh atyourjokes? Will she groan at your puns? Telling jokes is one thing. Teaching a computer to recognize humor is another, because a clear definition of humor is lacking. But doing so is a step toward making more natural interactions with A.I. Find out what’s involved in tickling A.I.’s funny bone. Also, an interstellar communication challenge: Despite debate about the wisdom of transmitting messages to space, one group sends radio signals to E.T. anyway. Find out how they crafted a non-verbal message and what it contained. Plus, why using nuanced language to connive and scheme ultimately turned us into a more peaceful species. And yes, it’s all gouda: why melted cheese may be the cosmic message of peace we need. Guests: Julia Rayz–Computer scientist and associate professor at Purdue University’s Department of Computer and Informat...

51 MIN1 w ago
Comments
Gained in Translation (rebroadcast)

Vaccine, When?

It will be the shot heard ‘round the world, once it comes. But exactly when can we expect a COVID vaccine? We discuss timelines, how it would work, who’s involved, and the role of human challenge trials. Also, although he doesn’t consider himself brave, we do. Meet a Seattle volunteer enrolled in the first coronavirus vaccine trial. And, while we mount an elaborate defense against a formidable foe, scientists ask a surprising question: is a virus even alive? Guests: Nigel Brown– Emeritus Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh Ian Haydon– Public information specialist at the University of Washington, Seattle Bonnie Maldonado– Professor of Pediatrics and InfectiousDiseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine Paul Offit– Head of the Vaccine Education Center, and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

51 MIN2 w ago
Comments
Vaccine, When?

To the Bat Cave

To fight a pandemic, you need to first understand where a virus comes from. That quest takes disease ecologist Jon Epstein to gloomy caverns where bats hang out. There he checks up on hundreds of the animals as his team from the EcoHealth Alliance trace the origins of disease-causing viruses.But their important work is facing its own threat; the Trump administration recently terminated funding to the Alliance because of its collaboration with Chinese scientists. Hear how Dr. Epstein finds the viruses, what kind of human activity triggers outbreaks, and how science counters the unsubstantiated claim that the virus escaped from a lab. Guests: Jon Epstein–Veterinary epidemiologist with the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance Meredith Wadman–Staff writer for the journalScience.Read her article about the cancellation of the NIH bat coronavirus grant.

51 MIN3 w ago
Comments
To the Bat Cave

Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)

A new theory about life’s origins updates Darwin’s warm little pond. Scientists say they’ve created the building blocks of biology in steaming hot springs. Meanwhile, we visit a NASA lab where scientists simulate deep-sea vent chemistry to produce the type of environment that might spawn life. Which site is best suited for producing biology from chemistry? Find out how the conditions of the early Earth were different from today, how meteors seeded Earth with organics, and a provocative idea that life arose as an inevitable consequence of matter shape-shifting to dissipate heat. Could physics be the driving force behind life’s emergence? Guests: Caleb Scharf–Director of Astrobiology at Columbia University, New York Laurie Barge– Research scientist in astrobiology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Bruce Damer–Research scientist in biomolecular engineering, University of California, Jeremy England–Physicist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

51 MINMAY 4
Comments
Is Life Inevitable? (Rebroadcast)

Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy

Nature abhors a vacuum, but conspiracy theorists love one.While we wait for scientists to nail down the how and why of the coronavirus, opportunists have jumped into the void, peddling DIY testing kits and fake COVID cures like colloidal silver.They’ve even cooked up full-blown conspiracy theories about a lab-grown virus. Find out why this crisis has dished up more than the usual share of misinformation and hucksterism, and how these interfere with our ability to navigate it safely. Guests: Whitney Phillips- Professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, and author of three books, most recentlyYou Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polluted Information Joan Donovan- Research director at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

51 MINAPR 27
Comments
Skeptic Check: Covid Conspiracy

Treating the Virus

Treating the Virus It’s not like waiting for Godot, because he never arrived. A coronavirus vaccine will come. But it is still months away. Meanwhile, scientists are adding other weapons to our growing arsenal against this virus. The development of antibody tests, antibody cures, and antivirals offer hope that we can soon have the tools to battle those who’ve been sickened by the COVID-19 virus while we wait for the inoculation that will prevent it. Guests: Deepta Bhattacharya– Immunologist at the University of Arizona whose lab is making a coronavirus antibody test. Mark Denison–Professor of pathology, microbiology, and immunology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

50 MINAPR 20
Comments
Treating the Virus

The Other Living World

Reason for hope is just one thing that ecologist Carl Safina can offer. He understands why many of us turn to nature to find solace during this stressful time. Safina studies the challenges facing the ultimate survival of many species, but also gives a portrait of animals from their point of view. He describes how diverse animals such as sperm whales, bear cubs, macaws, and chickens deal with uncertainty, and assert their quirky individuality while learning to become part of a community. So is it possible for us to reconnect not just with humanity, but also with the other living world? Guest: Carl Safina–An ecologist and McArthur Fellow who writes extensively about the human relationship with the natural world. He is the founding president of the Safina Center, a professor at Stony Brook University, and author of many books – most recently, “Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace”

50 MINAPR 13
Comments
The Other Living World

Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks

What do a zombie attack and a viral pandemic have in common? They are both frightening, mindless, and relentless in their assault. And both require preparedness. That’s why the author of “World War Z” – a story about a battle against zombies – lectures at West Point. Max Brooks has also recorded a public service announcement with his celebrated father, Mel Brooks, touting the importance of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. His newest novel portrays a different assailant: Bigfoot. Whether our enemy is the undead, a hirsute forest dweller, or an invisible virus, panic won’t help us survive. Find out what will. Guest: Max Brooks–Lecturer at West Point’s Modern War Institute. Author of “Zombie Survival Guide,” “World War Z,” and the forthcoming “Devolution.”

50 MINAPR 6
Comments
Zombies, Bigfoot, and Max Brooks

Let's Take a Paws

Humans aren’t the only animals stressed-out by social distancing. Narwhals send out echolocation clicks to locate their buddies and ease their loneliness. And a plant about to be chomped by a caterpillar knows that the world can be a scary place. In this episode, from dogs to narwhals to plants, we put aside human-centric stories to find out how other living creatures map their world, deal with stress, and communicate. Guests: Alexandra Horowitz–Dog cognition researcher, Barnard College, and author of "Being A Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell.” Susanna Blackwell–Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences Simon Gilroy–Professor of botany, University of Wisconsin, Madison

50 MINMAR 30
Comments
Let's Take a Paws

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