Undiscovered

Undiscovered

By Science Friday and WNYC Studios

A podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.

Episodes

New Show: Science Diction

Hello Undiscovered fans! We're here to tell you about a new show we've been working on at Science Friday. Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Hosted by SciFri producer and self-proclaimed word nerd Johanna Mayer, each episode of Science Diction digs into the origin of a single word or phrase, and, with the help of historians, authors, etymologists, and scientists, reveals a surprising science connection. Here's a sneak peek!
08/03/202m 7s

Spontaneous Generation

These days, biologists believe all living things come from other living things. But for a long time, people believed that life would, from time to time, spontaneously pop into existence more often—and not just that one time at the base of the evolutionary tree. Even the likes of Aristotle believed in the “spontaneous generation” of life, until Louis Pasteur debunked the theory—or so the story goes.  In a famous set of experiments, Pasteur showed that when you take a broth, boil it to kill all the microscopic organisms floating inside, and don’t let any dust get in, it stays dead. No life will spontaneously emerge.  His experiments have been considered a win for science—but according to historian James Strick, they might have actually been a win for religion.  This episode originally aired on Science Friday, when Elah joined Ira Flatow and science historian, James Strick, to find out what scientists of Pasteur’s day really thought of his experiment, the role the Catholic church played in shutting down “spontaneous generation,” and why even Darwin did his best to dodge the topic.   FOOTNOTES Though Darwin was bold enough to go public with his theory of evolution, he seemed to shy away from the spontaneous generation debate. But his theory inevitably invited the question: if life could spontaneously arise once on Earth, why not many times? James Strick writes about Darwin’s complicated relationship with spontaneous generation. The basic premise of Louis Pasteur’s famous swan-necked flask experiment is shown below. The swan necks let life-nourishing air into the flask, but kept potentially contaminating dust out. Louis Pasteur's spontaneous generation experiment illustrates the fact that the spoilage of liquid was caused by particles in the air rather than the air itself. These experiments were important piece (Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)   GUEST James Strick, associate professor at Franklin and Marshall College   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Alexa Lim. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. 
11/12/1920m 21s

Into The Ether

In 1880, scientist Albert Michelson set out to build a device to measure something every 19th century physicist knew just had to be there. The “luminiferous ether” was invisible and pervaded all of space. It helped explain how light traveled, and how electromagnetic waves waved. Ether theory even underpinned Maxwell’s famous equations! One problem: When Alfred Michaelson ran his machine, the ether wasn’t there.  Science historian David Kaiser walks Annie and Science Friday host Ira Flatow through Michaelson’s famous experiment, and explains how a wrong idea led to some very real scientific breakthroughs. This story first aired on Science Friday.   GUEST David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, Professor of Physics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology   FOOTNOTES Find out more about the Michelson-Morley experiment on APS Physics.  Read an archival article from the New York Times about the physicists’ experimental “failure.”   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Annie Minoff and Christopher Intagliata. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. 
04/12/1918m 15s

Planet Of The Killer Apes

In Apartheid-era South Africa, a scientist uncovered a cracked, proto-human jawbone. That humble fossil would go on to inspire one of the most blood-spattered theories in all of paleontology: the Killer Ape theory.  According to the Killer Ape theory, humans are killers—unique among the apes for our capacity for bloodthirsty murder and violence. And at a particularly violent moment in U.S. history, the idea stuck! It even made its way into one of the most iconic scenes in film history. Until a female chimp named Passion showed the world that we might not be so special after all.   GUESTS Erika Milam, professor of history, Princeton University Agustín Fuentes, professor of anthropology, Notre Dame   FOOTNOTES Erika Milam’s book Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America, elaborates on the Killer Ape theory. Robert Ardrey’s African Genesis, published in 1961, tells his account of the Killer Ape theory and his visit with Dr. Raymond Dart. Dr. Raymond Dart’s own narrative of his theory can be found in The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man. (Warning: bloody, over-the-top language ahead!) [requires log-in] Read more about Australopithecus africanus. Jane Goodall shared her chronicles of Gombe’s chimp war, Life and Death at Gombe for National Geographic. [requires log-in] Watch the 1965 documentary Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees. Learn more about murderous meerkats.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata and our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Charles Bergquist. The free version of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra is by Kevin MacLeod.
27/11/1923m 52s

Like Jerry Springer For Bluebirds

“Do men need to cheat on their women?” a Playboy headline asked in the summer of 1978. Their not-so-surprising conclusion: Yes! Science says so! The idea that men are promiscuous by nature, while women are chaste and monogamous, is an old and tenacious one. As far back as Darwin, scientists were churning out theory and evidence that backed this up. In this episode, Annie and Elah go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when feminism and science come face to face, and it becomes clear that a lot of animals—humans and bluebirds included—are not playing by the rules.   GUESTS Angela Saini, author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong Patricia Adair Gowaty, professor emeritus at UCLA, editor of Feminism and Evolutionary Biology.   FOOTNOTES Sarah B. Hrdy is an anthropologist, feminist, and a major figure in this chapter of science history. In this book chapter she addresses the myth of the “coy female” and reviews the relevant scientific happenings of the 1970s and 80s, especially in the primatology sphere. Angus John Bateman’s 1948 paper about fruit fly mating and reproductive success, popularized by this paper from Robert Trivers in 1972. Bateman finds that males have more reproductive success the more females they mate with, and that females don’t benefit as much from mating with multiple males. Patty Adair Gowaty found holes in Bateman’s study. Bateman didn’t know exactly how many sexual partners his fruit flies had because he didn’t watch them. Instead, he counted up how many offspring they made. Unfortunately, a lot of them had harmful mutations and died—skewing his numbers. Not only do they not meet Mendelian expectations, but in Bateman’s data, he consistently counts more fathers than mothers—which can’t be right, since every baby fly has one mother and one father. Patty found that eastern bluebird females successfully raise offspring without help from their male partners. Patty and Alvan Karlin found that eastern bluebird babies aren’t always related to the parents raising them. True “genetic monogamy,” where bird couples only have sex with each other, appears to be the exception, not the rule in passerines. Polyandry—where females have sex with multiple males—has been found most of the species studied! In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a psychology study at Florida State University found that most men, and no women would accept a sex invitation from a stranger. In this more recent Germany study, 97% of the women expressed interest in sex with at least one strange man, but only when researchers promised to arrange a (relatively) safe encounter.  Btw, Patty tells us bluebirds don’t actually have sex in the nest, so having sex “outside the nest” is the norm. We were using the expression figuratively, but worth noting. The nest is really for storing the babies.   CREDITS This episode was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata. Fact checking by Robin Palmer. I Am Robot and Proud wrote our theme. All other music by Daniel Peterschmidt.
20/11/1925m 46s

Mini: The Undercover Botanist

In 1767, a young French servant boarded a ship and sailed around the world, collecting plants previously unknown to Western science. The ship’s crew knew the servant as “Jean,” the scrappy aide to the expedition’s botanist. But “Jean” had a secret. She was actually Jeanne Baret, a woman disguised as a man—and she was about to make botanical history.  Annie and Elah recently told this story for a live audience at On Air Fest. Here are some of the pictures from that talk. There are, of course, no photos of Jeanne Baret, but we do have this portrait of her as imagined by an unknown artist a few years after her death. (Via Wikimedia Commons)   Philibert Commerson, the botanist on the expedition, Baret’s boss, and believed to be her lover as well. (By P. Pagnier via Wikimedia Commons)   A plant collected on Baret's expedition over 200 years ago! Many specimens from that expedition are still kept in plant libraries around the world. We don’t know which ones she collected herself herself—they’re all credited to Commerson—but we know she did a lot of his collecting. (The New York Botanical Garden)   Blossoming bougainvillea at The New York Botanical Garden. It’s the most famous plant collected on that 18th century expedition, and it’s named after the expedition leader, Louis Antoine de Bougainville. (Credit: Elah Feder)   Science’s “hidden figures” can be very hidden! This woman was the only person not identified in this photo from the 1971 International Conference on the Biology of Whales. Thanks so much for all the retweets, everybody!Here is a close-up of Mystery Woman, unfortunately mostly blocked from the camera.The conference was in June (1971) in Virginia, with participants from 10 countries. Why is *the only* woman listed as "not identified?" Arg! pic.twitter.com/eweEB1q9c9 — Candace Jean Andersen (@mycandacejean) March 9, 2018 After a massive Twitter campaign, the unnamed woman was identified as Sheila Minor, then an animal tech at the Smithsonian Museum.   Jeanne Baret finally has a plant named after her thanks to botanist Eric Tepe, who named a Solanum species after Baret in 2012. Behold Solanum baretiae! (Credit: Eric Tepe)   FOOTNOTES What’s known about the mysterious Jeanne Baret? Check out Glynis Ridley’s book, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, and John Dunmore’s Monsieur Baret.Browse some of the plant specimens Jeanne Baret and Philibert Commerson collected on their journey, courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden. (Psst, lots more here!)Read Eric Tepe and Glynis Ridley’s article naming Solanum baretiae.Read about the crowdsourced campaign to identify “hidden figure” Sheila Minor.   CREDITS Undiscovered is reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata. Thanks as always to the staff at Science Friday and WNYC Studios, and a big thank you to On Air Fest and Jemma Brown for giving us the chance to tell this story.
28/03/1915m 52s

Mini: Cats, Villains At Heart

Undiscovered is back between seasons with a listener question: What saved the cats? If you rewind to the Middle Ages, cats and humans were on bad terms. Cat roundups, cat torture, and even cat murder were common occurrences throughout Europe. But a series of historic events steadily delivered the tiny felines into public favor. In a story that spans centuries and continents, the Catholic Church and the Rosetta Stone, Elah and Annie investigate how the cat’s reputation shifted from devil’s minion to adored companion.   Guests Bob Collom, Undiscovered listener and question asker Joshua J. Mark, Writer and researcher at Ancient History Encyclopedia  Footnotes Joshua J. Mark’s article, "Cats in the Ancient World," was our first introduction to both Joshua and this story. Read it in Ancient History Encyclopedia. Read about how the Persians cleverly exploited the Egyptians’ love for cats in the Battle of Pelusium. Look inside an ancient Egyptian cat mummy. Spoiler: It’s a kitten! And learn more about the process of animal mummification. Credits This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Kaitlyn Schwalje with help from Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. Special shoutout to listener Bob Collom for directing us to this wild story. And thanks, as always, to the entire Science Friday staff and the folks at WNYC Studios.
17/12/1810m 40s

Not Your Subject

In U.S. cancer research, the most promising clinical trials are done mostly on white patients, which means people of color—and especially African Americans—are underrepresented in research that might save their lives. In this episode, a young, black medical student joins a team of Boston scientists to try to bring more African American patients into their study, but has to contend with the long history of medical mistreatment that could keep them away.   Guests Shawn Johnson, student at Harvard Medical School Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid Corrie Painter, associate director of Count Me In  Bridgette Hempstead, president and founder of Cierra Sisters   Footnotes Learn more about the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, led by Nikhil Wagle and directed by Corrie Painter. Check out Count Me In to learn about their projects with other types of cancer. ProPublica recently investigated the underrepresentation of black people and Native Americans in trials for cancer drugs. The group of Howard University students recruiting for the project is called H.U.M.B.L.E. Clinical trials come in phases, and not all of them have the same diversity problems. In Phase I, researchers study the safety of treatments, and typically test them on healthy subjects (so not patients who would therapeutically benefit from the treatment). Some research has found that people of color are over-represented in Phase I trials. Check out this review of barriers to minority representation. Note that mistrust of medical professionals might not be the main barrier to participation, but it's an important issue in itself. Learn more about the history of gynecology and racism in Medical Bondage by Deirdre Cooper Owens. New York City took down the statue of J. Marion Sims in April, but left the granite pedestal (Elah Feder)   Credits Undiscovered is produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. This week, we had production help from Alexa Lim, story consulting from Linda Villarosa, and fact checking help from Robin Palmer. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our production intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud.
13/11/1830m 40s

This Headline Might Kill You

In this Undiscovered Cares Report, Annie and Elah dig into a scary science headline and help Elah’s friend, David, figure out how scared he should be that his B12 vitamins will give him lung cancer. And we find out how—even with top-notch scientists, journalists, and readers—science communication can go very wrong.   Guests Theodore Brasky, assistant professor at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center   Footnotes Read some of the headlines that scared us, and one that did a better job. Then read Ted’s original study for yourself and the press release.   OUR MAIN TAKEAWAYS: 1) If you’re a man who smokes, these findings could matter for you. This study found that if you smoke, taking high doses of vitamins B12 or B6 was associated with an even greater risk of lung cancer than smoking by itself. But this finding still needs to be replicated, so proceed with caution before making massive lifestyle changes. Ted has notes on this summary: Might be best to switch the 2nd and 3rd sentences. If you start with “This finding still needs to be replicated…” and then say “Nevertheless, the study found that if you smoke…” it’s better than making the “this needs replication” comment seem offhand; which is an issue with much of the media attention thus far. Not a big deal either way, but I guess I still want people to understand that this is a single and unique study, and that means that trusting the results as truth can be problematic. All of that said, I don’t think people need to proceed with caution before making lifestyle changes: smoking is singularly responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the US each year. Anyone who smokes should consider quitting. A good place to start is the National Cancer Institute’s quit line: 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Smoking is awful for a person’s health. It is responsible for heart disease, COPD, and several different types of cancer in addition to lung cancer (which is the #2 most common cancer in men and women and the #1 cause of cancer death).   2) If you’re a man who's never smoked, don’t freak out! Men who have never smoked have extremely low rates of lung cancer, and that includes men who took these vitamins. This study didn’t turn up any evidence that these vitamins had any effect on that risk. (In fact, in this study, there were no cases of lung cancer in men who never smoked and were also taking the highest doses of these vitamins.) The study also didn’t find any effect of these vitamins on lung cancer risk in men who’d quit smoking before the study began. Ted says: Yes, not freaking out is ideal.   Credits This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Thanks, as always, to the entire Science Friday staff, and the folks at WNYC Studios.  
06/11/1827m 46s

Party Lines

In 2016, a North Carolina legislator announced that his party would be redrawing the state’s congressional district map with a particular goal in mind: To elect “10 Republicans and three Democrats.” His reasoning for this? As he explained, he did “not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.” It was a blatant admission of gerrymandering in a state already known for creatively-drawn districts. But that might be about to change. A North Carolina mathematician has come up with a way to quantify just how rigged a map is. And now he’s taking his math to court, in a case that could end up redrawing district lines across the country.   Braxton Brewington (center) preparing to make a statement outside the District Court on the first day of Common Cause's trial. (Courtesy of Braxton Brewington)   A&T Aggies at "Roll to the Polls" last April. (Courtesy of Braxton Brewington)   Jonathan Mattingly at Duke last June. (Annie Minoff)   Guests Jonathan Mattingly, professor of mathematics and statistical science, Duke University Braxton Brewington, undergraduate senior, North Carolina A&T State University, senior democracy fellow, Common Cause North Carolina Bob Phillips, executive director, Common Cause North Carolina   Footnotes Read about Jonathan and his students’ analyses of North Carolina’s 2012 and 2016 congressional maps (and check out the rest of their work on gerrymandering) See North Carolina’s congressional map, which a federal court declared unconstitutional in 2018 Read the District Court’s opinions from January 2018, declaring North Carolina’s 2016 congressional map unconstitutional Watch Representative David Lewis make his comments before the state legislature's joint select committee on congressional redistricting Read about the history of Common Cause’s lawsuit: Common Cause v. Rucho Read about other partisan gerrymandering court challenges Read about Common Cause v. Rucho’s prospects at the Supreme Court   Credits This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff  Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Robin Palmer. Eddie Garcia was our reporter on-the-ground at A&T.   Special thanks this week to Thomas Wolf and the Brennan Center for Justice, Justin Levitt, Gregory Herschlag, and Jonathan Mattingly’s Data+ team.      
30/10/1829m 38s

The Long Loneliness

Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things had changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales had become the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Annie and Elah meet the unconventional scientists who forever changed our view of whales by making the case that a series of surreal bleats and moans were “song.” GUESTS D. Graham Burnett, professor of history, Princeton University, author, The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the 20th Century Scott McVay, former executive director, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, author, Surprise Encounters Roger Payne, biologist, author, Among Whales Sheri Wells-Jensen, associate professor of linguistics, Bowling Green State University FOOTNOTES Read Roger and Scott’s landmark Science paper on whale song. (The paper includes great pics of the spectrograms Scott and Roger analyzed.) Listen to Roger’s record, Songs of the Humpback Whale. Listen to more humpback whale recordings (and dolphin tapes too!) courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Read D. Graham Burnett’s essay on John C. Lilly in Orion. (It’s a great teaser for the rest of his book.) Read a paper Dr. Lilly published in Science, based in part on Scott McVay’s work with Elvar the dolphin. Read the essay that inspired Scott: Loren Eiseley’s “The Long Loneliness: Man and Porpoise: Two Solitary Destinies” CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff  Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Thanks, as always, to the entire Science Friday staff, and the folks at WNYC Studios. Special thanks this week to Jack Horowitz, Katie Lupica, and to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.  
23/10/1834m 20s

Turtle v. Snake

Travis Thomas is a rookie turtle researcher in Florida. He was on the verge of publishing his first big paper and naming two new species of turtle when he found out he’d been scooped by a stranger in Australia: Raymond Hoser, a.k.a. the Snake Man. Raymond is a reptile wrangler and amateur herpetologist who’s managed to name hundreds of animals—and has made a lot of enemies in the process. In this episode of Undiscovered, Travis sets out to get his turtles back, and Annie and Elah set out to find out how and why the Snake Man does what he does.   Guests Travis Thomas, PhD student, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Robert Sprackland, herpetologist, visiting researcher at the Smithsonian Institution Raymond Hoser, founder of the Australasian Journal of Herpetology, owner of Snakebusters   Footnotes Read Travis Thomas et al.’s 2014 paper splitting alligator snapping turtles into three species, Raymond Hoser's 2013 paper, Raymond's response to Thomas et al. (pg. 19), and a later paper arguing for a different classification. Check out Raymond’s website where he responds to his critics, lists the animal taxa (species, genera, etc.) he’s named, and posts the Australasian Journal of Herpetology. Crack open the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature’s big book of rules for naming animals. Read articles about “taxonomic vandalism” that criticize Raymond Hoser. Dive into this great Nautilus piece on prolific species namers in history and the ire they provoked.   Credits This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder, Alexa Lim, and Annie Minoff  We had production help from Sushmita Pathak who brought us this story. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Thanks, as always, to the entire Science Friday staff, and the folks at WNYC Studios, especially Tony Phillips and Jenny Lawton for feedback on this story.  
16/10/1834m 1s

Guest Episode: The Infinite God

This week, Annie and Elah share an episode from one of their favorite podcasts, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sum of All Parts. For years, Robert Schneider lived the indie rocker’s dream, producing landmark records and fronting his band, The Apples in Stereo. And then, he gave it all up...for number theory. Host Joel Werner tracks Robert’s transformation, from a transcendental encounter with an antique tape machine, to the family temple of a mysterious long-dead mathematician, Ramanujan. Find more episodes of Sum of All Parts. CREDITS This episode of Sum of All Parts was produced and hosted by Joel Werner. Sophie Townsend served as story editor and Jonathan Webb served as science editor. Sound engineering by Mark Don and Martin Peralta. Undiscovered is reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje.  GUESTS Robert Schneider, Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Emory University Ken Ono, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics, Emory University FOOTNOTES Hear more Sum of All Parts, and see pictures of Robert and Ken at Ramanujan’s family temple. Robert Schneider and Ben Phelan’s article about Ramanujan, Encounter with The Infinite, was a huge inspiration for this story. Read it in The Believer. Listen to Ken Ono talk about Ramanujan and a biopic based on his life — The Man Who Knew Infinity — on Science Friday. Read about the new musical scale Robert Schneider devised, based on natural logarithms.  
10/10/1828m 47s

Plants And Prejudice

Are non-native species all that bad, or are we just prejudiced against “the Other”? In the San Francisco Bay Area, one particular foreign species has been dividing environmentalists for years: the blue gum eucalyptus. Eucalyptus opponents say it’s a serious fire hazard. Defenders say there’s no good evidence it’s worse than native plants. Which is it? And is the fight against non-native species grounded in science or xenophobia? In this episode of Undiscovered, Annie and Elah investigate.    GUESTS  Fred Pearce, environmental journalist and author of The New Wild Norman La Force, Sierra Club, San Francisco Bay Chapter Dan Grassetti, Hills Conservation Network Sara Kuebbing, Assistant Professor of invasion ecology at the University of Pittsburgh   FOOTNOTES Read about the Bay Area’s eucalyptus debate. Watch the debate between Norman and Dan in full, courtesy of Ray Madrigal. Browse this website by a pro-eucalyptus activist and this page from the San Francisco Sierra Club, which wants to remove eucalyptus trees in some areas. Invasion biologists defend their field and dispute allegations of xenophobia. Sara Kuebbing has also found that land managers aren’t arbitrarily eradicating non-native species, but selectively removing ones they deem harmful. Mark Davis, a biologist who’s critical of invasion biology, covers some of the field’s history in his book, Invasion Biology. Still want more? Check out these think pieces defending non-native species, including Michael Pollan’s article and Stephen Jay Gould’s essay. And for a completely different perspective, check out these sources on the impacts of non-native species, including an early study that attempted a rough calculation of their global economic cost.   CREDITS Undiscovered is reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. We had fact checking help for this episode from Michelle Harris. I Am Robot And Proud wrote our theme. Thank you to the whole Science Friday staff and to the many people on both sides of this issue who spent hours talking to us, taking Elah for nature walks, and providing us with documents.
10/10/1830m 8s

The Magic Machine

As a critical care doctor, Jessica Zitter has seen plenty of “Hail Mary” attempts to save dying patients go bad—attempts where doctors try interventions that don’t change the outcome, but do lead to more patient suffering. It’s left her distrustful of flashy medical technology and a culture that insists that more treatment is always better. But when a new patient goes into cardiac arrest, the case doesn’t play out the way Jessica expected. She finds herself fighting for hours to revive him—and reaching for a game-changing technology that uncomfortably blurs the lines between life and death.    Resources Talking about end-of-life stuff can be hard! Here are some resources to get you started. (Adapted from Jessica Zitter’s Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. Thanks Jessica!)   I want to…  ...figure out what kind of care I might want at end of life: Prepare uses videos of people thinking about their end-of-life preferences to walk you through the steps for choosing a surrogate decision maker, determining your preferences, etc.  ...talk with family/friends about my preferences (or theirs!): The Conversation Project offers a starter kit and tools to help start the conversation.  ...put my preferences in writing (an advance directive):  Advance Directive forms connects you to advance directive forms for your state.  My Directives For those who like their documents in app form! Guides you through creating an end-of-life plan, then stores it in the cloud so it’s accessible anywhere.  Guests Jessica Nutik Zitter, MD, MPH, Author and Attending Physician, Division of Pulmonary/Critical Care and Palliative Care Medicine, Highland Hospital Thomas Frohlich, MD, Chief of Cardiology, Highland Hospital Kenneth Prager, MD, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical Ethics, Columbia University Medical Center Daniela Lamas, MD, author and Associate Faculty at Ariadne Labs David Casarett MD, author and Chief of Palliative Care, Duke University School of Medicine   Footnotes Read the books: Jessica Zitter’s book is Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. Daniela Lamas’s book is You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and In Between. David Casarett’s book is Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead Read the memoirs of Amsterdam’s “Society in Favor of Drowned Persons,” the Dutch group that tried to resuscitate drowning victims (including Anne Wortman) Learn more about ECMO, its success rates, and the ethical questions it raises (Daniela also wrote an article about it here) Read Daniela’s study about quality of life in long-term acute care hospitals (LTACHs). And for an introduction to LTACHs, here’s an overview from The New York Times Watch Extremis, the Oscar-nominated documentary (featuring Jessica Zitter), about families facing end-of-life decisions in Highland Hospital’s ICU. Read some of Dr. Zitter’s articles about life support tech (here and here) and the tough decisions doctors and patients face in the ICU (here and here)   Credits This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. Our mid-break theme for this episode, “No Turning Back,” is by Daniel Peterschmidt and I am Robot and Proud. Thanks to the entire Science Friday staff, the folks at WNYC Studios, and CUNY’s Sarah Fishman. Special thanks to Michele Kassemos of UCSF Medical Center, Lorna Fernandes of Highland Hospital, and the entire staff at Highland.
10/10/1836m 43s

The Holdout

Since the 1980s, Gerta Keller, professor of paleontology and geology at Princeton, has been speaking out against an idea most of us take as scientific gospel: That a giant rock from space killed the dinosaurs. Nice story, she says—but it’s just not true. Gerta's been shouted down and ostracized at conferences, but in three decades, she hasn’t backed down. And now, things might finally be coming around for Gerta’s theory. But is she right? Did something else kill the dinosaurs? Or is she just too proud to admit she’s been wrong for 30 years?   GUESTS Gerta Keller, professor of paleontology and geology at Princeton James Powell, geologist and author of Night Comes to the Cretaceous: Dinosaur Extinction and the Transformation of Modern Geology (St. Martin's Press)   FOOTNOTES Michael Benton reviews the many, sometimes hilarious explanations for the (non-avian) dinosaurs’ extinction. Note: Ideas marked with asterisks were jokes! More in Benton’s book. Walter Alvarez tells his own story of the impact hypothesis in T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. The New York Times interviews Luis Alvarez before he dies, and he takes some parting shots at his scientific opponents. The impact and the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary were simultaneous according to this paper. Learn more about how volcanoes are major suspects in mass extinctions. Read more about Gerta Keller, the holdout.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Fact-checking help from Robin Palmer. Lucy Huang polled visitors to AMNH about what killed the dinosaurs. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. Excerpts from All Things Considered used with permission from NPR.  
18/09/1832m 42s

I, Robovie

A decade ago, psychologists introduced a group of kids to Robovie, a wide-eyed robot who could talk, play, and hug like a pro. And then, the researchers did something heartbreaking to Robovie! They wanted to see just how far kids’ empathy for a robot would go. What the researchers didn’t gamble on was just how complicated their own feelings for Robovie would get. Annie and Elah explore the robot-human bond.   VIDEOS I Spy, And The Closet A fifteen-year-old study participant plays a game of I Spy with Robovie—and then watches as the robot is ordered into the closet. (Video courtesy of the HINTS lab at the University of Washington. Read the full study.)     Introductions A 15-year-old study participant meets Robovie for the first time. (Video courtesy of the HINTS lab at the University of Washington. Read the full study.)    Chit-Chat Robovie and a 9-year-old study participant talk about the ocean. (Video courtesy of the HINTS lab at the University of Washington. Read the full study.)    Xavier Buys A Cup Of Coffee A robot named Xavier orders coffee at the kiosk in Carnegie Mellon’s computer science building. (Video courtesy of Yasushi Nakauchi. Read the study about how Xavier does it.)      GUESTS Peter Kahn, professor of psychology, and environmental and forest sciences at the University of Washington, and leader of the HINTS lab Rachel Severson, assistant professor of psychology, University of Montana Nathan Freier, principal program manager, Microsoft Ryan Germick, principal designer, Google Doodles & Assistant Personality   FOOTNOTES Read the Robovie study: “Robovie, You’ll Have to Go into the Closet Now”: Children’s Social and Moral Relationships With a Humanoid Robot” Read about how Xavier stands in line. Check out the work of Robovie’s creators, roboticists Hiroshi Ishiguro and Takayuki Kanda. People did not want to hit Frank the robot bug with a hammer. Here’s why. The HINTS lab did more studies with Robovie. Read about them (and watch more Robovie videos.)   SPECIAL THANKS Thanks to sci-fi author Daniel H. Wilson, who first told us about Xavier the coffee robot and the Robovie experiment. (Need a good book about a robot apocalypse? He’s got your back.)   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud.  
11/09/1833m 52s

Undiscovered Is Back For Season 2

The wait is over! Hosts Annie Minoff and Elah Feder are back from the field with a brand new season of Undiscovered. What’s in store for Season 2? We’ll introduce you to a robot who toys with our emotions, a geologist who rejects everyone's favorite dino theory, and a doctor who goes further than she ever thought she’d go to save a life. That, plus other stories behind the scenes of science, when Undiscovered returns…. See you next week!  
07/09/182m 9s

Mouse’s Vineyard: Update!

Undiscovered is back with a new season this September! In the meantime, we check in on the status of Kevin Esvelt’s plan to fight Martha’s Vineyard’s Lyme disease problem with genetically engineered mice. Has he created his super-mice? And are Vineyarders as gung-ho about the GMO invasion as they were two years ago? We follow up. Learn more about our original Mouse’s Vineyard episode. Special thanks to Joanna Buchthal, and to Nantucket band Coq Au Vin for letting us play their song about Lyme disease.  
07/09/1835m 24s

Mouse’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard has a Lyme disease problem. Now a scientist is coming to town with a possible fix: genetically engineered mice. An island associated with summer rest and relaxation is gaining a reputation for something else: Lyme disease. Martha’s Vineyard has one of the highest rates of Lyme in the country. Now MIT geneticist Kevin Esvelt is coming to the island with a potential long-term fix. The catch: It involves releasing up to a few hundred thousand genetically modified mice onto the island. Are Vineyarders ready? Kevin Esvelt makes the case for engineered mice, at a public meeting at a Vineyard public library. (Photo: Annie Minoff)   Kevin Esvelt takes questions from the Martha’s Vineyard audience. (He’s joined by Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. Sam Telford. (Photo: Annie Minoff)   Bob, Cheryl, and Spice (the lucky dog who gets a Lyme vaccine). (Photo: Annie Minoff)   No lack of tick-repelling options at a Martha’s Vineyard general store. (Photo: Annie Minoff)   (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   GUESTS Kevin Esvelt, Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab   FOOTNOTES Read Kevin Esvelt’s original paper describing the gene drive mechanism in eLife. Less technical descriptions available here via Scientific American, and here via Esvelt’s Sculpting Evolution Group. Watch Kevin’s July 20, 2016 presentation on Martha’s Vineyard (Unfortunately there is no direct link. Search “7.20.16” to find the video, titled “Preventing Tick-Borne Disease.”) Listen to Kevin Esvelt talk about gene drive on Science Friday. Read about Oxitec’s proposed mosquito trial in Key West, and watch the public meeting excerpted in this episode. Learn more about Kevin’s lab, the Sculpting Evolution Group. Looking for more information about Lyme disease? Here are resources from the CDC. CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help by Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.   Special thanks to Joanna Buchthal, Bob Rosenbaum, Dick Johnson, and Sam Telford.  
07/09/1829m 1s

Kurt Vonnegut and the Rainmakers

In the mid 1940s, no one would publish Kurt Vonnegut’s stories. But when he gets hired as a press writer at General Electric, the company’s fantastical science inspires some of his most iconic--and best-selling--novels. Every snowflake is unique—except they all have six sides. In ice, water molecules arrange themselves into hexagons. (Courtesy MiSci Museum) Imagine the Earth has been turned into a frozen wasteland. The culprit? Ice-nine. With a crystalline structure that makes it solid at room temperature, ice-nine freezes every drop of water it comes into contact with, and (predictably) ends up destroying the world. This is the fantastical plot of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 novel, Cat’s Cradle. But the science that inspired the fiction came from the real-life research his older brother and team of scientists at General Electric conducted just after World War II. General Electric might be best known for manufacturing refrigerators and light bulbs, but in the 1940s, the GE scientists joined forces with the military and set their sights on a loftier project: controlling the weather. Controlling the weather could mean putting an end to droughts and raining out forest fires. But the GE scientists’ military collaborators have more aggressive plans in mind. Kurt, a pacifist, closely watches GE’s saga unfold, and in his stories, he demands an answer to one of science’s greatest ethical questions: are scientists responsible for the pursuit of knowledge alone, or are they also responsible for the consequences of that knowledge?   Vincent Schaefer of the General Electric Research Laboratory demonstrates his method for making snow in a laboratory freezer, circa 1947. Vincent Schaefer, colleague of Bernie Vonnegut, makes man-made snow in a freezer at General Electric. (Courtesy of MiSci Museum)   Vincent Schaefer gives a demonstration of the team’s cloud seeding research to Signal Corps at GE laboratories in 1947. (Courtesy of MiSci Museum)    (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   GUESTS Ginger Strand, author of The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic Cynthia Barnett, author of Rain: A Natural and Cultural History   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Archival material was provided with help from Chris Hunter of miSci in Schenectady, as well as Scott Vonnegut and Jim Schaefer. Fact-checking help by Michelle Harris. Voice acting by Charles Bergquist, Christie Taylor, Luke Groskin, and Ira Flatow. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.  
07/09/1831m 30s

The Wastebook

After a senator calls her research a waste of taxpayer dollars, biologist Sheila Patek heads to Capitol Hill to prove what her science is worth. In December 2015, the fight over science funding got personal for biologist Sheila Patek. She discovered that a U.S. Senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, had included her research on mantis shrimp in his “wastebook”: a list of federally-funded projects he deemed a waste of taxpayer money. So what did Patek do? She headed to Capitol Hill to make the case to Senator Flake—and to Congress—that blue-sky science is worth the money.   (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)      GUESTS Sheila Patek, Professor of Biology, Duke University Bryan Berky, Executive Director, Restore Accountability Paula Stephan, Professor of Economics, Georgia State University, author of How Economics Shapes Science Melinda Baldwin, science historian, author of Making Nature: The History of a Scientific Journal   FOOTNOTES Read Sen. Jeff Flake’s 2015 Wastebook "The Farce Awakens," and his science-themed 2016 Wastebook “Twenty Questions.” Watch two mantis shrimp duke it out! Read Melinda Baldwin’s article on the grand-daddy of the modern waste report: Sen. William Proxmire. Read about Congressman Jim Cooper’s answer to Sen. Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece Award”: the “Golden Goose Award." Read the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s 2014 report Furthering America’s Research Enterprise, detailing the benefits of federal science investment (and the difficulty of measuring them). Learn more about Restore Accountability and read their response to the episode. Watch Sheila Patek’s PBS NewsHour essay about her meeting with Sen. Flake, and read about current research at the Patek Lab. How much does the federal government spend on R&D? Here’s how much!   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help by Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.
07/09/1831m 1s

Six Degrees

Are you just six handshakes away from every other person on Earth? Two mathematicians set out to prove we’re all connected. You have probably heard the phrase “six degrees of separation,” the idea that you’re connected to everyone else on Earth by a chain of just six people. It has inspired a Broadway play, a film nerd’s game, called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”...and even a No Doubt song! But is it true? In the ‘90s, two mathematicians set out to discover just how connected we really are—and ended up launching a new field of science in the process. Annie holds one of Milgram’s “Letter Experiment” mailings sent to June Shields in Wichita, Kansas. Accessed at the Yale University archives. (Credit: Elah Feder)     A version of psychologist Stanley Milgram’s “Letter Experiment” mailings. “Could you, as an active American, contact another American citizen regardless of his walk of life?” Milgram and his team wrote. They asked for recipients' help in finding out. Accessed at the Yale University archives. (Credit: Elah Feder)   (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   GUESTS Duncan Watts, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age Steven Strogatz, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University, author of Sync Andrew Leifer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University   FOOTNOTES Read Duncan Watts’ and Steven Strogatz’s breakthrough 1998 Nature paper on small-world networks. Read Stanley Milgram’s 1967 article about his letter experiment in Psychology Today. Watch Duncan and Steve discuss the past and future of small-world networks at Cornell. Watch C. elegans' brain glow! And read more about the brain imaging work happening in Andrew Leifer’s lab. Browse the small-world network of C. elegans’ 302 neurons at wormweb.org. Read Facebook’s analysis of Facebook users’ “degrees of separation.” Just for funsies, a network analysis of Game of Thrones.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help by Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Additional music by Podington Bear and Lee Rosevere. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Story consulting by Ari Daniel. Engineering help from Sarah Fishman. Recording help from Alexa Lim. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.  
07/09/1832m 37s

Sick and Tired

When researchers publish a new study on chronic fatigue syndrome, a group of patients cry foul—and decide to investigate for themselves. A landmark study on chronic fatigue syndrome sets off a multi-year battle between patients and scientists. On one side, we have a team of psychiatrists who have researched the condition for decades, and have peer-reviewed studies to back up their conclusions. On the other, a group of patients who know this condition more intimately than anyone and set out to expose what they think is bad science.     (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   A note to our listeners: This episode references studies that are both controversial and complex. Our interest is always to provide accurate and complete information to our listeners, and to provide context in which the science we cover can be understood. To that end, we’d like to share additional information on the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise therapy as treatments for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). Two systematic reviews (studies of studies) by The Cochrane Collaboration examine cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise as treatments for ME/CFS. These may help contextualize the findings of the PACE trial and aid our listeners in drawing their own conclusions.   GUESTS Julie Rehmeyer, author of "Through the Shadowlands" Michael Sharpe professor of psychological medicine at Oxford University David Tuller, journalist and visiting lecturer at UC Berkeley Ivan Oransky, journalist and co-founder of Retraction Watch   FOOTNOTES The PACE trial home page, includes trial materials, FAQ, and links to the papers that came out of the trial. The PACE trial data and readme file. Virology Blog including David Tuller’s original three part series criticizing PACE (“Trial by Error”), as well as responses from the authors, and more. Patients’ first reanalysis (published on the Virology Blog) of the PACE recovery paper. They later published the re-analysis in the journal Fatigue and the PACE researchers responded to the patients’ re-analysis. PLOS ONE expression of concern, including a response from the authors. Retraction Watch’s recap of the legal proceedings regarding Alem Matthees’ request for anonymized trial data.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton. Fact-checking help by Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky.  
07/09/1830m 12s

Born This Gay

At the turn of the 20th century, a German doctor sets out to prove that homosexuality is rooted in biology—but his research has consequences he never intended. In pre-Nazi Germany, a doctor named Magnus Hirschfeld sets out to take down Paragraph 175, a law against “unnatural fornication” between men. Hirschfeld’s plan is to scientifically prove that homosexuality is natural, and that lesbians and gay men might be born gay—but his idea ends up falling into the wrong hands.  Party at the Institute for Sexual Science. Magnus Hirschfeld (second from right) is the one with the moustache and glasses. His partner Karl Giese is holding his hand. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)   German students parade in front of the Institute for Sexual Research prior to their raid on the building. The students occupied and pillaged the Institute, then confiscated the Institute's books and periodicals for burning. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)   German students and Nazi SA plunder the library of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. The materials were loaded onto trucks and carted away for burning. The public library of the Institute comprised approximately 10,000 mostly rare German and foreign books on the topics of sex and gender. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)   (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   GUESTS Robert Beachy is the author of Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity. Ralf Dose is the co-founder of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society and author of Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement. Edward Stein is the author of the The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation.   FOOTNOTES Read (in German) Sappho And Socrates, a booklet Magnus Hirschfeld published under a pseudonym in 1896, defending homosexuality. Read Magnus Hirschfeld’s grand opus, "The Homosexuality of Men and Women." Modern studies: A BBC article about the first study correlating finger length ratios and sexual orientation. A meta-analysis of finger length ratios and sexual orientation. These studies looked at finger length ratios in transgender men and women, with conflicting results. Dean Hamer’s X chromosome linkage study (abstract only) and a Science article about a more recent chromosome linkage study. Simon LeVay’s study comparing brains of gay men with men and women who were presumed straight. Bailey and Pillard’s original study of gay male twins. A later study by Bailey et al. found lower rates of matching sexual orientation in twins and concluded that earlier studies rates were “inflated because of concordance-dependent ascertainment bias.” Study of epigenetic markers in gay men, criticized for its statistics.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Special thanks this week to Liat Fishman for translation from German, Shane McMillan for production help in Berlin, to Tobias Enzenhofer and Charles Bergquist for voice work. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.  
07/09/1833m 4s

The Meteorite Hunter

Deep in Antarctica, a rookie meteorite hunter helps collect a mystery rock. Could it be a little piece of Mars? In Antarctica, the wind can tear a tent to pieces. During some storms, the gusts are so powerful, you can’t leave the safety of your shelter. It’s one of the many reasons why the alluring, icy continent of Antarctica is an unforgiving landscape for human explorers. “It’s incredibly beautiful, but it’s also incredibly dangerous,” says geologist Nina Lanza, who conducted research in the Miller Range in the central Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica for about five weeks in December, 2015. “It’s not like Antarctica is out to get you, but it’s like you don’t matter at all. You are nothing out there.” Yet, this landscape—unfit for human habitation—is where Lanza and the Antarctic Search for Meteorites program (ANSMET) volunteers find themselves banded together. They are prospecting for meteorites. Embedded in the sparkling blue ice sheets of the Antarctic interior are scientifically precious stones that have fallen to Earth from space. Lanza is a rookie meteorite hunter, enduring the hostile conditions of the Antarctic for the first time—searching for little geologic fragments that reveal the history of our solar system. While most people associate Antarctica with penguins, in the Miller Range, there are no visible signs of life. There are no trees, animals, insects, or even birds in the sky. Being that isolated and alone is strange—it’s “very alien,” says Lanza. “You know the cold and the living outside part? That is easy compared to the mental part,” she says. “It’s almost hard to explain the level of isolation. Like we think we’ve all been isolated before, but for real, in the Miller Range, you are out there.” The luxurious ‘poo bucket’ at ANSMET camp. (Credit: Nina Lanza)    In this dramatic, extreme environment, Lanza finds comfort in the familiar details of everyday life at the ANSMET camp. Amid the Antarctic’s wailing winds, you can hear the recognizable hiss of a camp stove. During the holidays, Lanza got everyone singing Christmas carols. And then there’s the ‘poo bucket’—complete with a comfortable styrofoam toilet seat, scented candles, and bathroom reading reminiscent of home (including the New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly). In the field, Nina documented these features of everyday life in detail, in pictures and voice recordings. “Everybody talks about how beautiful it is and you always see a million pictures of these grand vistas, but I’m like, ‘let’s talk about the less pretty stuff,’” says Lanza. Unless you make an effort to remind yourself, “you could almost forget that the poo bucket ever existed.” The work isn’t easy. The ANSMET field team can spend up to nine hours a day on their skidoos (Lanza’s skidoo, “Miss Kitty,” is covered with Hello Kitty stickers) combing ice sheets and flagging potential meteorites. The never-setting sun glares intensely on the stretches of glistening, blue ice. (Old, compressed, ice appears blue.) On a clear, cloudless day out in the field, the sky and ice sheets seem to meet in one continuous field of blue, says Lanza. “It’s almost like an artist’s conception of water rendered into glass or plastic,” she says about the ice. “It’s blue and it goes on forever.” The meteorite hunters concentrate their searches in these shimmering, blue ice areas, because these ice fields are gold mines for meteorites. When a meteorite impacts Antarctica, it becomes buried in snow. Over time as the snow compresses, the rock gets trapped in glacial ice. If that ice doesn’t break off and fall into the sea, Antarctic winds can eventually resurface that buried treasure. Over the last four decades, ANSMET scientists have collected over 20,000 rock specimens from the ice. And in December, 2015, Lanza thinks she may have helped strike gold in the form of a five-pound, grey rock. She and her colleagues will spend the next nine months wondering if this rock could be one of the most prized meteorites of all. Could it be a little piece of Mars? The mysterious rock (right), numbered 23042 in the field. Could it be from Mars? (Credit: NASA Astromaterials Curation)   Meteorite sampling procedure. (Credit: Nina Lanza)   (Credit: Nina Lanza)     Two ANSMET scientists in the field. (Credit: Nina Lanza)    (Credit: Nina Lanza)    Lanza and the ANSMET crew, Dec 2015-Jan 2016. (Credit: Nina Lanza)   (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   FOOTNOTES Read Nina’s dispatches from the field. Hear Nina Lanza on Science Friday. Read about the Antarctic Search for Meteorites Program.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Voice acting by Alistair Gardiner and Charles Bergquist. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Story consulting by Ari Daniel. Engineering help from Sarah Fishman. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.    
07/09/1832m 35s

Boss Hua and the Black Box

A team of social scientists stumbles onto a cache of censored Chinese social media posts—and decides to find out what the Chinese government wants wiped from the internet. On China’s most influential microblogging platform, a wristwatch aficionado named Boss Hua accuses a government official of corruption. But, his posts aren’t censored. So what disappears into the black box of Chinese censorship...and what stays online? A team of social scientists cracked this question—by mistake—with big data. (Original art by Claire Merchlinsky)   FOOTNOTES See the picture that got ‘Smiling Official’ Yang Dacai fired. Read Gary, Jen, and Margaret’s first study on Chinese government censorship (American Political Science Review). Read the results of Gary, Jen, and Margaret’s social media experiment (Science). Read Gary, Jen, and Margaret’s latest study, about what the Chinese government secretly posts to the internet. Hear Gary King on Science Friday.   CREDITS This episode of Undiscovered was reported and produced by Annie Minoff and Elah Feder. Editing by Christopher Intagliata. Fact-checking help from Michelle Harris. Original music by Daniel Peterschmidt. Our theme music is by I am Robot and Proud. Art for this episode by Claire Merchlinsky. Story consulting by Ari Daniel. Translations and voicing by Isabelle. Thanks to Science Friday’s Danielle Dana, Christian Skotte, Brandon Echter, and Rachel Bouton.  
07/09/1837m 17s

Hi! We are Undiscovered.

We're a podcast about the left turns, false starts, and lucky breaks that move science forward.
07/09/182m 10s
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