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Every time you go to see a new doctor, you have to fill out forms that ask your name, your age, your family history — and your race and ethnicity. You have to check a box — pick a category. Less than 100 years ago, mainstream scientists believed that race was a biological fact — one that determined everything from pain tolerance to disease suscepti…
 
Language is how we connect — to each other, to the past, to the future — how we create culture, communicate ideas, and make decisions. Scientists are keen to discover more about how language works, and how we actually learn to talk. On this episode — why do some species have language, and others don’t? What can bird whistles teach us about the mech…
 
It seems like every week, we hear about new breakthroughs in cancer treatment — new discoveries, new medications, new hopes for a cure. The war on cancer has been a slow and steady grind, with incremental progress that’s been built one study, one breakthrough at a time. Behind each of those small but meaningful victories are years of unseen work — …
 
Left to their own devices, viruses are pretty much helpless. They need cells to infect in order to replicate. But they’re sneaky — many of them also manage to stick around long after we think they’re gone. When the immune system sets out to kill infected cells, many viruses hide and continue to cause problems. This aspect has come into much sharper…
 
Humans have been obsessed with Mars for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that we began to have actual breakthroughs in our journey to Mars. In July of 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 captured high-definition pictures of Mars. It was at this point that we began to better observe and explore the red planet. But there is a hidden an…
 
Anxiety can feel like a buzzing electric current that fuels our thoughts and behaviors. There are the well-known symptoms — chest pains, rapid heartbeat, constant fidgeting, shortness of breath, nausea — but anxiety can also be sneaky, rearing its head in all different ways. For instance — maybe it shows up in the way you check your phone constantl…
 
Plastic gets a bad rap — over the years, it’s become synonymous with environmental destruction, cheap fakery, needless consumption, and mass-produced junk. But there’s a reason plastic is everywhere — it’s inexpensive, strong, and versatile; a shapeshifter that over the past century has revolutionized the way we live, from science and medicine to c…
 
The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world — and that spending is going up every year. In some respects, that’s good news, because it means that new treatments, medications, and tests are available, and people are living longer. But it also means that health care and insurance is getting more expensive. There’s…
 
Artificial intelligence has seen huge advances in the last decade, very notably in the technology of natural language processing. NLP has gotten increasingly better at convincingly parroting us back to ourselves, and can sometimes briefly pass for human speech, and even write computer code. But, AI can only work with data that it receives from huma…
 
Intelligent machines will play a much larger role in the future than they do now, and we’re trying to imagine that future as we’re racing toward it. Some people envision things straight out of a Black Mirror episode with terrifying killer robots, or super smart machines taking away jobs. MIT Media Lab researcher Kate Darling says those angsty visio…
 
In a lot of ways, artificial intelligence acts as our personal butlers — it filters our email, manages the temperature in our homes, finds the best commute, shapes our social media, runs our search engines, even flies our planes. But as AI gets involved in more and more aspects of our lives, there are nagging fears. Will AI replace us? Make humans …
 
There’s long been an idea that sharing our DNA for research benefits the greater good — that it leads to new insights, new medications, and new discoveries. In humans, 99.9% of DNA is the same. It’s the 0.1% that makes us different — holding the secrets to everything from what we look like, to where we come from, to what causes certain diseases. Mo…
 
“Trust the science!” It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot during the pandemic. It’s come to mean things like “wear masks” or “get vaccinated,” but the phrase rubs many people the wrong way — including some scientists. One of the fundamental tenets of science is to be skeptical, and to keep digging deeper and deeper into a topic until something closer to…
 
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Open to new experiences, or comforted by routine? Shy or the life of the party? Figuring out what makes us tick is an important part of understanding how we function within our families, communities, and workplaces. Thousands of tests online promise to assess your personality — but what are they actually measur…
 
More than 2 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated — and tens of thousands have had COVID-19. The pandemic has brought more attention than ever to the barriers to healthcare in prisons and jails. But this has been a problem since long before COVID-19. Incarceration stamps lasting effects on people’s health, and sends ripple effects beyond the …
 
There’s not a lot to laugh about right now. But throughout the pandemic, we’ve managed to joke about our shared misery — like making fun of toilet paper hoarding, Zoom mishaps, and mask mumbling. Humor helps get us through tough times. It’s a crucial coping mechanism, a way of connecting with others, and part of what makes us human. On today’s epis…
 
Who becomes a physician in this country — and who never gets that chance? It’s a question a lot of medical schools are grappling with, as groups like Black people and Latinos remain especially underrepresented among students. What would it take to attract and retain a more diverse group of students? On this episode, we hear stories about people’s p…
 
Every time you get a prescription drug, you’re dealing with a middleman you’ve probably never heard of — one who has had a hand in how much your drug costs. The same middleman decides which drugs are covered by your insurance, and even which medications are prescribed by your doctor. Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are powerful and important compa…
 
When we think of “the future,” it sounds like something abstract and faraway — we imagine new inventions, cutting-edge innovations, life on other planets. But the future can also be frightening. This past year has been a stark reminder of how quickly life can change, and how little we control. So which is it — a world that we shape, or one we’re pr…
 
Owning a pet means making decisions that affect their health — from what they eat, to whether and how much they exercise, to how they spend their days. Some of those decisions are easy — should we get our yowling cat fixed? — but others are wrenchingly tough — how much is too much for lifesaving surgery? On this episode, we explore some of the emot…
 
We all know that drinking a lot of alcohol is bad for your health. It’s tied to heart disease, heightened risk for some cancers, addiction, and accidents. But there is a long-held belief that moderate drinking is fine — even good for your health. So what does science actually say about the health impact of drinking? On this episode, we dig into the…
 
Most of us trust our doctors to figure out what’s wrong with us — but pinpointing illness isn’t always that easy. Sometimes, getting the right diagnosis — and the right treatment — requires patient persistence: leaning in, pushing for answers, and taking charge. On this episode, we talk to patients who took their health into their own hands after g…
 
One in five Americans live in a multigenerational household — that means at least two separate adult generations share the space. Think grandparents, parents, kids, maybe aunts and uncles … all living under the same roof. In recent years, the number of these households has been on the rise. Living this way saves money, makes childcare easier, and c…
 
Suicide is a tough topic — it can feel frightening, and sad, and hard to talk about — but it’s also one we can’t afford to ignore. Over the past 20 years, America’s suicide rate has increased by more than a third, and it now ranks as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide. So what do we know about suicide and how to prevent it? On this episode,…
 
We’ve all been there — you start out Googling local pharmacy hours, and all of a sudden you find yourself reading about how to construct a pool from Gruyere cheese. Such is the power of rabbit holes. We often think of them as time wasters, but at a moment when the real world can seem overwhelming, fun rabbit holes offer a respite — an opportunity t…
 
Not even a year after SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, several coronavirus vaccines are now in the final stages of testing. Some people worry we’re moving too fast; others argue that “Operation Warp Speed” is not moving nearly fast enough. There’s a lot at stake — from public health, to trust in science, to the economy — and failure is not an optio…
 
In science, we tend to focus on the destination, not the journey. But for every big breakthrough, every historic discovery, there are countless contributions that no one notices: the forgotten grunt workers, research that came to nothing, even lives lost in the pursuit of progress. Today’s episode is about the hidden cost of science — the price of …
 
We’re trying to have more meaningful conversations about racism as a country. Part of that means talking about implicit bias — assumptions and stereotypes that may influence our decisions and actions without us even realizing it. Implicit bias can have many harmful consequences: The customer who’s accused of stealing; the grad student being told th…
 
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