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Big Picture Science

SETI Institute

321
Followers
3.3K
Plays
Big Picture Science
Big Picture Science

Big Picture Science

SETI Institute

321
Followers
3.3K
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

Granting Immunity

“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel–Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System” Rob Dunn–Biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Author of “Never Home Alone” David Underhill–Professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson–Professor in conservation biology at the Institute for Ecology and Nature Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Author of “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects”

52 MIN6 days ago
Comments
Granting Immunity

Sci-Fi From the Future

(repeat) Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help. The moviesEx MachinaandJurassic Parksuggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can help us imagine unsettling scenarios regarding over-population, smart drugs, and human cloning. And not all tales are grim. The 1951 film,The Man in the White Suit, weaves a humorous story of materials science run amok. So, grab a bowl of popcorn and join us in contemplating the future of humanity as Hollywood sees it! Guest: Andrew Maynard–Physicist and professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. Author ofFilms from the Future: The Tech...

50 MIN1 weeks ago
Comments
Sci-Fi From the Future

Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

(repeat) The Earth is not round. Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid. But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct. Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake. A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. So how do you establish science truth? We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and approaches that feel and look science-y but aren’t. Find out how one man will use telescopes and balloons in the desert to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe, while a biologist runs a test on the waters of Loch Ness to see if it contains prehistoric reptile DNA. And what happens when amateur investigators chase ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot with science instruments, but without an understanding of the scientific method. Guests: James Underdown–Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry in...

50 MIN2 weeks ago
Comments
Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

Let's Stick Together

Crowded subway driving you crazy? Sick of the marathon-length grocery store line? Wish you had a hovercraft to float over traffic? If you are itching to hightail it to an isolated cabin in the woods, remember, we evolved to be together. Humans are not only social, we’re driven to care for one another, even those outside our immediate family. We look at some of the reasons why this is so – from the increase in valuable communication within social groups to the power of the hormone oxytocin. Plus, how our willingness to tolerate anonymity, a condition which allows societies to grow, has a parallel in ant supercolonies. Guests: Adam Rutherford–Geneticist and author of “Humanimal: HowHomo sapiensBecame Nature’s Most Paradoxical Creature – a New Evolutionary History” Patricia Churchland–Neurophilosopher, professor of philosophy emerita at the University of California San Diego, and author most recently of “Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition” Mark Moffett–Tropical biolo...

51 MIN3 weeks ago
Comments
Let's Stick Together

Math's Paths

If you bake, you can appreciate math’s transformative properties. Admiring the stackable potato chip is to admire a hyperbolic sheet. Find out why there’s no need to fear math - you just need to think outside the cuboid. Also, how nature’s geometric shapes inspire the next generation of squishy robots and an argument for radically overhauling math class. The end point of these common factors is acute show that’s as fun as eating Pi. Guests: Eugenia Cheng–Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, tenured at the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and author of “How to Bake Pi” Shankar Venkataramani–Professor of math at the University of Arizona Steven Strogatz–Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University and author of “Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe” Daniel Finkel–Mathematician and founder and director of operations at “Math for Love”

50 MINJUL 15
Comments
Math's Paths

DNA is Not Destiny

(repeat) Heredity was once thought to be straightforward. Genes were passed in an immutable path from parents to you, and you were stuck – or blessed – with what you got. DNA didn’t change. But now we know that’s not true. Epigenetic factors, such as your environment and your lifestyle, control how your genes are expressed. Meanwhile, the powerful tool CRISPR allows us to tinker with the genes themselves. DNA is no longer destiny. Hear the results from the NASA twin study and what happened to astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA after a year on the International Space Station. Plus, whether there’s evidence that epigenetic changes can be passed down. And, if we can wipe out deadly malaria by engineering the mosquito genome for sterility, should we do it? Guests: Scott Kelly–Former military test pilot and astronaut and author of “Infinite Wonder” Carl Zimmer–Columnist forThe New York Times,author of “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity" C...

51 MINJUL 8
Comments
DNA is Not Destiny

Nailing the Moon Landing

Neil, Buzz, and Michael made it look effortless, but the moon landing was neither easy nor inevitable. Soon after President Kennedy publicly stated the goal of sending Americans to the moon, NASA confessed that the chances of success were only about 50/50. But on July 20, 1969, despite enormous difficulties, astronauts stepped onto the lunar regolith. In this special anniversary episode, we go behind the iconic phrases and familiar photos to consider the errors, mishaps, and the Plan B contingencies that dogged the project, as well as hear of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who made Apollo 11 possible. Guests: Charles Fishman-author of “One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon” Matt Hayes- President and CEO of the Museum of Flight, Seattle Geoff Nunn–Adjunct curator for Space History at the Museum of Flight. David Whitehouse– Journalist, broadcaster, and author of “Apollo 11: The Inside Story” Dee O’Hara–NASA’s first aerospace nurse and fli...

50 MINJUL 1
Comments
Nailing the Moon Landing

Animals Like Us

Laughing rats, sorrowful elephants, joyful chimpanzees. The more carefully we observe, and the more we learn about animals, the closer their emotional lives appear to resemble our own. Most would agree that we should minimize the physical suffering of animals, but should we give equal consideration to their emotional stress? Bioethicist Peter Singer weighs in. Meanwhile, captivity that may be ethical: How human-elephant teamwork in Asia may help protect an endangered species. Guests: Frans de Waal-Primatologist and biologist at Emory University; author of “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.” Watchthe video of Mama and Jan Van Hooff. Peter Singer–Philosopher, professor of bioethics at Princeton University. Jacob Shell-Professor of geography at Temple University, and author of “Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants.” Kevin Schneider-Executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project

51 MINJUN 24
Comments
Animals Like Us

You've Got Whale

(repeat) SMS isn’t the original instant messaging system. Plants can send chemical warnings through their leaves in a fraction of a second. And while we love being in the messaging loop – frenetically refreshing our browsers – we miss out on important conversations that no Twitter feed or inbox can capture. That’s because eavesdropping on the communications of non-human species requires the ability to decode their non-written signals. Dive into Arctic waters where scientists make first-ever recordings of the socializing clicks and squeals of narwhals, and find out how climate shifts may pollute their acoustic landscape. Also, why the chemical defense system of plants has prompted one biologist to give greenery an “11 on the scale of awesomeness.” And, you can’t see them, but they sure can sense one another: how communicating microbes plan their attack. Guests: Susanna Blackwell–Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences. Hear her recordings of narwhalshere. Simon Gilroy–Prof...

50 MINJUN 17
Comments
You've Got Whale

It's Habitable Forming

(repeat) There’s evidence for a subsurface lake on Mars, and scientists are excitedly using the “h” word. Could the Red Planet be habitable, not billions of years ago, but today? While we wait – impatiently – for a confirmation of this result, we review the recipe for habitable alien worlds. For example, the moon Titan has liquid lakes on its surface. Could they be filled with Titanites? Dive into a possible briny, underground lake on Mars … protect yourself from the methane-drenched rain on a moon of Saturn … and cheer on the missed-it-by-that-much planets, asteroids Ceres and Vesta. Also, do tens of billions of potentially habitable extrasolar planets mean that Earth is not unique? Guests: Nathalie Cabrol–Planetary scientist, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute Jack Holt–Geophysicist, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona Jani Radebaugh–Planetary scientist and professor of geology, Brigham Young Un...

50 MINJUN 10
Comments
It's Habitable Forming

Latest Episodes

Granting Immunity

“Diversity or die” could be your new health mantra. Don’t boost your immune system, cultivate it! Like a garden, your body’s defenses benefit from species diversity. Find out why multiple strains of microbes, engaged in a delicate ballet with your T-cells, join internal fungi in combatting disease. Plus, global ecosystems also depend on the diversity of its tiniest members; so what happens when the world’s insects bug out? Guests: Matt Richtel–Author, most recently, of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System” Rob Dunn–Biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Author of “Never Home Alone” David Underhill–Professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson–Professor in conservation biology at the Institute for Ecology and Nature Management at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Author of “Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects”

52 MIN6 days ago
Comments
Granting Immunity

Sci-Fi From the Future

(repeat) Are you ready to defer all your personal decision-making to machines? Polls show that most Americans are uneasy about the unchecked growth of artificial intelligence. The possible misuse of genetic engineering also makes us anxious. We all have a stake in the responsible development of science and technology, but fortunately, science fiction films can help. The moviesEx MachinaandJurassic Parksuggest where A.I. and unfettered gene-tinkering could lead. But even less popular sci-fi movies can help us imagine unsettling scenarios regarding over-population, smart drugs, and human cloning. And not all tales are grim. The 1951 film,The Man in the White Suit, weaves a humorous story of materials science run amok. So, grab a bowl of popcorn and join us in contemplating the future of humanity as Hollywood sees it! Guest: Andrew Maynard–Physicist and professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. Author ofFilms from the Future: The Tech...

50 MIN1 weeks ago
Comments
Sci-Fi From the Future

Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

(repeat) The Earth is not round. Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid. But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct. Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake. A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. So how do you establish science truth? We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and approaches that feel and look science-y but aren’t. Find out how one man will use telescopes and balloons in the desert to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe, while a biologist runs a test on the waters of Loch Ness to see if it contains prehistoric reptile DNA. And what happens when amateur investigators chase ghosts, UFOs, and Bigfoot with science instruments, but without an understanding of the scientific method. Guests: James Underdown–Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry in...

50 MIN2 weeks ago
Comments
Skeptic Check: Flat Earth

Let's Stick Together

Crowded subway driving you crazy? Sick of the marathon-length grocery store line? Wish you had a hovercraft to float over traffic? If you are itching to hightail it to an isolated cabin in the woods, remember, we evolved to be together. Humans are not only social, we’re driven to care for one another, even those outside our immediate family. We look at some of the reasons why this is so – from the increase in valuable communication within social groups to the power of the hormone oxytocin. Plus, how our willingness to tolerate anonymity, a condition which allows societies to grow, has a parallel in ant supercolonies. Guests: Adam Rutherford–Geneticist and author of “Humanimal: HowHomo sapiensBecame Nature’s Most Paradoxical Creature – a New Evolutionary History” Patricia Churchland–Neurophilosopher, professor of philosophy emerita at the University of California San Diego, and author most recently of “Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition” Mark Moffett–Tropical biolo...

51 MIN3 weeks ago
Comments
Let's Stick Together

Math's Paths

If you bake, you can appreciate math’s transformative properties. Admiring the stackable potato chip is to admire a hyperbolic sheet. Find out why there’s no need to fear math - you just need to think outside the cuboid. Also, how nature’s geometric shapes inspire the next generation of squishy robots and an argument for radically overhauling math class. The end point of these common factors is acute show that’s as fun as eating Pi. Guests: Eugenia Cheng–Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, tenured at the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and author of “How to Bake Pi” Shankar Venkataramani–Professor of math at the University of Arizona Steven Strogatz–Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University and author of “Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe” Daniel Finkel–Mathematician and founder and director of operations at “Math for Love”

50 MINJUL 15
Comments
Math's Paths

DNA is Not Destiny

(repeat) Heredity was once thought to be straightforward. Genes were passed in an immutable path from parents to you, and you were stuck – or blessed – with what you got. DNA didn’t change. But now we know that’s not true. Epigenetic factors, such as your environment and your lifestyle, control how your genes are expressed. Meanwhile, the powerful tool CRISPR allows us to tinker with the genes themselves. DNA is no longer destiny. Hear the results from the NASA twin study and what happened to astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA after a year on the International Space Station. Plus, whether there’s evidence that epigenetic changes can be passed down. And, if we can wipe out deadly malaria by engineering the mosquito genome for sterility, should we do it? Guests: Scott Kelly–Former military test pilot and astronaut and author of “Infinite Wonder” Carl Zimmer–Columnist forThe New York Times,author of “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity" C...

51 MINJUL 8
Comments
DNA is Not Destiny

Nailing the Moon Landing

Neil, Buzz, and Michael made it look effortless, but the moon landing was neither easy nor inevitable. Soon after President Kennedy publicly stated the goal of sending Americans to the moon, NASA confessed that the chances of success were only about 50/50. But on July 20, 1969, despite enormous difficulties, astronauts stepped onto the lunar regolith. In this special anniversary episode, we go behind the iconic phrases and familiar photos to consider the errors, mishaps, and the Plan B contingencies that dogged the project, as well as hear of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who made Apollo 11 possible. Guests: Charles Fishman-author of “One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon” Matt Hayes- President and CEO of the Museum of Flight, Seattle Geoff Nunn–Adjunct curator for Space History at the Museum of Flight. David Whitehouse– Journalist, broadcaster, and author of “Apollo 11: The Inside Story” Dee O’Hara–NASA’s first aerospace nurse and fli...

50 MINJUL 1
Comments
Nailing the Moon Landing

Animals Like Us

Laughing rats, sorrowful elephants, joyful chimpanzees. The more carefully we observe, and the more we learn about animals, the closer their emotional lives appear to resemble our own. Most would agree that we should minimize the physical suffering of animals, but should we give equal consideration to their emotional stress? Bioethicist Peter Singer weighs in. Meanwhile, captivity that may be ethical: How human-elephant teamwork in Asia may help protect an endangered species. Guests: Frans de Waal-Primatologist and biologist at Emory University; author of “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.” Watchthe video of Mama and Jan Van Hooff. Peter Singer–Philosopher, professor of bioethics at Princeton University. Jacob Shell-Professor of geography at Temple University, and author of “Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants.” Kevin Schneider-Executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project

51 MINJUN 24
Comments
Animals Like Us

You've Got Whale

(repeat) SMS isn’t the original instant messaging system. Plants can send chemical warnings through their leaves in a fraction of a second. And while we love being in the messaging loop – frenetically refreshing our browsers – we miss out on important conversations that no Twitter feed or inbox can capture. That’s because eavesdropping on the communications of non-human species requires the ability to decode their non-written signals. Dive into Arctic waters where scientists make first-ever recordings of the socializing clicks and squeals of narwhals, and find out how climate shifts may pollute their acoustic landscape. Also, why the chemical defense system of plants has prompted one biologist to give greenery an “11 on the scale of awesomeness.” And, you can’t see them, but they sure can sense one another: how communicating microbes plan their attack. Guests: Susanna Blackwell–Bio-acoustician with Greeneridge Sciences. Hear her recordings of narwhalshere. Simon Gilroy–Prof...

50 MINJUN 17
Comments
You've Got Whale

It's Habitable Forming

(repeat) There’s evidence for a subsurface lake on Mars, and scientists are excitedly using the “h” word. Could the Red Planet be habitable, not billions of years ago, but today? While we wait – impatiently – for a confirmation of this result, we review the recipe for habitable alien worlds. For example, the moon Titan has liquid lakes on its surface. Could they be filled with Titanites? Dive into a possible briny, underground lake on Mars … protect yourself from the methane-drenched rain on a moon of Saturn … and cheer on the missed-it-by-that-much planets, asteroids Ceres and Vesta. Also, do tens of billions of potentially habitable extrasolar planets mean that Earth is not unique? Guests: Nathalie Cabrol–Planetary scientist, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute Jack Holt–Geophysicist, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona Jani Radebaugh–Planetary scientist and professor of geology, Brigham Young Un...

50 MINJUN 10
Comments
It's Habitable Forming

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