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July 3, 2020
Movies may not be real — but in a lot of ways, they’re real to us. Great films help us understand the world, history, and one another. They have the ability to reach a level of truth that we can feel in our bones. When a great actor delivers a line, we believe them. When a beloved character dies, we mourn them. When danger approaches, our hair stands on end. What creates these strong reactions — and makes the illusion so compelling? On this episode, we look to science to explain how movie magic works in our brains and plays out in our emotions. We hear stories about the creation of movie sounds, method acting for dogs, whether you can really trust an actor, and how we draw the line between onscreen romance and real-life love. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Ari Saperstein takes us inside the world of Foley artists, who recreate everyday sounds for movies, from walking to eating to sneezing. Alan Yu reports on our obsession with on-screen couples, and explores whether acting in love can lead to real romance. For a lot of actors, embodying someone else can take a toll on your psyche. Barton Goldsmith talks about his work as an on-set film therapist, and how it can lead to a more productive movie making experience. We talk with Cornell psychology professor James Cutting about how and why films capture our attention.
June 26, 2020
COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the world — it’s transformed the way we live. On a national scale, it has upended politics and flattened our economy. On a human level, we’ve lost loved ones and livelihoods. But the pandemic has also led to unexpected changes for the better — it’s accelerated innovation, revealed new truths, and pushed us to find new ways of doing things. On this episode of The Pulse, we look into some of those lessons. What will the world look like after COVID-19 — what’s here to stay, and what may be gone forever? We hear stories about the benefits of working from home, how the pandemic has affected romantic relationships, and why more scientific conferences may be moving online for good. Also heard on this week’s episode: For a lot of scientists, academic conferences are the biggest event of the year — a chance for them to network, present their research, and catch up on the latest in their field. This year, however, the pandemic forced most conferences online. Reporter Alan Yu explains why this stopgap solution might turn into the new normal, even after COVID-19 subsides. Germ expert Connie Steed from The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology offers her predictions about what we can expect from our new reality, from tech innovations to how we travel. Will the pandemic accelerate efforts to bring hospital care to people’s homes? We hear an excerpt from the health care podcast “Tradeoffs” that digs into that issue. We talk with biological anthropologist Helen Fisher about love and dating in the midst of COVID-19 — she explains how couples are dealing with being cooped up together, and why the pandemic may lead to more meaningful relationships.
June 19, 2020
Thanks to COVID-19, social media has never been more important — or more dangerous. Information — good or bad — spreads at lightning speed, including viral rumors, conspiracy theories, and “cures” that can kill. In fact, the spread of misinformation on social media has become such a threat to public health that it’s earned its own name: “infodemic.” On this episode, we track the spread of viral messaging on social media, and its implications for our health. We hear stories about the origins of the “infodemic,” and how researchers are fighting back; why posting on TikTok could be an “ethical gray zone” for doctors; and how researchers are using what we share about ourselves on social media to better understand our mental health. Also heard on this week’s episode: We talk with public health researcher Timothy Caulfield about how and why social media has become a vector for the spread of health-related misinformation — along with what we can do to the fight the ongoing COVID-related “infodemic.” Medical ethicist Dominic Sisti explains why social media is valuable for health care providers, but can also be an “ethical gray zone” for Tweet-happy doctors that could ultimately harm the profession. Gastroenterologist Earl Campbell adds his perspective about why doctors can — and should — be active on social media to help combat prevalent misinformation. Sometimes it feels like we’re being inundated with conflicting messages about the coronavirus. So how do we sort what’s true from what isn’t? Enter “Nerdy Girls,” an all-female team of researchers and clinicians who’ve made it their mission to spread accurate and up-to-date information on social media. We chat with one of their members, Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the behavioral aspects of preventing infectious diseases. Researchers are mining our social media posts for information on our moods and well-being. We hear from University of Pennsylvania emergency medicine physician and digital health expert Raina Merchant, and Chris Danforth from the Computational Story Lab team at the University of Vermont. Footage of police brutality — most notably, the recent murder of George Floyd — has sparked a nationwide movement for justice. But what is the psychic cost of watching these horrific videos? We talk with adolescent and child psychiatrist Karriem Salaam about the impact these images have on mental health, especially for Black and brown adolescents.
June 12, 2020
There was a time when seeing was believing — but that’s changing, thanks to new technology that’s elevating fakery to a whole new level. In an ever-growing world of synthesized realities, how do we tell what’s real from what’s fake? And when and why does it matter? We explore that question on this episode, with stories about deepfakes — a new kind of fake video, powered by artificial intelligence; lab-grown meat in our pets’ food; and fake laughter. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Susie Armitage explores fake laughter in its natural habitat — comedy open mics. We hear about how up-and-coming comics learn to tell real laughter from fake, and how our evolutionary past explains that ability… along with our tendency to chuckle when things aren’t remotely funny. What happens when a piece of information shatters everything we believe to be true? Reporter Molly Schwartz explores that question with the story of Austin Lane Howard, a devout Jehovah’s Witness whose doubt eventually pulled him away from the church. We talk with Lydia Pyne, author of “Genuine Fakes,” about everything from lab-grown diamonds to replicas of famous historical sites.
June 5, 2020
The killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis has sparked another wave of national outrage over police brutality and violence. Protesters have taken to the streets, demanding an end to police violence, and some are even asking for police departments to be defunded or abolished altogether. On this episode, we explore what better policing could look like, and what role research and science might play in serious reform. We talk with experts about the effects police violence is having on Black Americans’ health — both mental and physical. It’s not only the actual violence — it’s also the constant fear of violence, and the fear of being stopped and arrested that’s causing stress and anxiety. We hear ideas for reform, along with how we can improve, or even reinvent, American policing. Also heard on this week’s episode: We talk to Rashawn Ray, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, about his experiences with police, and his essay “Bad apples come from rotten trees in policing.” He is also a Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Harvard University public health researcher David Williams and Bay Area pediatrician and community health advocate Rhea Boyd discuss the health impact of police violence on communities of color. The threat of violence can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance. Rohini Haar, an emergency medicine physician in Oakland, California, and medical expert for Physicians for Human Rights, explains the health effects of tear gas, which can include permanent injury and even death. We talk to Karen Quigley, a psychology professor at Northeastern University, about how more factors than we might think affect police officers’ decision-making. Judith Andersen, a health psychologist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, then weighs in on how better, science-based training could help officers overcome their fight-or-flight response in the midst of stressful situations. Tracey Meares — a law professor at Yale Law School, and founding director of The Justice Collaboratory — discusses her research on how to improve the relationship between police and the public, which she says involves a fundamental reframing of how we think about police.
May 29, 2020
Imagine for a moment a world without air conditioners, refrigerators, fans, or even ice. We take them for granted — but keeping cool is a lot more complicated than you might think. As we roll into what’s predicted to be one of the hotter summers in recent memory, The Pulse explores the science of keeping cool. We hear stories about battling heat islands, designing cooler buildings, and cooling down our bodies and our minds. Also heard on this week’s episode: Irina Zhorov reports on what creates “heat islands” in cities, and how deadly heat waves inspired a new way of cooling houses down. We talk with Ajla Aksamija, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, about how high-performance buildings are starting to replace air conditioning. Most of us think of sweat as a nuisance — but it’s a key part of our bodies’ internal cooling system and essential to our survival. Pulse producer Lindsay Lazarski explains why we sweat, and what happens when you can’t. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) heat isn’t just a temperature — it’s an indication of health. Reporter Liz Tung investigates the TCM concept of “internal heat,” to find out what it is and how quelling it might help one patient overcome her chronic intestinal problems. Despite ongoing quarantine orders, warmer weather is drawing crowds to beaches and parks. Jodie Guest, a professor of epidemiology at Emory University, explains how to stay safe. Poet, birder and wildlife biologist J. Drew Lanham talks about the importance of green spaces for all, and explains how being in nature is helping him keep his spirits up during this time.
May 15, 2020
Around the globe, COVID-19 has frozen economies, closed schools, stores, and restaurants, and even canceled the Olympics. Millions of people are stuck at home, trying their best to keep their work going from a distance. So what does all this mean for scientific research? On this episode, we explore how the pandemic is transforming the lives and work of scientists, both now and in the future. We hear stories about the impact on field research — and what that means for the next generation of scientists; one lab’s mission to rescue valuable research mice; and areas that have been thrust into overdrive, including a high-stakes drug trial seeking a cure. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Irina Zhorov pulls back the curtain on the high-stakes drug trials digging into a hyped — and hated — potential treatment, hydroxychloroquine. Stephen Tang, the CEO of OraSure Technologies, discusses their work developing a rapid COVID-19 antigen test. We talk with MIT’s Martin Culpepper and Drexel University’s Genevieve Dion about their universities’ efforts to help in the fight against COVID-19. We hear from scientists around the world who talk about how the coronavirus has affected their research. Jacinta Beehner describes what it’s like to pack up a field station in a hurry.
May 8, 2020
Most of us dread mosquito season — but on some level, you’ve got to admire these pesky bloodsuckers. Over the millennia, they’ve spread around the world — finding ways to survive even the coldest winters, mate while flying through the air, breed pretty much anywhere, and hunt their prey with relentless precision. In the meantime, viruses have evolved to use mosquitoes as a free ride to millions of hosts. That, of course, is a major reason to fear mosquitoes — they’re not just annoying, they’re dangerous, serving as the vectors for deadly plagues past and present. Scientists and communities have been striving to figure out how we can reduce their numbers. On this episode, we explore why mosquitoes are so hard to control, and why the fight to control them sometimes becomes its own war, tearing communities apart. Also heard on this week’s episode: Cornell University entomologist Laura Harrington explains why mosquitoes feed on humans, how viruses capitalize on that relationship, and what mosquito research looks like in the lab.
May 1, 2020
You know you’ve made it when you get parodied on Saturday Night Live … by none other than Brad Pitt. And you really know you’ve made it when Pitt breaks character to thank you for your service. That was an honor recently bestowed upon Anthony Fauci, America’s bespectacled top infectious disease physician, who’s achieved rock star levels of fame in recent weeks. Usually, though, public health officials have much lower profiles. They’re behind-the-scenes thinkers and doers, who help keep their communities healthy with initiatives like traffic safety, vaccinations, and fluoridated water. In the best of times, we don’t even know they’re there — but during disease outbreaks, their work kicks into high gear. So how did this field get its start? And what can we learn from past crises, starting with the yellow fever outbreak of 1793, through the AIDS epidemic, into the present? In this episode, we hear stories about the origins of public health; how the 1918 flu pandemic shaped the modern bathroom; and how schools and public health became a power couple. Also heard on this week’s episode: We explore the very beginnings of public health in America by telling the story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, which ravaged the young nation’s capital. What lessons can we learn from America’s last major epidemic — HIV/AIDS? We ask Carlos Del Rio, a professor of medicine and global health at Emory University, about how public health approaches shaped the HIV epidemic, and vice versa. Public health expert Alison Buttenheim from the University of Pennsylvania explains why the core of her job is to make it seem like nothing’s happened. We listen to The Crossing, a professional chamber choir in Philadelphia, performing “Protect Yourself from Infection” — a new piece that was commissioned by the Mütter Museum for its 2019 exhibit “Spit Spreads Death,” a commemoration of the Spanish Flu pandemic. The music was composed by David Lang, and the lyrics are word-for-word transcriptions of advice from a U.S. government health manual from 1918. During the coronavirus outbreak, we’re constantly hearing about the importance of washing our hands and keeping surfaces clean. A little more than 100 years ago, this same concern over cleanliness emerged during the 1918 flu pandemic. Architect David Feldman joins us to discuss how this past pandemic helped to shape our homes — especially the bathroom.
April 24, 2020
It feels like we’ve been invaded by an invisible enemy — so scary we don’t even want to go to the grocery store. Inside of hospitals, patients and health care workers are fighting this invasion by wearing layers of protective gear. As a country, we’re dealing with it through social distancing and increased testing … And, it feels a bit like war. All of this got us thinking about the idea of invasion. What happens when you face an outside threat, that’s trying to come in? On this episode, we’ll explore this idea through different lenses. We’ll hear stories about coronavirus invading our bodies. Then, we dig into invasive species, and the pushback against the language we use to describe them. And lastly, we get to invasion on a personal level — inside of our minds, and our homes. Also heard on this week’s episode: Climate change has already started pushing wildlife into new territories — leading to widespread concern over the threat posed by “invasive species.” Susan Phillips reports on how some scientists are rethinking this threat, including whether we should consider it a threat at all. Last year Alex Wolfe and his girlfriend made a big decision: They were finally moving in together. Things were going smooth at first, until they realized they were not alone. Are security cameras making us safer at home — or just more paranoid? Reporter Grant Hill tells the story of how a prank planted a seed of suspicion in his family’s home, and talks with psychologist Pamela Rutledge about why and what we’re hardwired to fear. Microbiologist Carolina Lopez offers a primer on our immune systems’ amazing ability to defend against attacks. She also explains all the ways our bodies are — and aren’t — prepared to fight off coronavirus. Can you stop a virus from invading? We talk with Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, about what we can do better to halt the spread of the coronavirus in our communities. Disease outbreaks can make people suspicious of others or more likely to cast blame. Public health historian Michael Yudell walks us through some past examples of when racism, discrimination, and fear bubbled up to the surface during times of crisis.
April 17, 2020
Optimizing our brains has become an obsession of the modern world. We meditate, take supplements, read books on productivity — all in the name of sharpening our minds, and boosting cognitive function. But at a time when we’re most in need of our A game, a lot of us are finding ourselves seriously derailed. The pandemic has disrupted our lives, work, and schedules; thrust us into a fog of anxiety and uncertainty; and in some cases, stretched us impossibly thin between the pressures of work and family. On this episode, we explore how we can reclaim our best brains. We hear stories about innovating under pressure, accepting boredom as a cognitive reset, and reaching the creative flow state. Also heard on this week’s episode: We talk with Randall Munroe — the prolific author behind webcomic XKCD — about using science and math for whimsical (and totally impractical) problem solving. For instance: building an above-ground pool out of Gruyere cheese. Doctors use brain stimulation to treat conditions ranging from anxiety and depression, to chronic pain. But now, people are also doing this at home, with brain-zapping devices they can buy online. Does that work, and is it a good idea? We hear from Roy Hamilton, a neurologist and director of the University of Pennsylvania’s brainSTIM Center (Brain Stimulation, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation Center).
April 10, 2020
What does it take to get through a global pandemic? How do you keep going, keep working, get up every day and hope for the best? Around the world, people are discovering the answer through their own sense of resilience — the resources within ourselves and our communities that brace us against outside pressures, allowing us to bend, and not break. On this episode, we explore what resilience means, with stories about people facing down sometimes impossible situations, and finding a way to adapt, recover, and eventually bounce back. We hear about an Olympic athlete who is dealing with the historic postponement of Tokyo 2020, an ER nurse in New York City treating patients with COVID-19, and we’ll find out why kids may emerge stronger on the other side of this pandemic. Also heard on this week’s episode: David Fajgenbaum was in medical school when he was diagnosed with Castleman disease — a rare and deadly illness with no known cure. We hear about Fajgenbaum’s extraordinary fight to not only survive, but find a possible cure. Since we reported that story, Fajgenbaum has begun to work on finding a possible treatment for the cytokine storms that occur with both Castleman and COVID-19. You can read more about David Fajgenbaum’s journey in his book: “Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope Into Action.” Michael Ungar — a therapist, social work professor, and director of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University — explains how community and social structure play into our shared resilience. An average day in the emergency room is never easy, and during a pandemic, the stakes are even higher — with more patients needing critical care. ER nurse and audio producer Kate O’Connell shares what it’s like working on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak in the Transom series “Pandemic ER: Notes From A Nurse In Queens.” We also hear from Donna Nickitas, dean and professor of nursing at Rutgers University-Camden, on what nurses can do to get through this tough time. Primary care practices play an important role as a first line of defense with our health in general, but the pandemic could threaten their survival. Dan Gorenstein, host of the podcast Tradeoffs, explains why these providers are facing tough choices to keep their doors open. During this pandemic, many friends and colleagues have turned to Aisha Ahmad, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, to share her experiences adapting to and surviving war zones and disease outbreaks around the world. She’s writing a series of essays for The Chronicle of Higher Education and recorded her advice for us. How are kids dealing with all of this — not going to school, not seeing their friends, and their parents being all kinds of stressed out? We check in with Kim Wheeler Poitevien, a clinical social worker in Philadelphia, on the resiliency of children.
April 3, 2020
The COVID-19 outbreak is creating increased demand for mental health services — lots of people are feeling anxious, or are getting depressed. At the same time, traditional mental health services have been disrupted. In-person sessions are not possible at the moment, nor are group sessions. How are providers and their clients adjusting? We take a look at mental health services and what people are doing to stay well during these difficult times. We also hear stories of families affected by serious mental health issues, and why they say the system fails too many people. Also heard on this week’s episode: Dawn Brown, director of community engagement for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), discusses her organization’s guide for dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. We talk with Jonathan Singer, a professor of social work at Loyola University, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing our mental health system to offer services online. Psychiatrist and documentarian Kenneth Paul Rosenberg talks about his recent film and book, “Bedlam: An Intimate Journey into America’s Mental Health Crisis,” which traces the failure of the U.S. mental health system. When you’re faced with a mental health crisis, who do you call? Internist and regular Pulse contributor Neda Frayha explains why primary care physicians might be the first and only access point for some people with mental health issues. Karriem Salaam, an adolescent and child psychiatrist at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, discusses how people with previous trauma or mental health issues are coping during this global crisis. Author Melody Moezzi shares how poetry is helping her through difficult times. Her new book is “The Rumi Prescription.” Psychologist Scott Haas discusses how reframing our general take on this crisis could help us deal with this situation.
March 27, 2020
We rely on our friends for all kinds of things — companionship, laughter, and right now — support in times of crisis. But it’s only recently that scientists have started investigating how friendship works, and why it matters to our health and well-being. On this episode, we explore the anatomy of this unique bond, with stories about what happens when friendship turns romantic, the painful experience of bestie breakups, and how friendships can form between unlikely animal pairings. Also heard on this week’s episode: Science journalist Lydia Denworth discusses why friendship is essential to our health and to our survival. She is the author of “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond.” Dakota Fisher-Vance and Cara Scharf were both diagnosed with cancer in their early 20s. They talk to us about how being young adults with cancer brought them together, and why having a shared illness has made their bond stronger. They are the co-founders of Young Adult Cancer Connection. Do friendship apps actually work? Reporter Buffy Gorrilla takes us on a journey as she navigates different apps while looking for friendship in Australia. Some animals form something akin to what we think of as friendship. It’s usually animals that live in “stable, bonded social groups,” like primates or whales. But sometimes, friendships happen with animals that aren’t usually candidates for that kind of relationship. Liz Tung reports on an unlikely friendship between two bears at the Philadelphia Zoo. We also created a mixtape of all of our favorite songs about friends. Check it out on Spotify or press play below.
March 20, 2020
Communities around the world are scrambling to slow the spread of COVID-19: closing businesses and schools, canceling gatherings, and limiting social interactions. Some countries and cities have even gone on almost total lockdown. On this episode, we hear about different measures to stop the virus, and how they’re affecting people. We hear about the impact of medical quarantine, how more aggressive testing could slow the spread, and why some ER doctors think they’re not doing enough to keep the virus in check. We also get an update on COVID-19 vaccine research. Also heard on this week’s episode: We are asking people all around the country to start sending us little time capsules of their lives as the coronavirus spreads. If you can record yourself on your smartphone and tell us how your life is changing, please be in touch with host Maiken Scott, mscott@whyy.org Regular Pulse contributor and ER doctor Avir Vitra tells us about how medical professionals are dealing with the COVID-19 spread, and whether the medical system is prepared for this kind of pandemic. Sheri Fink, a New York Times correspondent and executive producer of the Netflix series, “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak,” explains why testing is so crucial for both public health officials and anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus. Fink, who won Pulitzer Prizes for her investigation into a New Orleans hospital in the days after Hurricane Katrina and for her reporting during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, also offers advice on how to stay safe and sane during the pandemic. Reporter Cris Barrish takes us to one of the country’s first drive-through testing sites, and talks to patients who suspect they may have been infected.
March 13, 2020
Think about the millions of details stored in your memory: what you had for breakfast; how to get to work; the smell of lavender; your first kiss; a great vacation; how to calculate percentages. So much of our existence is based on our memory. All of the small and big things we accomplish and do every day tap into this system. But how does memory work? Why do we remember some things and not others? On this episode, we look at memory. We hear stories about what scientists say happens to our earliest childhood memories; people who cultivate a practice of remembering their dreams; and a new therapy that uses the senses to improve recall among people with dementia. Also heard on this week’s episode: Michael Yassa, professor of neurobiology at the University of California Irvine, explains what we know about how memories are stored and accessed in our brains. We look into the “jukebox” in our heads that stores thousands of songs and melodies — and seemingly plays them at random. We explore the relationship between creativity and memory with Kevin Paul Madore, a research psychologist at Stanford University. We need memory to be creative, but sometimes it can be a tricky partner when we’re trying to come up with something brand new.
March 6, 2020
Medicine is always changing. New treatments become available. Old ones become obsolete. But how does a treatment become established? How long does it take for science to get from research bench to bedside? And how do patients decide what is best for them? On this episode, we take a look at how patients and health care providers navigate the constantly changing world of medical treatments. We hear stories about how Accelerated Resolution Therapy [ART] became a hot new trauma therapy; one family’s wrenching decision over scoliosis surgery; and health care journalist Kate Pickert’s personal journey through modern breast cancer treatments. Also heard on this week’s episode: Health care journalist Kate Pickert wrote several stories about breast cancer over the years — but when she was diagnosed herself, she realized that a lot of what she thought about treatment was wrong. Pickert wrote “Radical: The Science, Culture, and History of Breast Cancer in America.” Physician Jeff Brenner set out to revolutionize how health care is delivered to some of the country’s sickest patients. His goal: to give patients who were using the ER for health care easy access to primary care. But was his approach successful? We chat with Dan Gorenstein, host of the health care podcast “Tradeoffs.”
March 4, 2020
COVID-19 — a coronavirus disease — is spreading around the world, putting people and governments on high alert. How will we respond to this crisis in the U.S.? Are we prepared? Can we contain the spread and treat those who are sick? As we grapple with these questions, this special edition of the Pulse, Outbreak 1793, takes a look back to another time when this nation battled a major infectious disease epidemic. It happened in 1793 in Philadelphia, which was the nation’s capital at the time. In the sweltering heat of summer Yellow Fever began to spread, claiming lives at a rapid pace. Those who could flee left the city. Those who remained were panicked. Who or what was to blame? And who would fall victim next? Hosts Maiken Scott and public health historian Michael Yudell visit different parts of historic Philadelphia that played an important role during this Yellow Fever epidemic. We’ll meet the people who stayed to fight the illness and learn about the important public health changes that happened as a result of this crisis. This outbreak marked the beginning of public health in America, and led to the kinds of policies and changes that still protect populations today.
February 28, 2020
Sadness seemingly comes out of nowhere sometimes: a song, a photo, a movie scene, a memory, and there it is. Your heart seems heavy. Tears well up in your eyes. What is happening in the brain when we feel sad? We delve into this complex emotion, and explore how we experience it, and how we deal with it. From tears shed at the gym after a serious workout, to crying in public, and sad songs that help us cope with tough times. Also heard on this week’s episode: Sometimes, it seems like kids cry over just about anything — but other times, they surprise us with a deeper sadness: sorrow for others, existential angst, or despair over unfairness in the world. When do kids begin to experience this kind of profound, complex sadness? How common is it? Reporter Steph Yin digs deep into the landscape of children’s sadness. Can sadness make us more creative? Reporter Gisele Regatao talks with author Said Sayrafiezadeh about his experiences with sadness and writer’s block. Why do people pay good money to go to an exercise class that makes them cry? We investigate the SoulCycle-crying connection. We look into public crying, and why New Yorkers say it’s a bonding experience. We hear from Shaina Feinberg, who has made a map of all the places where she’s cried. We think of sadness as something we want to avoid — but then why do we love sad songs so much? We talk with neuroscientist Matt Sachs about the sad songs we love and how they help us through tough situations.
February 21, 2020
“It’s not fair!” That’s a common refrain anyone with kids is familiar with. From the time they learn to talk, kids begin protesting the innumerable injustices of everyday life — slices of cake that aren’t quite big enough, bedtimes that are earlier than their siblings’, play times cut short by unexpected weather. And that obsession with fairness stays with us throughout our lives. It helps shape our relationships and personal values — along with our government, social systems, and national identity. So where does this fundamental drive toward fairness come from? How do we define what’s fair — and who gets to decide? On this episode, we explore fairness, and how we learn to understand it. We hear stories about how algorithms are redefining what counts as fair — and why critics say they’re doing the opposite; the neuroscience behind why we care so much about what’s fair and what isn’t; and the complicated fight to distribute donated organs in a more equitable way. Also heard on this week’s episode: People with chronic conditions often have to pay out of pocket for medications that keep them alive and well. Dan Gorenstein from the health policy podcast “Tradeoffs” joins us to discuss efforts and ideas to bring more fairness to the insurance system. More than 100,000 Americans are on a waiting list for life-saving organ transplants that only a fraction will receive. Art Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s School of Medicine, explains how the organ distribution system works, and how it could be improved. We also hear from two people who are currently waiting for transplants. If you want to learn more about becoming an organ donor, visit www.donors1.org. We talk to one of the creators of the MIT website Moral Machine, which seeks human input on questions of fairness in artificial intelligence.
February 14, 2020
What is love? Is it that warm and fuzzy feeling, that crazed obsession, that deep sentiment of trust and good will? It’s all of those things, but where and how does love happen in our bodies? On this special episode, we put love under the microscope (and into a brain scanner) to understand where this emotion begins, and where it takes us. We talk with neurologists and psychologists to get a better understanding of the feeling that can turn us into heroes, fools — or both. Also heard on this week’s episode: Call it a crush, call it infatuation, call it obsession — some experts call it limerence. Reporter Grant Hill explains the difference between love and limerence, and what it has to do with “love addiction.” How much has online dating changed the way we pick our romantic partners? We talk with biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who developed an in-depth questionnaire for the dating site Match.com. We also put together a mixtape with some of our favorite songs about love. You can find it on Spotify.
February 7, 2020
Movies may not be real — but in a lot of ways, they’re real to us. Great films help us understand the world, history, and one another. They have the ability to reach a level of truth that we feel in our bones. When a great actor delivers a line — we believe them. When a beloved character dies, we mourn them. When danger approaches, our hair stands on end. What creates these strong reactions — and makes the illusion so compelling? On this episode, we look to science to explain how movie magic works in our brains and plays out in our emotions. We hear stories about the creation of movie sounds, method acting for dogs, whether you can really trust an actor, and how we draw the line between onscreen romance, and real-life love. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Ari Saperstein takes us inside the world of Foley artists, who recreate everyday sounds for movies, from walking to eating to sneezing. Alan Yu reports on the obsession with on-screen couples, and explores whether acting in love can lead to real romance. For a lot of actors, embodying someone else can take a toll on your psyche. Barton Goldsmith talks about his work as an on-set film therapist, and how it can lead to a more productive movie making experience. We talk with Cornell psychology professor James Cutting about how and why films capture our attention.
January 31, 2020
When you’re a teenager, everybody tells you that getting pregnant happens quickly, under all kinds of circumstances. But when you look at the process of conception and pregnancy more closely, it resembles a synchronized dance of hormones and conditions. So many steps have to happen for a fertilized egg to embed in a uterus. So when this process doesn’t happen naturally, it’s pretty complicated to figure out how to intervene. Over the past century, reproductive medicine has grown rapidly as a field, from experimenting with artificial insemination to in vitro fertilization. On this episode, we look at fertility (and infertility), and what we have learned about assisting nature. Also, we explore some of the issues and challenges that have come with modern fertility medicine. Also heard on this week’s episode: We hear about the emotional roller coaster often involved in trying IVF treatments. Richard Sharpe from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland explains the challenges surrounding male infertility, and why we know so little about this issue. We hear an excerpt from the podcast Sick, which investigated the story of Indiana fertility doctor Donald Cline during its first season.
January 23, 2020
Hair can be our crowning glory, a big part of our identity, and a tool for self-expression. We shave it, style it, cut it, dye it — and sometimes, hope for it to come back. We obsess over its texture and length. While products help, how our hair looks is related to DNA, to hormones, and to our immune system. On this episode, we look into the connection between our health and our hair. We hear stories about the chemicals in hair dyes, treatments for baldness, and certain aspects of hair that can become an obsession. Also heard on this week’s episode: We’ve put a man on the moon — so why can’t we cure baldness? The Pulse’s Jad Sleiman explores why baldness so difficult to treat … and what could finally work. Erin Wall is one of opera’s most sought-after classical sopranos. But when she lost her iconic blond locks to cancer treatment, Wall had to get comfortable with a new onstage persona. KUOW’s Eilis O’Neill tells the story of Geneva “Gigi” Myhrvold, who started pulling out her hair as a child. Gigi explains how she deals with trichotillomania, and what helps her get the urge to pull under control. Internist Neda Frayha says female baldness comes up in her practice a lot, but she cautions patients to be careful with expensive vitamin products that promise relief. WOSU’s Paige Pfleger on why public health officials in Columbus, Ohio are making use of barbershops to help spread the word about infant mortality. When Amy Silverman’s daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Amy had many questions — and one of them was whether her daughter would ever have curly hair. This episode originally aired September 19, 2019.
January 17, 2020
In the decades after the Civil War, the nation was changing rapidly. Cities were industrializing, the railroad was expanding, business was booming in many places — people were busy! Life in the fast lane seemed to have an impact, giving rise to a condition that soon became known as neurasthenia. Some of the symptoms were fatigue, irritability, and digestion problems. Today, we would probably call this stress, or burnout. Each time period has its own problems that people try to name, and get under control. Often, new inventions come with unintended consequences. On this episode, we look into the new problems of our times, and what we’re doing about them. Is vaping still a good strategy to quit smoking? Can clunky electronic health records be fixed? We also find out what therapists know about helping people who need to be online for their jobs, and are targeted by trolls. Also heard on this week’s episode: Many people have used vaping as a way to quit smoking. But then we started hearing about a mysterious lung illness that’s put more than 2,000 people in the hospital, and killed more than 50. Since then, there’s been a backlash against vaping — with some claiming that it could be just as unhealthy as smoking regular old cigarettes. Is that true? Reporter Liz Tung — who recently traded Camels in for mango-flavored e-cigarettes — investigates. Journalist Beth Gardiner talks about the global impact of air pollution. Her new book is “Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution.” Asthma rates are on the rise across the U.S., but the problem is especially dire on reservations. Reporter Eilís O’Neill visited the Navajo Nation to see how asthma is affecting families and children there. Her reporting was funded in part by the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship and by the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism. Technology means constant distractions, or reminders that something else needs to be done right now. We jump from task to task, or get sucked into social media. When do distractions lead to mistakes? We talk with researchers Samuel Murray from Duke University and Santiago Amaya from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá. Electronic Health Records were supposed to make it easier to manage patient information, and to avoid mistakes. Instead, many health care providers complain that they are clunky to use, and interfere with treatment. Reporter Camille Petersen explores if they can they be fixed.
January 10, 2020
After a decades-long hiatus, researchers are taking a fresh look at the potential of psychedelics in therapy. Could substances like ketamine, MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD help people with depression or PTSD? What are the risks? We explore the recent explosion of psychedelics research, and hear from people who have tried them to treat mental health issues. Also heard on this week’s episode: Many people report having breakthroughs in therapy when using psychedelics, in part because they gain new perspective on an issue. Scientists call this “cognitive flexibility.” Neurologist turned teacher Judy Willis describes how she encourages that skill in her classroom, without the use of psychedelics. Last year, the FDA approved a ketamine-based nasal spray to be used for treating severe depression. Reporter Claire Tighe looks into how ketamine addresses depression, and how the nasal spray is impacting patients. Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, joins us to discuss the history and future of psychedelics research. MDMA is being used in treating PTSD, and some researchers say it also has a role in couples therapy. Brian Earp, co-author of “Love Drugs: The Chemical Future of our Relationships” discusses how the substance works in tandem with therapy. Sandor Iron Rope lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and is part of the Native American Church. The church uses peyote in religious ceremonies. Sandor is wary of the scientific exploration of psychedelics, because he worries it will lead to the exploitation of a traditional and sacred Native American resource.
January 3, 2020
The New Year is often a time for a fresh start. We reflect on our past habits, and resolve to do better — eat healthier, work harder, or work less, and spend more time on the things that really matter. We set goals and create new visions for our best possible lives. Usually, though, come February, most of us are back to our old habits and routines. But some people actually manage to succeed at making their visions a reality. How are they doing it? What have they learned? And what can we learn from them? Also heard on this week’s episode: We hear from scientists about what they plan to do differently in 2020. We talk to author Scott Fedor about his experience persevering through a devastating accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. His new book is called “Head Strong: How a Broken Neck Strengthened My Spirit.” As an inmate at California’s Solano State Prison, Gordon Melvin’s life revolved around drinking, dope, and violence — until a yoga program on PBS transformed his body, mind, and life. This story is from the KALW series “Uncuffed,” produced by men inside Solano State Prison.
December 27, 2019
Running, biking, weightlifting, swimming — for lots of people, working out is an important part of life. It’s about our health — mental and physical — strength, weight control, discipline and let’s face it: vanity. On this episode, we explore why we exercise, why we should, and how to do it best. Also heard on this week’s episode: Baby, we were born to run — even more than you might think. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores why humans are such improbably good runners. We cheer on Harvard professor Dan Lieberman as he races a horse in a 20-mile run, learn the history of persistence hunting, and find out why butts are our secret weapon. Producer Lindsay Lazarski talks with historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela about the history of women’s workouts — starting with the “reducing salons” of the 1930s through the age of jazzercise and aerobics. Petrzela’s upcoming book is called “Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise As The Government Abandoned It.” Want to be able to tie your shoes when you’re 80, and still get up the stairs? Start working out now. We chat with sports physician Tony Reed from Temple University Hospital about the benefits of regular exercise for healthy aging. Working out transformed Marta Rusek’s health and her life. But changing her difficult relationship with her body took even more time — and work.
December 20, 2019
Humans have a close relationship with trees. We plant and cultivate them for food and shelter. Trees offer protection from the rays of the sun. We relax and seem to breathe more deeply in their presence. And of course, we couldn’t breathe at all without trees — since they act as the “lungs of the earth,” converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. On this episode, we explore our relationship with trees, and the shifting give-and-take in a changing world. We hear stories about how climate change is affecting our forests; what it’s like to live in a tree; and how science is trying to bring a near-extinct tree back to life. Also heard on this week’s episode: How is climate change affecting trees? Unlike animals, they can’t migrate when the going gets tough — which is why reporter Alan Yu says some humans are giving trees a hand at moving house. For more than a century, American chestnut trees have teetered on the edge of extinction, due to a disease called the “chestnut blight.” But now, after decades of work, scientists have come up with a solution — a genetically engineered chestnut tree that’s resistant to the blight. Supporters say it could revive the species — so why are some critics saying it could destroy America’s forests? Liz Tung reports. What’s it like living in a tree? We find out from Nate Madsen, a lawyer and environmental activist. In the late 90s, he spent two years living in a redwood tree to save it from loggers. Air pollution from highways can affect people’s health. Could trees help? WABE reporter Molly Samuel talks with a researcher who’s studying which trees are best at blocking pollution. California forest fires seem to get bigger and more destructive every year. But climate change isn’t the only culprit — 150 years of bad forest management have changed the very structure of the wildlands, and not for the better. According to scientists, what they actually need is more fire and maybe a little help from some forest-loving lumberjacks. Daniel Merino reports.
December 13, 2019
You know what they say — all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And science seems to confirm that statement, with findings that play is as important for adults’ emotional health as it is for children’s development. But what exactly counts as play? Who engages in it — and why is it so important? On this episode, we explore some of those questions. We’ll hear stories about rediscovering play as an adult, which animals play and why, and meet a reverend in her 70s who still jumps double dutch. Also heard on this week’s episode: Psychologist Kathy Hirsh Pasek explains why play is so important for children’s social and neurological development. Harvard Kennedy School lecturer David Eaves on why he uses the game Werewolf — also known as Mafia — in the classroom, and what it has to teach us. Reporter Nina Feldman investigates the lack of playgrounds in different neighborhoods, and what that means for the kids who live in them. Reverend Malika Lee Whitney discusses her love for double dutch, and her program Double Dutch Dreamz, and how it’s improved both physical health and community bonds in Harlem.
December 6, 2019
Being a dentist can be a lonely job. Your patients don’t want to be there — and even if they did, it’s not like they can talk with their mouths open. Most dentists are solo practitioners, and many feel isolated. And, even though oral health is very important to our overall well-being, dentistry is totally separate from the rest of medicine. But there is a very active Facebook group where dentists can talk shop, connect with each other, ask for help, complain, and compare notes. So — what’s worrying dentists? In this episode, we look at some of the forces that are disrupting and changing dentistry. We hear about the rise of SmileDirect — and why brick and mortar dentists and orthodontists are upset about the new mail-order system. We learn about the skyrocketing cost of dental school, and what it means for future dentists. And we find out what advancements are changing the field, from startups to cutting-edge tech. Also heard on this week’s episode: We talk with health care reporter Mary Otto about the rise of dental therapists, and what they have to do with economic inequality. Otto also discusses the dentistry-medical divide. She is the author of “Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America.” We call up internist Neda Frayha to find out how primary care providers tackle the issue of oral health. How often do they ask their patients about whether they’re seeing a dentist? Reporter Will Stone takes us to the University of Washington in Seattle, where surgeons and dentists are using technology to revolutionize how we reconstruct the mouth. Nobody likes going to the dentist — but a new start-up is trying to change that. Matthew Schneeman reports on a new startup called Tend. Their tagline: “Look forward to the dentist.”
November 29, 2019
The roles of nurses have changed and expanded a lot in recent decades. Nurses are highly specialized, they have branched out into new areas of medicine. Still, nurses remain on the front lines of patient care. They communicate with doctors, relay patient wishes, and address family concerns. On this episode, we look into how nursing is changing, and how that’s affecting patient care. We hear about nurses fighting for limits on how many patients they’re assigned; find out what it’s like to be a school nurse in the age of active shooter drills; and talk to nurses who are getting involved in climate change issues for the sake of their patients. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Alan Yu explores how climate change is affecting public health — and what nurses are doing about it. Sexual assault examinations are crucial for criminal prosecutions — but not all ER nurses know how to do them. Reporter Stephanie Marudas heads to one hospital in rural Pennsylvania that’s using technology to connect forensic nurses with expert practitioners who can walk them through the process. Nursing historian Patricia D’Antonio of the University of Pennsylvania discusses nurses’ role in advocating for public health reforms and social change. From RNs and LPNs, to NPs and DNPs, there’s a veritable alphabet soup of nursing specialties. We talk with a range of nurses to get a glimpse of what they do.
November 22, 2019
Thanksgiving usually means we’re going big — way over the top. Twice as much turkey as we could possibly eat; more side dishes than the table can hold; and, of course, so much pie. We travel great distances to see our families and friends — we hug, we eat, we argue, and we nap. On this special episode of The Pulse, we explore the traditions and rituals of Thanksgiving through a scientific lens. We hear stories about the neuroscience of gratitude — and how it can help us through grief; the environmental impact of our holiday feasts, from cranberries to food waste; and ask whether turkeys are really as dumb as they look. Also heard on this week’s episode: Turkeys have a reputation for being big, dumb birds. But are they? And what does it mean for a bird to be smart anyway? Reporter Alan Yu explores. Jad Sleiman introduces a New Jersey family that does all their food shopping at local dumpsters. They are among a tiny minority of people fighting global food waste. We hear about how this problem affects the environment — and what we can do about it. We chat with Yale GI specialist Earl Campbell about what happens inside of our digestive tract when we overeat. Reporter Nina Feldman on her annual Friendsgiving tradition, and why it’s come to mean more than she ever thought it would.
November 15, 2019
Police forces in democratic societies are supposed to safeguard the rights of citizens, and protect their lives and well-being. We think of their role in terms of laws, rules, and regulations — but ultimately, so much of what they do is about psychology and human behavior. It’s about how people react to threats, what they do when they panic, and how far a person will go when they feel they have nothing left to lose. What does behavioral science say about these situations? Could research help predict people’s behavior, and suggest effective and safe tactics? We take a look at what role behavioral science could play in creating better police forces, from crowd control to foot patrol and adding female officers to departments. Also heard on this week’s episode: Retired police officer Larry Kniceley recalls a routine traffic stop that could have ended his life. We speak with researchers Judith Andersen and Karen Quigley about what could help officers make solid decisions under a lot of pressure. Why do so many cops love BANG, a high-octane caffeine drink?
November 8, 2019
We look at things that are hard to measure and the different approaches that we take to get those measurements correct.
November 1, 2019
December 30, 2011 never happened in Samoa. The island nation in the South Pacific skipped this day, to move ahead into a different time zone. We change our clocks to start and stop daylight saving time. We travel across time zones. Time, in many ways, is a human construct. We have chosen ways to measure it, to parse it out, to track it. But time is also an experience that can vary wildly from one moment to the next — the minutes that stretch endlessly, the hours that fly by. On this episode, we explore time — how we measure it, how we experience it, and how it bends and warps in our minds. Also heard on this week’s episode: What is time, really? It depends on whom you ask! It could be measured in the time it takes to cook rice, or down to the millisecond, as measured by an atomic clock. Kevin Birth, professor of anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York, discusses how we measure time, and how that has changed over the course of the centuries. Is time travel possible? Will it ever be? Reporter Kathleen Davis checks into it. We hear from John Norton, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Pittsburgh. We explore the experience of déjà vu. We hear from Eva Hall who has déjà vu frequently, and Roderick Spears, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania. We take a look at a lesser-known book by Michael Ende, author of “The Neverending Story.” “Momo” tells the story of a young girl who fights back against an evil empire of time thieves. Journalist Giulia Pines tells us why she loves this book and what it has taught her about time. Claire Drexler, a grief therapist at the Center for Loss and Bereavement in Skippack, Pa., joins us to discuss how grief changes our experience of time. We also hear from Sol De Heras and Jared Michael Lowe, who talk about their personal experiences with grief and time. We also put together a playlist with songs about time, you can find it on Spotify.
October 25, 2019
Often we think of life and death as opposite sides of a coin — categories as final as they are discrete. But in an age when machines can keep hearts pumping and lungs breathing, the line between life and death can sometimes start to blur. Modern medicine pushes us to think differently, ask if perhaps life and death are instead two points on a spectrum of existence. In this episode, The Pulse explores the space between those points. How do we define life and death — medically and culturally? We hear about a court case challenging the legal definition of death; the evolving debate over end-of-life care; and what scientists are saying about near-death experiences. Also heard on this week’s episode: In 2017, the family of 27-year-old Taquisha McKitty sued to keep her on life support, after doctors declared her brain dead. The question for the court was — was she actually dead? A look into the study of near-death experiences, and what those moments in the the runup to death are really like — and why. Working with the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is using genetic samples to recreate the scents of extinct flowers. KCRW’s Avishay Artsy reports on how shared ideas about the afterlife transcend not only time, but also religion and culture.
October 18, 2019
Cars have played a fundamental role in changing our modern lives — where we live, where we work, the shape of our communities, and how we spend our money and free time. But along with new opportunities, cars have also brought negative impacts — air pollution, traffic deaths, congestion, and road rage, just to name a few. On this episode, we explore how cars have affected our world, and how we might reframe their role going forward. Also, why we often behave so badly while driving. Also heard on this week’s episode: When wildlife meets cars, the results can be gruesome — and expensive. Injuries, damages, and clean up can all add up. Ecologist Kevin McLean brings us this story about the cost of roadkill in California. In the 1960s, drivers were more than twice as likely to die in an auto wreck than they are today. That changed thanks to improved design, and especially crash tests involving dummies. But there’s a problem with these dummies — most of them are modeled on tall men. We discuss our urge to rage while driving with psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett. Also, Javier Hernandez from MIT’s media lab explains how technology and artificial intelligence sense and ease driver stress. Long commutes can be a serious drag. We hop in the car with one driver who commutes 60 miles each way, but manages to find moments of zen on the highway. Jalopnik editors Michael Ballaban and Raphael Orlove share the special relationship they and Americans have with their cars.
October 11, 2019
Every culture, workplace, group, and family has its norms — its standards, the way things are done. Norms govern everything from relationships to driving to making coffee. But how does something become the norm? On this episode, we explore how things and behaviors become “normal,” and what happens when we challenge those norms. We hear stories about dog crates and why they are embraced in the U.S., but reviled in other countries; why sleeping through the night isn’t as standard as you might think; and how conservation efforts are challenging America’s lobster fishermen to change how they do their work. Also heard on this week’s episode: Sleeping through the night might be ideal — but historians and scientists say it’s probably not natural. Reporter Steph Yin explores how our sleeping habits have changed, and a small subculture that’s exploring alternative ways of getting some shuteye. Pediatrician Harvey Karp talks about what got him thinking about infant sleep, and prompted him to write his best-selling book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.” The North Atlantic right whale will go extinct if we don’t change our ways, but proposed conservation efforts could put New England’s lobstermen out of business.
October 4, 2019
There was a time when seeing was believing — but that’s changing, thanks to new technology that’s elevating fakery to a whole new level. In an ever-growing world of synthesized realities, how do we tell what’s real from what’s fake? And when and why does it matter? We explore that question on this episode, with stories about deepfakes — a new kind of fake video, powered by artificial intelligence; lab-grown meat in our pets’ food; and fake laughter. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Susie Armitage explores fake laughter in its natural habitat — comedy open mics. We hear about how up-and-coming comics learn to tell real laughter from fake, and how our evolutionary past explains that ability… along with our tendency to chuckle when things aren’t remotely funny. What happens when a piece of information shatters everything we believe to be true? Reporter Molly Schwartz explores that question with the story of Austin Lane Howard, a devout Jehovah’s Witness whose doubt eventually pulled him away from the church. We talk with Lydia Pyne, author of “Genuine Fakes,” about everything from lab-grown diamonds to replicas of famous historical sites.
September 27, 2019
Scientist. Farmer. Feminist. Leader. Alpha male. Veteran. African-American. Hindu. Identity isn’t just about who we think we are — it’s about how others perceive us, and how we move through the world. It’s determined by our families and culture; our race and gender; our jobs, personalities, bodies, and minds. All of those things make up our personal narratives, defining who we are and how we deal with things. But identities aren’t always fixed. Sometimes, they can change, and even clash. On this episode, we explore stories of people wrestling with those changes. We hear about tough Australian farmers becoming more in tune with their feelings, how DNA testing is transforming who we think we are, and the challenges of dating while trans. Also heard on this week’s episode: When a DNA test revealed that Dani Shapiro wasn’t who she thought she was, it sent her on a search for her biological roots. That mission, documented in the memoir “Inheritance,” takes Shapiro deep into the strange and tangled world of early fertility medicine. We hear her story, and also chat with historian Margaret Marsh, who, together with OB-GYN Wanda Ronner, has written three books about fertility treatments. Their latest is called “The Pursuit of Parenthood.” Dating’s tough enough — but transitioning gender can make it even harder. We explore some of those complications with Nava Mau, a trans woman and filmmaker, whose short film “Waking Hour” depicts the minefield trans people might encounter on a night out. Canadian researcher Karen Blair says that the dating pool for trans people appears small, but her data suggests attitudes could shift. Elyn Saks is a law professor, best-selling author, and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient. She’s also someone who lives with schizophrenia. She talks about how she manages her symptoms, and why she firmly believes that mental illness need not define a person. We talk with West Chester University professor Anita Foeman, who uses ancestry information to spark conversations in the classroom — and to push the boundaries of how we think about our own racial and ethnic identities.
September 20, 2019
Hair can be our crowning glory, a big part of our identity, and a tool for self-expression. We shave it, style it, cut it, dye it — and sometimes, hope for it to come back. We obsess over its texture and length. While products help, how our hair looks is related to DNA, to hormones, and to our immune system. On this episode, we look into the connection between our health and our hair. We hear stories about the chemicals in hair dyes, treatments for baldness, and certain aspects of hair that can become an obsession. Also heard on this week’s episode: We’ve put a man on the moon — so why can’t we cure baldness? The Pulse’s Jad Sleiman explores why baldness so difficult to treat … and what could finally work. Erin Wall is one of opera’s most sought-after classical sopranos. But when she lost her iconic blond locks to cancer treatment, Wall had to get comfortable with a new onstage persona. KUOW’s Eilis O’Neill tells the story of Geneva “Gigi” Myhrvold, who started pulling out her hair as a child. Gigi explains how she deals with trichotillomania, and what helps her get the urge to pull under control. Internist Neda Frayha says female baldness comes up in her practice a lot, but she cautions patients to be careful with expensive vitamin products that promise relief. WOSU’s Paige Pfleger on why public health officials in Columbus, Ohio are making use of barbershops to help spread the word about infant mortality. When Amy Silverman’s daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Amy had many questions — and one of them was whether her daughter would ever have curly hair.
September 13, 2019
You know when you get butterflies in your stomach? Or your gut clenches with fear? Or the way a gory movie can fill you with nausea? Those feelings exist because of a special connection between our heads and our tummies called the gut-brain axis. On this episode, we explore how that connection works, the strange effects it can have on our stomachs (and our minds), and why scientists are creating “guts on chips” that mimic our digestive systems. Also heard on this week’s episode: About 16 years ago, Robin started getting sick: she experienced nausea, a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, even passing out on a train. Doctors had no idea what was going on — until, finally, she got a diagnosis — IBS. Reporter Alan Yu explores the history of this mysterious illness, why it’s so difficult to diagnose, and the unexpected treatment that doctors have discovered. Number two is not what you might call polite conversation. In South Korea, however, poop is a celebrated part of life, and asking people if they’ve had a bowel movement yet is no big deal. Reporter Matthew Schneeman talks with some locals about how this cultural difference plays out in real life. The interactions between the brain and the gut are really complicated and difficult to tease apart. We hear from Abigail Koppes, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University, who is designing research platforms she calls “guts on a chip.” The goal is to isolate different cells from the human body, and understand exactly how they talk to each other. Morgan Steele Dykeman started dieting when she was 12 years old. By college, she was limiting her food intake to less than 500 calories a day. Carbs were the enemy, and bread, especially, was a forbidden food. She describes her recovery, and relearning how to eat bread without shame and guilt — and without her stomach being in knots. Alexander Charles Adams felt nauseous for months. Throwing up became a daily part of life, which led to anxiety and depression. We hear about Alexander’s medical journey through this digestive nightmare, and what turned out to be the culprit.
September 6, 2019
Sadness seemingly comes out of nowhere sometimes: a song, a photo, a movie scene, a memory, and there it is. Your heart seems heavy. Tears well up in your eyes. What is happening in the brain when we feel sad? We delve into this complex emotion, and explore how we experience it, and how we deal with it. From tears shed at the gym after a serious workout, to crying in public, and sad songs that help us cope with tough times. Also heard on this week’s episode: Sometimes, it seems like kids cry over just about anything — but other times, they surprise us with a deeper sadness: sorrow for others, existential angst, or despair over unfairness in the world. When do kids begin to experience this kind of profound, complex sadness? How common is it? Reporter Steph Yin digs deep into the landscape of children’s sadness. Can sadness make us more creative? We talk with author Said Sayrafiezadeh about his experiences with sadness and writer’s block. Why do people pay good money to go to an exercise class that makes them cry? We investigate the SoulCycle-crying connection. We look into public crying, and why New Yorkers say it’s a bonding experience. We hear from Shaina Feinberg, who has made a map of all the places where she’s cried. We think of sadness as something we want to avoid — but then why do we love sad songs so much? We talk with neuroscientist Matt Sachs about the sad songs we love and how they help us through tough situations.
August 30, 2019
It’s Labor Day, which means we’re celebrating the hard-working people who keep the engines of productivity humming. On this episode, we’ll explore how science and technology are changing work and workplaces, and what we are learning about the pitfalls of different work environments. A look at how the American tradition of tying benefits to jobs has impacted our health care. We’ll meet a woman who used science to prove that ladies should be part of the workforce. Plus, the psychology of snarky office emails, and the case for mandatory vacation days. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Dan Gorenstein offers a history lesson on how health coverage became tied to our jobs — along with how it’s affected our wallets and the overall economy. WESA’s Margaret J. Krauss brings us the story of a night-shift emergency doctor who handles lots of tough stuff and still loves his job. History Professor Carla Bittel explains how Victorian-era physician Mary Putnam Jacobi upended the idea that women can work during their periods — and how that paved the way for women to become doctors and scientists. Host Maiken Scott talks with Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, about the rise of cubicles. Next, psychiatrist Jody Foster chimes in on how working together in tight spaces can create workplace tensions. Psychologist Dan Gottlieb says “end-of-summer sadness” is a real thing. But there’s good news: you can also find joy while wearing a fall sweater.
August 23, 2019
It was supposed to be a paradise. A parcel of wilderness, reminiscent of the past, where birds and large grazers would find refuge. Conservationists fought hard to create this sanctuary, but things didn’t go as planned. Soon, animals were dying, and humans were fighting over the future of the reserve. People have long tried their hand at creating their own worlds, and on this episode, we explore why we do this, and what happens next. We hear stories about nature conservation gone wrong, the therapeutic potential of VR, and talk to a neuroscientist who says all of us are trapped inside a world of our own making. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Nathan Miller plays Ingress — an augmented reality game that superimposes a science fiction universe onto the real world… in this case, Detroit. Neuroscientist Beau Lotto challenges us to rethink our perceptions, and what we think of as the “real” world.
August 16, 2019
You know what they say — all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And science seems to confirm that statement, with findings that play is as important for adults’ emotional health as it is for children’s development. But what exactly counts as play? Who engages in it — and why is it so important? On this episode, we explore some of those questions. We’ll hear stories about rediscovering play as an adult, which animals play and why, and meet a reverend in her 70s who still jumps double dutch. Also heard on this week’s episode: Psychologist Kathy Hirsh Pasek explains why play is so important for children’s social and neurological development. Harvard Kennedy School lecturer David Eaves on why he uses the game Werewolf — also known as Mafia — in the classroom, and what it has to teach us. Reporter Nina Feldman investigates the lack of playgrounds in different neighborhoods, and what that means for the kids who live in them. Reverend Malika Lee Whitney discusses her love for double dutch, and her program Double Dutch Dreamz, and how it’s improved both physical health and community bonds in Harlem.
August 9, 2019
From bungalows to skyscrapers, farmhouses to condos, brownstones to corner shops, buildings define the spaces of our lives. They are our homes, our workplaces, and our settings for fun, commerce, and government. And the way they’re built can shape the way we live our lives. In this episode, we look at how buildings affect our health and well-being, along with the future of our cities. We hear stories about protecting hospitals from the elements, what it takes to make buildings truly accessible, and how public housing high-rises got such a bad rap. Also heard on this week’s episode: Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act set the standard for making buildings accessible. But according to architect Brenda Zhang, accessibility should go beyond simple compliance. Brenda explains why true accessibility is in the details, and what it takes to make buildings that work for a range of different disabilities. In a lot of cities, public housing high-rises are being razed. Over the years, they have become associated with crime, decay, and terrible living conditions. Reporter Darryl Murphy traces the history of how public housing high-rises earned such a bad rap. Reporter Peter Crimmins tells the harrowing tale of how his fixer-upper turned into a house of horrors.
August 2, 2019
Our planet’s surface is 71% water — with five vast oceans that span a range of temperatures and shades of blue. Humans have long loved and feared these oceans. They sustain us and other animals, help regulate our climate, and offer endless opportunities for awe and joy. But our relationship hasn’t always been smooth. The ocean can be a threat to us, and we — with our expanding environmental footprint — can be a threat to it. On this episode of The Pulse, we dig into the science of our oceans: Their connection to our survival, the threats they face, and the secrets they hide. We hear about the mystery of the great jellyfish boom, and why seaweed might just be the next hot (and sustainable) food trend. We also explore recent discoveries about the fate of plastic in our oceans — and why the impact goes deeper than we once thought. Also heard on this week’s episode: Some scientists are calling it an invasion — across the world, jellyfish are swarming the coasts, leading to beach closures, and even several deaths in Australia and the Philippines. Gisele Regatao reports on what researchers are saying is behind this unprecedented boom. You may know Ellen Horne from her years working at Radiolab. But before that, she had another vocation — marine conservationist. Her passion for the field withered with the arrival of aquaculture, a method of seafood farming that she saw as an insurmountable threat to ocean ecosystems. But now, a lifetime later, Horne takes a second look, and explains why that could be changing. We also talk to Amy Novogratz, one of the founders of Aqua-Spark, a global firm that’s trying to reinvent aquaculture in a more sustainable way. Before her death at 25, writer Mallory Smith spent years documenting her life and battle with cystic fibrosis in a series of raw and eloquent journal entries that comprise the newly published memoir, “Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life.” We talk with her mother, Diane Shader Smith, who assembled the book, about Mallory and her deep connection with the ocean. Marine biologist Rick Stafford, who’s based at Bournemouth University in southwest England, introduces us to underwater soundscapes and explains how our human sounds affect fish.
July 26, 2019
Everyone loves a good comeback story — but they don’t just apply to athletes and washed-up actors. Revivals can happen for ideas, places — even entire species. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore how and why comebacks happen in the scientific realm. We’ll hear stories about how grizzly bears are starting to rebound, the unexpected revival of Lamarckian evolution, how flatworms regenerate their bodies, and the psychological power of nostalgia. Also heard on this week’s episode: For decades, talking about UFOs was sure to earn you some strange looks. But now that more credible accounts are emerging, that could be changing. For this story, we hear from investigative journalist Leslie Kean, Vincent Aiello from the Fighter Pilot Podcast, and Jill Tarter from the SETI Institute. Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado — a molecular biologist at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City — talks about the regenerative abilities of flatworms and salamanders, and how that might help us better understand our own biology. Paleontologist and University of Washington professor Peter Ward on the life and work of naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck — and why his controversial ideas on evolution are making a comeback. Ward’s book is called “Lamarck’s Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution’s Past and Present.”
July 19, 2019
In honor of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, we’ve been talking a lot about getting to the moon, and the science of understanding its origins. This episode is more of a tribute to the moon itself, and our relationship with this bright, beautiful object in the sky. The moon lights up our nights, influences the oceans’ tides, stabilizes the earth’s tilt — which is responsible for our seasons. Without the moon, our lives here on Earth would be very, very different. On this episode of The Pulse, we pay homage to all the moon does — and delve into our relationship with the moon. Also heard on this week’s episode: Annette Lee — who is Native American, and a professor of astronomy and physics — talks about how these two perspectives align and differ in understanding the moon. Eclipses — lunar and especially solar — tend to inspire wonder and awe, but for ancient people, they could also seem scary or threatening. Jonathan Seitz, a history professor at Drexel University, studies ancient cultures. He tells us how ancient civilizations were able to keep track of and predict solar and lunar eclipses without modern technology, and the meaning behind an eclipse. We separate fact from fiction about when and why wolves howl, and what a howl might actually mean. Biodynamic farming isn’t just about avoiding pesticides and growing organic. It also takes into account the moon’s gravitational pull and planting by the phases of the moon. We visit a biodynamic vineyard in California’s wine country to hear more about their farming methods. The Lunar Society in England derived its name from the moon — and used its light to help members get to meetings. It was a gathering of influential scientists who hatched big plans on moonlit nights. David Warmflash writes about this in his new book “Moon: An Illustrated History.”
July 12, 2019
On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. It was an astounding achievement — a feat of science and technology, born from the will and effort of thousands. But it was also an incredible risk, one that could very well have ended in tragedy. Fifty years later, we pay homage to that mission with stories about the moon landing’s significance, its drama, and its legacy. On this special episode of The Pulse, we hear stories about the science that got us to the moon, the politics that have pushed — and stagnated — space exploration, and our relationship with the moon. Also — how people around the country remember and celebrated the moon landing. Also heard on this week’s episode: During a recent panel discussion, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins called their mission to the moon a “fragile daisy chain of events,” that could have fallen apart at any moment. Space journalist Andrew Chaikin describes one of those moments: their nerve-wracking, and nearly catastrophic, descent to the moon’s surface. Eric Ward from the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City talks about the moon rock they currently have on display, and why this aspect of the Apollo missions was so important to our understanding of the moon’s origins. Astronomer Jackie Faherty from the Museum of Natural History weighs in on the moon being the perfect place to learn more about the universe. What can Legos teach kids about the challenges of space exploration? We visit with kids in Houston, Texas, and find out how they view the moon landing — along with that era’s technology. Politics and space exploration have had a long and complicated history. Priorities change and funding dries up. We explore how NASA adapts to changing administrations, and changing expectations. Former rocket scientist Poppy Northcutt was in the control room during Apollo missions, and says it’s “bittersweet” looking back on those days. She’s proud of all they achieved, but sad that we didn’t keep pushing. She makes a case for returning to the moon — and going on to Mars. Poppy was featured in the PBS American Experience documentary “Chasing the Moon.”
July 5, 2019
How we talk about an issue has ramifications that go far beyond the words. Names, descriptions, and terms lay the foundation for how we think about an issue, how we deal with a problem — or whether we see something as a problem at all. Why do we call addiction a “brain disease,” and how does that impact treatment and policy? Is stuttering a “disorder,” or merely a different way of speaking? Plus, the debate over who gets called “Dr.” and the respect that comes with that title. Also heard on this week’s episode: Historian Sverker Sörlin explains the origins of “the environment” as a concept, and why it spawned a global movement to protect nature. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX has called the word nano “100 percent synonymous with bs.” But what does the term actually mean? Scientists kvetch about the scientific terms that the public uses incorrectly.
June 28, 2019
Running, biking, weightlifting, swimming — for lots of people, working out is an important part of life. It’s about our health — mental and physical — strength, weight control, discipline and let’s face it: vanity. On this episode, we explore why we exercise, why we should, and how to do it best. Also heard on this week’s episode: Baby, we were born to run — even more than you might think. Reporter Jad Sleiman explores why humans are such improbably good runners. We cheer on Harvard professor Dan Lieberman as he races a horse in a 20-mile run, learn the history of persistence hunting, and find out why butts are our secret weapon. Producer Lindsay Lazarski talks with historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela about the history of women’s workouts — starting with the “reducing salons” of the 1930s through the age of jazzercise and aerobics. Petrzela’s upcoming book is called “Fit Nation: How America Embraced Exercise As The Government Abandoned It.” Want to be able to tie your shoes when you’re 80, and still get up the stairs? Start working out now. We chat with sports physician Tony Reed from Temple University Hospital about the benefits of regular exercise for healthy aging. Working out transformed Marta Rusek’s health and her life. But changing her difficult relationship with her body took even more time — and work.
June 21, 2019
From penicillin to the moon landing, we have science to thank for humanity’s greatest achievements. But science has also helped advance things we consider common and ordinary. From bicycles to toilets, our everyday objects hold tales of dogged pursuit, and occasional lucky breaks. On this episode of The Pulse, we take a closer look at our stuff, to uncover the hidden science that fuels our daily lives. Also heard on this week’s episode: Bathrooms used to be much more luxurious — and way gross. Public health historian Michael Yudell tells us how germ theory revolutionized the way we design our restrooms. Reporter Todd Bookman spins a yarn about — well, yarn. How we went from cotton to GORE-TEX, and where these fibers of the future are developed. Chemist and retired “stain detective” Curtis Schwartz on how laundry detergents have really “turned the tide” (eh? eh?) when it comes to getting rid of stains. LCD screens light up our lives and bombard us with information everywhere we go. Science historian Ben Gross talks about the origins of liquid-crystal displays (aka LCDs) in his new book “The TVs of Tomorrow.” Archival audio courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library. Psychologist Nicholas Epley explains why we anthropomorphize everyday objects; then Ian Chillag — creator of the podcast “Everything is Alive” — helps us speak directly with our stuff. Professional foodie (and self-described clean freak) Rebecca Firkser schools us on the hidden dangers that lurk in recyclable straws. She is the Culinary Editor at the breakfast and brunch website Extra Crispy.
June 14, 2019
You’re developing a new, revolutionary product. You have all the science figured out, it works like a charm. Problem is, nobody wants — or needs — your product. How do things like this happen? On this episode, we look into this phenomenon, of missing something that’s pretty obvious — the things we didn’t see coming. Why do we miss them — and how can we prevent this from happening? We hear stories about doctors making the wrong diagnosis; how grifters get away with cons; and why a sweeping approach to reducing the opioid crisis might do more harm than good. Also heard on this week’s episode: Damian Sendler made a name for himself as a wunderkind sex researcher — until a Gizmodo article called Sendler out as a fraud. We talk with reporter Jennings Brown about how he unmasked Sendler — and hear from Sendler about why he says the whole business is just a case of professional assassination. How do people get away with blatant lies, exaggerations and false credentials? Psychologist Maria Konnikova takes us into the mind of a con artist — and points us to some red flags. It seems like simple logic: If it’s prescription painkillers that caused the opioid crisis, limiting them should get us out of it. But for some struggling with addiction, that route has done more harm than good. Neurologist Jonathan Howard explains the cognitive blind spots behind medical mistakes of omission — like missed diagnoses and tests not ordered. His book on the topic is “Cognitive Errors and Diagnostic Mistakes: A Case-Based Guide to Critical Thinking in Medicine.”
June 7, 2019
Scientist. Farmer. Feminist. Leader. Alpha male. Veteran. African-American. Hindu. Identity isn’t just about who we think we are — it’s about how others perceive us, and how we move through the world. It’s determined by our families and culture; our race and gender; our jobs, personalities, bodies, and minds. All of those things make up our personal narratives, defining who we are and how we deal with things. But identities aren’t always fixed. Sometimes, they can change, and even clash. On this episode, we explore stories of people wrestling with those changes. We hear about tough Australian farmers becoming more in tune with their feelings, how DNA testing is transforming who we think we are, and the challenges of dating while trans. Also heard on this week’s episode: When a DNA test revealed that Dani Shapiro wasn’t who she thought she was, it sent her on a search for her biological roots. That mission, documented in the memoir “Inheritance,” takes Shapiro deep into the strange and tangled world of early fertility medicine. We hear her story, and also chat with historian Margaret Marsh, who, together with OB-GYN Wanda Ronner, has written three books about fertility treatments. Their latest is called “The Pursuit of Parenthood.” Dating’s tough enough — but transitioning gender can make it even harder. We explore some of those complications with Nava Mau, a trans woman and filmmaker, whose short film “Waking Hour” depicts the minefield trans people might encounter on a night out. Canadian researcher Karen Blair says that the dating pool for trans people appears small, but her data suggests attitudes could shift. Elyn Saks is a law professor, best-selling author, and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient. She’s also someone who lives with schizophrenia. She talks about how she manages her symptoms, and why she firmly believes that mental illness need not define a person. We talk with West Chester University professor Anita Foeman, who uses ancestry information to spark conversations in the classroom — and to push the boundaries of how we think about our own racial and ethnic identities.
May 31, 2019
There’s a comfort to the mainstream way of doing things — it offers standard solutions to standard problems. But sometimes existing systems don’t work or aren’t accessible, and we’re forced to carve out our own paths. On this episode, we explore stories of opting out — and finding new solutions. We hear about communities opting out of conventional internet service, universities ditching the GRE test as part of their admissions process, and people saying no to some aspects of medical care. Why we opt out, where it leads, and why, sometimes, it just might be impossible. Also heard on this week’s episode: In Detroit, roughly 40 percent of residents have no internet at home. In response, communities there and elsewhere are exploring mesh networks — a kind of shared wireless that’s built from the ground up. Steph Yin explains how it works, and the challenges these projects face. Reporter Noam Osband talks with Jessica Zitter, a palliative care physician who wants her patients to know that opting out of aggressive medical treatments doesn’t mean they’re “giving up.” Zitter’s book is called “Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life.” When Steven Morgan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he was given several prescriptions to stabilize his moods. The medications helped ease his depression and anxiety, but he also felt that they erased certain aspects of his personality and creativity. The physical side effects were severe, and eventually, Steven decided he wanted to learn to manage his illness on his own, without medication. Ethan Brooks reports this story. Plastic poses a growing threat to the environment, and especially our oceans. We record what it’s like attempting to live without plastic for a day, and chat with Rose Eveleth, who imagines a world without plastic on her podcast “Flash Forward.” When Tony Martinez scheduled his first colonoscopy, the doctor said he would need someone to drive him home afterwards because of the anesthesia. So Tony decided to opt out — and experience the full procedure without going under.
May 24, 2019
For a lot of Americans, cats and dogs are more than just pets — they’re our fur babies. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy. But sometimes — whatever it takes — gets complicated and expensive. On this episode of The Pulse, we examine pet health from Prozac to surgery, and the epidemic of fat cats and pudgy pups. Plus, how pets impact human well-being. Also heard on this week’s episode: Every year, thousands of Americans end up in the hospital because of dog bites. K-9 behavior therapist Patricia Bentz discusses how to prevent bites. Tourist brochures for Paris don’t tend to illuminate the city’s dog poop problem. Journalist Marjorie Hache walks us through the City of Light’s long struggle to get residents to clean up after their pets. When pet care gets too costly in the U.S., some people resort to “economic euthanasia.” How did vet bills become so expensive? And, is universal health insurance for pets an answer? More than half of cats and dogs in the U.S. are obese — and the ‘food is love’ attitude from pet owners isn’t helping. What do you do when the your usually sweet cat becomes angry and aggressive? For some pet owners , Prozac is the prescription. Daryl Whiting has had lots of cats and dogs over her lifetime. For her, the last moments in a pet’s life are precious — she’s become an unofficial pet chaplain.
May 17, 2019
Cars have played a fundamental role in changing our modern lives — where we live, where we work, the shape of our communities, and how we spend our money and free time. But along with new opportunities, cars have also brought negative impacts — air pollution, traffic deaths, congestion, and road rage, just to name a few. On this episode, we explore how cars have affected our world, and how we might reframe their role going forward. Also, why we often behave so badly while driving. Also heard on this week’s episode: When wildlife meets cars, the results can be gruesome — and expensive. Injuries, damages, and clean up can all add up. Ecologist Kevin McLean brings us this story about the cost of roadkill in California. In the 1960s, drivers were more than twice as likely to die in an auto wreck than they are today. That changed thanks to improved design, and especially crash tests involving dummies. But there’s a problem with these dummies — most of them are modeled on tall men. We discuss our urge to rage while driving with psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett. Also, Javier Hernandez from MIT’s media lab explains how technology and artificial intelligence sense and ease driver stress. Long commutes can be a serious drag. We hop in the car with one driver who commutes 60 miles each way, but manages to find moments of zen on the highway. Jalopnik editors Michael Ballaban and Raphael Orlove share the special relationship they and Americans have with their cars.
May 10, 2019
When’s the last time you saw a get-well card for psoriasis or eczema? Skin’s our biggest organ — and does lots of hard work keeping us healthy — but still, it doesn’t get much respect. Skin regulates our temperature, protects us from germs, and generally serves as the final barrier between our bodies and the world. On this episode, we look at what our skin does for us — and what happens when it breaks down. Also heard on this week’s episode: Hong Kong beauty editor Francesca Ng works in an industry that idolizes skin perfection, but she’s spent a lifetime struggling with eczema. Inadequate training and implicit bias may be keeping doctors from spotting skin problems in people of color. VisualDx says its tech fix could lead to better diagnosis. Dermatologist Anisha Patel explains how skin pigment works. Colorado Public Radio spoke with burn center patient Dave Repsher about his near-fatal helicopter crash and long recovery. How runners protect their skin from sweat, weather — and their greatest nemesis: chafing.
April 26, 2019
Marijuana is starting to feel like the new normal. In less than 25 years, it’s gone from illicit drug to accepted medical treatment in more than half the country — plus cannabis is now legal recreationally in 10 states. It’s been a stunning transformation — one that’s thrust weed (and us) into a brand new reality. On this episode, we tackle some of the questions that have popped up along the way. How “medical” are those medical dispensaries, really? What are the risks for pregnant women and their babies? And what’s weed’s power and potential for abuse? Also heard on this week’s episode: Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states — but are we really treating it like other drugs? You’ve heard of CBD and THC — but what are they, and what do they do? Emergency room physician Avir Mitra gets a refresher course. Doctors say marijuana’s a no-no for moms-to-be — but for some, it’s a big help for pregnancy-related nausea. We hear from moms in Los Angeles about what it’s like using while expecting. We venture inside the kitchen of an edibles chef in Philadelphia, who says weed-infused goodies help her create community. Researcher and pediatrician Karen Wilson from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says we don’t know enough about the potential health risks of second-hand marijuana smoke on kids. The mother of an autistic son says medical marijuana helped ease her son’s violent outbursts.
April 19, 2019
As Kermit the Frog once said — it’s not easy being green. Amid challenges like pollution, deforestation and climate change, engaging with environmental problems can feel like an overwhelming task. To mark Earth Day, we explore some of the ways, big and small, people are working to do just that. Also on this week’s show: How a recent landmark study uncovered a hidden – and huge – source of air pollution. We talk with Chicago weatherman Tom Skilling on his decision to speak openly about climate change on the air. A look back at Population Bomb, the doom-and-gloom book from 1968 that helped shape the debate on saving the planet. Environmental scientist Halina Brown says saving the earth means cutting down what we buy. We ask a range of people about what “being green” means to them.
April 12, 2019
In science — and in life — failure is both a stumbling block and a building block. We regard failure as the enemy of success — but really, it’s just part of the process. Mistakes and missteps, blunders and slips are often stepping stones toward places of greater knowledge. But failure can also take us on detours, deflate our ambitions, and lead us down blind alleys. In this episode of The Pulse, we hear stories about failure — what we can learn from it, how we cope with it, and how we can harness its potential by observing the way it affects our thoughts and behavior. Also heard on this week’s episode: Progress depends on acknowledging our mistakes. So why does it take us so long to admit when they happen? We investigate the mental block that prevents us from owning our failures in the moment, and what we could learn if we did. Psychologist Katherine Dahlsgaard explains the developmental logic behind a childhood superpower: the ability to fail constantly, and not to care. By day, James Heathers is a researcher at Northeastern University — by night, he’s a “data thug,” a self-appointed detective who tracks and exposes shoddy and fraudulent science. Ben Gross — vice president for research and scholarship at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City — tells us the story of the last consumer electronics product RCA ever tried to release, and how the line between success and failure is sometimes blurred. We hear about a new documentary from Frontline and ProPublica called “Right to Fail.” It digs into an ambitious effort to give New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses the chance to live independently.
April 5, 2019
“Motherhood will change your life.” It may sound like a greeting card sentiment — but it’s also a statement of fact. Pregnancy changes the way bodies function and look. It affects women’s hormones and weight — even their brain chemistry. In this episode, The Pulse looks at the impact of new motherhood on women’s health. We hear stories about the ongoing debate over breastfeeding, and why so many hospitals are no longer using their nurseries. Plus, why some women of color are reluctant to seek help for postpartum depression. Also heard on this week’s episode: Inside a new initiative that’s letting incarcerated women pump breast milk as a way to maintain their ties with newborn infants (based on this story published by Generocity) We hear from women about the many ways pregnancy and motherhood have affected their health.
March 29, 2019
Chow. Nibbles. Grub. Food — we relate to it in a lot of different ways. It can serve as nourishment, as pleasure, as fuel for our bodies, or the glue that holds communities together. But food can also make us sick — or cause us to feel powerless over our cravings and habits. So what determines our relationship with food? In this episode, we explore that question, with stories about the rise of — and backlash against — food allergies, the connection between climate change and eating meat, and how our circadian rhythms can drive appetite. Also heard on this week’s episode: A recent study found that only half of people who say they have food allergies, actually do. So what’s going on here? Is it all in our heads? We dive into the latest research to find out. You’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet, the Atkins diet, the Flexitarian diet — now consider the CRON lifestyle (don’t call it a diet), in which practitioners use serious calorie restriction to fight the aging process. University of Pennsylvania researcher Kelly Allison explains how our circadian rhythms drive the way we eat — and how timing can determine whether we gain or lose weight. When a bully teased Sandhya Menon’s 10-year-old daughter about the Indian food in her lunchbox, Sandhya issued a plea on Twitter: that parents talk with their kids, and correct the idea that foods from other cultures are “weird” or “gross.” Your stories: Listeners sent in their favorite food memories.
March 22, 2019
At its best, sex isn’t just fun — it’s good for our health. It can relieve stress, enhance our mood — even offer a bit of a workout! But sex can also be painful, both physically and emotionally; it can open the door to injury and disease; and it can reflect, or even magnify, changes that we’re not willing to face. In this episode, we explore sex and our health. We hear stories about PrEP, asexuality, the online world of NoFap, and enjoying sex as you age. Also heard on this week’s episode: We venture inside the world of NoFap — an online movement of men dedicated to improving themselves by abstaining from masturbation. We talk to a self pro-claimed “fapstronaught,” as well as a urologist and a therapist to find out whether there’s any real benefit to abstinence. Sex can be a healthy part of our lives. But what if the sex you want to have is painful — or even impossible? Noa Fleischacker opens up about her years spent dealing with this very question. Audio producer Paulus van Horne chats with a friend about asexuality — what it is, and the perfect metaphor for explaining it to family and friends. Retired sex therapist and columnist Ginger Manley discusses the challenges — both physical and mental — that come with intimacy as we age. Her book is called “Assisted Loving: The Journey through Sexuality and Aging.” Writer and black feminist adrienne maree brown explains why it’s important for women of color to discuss sexual pleasure, along with learning how to embrace your body. Sexologist Susana Mayer says post menopause —her sex life is the best it’s ever been. She is the author of “Does Sex Have an Expiration Date? Rethinking Low Libido: A Guide to Developing an Ageless Sex Life.”
March 15, 2019
Often we think of life and death as opposite sides of a coin — categories as final as they are discrete. But in an age when machines can keep hearts pumping and lungs breathing, the line between life and death can sometimes start to blur. Modern medicine pushes us to think differently, ask if perhaps life and death are instead two points on a spectrum of existence. In this episode, The Pulse explores the space between those points. How do we define life and death — medically and culturally? We hear about a court case challenging the legal definition of death; the evolving debate over end-of-life care; and what scientists are saying about near-death experiences. Also heard on this week’s episode: In 2017, the family of 27-year-old Taquisha McKitty sued to keep her on life support, after doctors declared her brain dead. The question for the court was — was she actually dead? A look into the study of near-death experiences, and what those moments in the the runup to death are really like — and why. Working with the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is using genetic samples to recreate the scents of extinct flowers. KCRW’s Avishay Artsy reports on how shared ideas about the afterlife transcend not only time, but also religion and culture.
March 8, 2019
Earthquakes, storms, fires, disease — they sweep into our communities, often unexpectedly. They don’t happen often, but when they do, emergencies can destroy lives. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore how the healthcare system — and the rest of us — deal with emergencies when they hit. We hear stories about facing danger, dealing with disaster — both natural and man-made — and ways of prepping for catastrophe before it arrives. Also heard on this week’s episode: What turns an outbreak into an epidemic? Adam Kucharski — who studies infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine — explains how mathematical models can track the progress of outbreaks. When the Oklahoma City bombing happened, psychologist Robin Gurwitch was there to help survivors. Since then, she’s become a researcher and expert in helping children recover after trauma and disaster — from Sandy Hook to Hurricane Katrina. An ER physician recounts his experience of the Northridge earthquake in 1994. This story is an excerpt from the “The Big One,” a podcast from KPCC about what the next major earthquake will mean for Los Angeles and beyond.
March 1, 2019
Being in nature is restorative; the wild can feed your soul. But, for hundreds of years, we pushed west across the country, trampling and displacing wildlife along the way. Later, lots of people woke up to the effects of urban sprawl and industrialization. And, in 1964, the Wilderness Act was created to set aside places “where man himself is a visitor.” There are now many efforts to protect untouched land, and at the same time we want to enjoy the wild, be out there in it. Balancing those impulses requires a careful dance. Does the wild still exist — and what qualifies as “wilderness” anyway? For answers, listen in as we chase tigers, track majestic elk, and help bears cross the road — safely. Also heard on The Pulse this week: Drew Lanham grew up on his family’s farm in South Carolina. He explains how wilderness has always meant happiness and freedom to him — but also makes him remember the painful history that same land holds. We take a trip through Brigantine Wilderness in New Jersey with refuge manager Virginia Rettig Deep sea ecologist Andrew Thaler describes wilderness at the bottom of the ocean Sound artist Dianne Ballon shares some of her recordings from Shenandoah National Park
February 21, 2019
Humans are social animals, equipped with brains hard-wired to connect with those around us. We rely on relationships for safety and survival, as well as love and fulfillment. And when we’re deprived of those connections, we suffer — both psychologically and physically. On this episode, we explore what happens to our health and our minds when we’re faced with isolation. We hear stories about dealing with the isolation of solitary confinement, medical quarantine, and even the lonely journey to another planet. Also heard on this week’s episode: A visit to the birthplace of solitary confinement — Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary — to learn about 19th century ideas about the redemptive power of solitude. Nine people describe the psychological toll of their time in solitary, in this excerpt from Claire Schoen’s half-hour documentary “Survivors.” Kate O’Brien tells us about the lonely months she spent in medical quarantine. History professor Alan Kraut from American University explores how medical quarantine has sometimes been used as a way to discriminate against immigrants. A story about caregiver isolation, told by Pat Davis, who’s spent the last decade watching dementia carry her husband further and further away.
February 15, 2019
Math is a discipline of logic, but for lots of us, it may as well be magic: a force as powerful as it is unattainable. The “math anxious” among us get tripped up by simple calculations — lost in equations and fractions, until math becomes a barrier. But math competence is an everyday essential, from figuring out grocery-store discounts, to giving your kid the right dose of cough syrup, to deciding on a mortgage. Math also propels innovation and discovery. If you’re avoiding math, you’re probably missing out. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore why math is necessary to our lives and health, how so many of us got alienated by it early on, and how we might improve our skills. Also heard on this week’s episode: Lots of little girls don’t love math and end up avoiding advanced math classes. But math skills can be key to academic and professional success. Math lover Tanya Ott asks if we’re socializing girls in a way that holds them back. Wellesley College math professor Oscar Fernandez — author of “The Calculus of Happiness” — explains how math can help you improve your love life, diet, and sleep. We get a blackjack tutorial from mathematician Adam Kucharski, then head to the casino to try out what we’ve learned. His new book is “The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling.” Alex Stern says her stepdad (and his carpentry work) helped her learn her multiplication tables as a kid. A chat with Nan Morrison, head of the Council for Economic Education, about the roots (and the consequences) of financial illiteracy. Sixth-grade teacher Nicole Wisler says teaching math feels like an urgent calling — and a chance to disrupt the disempowering narratives students tell themselves about their math ability. Psychologist Ellen Peters explains why math skills matter to health.
February 8, 2019
What matters to a child’s health? Sure, some things are embedded in our genetics. But from the moment we’re born, there are a million different experiences, factors, and choices that contribute — from our neighborhoods and homes, to screen time and family dynamics. There’s also air pollution, neighborhood crime, where we’re born. Health researchers call that stuff “social determinants.” Sometimes, those things can cause stress that lead to sickness. Meanwhile, welcoming and supportive environments can be like winning the “health lottery” for some kids. In this episode, we examine how environments influence kids’ health — their minds and bodies, growth and behavior — and their futures. Also heard on this week’s episode: When a San Francisco Bay Area family discovered lead paint in their home, they had to move to protect their child from being poisoned. Read the original story from KALW here. For lots of kids, as they grow bigger and stronger, their eyesight gets worse. Researchers say increased exposure to daylight could help. A Michigan mom is teaching her 3-year-old daughter how to say “no” to adults, and hoping to change their family environment for the next generation. Plus, child psychologist Katherine Dahlsgaard weighs in on helping kids create boundaries. Nina Feldman’s story from this episode is part of WHYY’s series Uneven Play, all about playground inequities.
February 1, 2019
Segregation in housing and education has had reverberations on health care and health outcomes for African-Americans. In this episode, we explore the legacy of that separation. We meet some of the people who helped integrate hospitals as the Civil Rights fight was heating up, and hear from a millennial mom, who says that, yes — even in 2018, finding a black doctor to care for her girls is “a thing.” Throughout the episode, we also visit separate, largely black spaces that nourish African-American health and well-being. Also heard on this episode: Pierre Johnson talks about his path to becoming a physician – he’s co-authored a book about his experiences called “The Pulse of Perseverance.” New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah Jones explores segregation in schools and the long-lasting effects on health and career choices. Rickey Powell and Jeff Drew describe their experiences growing up in “Dynamite Hill,” a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama that was targeted by the Klan.
January 25, 2019
From anti-vaxxers to climate change deniers and even flat-Earthers, there’s a lot of mistrust in science. But how did we get here in the first place? How did we lose public trust in science and medicine — and is there a way to rebuild it? In this episode of The Pulse, we explore these questions — and the fallout for health and innovation when trust in science disappears. Also heard on this week’s episode: Harvard University public health researcher David Williams talks about the wrongdoings and mistakes that have contributed to distrust of healthcare among minorities. One day in 2015, FBI agents with guns burst into physicist Xiaoxing Xi’s house, and arrested him for economic espionage. Did a wider mistrust of Chinese scientists send the government to his door? Historian Audra Wolfe discusses the role scientists played in the arms race — and the impact on people’s trust in science. Her new book is “Freedom’s Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science.” There’s a new national initiative working to uncover the things that build trust among doctors and patients. Richard Baron of the ABIM Foundation says that sometimes, it’s about little things — like not mispronouncing a patient’s name. Drexel University’s Mike Yudell — a public health historian and ethicist — digs into the “mad scientist” trope, explaining what it says about public perceptions of science.
January 18, 2019
Hospitals can be bewildering places. They operate according to their own special logic, which can make them feel a bit like a well-oiled machine — and a bit like organized chaos. As patients, we’re dropped in and pushed through a maze of activity, mostly clueless about the hidden gears that keep this life-saving machinery chugging along. On this episode of The Pulse, we step through the “staff only” doors to get a better sense of the inner workings of hospitals. Also heard on this week’s episode: Talking with microbiologist Jonathan Eisen and healthcare epidemiologist Jennifer Han about healthcare-acquired infections — and the ways proper cleaning mitigates the risk they pose. Violence erupts at hospitals more frequently than it should. Now, a California law is requiring medical centers to develop prevention plans to protect workers. Ballinger architect Erin Nunes Cooper explains the challenges in designing hospitals — and why medical facilities can feel like a maze. Writer-comedian Mimi Hayes found short-term love at the hospital, while recovering from a brain hemorrhage — call it a meet-cute for the ages (or, ahem — “the aged”). Every hospital has an employee whose positive attitude makes everybody’s day better. At Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, that guy is George Benson.
January 4, 2019
They call it the golden years, but there’s a reason many of us dread old age — it can mean losing our health, our independence, our memories, and loved ones. But getting old doesn’t mean what it used to. Thanks to advancements in tech and medicine, seniors have more options than ever when it comes to maintaining their health and quality of life. On this episode — how we want to age, and what gets in the way. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Esther Honig documents her father’s cognitive decline. Geriatric nurse practitioner Barbara Resnick from the University of Maryland explains why aging bodies are like old cars — parts break down, but a little TLC can keep them running for the long haul. Endocrinologist Farah Khan on why it’s important to pay attention to bone health before it’s too late. Sharon Wade from St. Louis talks about caring for her mother, who has dementia. We hear about sex and intimacy at an assisted living facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
December 28, 2018
We think of sports as part of a healthy lifestyle — a chance to move our muscles, work up a sweat, release endorphins. Often that’s true… other times, not so much. In this show, The Pulse explores how sports affect our health — when they help, and when they hurt. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Anders Kelto brings us the story of Josh Anderson — a prodigious soccer player on the cusp of making it big. Until a mental health condition got in the way. You can find a longer version of this piece on “Gamebreaker with Keith Olbermann.” For talented young athletes, college can be a springboard to the big leagues. Ivy league football champ Cameron Countryman discusses the stresses of being a student-athlete. KQED’s Laura Klivans reports on an effort by the Washoe people — native to California and Nevada — to revive indigenous sports. Think gamers can’t get injured? Think again. Physical therapist Caitlin McGee specializes in treating injuries common among professional e-sports players. In an audio postcard from Louisville reporter Lisa Gillespie, jockey Miguel Mena discusses the dangers of horse-racing. Adaptive surfing lets people with disabilities catch a wave.
December 14, 2018
On this episode of The Pulse, we examine violence — what sparks it, how it spreads, and where it can lead. We’ll learn about the spectrum of violence, from everyday blowups to terrorist acts. The hour includes stories about the allure of violence — which some people admit can sometimes be a thrill. A public health expert discusses the far-reaching impact of violence on health and well-being, including the reverberations for African Americans affected by police violence. Plus, one researcher says 2-year-olds are the most violent people on the planet. Also heard on this week’s episode: For years, psychologists have tried to understand the minds of terrorists so we can figure out why they commit violent acts. But now researchers are learning that might not be the best question to ask. We associate mass shootings with mental illness — but are they really connected? Psychiatrist Amy Barnhorst confronted just this question when an angry 18-year-old walked into her office, threatening to shoot up his school. We’ve all been there — on the brink of a conniption, ready to snap. Psychology professor Nathan DeWall zooms in on this fragile moment of flux to explain what makes us either control those impulses, or boil over. African Americans are more likely to be the victims of crime and assault, as well as police violence. Harvard public health professor David Williams explains how living under constant threat can take a toll on both physical and mental health. Community organizer Alfred Marshall spent years working to curb violence in New Orleans. His weapon: the gospel of de-escalation. His beliefs were put to the test when the city’s violence hit close to home.
December 7, 2018
Our bodies are ours, but how we feel about them is largely defined by others — by the things people say, the culture we live in, the messages we get about which kinds of bodies are acceptable … and which kinds aren’t. On this episode of The Pulse, we look at how culture and politics shape the way we feel about our bodies. We’ll hear stories about bodies transformed by disease, weight, and age, and how those changes affect people’s sense of identity. We’ll also talk about the struggle to reclaim bodies from other people’s narratives about what is strong or beautiful, ugly or dangerous. Also heard on this week’s episode: When Earni Young turned 68, arthritis started to slow her down. She talks about her struggle to keep active, and how aging can make you feel invisible. More men than ever are getting cosmetic surgery — we look at what they’re getting done, and why. How the criminalization of HIV transforms bodies into weapons in the eyes of the law — and one man who spent nearly a decade in prison as a result. Writer Kiese Laymon talks about what it means to be black, male and overweight, and how his relationship with his body changed along with his size. His new memoir is called “Heavy.” We talk to yoga therapist Jennifer Kreatsoulas about recovering from an eating disorder, and how yoga can help people love their bodies. Her new book is “Body Mindful Yoga.” Filmmaker Emily MacKenzie shares the stories of two people whose conceptions of their bodies changed after getting double mastectomies. Shane Duquette was always skinny — until he hit the gym, and added 50 pounds of muscle. We talk to him about his transformation from beanpole to buff, and his efforts to help other skinny guys with his muscle-building website Bony To Beastly.
November 30, 2018
Most of us take our drinking water for granted — switch on the tap, and out it flows. But in much of the world, that’s not the case. At home and abroad, tensions are mounting over water. In this episode, we take a closer look at the water we drink. We’ll hear stories about why water’s so important to our health; why we enjoy some kinds of water, but not others; how exactly water becomes clean enough to drink; and we’ll explore its ability to shape communities, and even politics, around the world. Also heard on this week’s episode: Scooch over soda — the age of seltzer has dawned. We visit Brooklyn Seltzer Boys to hear about how fizzy water works, and why we love it. A chat with Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint, Michigan, pediatrician who blew the whistle on the city’s drinking water crisis. Her book is What the Eyes Don’t See. How private wells sparked “water wars” in a Washington state farming community. Scott Harrison talks about his transformation from hard-partying nightclub promoter to founder of the nonprofit Charity: Water. His new book is Thirst. In arid Phoenix, Stina Sieg describes the sweat-inducing adventure that helped her realize the importance of hydration.
November 22, 2018
A gun can change a moment, a life, a family, an entire neighborhood. Like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, guns have a unique ability to transform the calculus of a situation. A gun can make you feel safe. Sometimes it’s symbol of cultural identity. It also has the power to destroy. On this episode of The Pulse, we look at the difference a gun makes. Also heard on this week’s episode: A chat with Lore McSpadden, the militant pacifist who went on to co-found an LGBTQ gun club called Trigger Warning. Jermaine McCory and Ted Corbin both have first-hand experience with gun violence — Jermaine as a victim, and Ted as an emergency doctor. They describe what gun violence looks like from each of their perspectives, and their work with Healing Hurt People, a violence intervention program. Jessie Wright-Mendoza talks with her grandfather about his choice to keep a gun in the house after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Poet and pediatrician Irène P. Mathieu wrote “Our Boy” to mark the murder of Jordan Davis — an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white man during a “loud music dispute” in front of a gas station.
November 16, 2018
Ever sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, look around at the shining faces of your family, and think to yourself: “How the heck am I related to these people?” You’re not alone. Family can be a source of love and support, along with frustration and bafflement. So what keeps us tied to family — shared memories and Sunday dinners? Or is it blood and genetics? The Pulse explores how we define family — and how family defines us. Also heard on this week’s episode: To get us ready for the possible tumult and hurt feelings at the holiday dinner table, psychology professor Marissa Holst explains how conflict can both hurt and strengthen families. When Jean DelMuto needed a kidney, her nephew Jim Melwert volunteered. Neither realized the family reverberations his generosity would cause. Biologist PZ Myers discusses whether genetics explains our drive to connect with distant relatives across the world. Tara and Alan Atchison knew before they got married that if they wanted children, they’d probably adopt. Going that route expanded their idea of family more than they had expected.
October 26, 2018
Nerve-racking. Sickening. Facing your fear can be all of that — and sometimes a little thrilling, too.
October 19, 2018
Climate change could transform our planet sooner than we thought. A new report from the United Nations says that just 1.5 degrees Celsius stand between us and dangerous conditions. At risk: our ecosystems and economies, food and water security, homes and lives. So what does this mean? Do we take radical measures to slow down global warming? Or do we hold on to our way of life, and figure out a way to adapt to what’s coming? On this episode of The Pulse, we hear about climate action proposals — from carbon capture to zero-waste living — that could help us brace for the future. Also heard on this week’s episode: The promise and pitfalls of carbon sequestration — an emerging approach to fighting global warming. A visit to Japan’s “zero-waste” town Kamikatsu, which has made green living a way of life. Audio producer Claire Schoen considers the next step in her climate change activism: getting arrested. Biologist Samantha Chapman explains how mangrove trees could help protect our coasts. RAND Corporation policy researcher Benjamin Preston discusses Americans’ collective willingness to take the big steps climate activists want — such as abandoning fossil fuels.
October 12, 2018
Who has time to read the small print — to go over all the “stuff” that’s in our food, medicine, or supplements? And what’s carrageenan or hexyldecyl laurate anyway? But maybe we should be paying closer attention — some ingredients can cause side effects and make us sick. On this episode of The Pulse, a closer look at some of the things we put in our bodies, and why they matter. We talk to chemists, interrogate food labels, and go on the hunt for hidden ingredients that can have a big impact. Most of all, we ask what it all means for our health. Also heard on this week’s episode: Reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni on the stomach-turning history of food safety regulation in the U.S. The story begins with Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley’s grisly experiments — he was the founding father of the Food and Drug Administration. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Deborah Blum reveals what’s changed about food safety since the 19th century — and what hasn’t. Her new book is The Poison Squad. Water sommelier Martin Riese explains the nuances behind the way water tastes, and why it matters beyond the snobbish world of fine dining. When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth came to visit the White House in 1939, everything had to be perfect — including their tea. The Science History Institute archives reveal how scientists used chemistry to reverse-engineer the perfect London cuppa. ER doc Avir Mitra describes the detective work physicians must do when patients come in suffering from dangerous drug interactions — and no idea what they’ve taken.
October 5, 2018
Advances in science don’t just happen — sometimes, real progress requires heroic measures. On this show, we explore the lengths people go to in the name of science. We hear stories about researchers subjecting themselves to punishing experiments, venturing to remote corners of the earth, and racing against the cosmos for a peek at their subject of inquiry. Also heard on this week’s episode: What does it take to convince flat earthers that the world is round? Science YouTuber Kurtis Baute’s hunch: a 2,000-year-old experiment. When doctors kept dismissing Imelda Wilde’s chronic UTIs, she took science into her own hands. Economist Jay Zagorsky explains the mission behind his bike ride from Seattle to Washington, D.C. — and what he found. In their new book, Sawbones podcasters Sydnee and Justin McElroy tell us about scientists who experimented on themselves (including swallowing diarrhea), so we can enjoy modern medicine today. Noah Strycker spent an entire year traveling to more than 40 countries chasing birds. His goal: to see as many different species of birds as possible.
September 28, 2018
Medicine, healthcare — even illness — vary from country to country. Those differences are driven by tradition, culture, even politics. On this episode of The Pulse, we zoom in on those contrasts. In Hong Kong, we learn why acupuncture could be the next frontier for pain treatment. In Germany, we investigate the burnout epidemic affecting stressed-out workers. And in India, we visit a hospital that turns anxious family into trained care companions. Also heard on this week’s show: Traditional Chinese medicine might seem ancient, but historian Paul Unschuld says its official birth date is in the 1950s. The Syrian Civil War has driven out more than half of the country’s medical doctors. Hear from two physicians who opted to stay — facing shortages and danger in a bid to help desperate patients. Israel recently shuttered a humanitarian project that delivered medical help to thousands of Syrians. One of the final patients to receive treatment: a 14-year-old boy named Ahmad, who received a groundbreaking procedure that saved his leg. In Germany, stressed-out workers are diagnosing themselves with a syndrome they call “Der Burnout.” A history lesson on Mexico’s approach to birth control.
September 21, 2018
Technology helps us run our lives, do our jobs, get directions and keep track of our calendars. Right? Or, is technology taking control of our lives – stealing our time, and shattering our attention into a thousand pieces? Also heard on this week’s show: How modern slot machines trick our brains into playing longer, and losing more. We visit a guy who’s given his life – and his home – over to technology in his search for smarter living. Science writer Elizabeth Weingarten says her brain has been hijacked by tech. We follow her quest for digital detox. Why some teens are “ghosting” social media in the name of mental health. New Jersey is using algorithms to help determine which defendants are jailed, and which are released. Now, the death of one man is prompting a backlash. Pagers went out with mood rings and Hamsterdance – but not for doctors. We find out why hospitals are holding on to their beepers. Author of The Digital Doctor Robert Wachter envisions a future where tech advancements give patients and doctors more control over where and how they receive care. Amazon Alexa isn’t just a virtual assistant – for some seniors, she’s a lifeline. We hear why that is from the Front Porch Center’s Kari Olsen, then meet a woman who considers Alexa a trusted friend.
September 7, 2018
It’s been a year since Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, destroying lives and reducing many communities to rubble. The storm also affected the island in other ways — devastating its power grid, crippling communications, and transforming industry. On this episode, we explore Maria’s aftermath — what the storm revealed about Puerto Rico’s vulnerabilities, the changing landscape, and the human toll of failed infrastructure. Plus, efforts by locals to adapt and rebuild, and the challenges they face moving forward. Also heard on this week’s episode: Investigative journalist Omaya Sosa Pascual unpacks the disastrous impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s health care system — and why she thinks it could happen again. Biophysical chemist Belinda Pastrana on how Maria has affected her startup and why she decided she had to relocate. Marvel writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez explains the inspiration behind his character La Borinqueña — a superhero who’s become a symbol of strength for Puerto Ricans.
August 31, 2018
It’s Labor Day, which means we’re celebrating the hard-working people who keep the engines of productivity humming. On this episode, we’ll explore how science and technology are changing work and workplaces, and what we are learning about the pitfalls of different work environments. A look at how the American tradition of tying benefits to jobs has impacted our health care. We’ll meet a woman who used science to prove that ladies should be part of the workforce. Plus, the psychology of snarky office emails, and the case for mandatory vacation days. Also heard on this week’s episode: Marketplace’s Dan Gorenstein offers a history lesson on how health coverage became tied to our jobs — along with how it’s affected our wallets and the overall economy. WESA’s Margaret J. Krauss brings us the story of a night-shift emergency doctor who handles lots of tough stuff and still loves his job. History Professor Carla Bittel explains how Victorian-era physician Mary Putnam Jacobi upended the idea that women can work during their periods — and how that paved the way for women to become doctors and scientists. Host Maiken Scott talks with Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, about the rise of cubicles. Next, psychiatrist Jody Foster chimes in on how working together in tight spaces can create workplace tensions. Psychologist Dan Gottlieb says “end-of-summer sadness” is a real thing. But there’s good news: you can also find joy while wearing a fall sweater.
August 24, 2018
School is a place where kids learn about health — everything from nutrition to avoiding STDs. But increasingly, schools across the country are taking a stronger role in health issues affecting students. They’re providing basic medical care and counseling, and even tackling major public health problems like traumatic stress. In this episode — exploring the role that schools can and should play in caring for kids’ health. Also heard on this week’s episode: Why teachers at Centennial High School in Champaign, Illinois want to learn more about helping students who’ve experienced violence and trauma. Public health consultant Odilon Couzin talks about the extreme academic pressure kids face in Hong Kong schools. WABE’s Martha Dalton explains why some schools in Atlanta are opening up health clinics right inside their buildings. KQED’s Sandhya Dirks tells us about the fallout from a new California law that requires sex ed to be LGBTQ inclusive. The origins of a dreaded long-time tradition for American students: the Presidential Fitness Challenge.
August 17, 2018
From panic disorders to social phobia, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in the United States. What toll does anxiety take on our lives? In this episode, we explore how anxiety affects our bodies, relationships, and lives. We investigate its causes, what it feels like, and what we can do to treat it. Also heard on this week’s episode: Psychologist Tamar Chansky talks about what causes childhood anxiety and what parents can do to help. Her books is called Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. When anxious people show up in the emergency room, ER doc Avir Mitra often has to tease out serious physical symptoms that can mimic anxiety — and find ways not to get sucked into anxiety vortex himself. Audio producer Carin Gilfry and her sister Erica Buchiarelli discuss the anxiety that motherhood brings, and when those worries cross into the danger zone. We’ve all been there — waiting for someone to text us back. We explore how the expectation of constant connection has become a whole new source of anxiety. Reporter Nina Feldman brings us this story about a group of Philadelphia seniors who are working to combat anxiety among older patients.
August 3, 2018
We travel to experience awe or learn something new — maybe even to get our worldview shaken up a bit. On this episode, The Pulse explores how travel changes us and how we change the places we visit. Also heard on this week’s show: Science history geek Michael Yudell tells us about 19th century explorer John Cleves Symmes who believed the earth is hollow. Travel medicine expert Phyllis Kozarsky says don’t blame the airplane for your stomach bug. Reporter Liz Tung explores the future of biometric scans in travel security screening. Astrophysicist Jarita Holbrook says her annual trip to the meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists feels like coming home. Kiasha Huling recalls the culture shock she experienced when she traveled just a few miles to college. New Zealand tourism expert Ian Yeoman predicts where we’ll want to travel in the next 20 to 50 years.
July 27, 2018
In science and medicine, we often fail to predict the outcomes of our experiments and actions. The result: unintended consequences. Sometimes the surprise is an interesting success. Other times, it’s a disaster. On this episode of The Pulse, how we handle the things we didn’t see coming. The hour includes: the Nazi physician trial that helped shape medical ethics; how hospitals are dealing with incessant medical alarms; and the history of Macquarie Island — where the introduction of a few rats, cats, and rabbits triggered a domino effect of ecological disaster. On the show: Author Dawn Raffel tells us about Dr. Couney — the carnival showman who saved thousands of infants, and helped change the way we care for premature babies. Find info on her new book here. Reporter Jad Sleiman brings us the history of the Doctors’ Trial — the post-WWII prosecution of Nazi physicians for war crimes. The goal was justice, but the trial yielded an unexpected result: standards that continue to shape modern medical ethics. Rotavirus once sent hundreds of thousands of U.S. children to the emergency room every year. Then, in 2006, a new vaccine was released. One of the creators, pediatrician Paul Offit, describes the worries that scientists deal with while they wait to see if their product is a success — and safe. Reporter Katja Ridderbusch explains the unintended consequences of hospital alarms, and how medical centers are tackling the problem. When Marta Rusek dropped 80 pounds in three years, her confidence soared. Then — came the comments. Shai Ben-Yaacov reports. LED streetlights can save cities millions on electric bills. But not everyone’s convinced — including one young activist with some science-based quibbles. Monica Eng from WBEZ’s Curious City addresses his concerns, one by one. Conservation biologist Nick Holmes explains the bizarre history of Macquarie Island, where invasive species have devastated the native ecology. Len Webb talks to Amalgam Comics owner Ariell Johnson about her time spent caring for her mother, and the unexpected gift that led to her new life.
July 20, 2018
For a long time disability meant one thing — limitations. Think about the word disabled: its literal meaning is broken, not functioning. In a world largely built by and for those considered typical, people with disabilities are often boxed out — from jobs they want, places they want to go and activities they could love. But that’s changing as advances in science and technology collide with evolving conceptions of disability. On this week’s show, we explore the idea that “disability” resides not in people, but in the systems, schools, workplaces and communities that don’t make a way for inclusion and participation. To read a transcript of this week’s episode, click here. Also on this week’s show: Inside a growing movement to change a culture of medicine that sidelines disabled doctors, and could even hobble patient care. Teresa Blankmeyer Burke is a deaf philosophy professor whose work probes how we define disability – and when it’s really just difference. Introducing computer scientist Brian Smith, whose big idea could be bringing mainstream video games to blind players. A chat with Mariette Bates, the head of CUNY’s Disability Studies program, about embracing disability as identity, and what that means for language. Pianist Andrea Avery’s life changed when she developed rheumatoid arthritis – she describes her journey navigating the gray space between health and disability. In a story from the podcast Exited, we follow a young man who says he’s ready for a job, while those around him say his developmental disabilities are sure to get in the way.
July 13, 2018
The Pulse explores how the environment shapes biology. Turns out that influence goes deep, down to the molecular level — to the DNA of humans and animals. Also heard on this week’s show: Davis Land speaks with a Houston mom about the stress of dealing with Hurricane Harvey — and the super simple coping exercise that researchers say might help. Author-illustrator Katrina van Grouw takes us on pigeon hunt to explain how humans are affecting animal evolution. Her book is Unnatural Selection. Mike Moscarelli offers a history lesson on our early theories about inherited traits — and the bedeviling mystery of redheads. Dana Farengo Clark, a genetic counselor at Penn Medicine, says her white-coat world has collided with those swab-your-cheek, spit-in-a-cup commercial DNA services. Eric Kmiec, director of the Gene Editing Institute at Christiana Care Health System, shares his hopes for CRISPR, that it could be used for better lung cancer treatment.
July 6, 2018
As drug overdose deaths continue to soar, cities hit hard by the opioid crisis are considering a controversial new proposal: safe injection sites. That’s where people can bring their illicit drugs — and inject them — under medical supervision. Supporters say this harm-reduction approach saves lives. For more than a decade, Vancouver has been experimenting with safe injection sites. On this episode, we travel there to talk with users, staff, advocates, and neighbors, and see what lessons the city has for communities hoping to curb drug deaths. Also heard this week: WBEZ’s Lakeidra Chavis visits Chicago neighborhoods where African Americans say they’ve been largely excluded from conversations about opioid addiction and treatment — even though the crisis is affecting them in high numbers. Psychiatrist Lloyd Sederer talks about the roots of addiction and his new book “The Addiction Solution.”
June 29, 2018
Rebroadcast: Happy Birthday, America! From the very beginning, science has shaped this country. Many of the Founding Fathers — Madison, Jefferson, Washington — were science geeks, and their methodical way of thinking is reflected in the Declaration of Independence. To celebrate the holiday, we dig into the science that makes fireworks sparkle, flags durable, and hot dogs delicious. Plus, what brain researchers are learning about the pursuit of happiness and feelings of patriotism.
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