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What does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it “Spanish flu” when it was never Spanish? Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories within them. If you like your language with a side of science, Science Diction has you covered. Brought to you by Science Friday and WNYC Studios.
 
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Conserving More Than Just the Planet’s ‘Beloved Beasts’ Historically, “conservation” simply meant not overhunting a game animal, preserving sufficient populations to continue to hunt the following year. Over time, however, conservationists have learned to broaden their focus from individual animals to entire ecosystems, protecting not just species,…
 
Understanding St. Vincent’s Volcanic Eruption Since April 9th, the Caribbean island of St. Vincent has been rocked by eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano. Over the last week, plumes of ash and gas have rained down on the island, and dense masses of debris, called pyroclastic flows, are destroying everything in their path. Tens of thousands of res…
 
When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use last December, it felt like - at last! - our nightmare was nearly over. Then came reports of botched distribution efforts, from broken websites to factory mix-ups. Scientists created the vaccine in record time, but it was beginning to look like that might’ve been the easy part. But if…
 
New AI Composes Songs From Silent Performance Videos There have been many awkward attempts in the quest to train algorithms to do what humans can. Music is a prime example. It turns out that the process of turning the individual notes of a composed piece into a fully expressive performance—complete with changes in loudness and mood—is not easy to a…
 
What Does The Future Look Like For COVID-19 Long-Haulers? There’s something strange happening with some people who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19: Somewhere between 10 and 30% of people who are infected are stuck with long-lasting effects and complications. People dealing with long-term symptoms after a coronavirus infection are known as COVID long-h…
 
The Buzz Over Non-Bee Pollinators When you think of pollinators, bees are probably the first insect that comes to mind. But there are actually all sorts of insects and animals that contribute to pollination, like moths, beetles and many kinds of flies—from hoverflies to gnats. Pollination biologist Robert Raguso joins SciFri to explain how differen…
 
Signs The Standard Model Of Physics May Be Incomplete The pandemic has slowed many projects around the world, but scientists and engineers are nearing completion of a long-planned upgrade and maintenance period at CERN’s massive Large Hadron Collider project in Switzerland. The collider is currently cooling down and testing components, and aiming t…
 
Over the past year, you’ve sent us words you want us to cover on the show. And for months, we let those suggestions pile up into a list of nearly 200 words. Today, we begin to chip away at that lexical mountain. A team of Science Friday producers set out to tackle five listener-suggested words and quiz Johanna about their meaning or origin in a gam…
 
In New York, Essential Workers Face Eviction If you walk through many towns during this pandemic, you can tell that something is different just by looking at the storefronts. Some businesses have limited hours, others have capacity restrictions. Still other businesses are temporarily closed. Some are gone altogether. The pandemic has also had other…
 
The Mental Health Costs Of ‘Everyday’ Racism On March 16, a 21-year-old white man killed six Asian women and two other people in multiple shootings in Atlanta. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Asians and Asian-Americans in the U.S. have experienced a rise in racist attacks, which psychologists say are tied to anti-Chinese rhetoric from the…
 
Science Diction from Science Friday is back! Their latest episode is all about a recent buzzword: "Introvert." In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert…
 
Under A Mile Of Ice, A Climate Clue Scientists studying sediment taken from a core sample of the Greenland ice sheet just 800 miles from the North Pole have found remnants of ancient plants, freeze-dried under more than a mile of ice. Using several different dating techniques, they say the soil, twigs, and leaves date to sometime within the last mi…
 
Rise In Anti-Asian Violence Is At The Intersection Of Racism And Disease Earlier this week, eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. Six of the victims were Asian-American women. In 2020, reported attacks on Asian-Americans increased by 150% over those reported the previous year in some of the country’s most populous cities, …
 
In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, wi…
 
Learning From World Of Warcraft’s Virtual Pandemic The widespread infection of roughly four million virtual characters all started with a giant snake demon. In 2005, the massively multiplayer online video game World Of Warcraft introduced a special event raid, where groups of players could team up to fight a giant snake demon named Hakkar the Soulf…
 
What Went Wrong With Jackson, Mississippi’s Water? Residents of Jackson, Mississippi have been dealing with a water crisis since a storm rolled through town on February 15th. The city’s water system was damaged, leaving thousands of residents without running water at home. People have relied on water distribution sites to get by, and even those who…
 
In 1953, in the coastal town of Minamata in Japan, locals noticed some cats were acting strangely—twitching, spinning in circles, almost dancing. The reality was far darker. What looked like dancing was really convulsions. The cats drooled, spun in circles, and flung themselves into the sea. The cause of this strange behavior, residents discovered,…
 
When Is It Time To Say Goodbye? Imagine you’re having a conversation with someone. You may get the sense that they have somewhere else to be. Or you might start feeling restless, and use an excuse to cut the conversation short. Sometimes, you feel like you could talk for HOURS. Chances are you’re wrong every time. In a study published this week in …
 
Oregon Just Decriminalized Small Amounts of All Drugs. Now What? On February 1, a big experiment began in Oregon: The state has decriminalized small amounts of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. In the November election, voters passed ballot Measure 110 by a 16-point margin. Now, if you’re caught with one or two grams of wha…
 
Vervet monkeys steal it out of people's hands. Chimpanzees in Guinea are known to climb up palm trees and drink it. There’s even a theory that loving it was an important adaptation for our pre-human ancestors, that the smell of fermentation helped them track down very ripe, calorie-rich fruit. Alcohol has been deeply ingrained in our lives from the…
 
Does A Vaccine Help You If You’ve Already Had COVID-19? Vaccines doses have started to rollout and are getting into the arms of people. We know that if you already had COVID-19, you build up antibodies against the virus. So do the vaccines affect you if you’ve already had COVID-19? Science writer Roxanne Khamsi talks about recent studies showing th…
 
Memory And The Dreaming Mind If you’ve ever stayed up too late studying for a test, you know that sleep impacts memory—you need that precious shut-eye in order to encode and recall all that information. But what is it about sleep that aids memory? Researchers have pinpointed a specific stage of sleep, REM sleep, as an area of interest for studying …
 
In 1920, a Czech writer was stumped. He’d written a play about a future where machines that looked like people do our bidding. They were the perfect workers: obedient, hard working, and never demanded a pay raise. But what was the writer to call these marvelous machines? There wasn’t yet a word for this type of creation. He had initially chosen lab…
 
Reprogramming Labor In Tech More than 6,000 warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama are midway through voting on whether they should unionize. If the ‘yes’ votes win, it would be unprecedented for the company: The last time a unionization vote was held by Amazon’s United States employees, back in 2014, a group of 30 technicians ultimately voted not …
 
Fauci Says Majority Of U.S. Adults Likely To Be Vaccinated By Late Summer We’re about a month shy of a big anniversary: one year since the World Health Organization officially labeled COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, a lot has changed—and a lot has not. We have more information than ever about COVID-19, but there are still a lot of unknowns about t…
 
On December 5th, 2012, a bill landed on President Barack Obama’s desk, meant to do one thing: remove the word “lunatic” from the federal code. This is because in 2012, you could still find the word in laws about banking and controlling estates, among others. And not only was it offensive, it was antiquated—ancient, in fact. The word lunacy comes fr…
 
Seeing The World Through Salmon Eyes The saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” But for fish, the eyes are the window to the stomach. As one California biologist recently learned, the eyes of Chinook salmon are like a tiny diet journal of everything it ate. But to read that journal, you have to peel back the layers of the eye, like it’…
 
Two Masks Are Better Than One Masks have been a big issue throughout the pandemic, from supply shortages to debates about when they should be required to be used. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out research and guidance on the effectiveness of double masking—wearing one mask over another. Engineer and aerosol scientis…
 
In the late 18th century, a doctor showed up in Paris practicing some very peculiar medicine. He would escort patients into dimly lit rooms, wave his arms over their bodies, and touch them with a magnetic wand. Patients would react to these treatments violently: crying, sweating, convulsing or shrieking. But then they would emerge healed. According…
 
National Bison Range Returns To Indigenous Management Hundreds of years ago, tens of millions of bison roamed North America. They were an essential resource and cultural foundation for many Native American tribes. And by 1890, European colonists had hunted them nearly to extinction. When President Theodore Roosevelt moved to conserve the remaining …
 
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