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CrowdScience

Author: BBC World Service

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We take your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.
198 Episodes
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Anyone else had their flight cancelled? The COVID 19 pandemic has had a huge impact on air travel – air traffic in 2020 is expected to be down 50 per cent on last year. But beyond the obvious disruption to business and people’s lives, how might the quieter skies affect our weather and climate? One curious listener, Jeroen Wijnands, who lives next to Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, noticed how there were fewer clouds and barely any rainfall since the flights dropped off. Could airplanes affect our local weather? Also, did we learn anything from another occasion when airplanes were grounded, during the post-9/11 shutdown? How will the current period impact our future climate? Marnie Chesterton investigates this question and discovers some of the surprising effects that grounded aircraft are having: on cloud formation, forecasting and climate change. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton, Producer: Dom Byrne [Photo:Commercial airplane parking at the airport. Credit: Getty Images]
Listener Avalon from Australia wants to know why people use conspiracy theories to explain shocking events. Are we more likely to believe conspiracy theories in times of adversity? What purpose do conspiracy theories serve in society? Marnie Chesterton speaks to the scientists to explain their popularity, even in the face of seemingly irrefutable evidence. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service. Image: All-seeing eye of God inside triangle pyramid. Credit: paseven, Getty Images
These days we’re more acquainted with soap than ever before, as we lather up to help stop the spread of coronavirus. And for CrowdScience listener Sharon, this set off a steady stream of soapy questions: how does soap actually work? How was it discovered in the first place, long before anyone knew anything about germs? Are different things used for washing around the world, and are some soaps better than others? We set up a CrowdScience home laboratory to explore the soap making process with advice from science-based beauty blogger Dr Michelle Wong, and find out what it is about soap’s chemistry that gives it its germ-fighting superpowers. Soap has been around for at least 4000 years; we compare ancient soap making to modern methods, and hear about some of the soap alternatives used around the world, like the soap berries of India. And as for the question of whether some soaps are better than others? We discover why antibacterial soaps aren’t necessarily a good idea, and why putting a toy inside a bar of soap might be more important than tweaking its ingredients. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Cathy Edwards for the BBC World Service. Image: Child with thoroughly washed hands. Credit: Getty Images.
Think of the oceans and an empty and peaceful expanse relatively untouched by humankind might come to mind. But is this peace an illusion? CrowdScience listener Dani wants to know if the noise of shipping and other human activity on the oceans is impacting on sea life. To find out, Marnie Chesterton takes a deep dive to learn how marine animals have evolved to use sound; from navigating their environments to finding a mate or hiding from prey. She then speaks to a scientist who is using acoustic observatories to track the many ways human activity - like sonar and shipping - can interfere. Marnie virtually visits a German lab which tests the ears of beached whales, dolphins and seals from around the world to try and ascertain whether they suffered hearing damage, and what might have caused it. What other smaller creatures are negatively impacted by underwater noise? Marnie learns that acoustic trauma is more widespread than first thought. As human life continues to expand along ocean waters, what is being done to reduce the impact of sound? Marnie meets some of the designers at the forefront of naval architecture to see how ship design, from propellers to air bubbles and even wind powered vessels can contribute to reducing the racket in the oceans. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Melanie Brown for the BBC World Service. Main Image: The front of a humpback whale underneath the sea in Shetland Islands, Scotland, December 2016. Credit: Richard Shucksmith / Barcroft Im / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Worms are not the cutest of creatures. They’re slimy, often associated with death and tend to bring on feelings of disgust in many of us. But listener Dinesh thinks they’re underrated and wants to know whether earthworms could be the key to our planet’s future agricultural success? He’s an organic farmer in India’s Tamil Nadu province who grows these annelids to add to the soil, and he wants Crowdscience to find out exactly what they’re doing. Anand Jagatia dons his gardening gloves and digs the dirt on these remarkable creatures, discovering how they can help improve soil quality, prevent fields from becoming waterlogged, and improve microbial numbers, all of which has the potential to increase crop yield. But he also investigates the so-called ‘earthworm dilemma’ and the idea that in some parts of the world, boreal forest worms are releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, which could have dangerous consequences for climate change. (Photo:
Shoes are a surprisingly recent human invention. But running isn’t. That means for most of our time on the planet, we’ve run barefoot. Today, in most countries it’s rare to see people out in public without shoes, let alone running. But might our aversion to the free foot be causing us pain? CrowdScience mega-fan Hnin is an experienced runner, she enjoys ultra-marathons back home in Australia. But about six months ago she developed extreme foot pain, the condition ‘Plantar Fasciitis’, and this has meant she had to stop doing what she loves. She reached out to CrowdScience presenter Chhavi Sachdev, to find out if barefoot running could reduce her pain and improve her performance. Simply put, is barefoot running better? In an attempt to find Hnin some answers, Chhavi hits the ground… running. Literally throwing off her own shoes on the streets of her home city of Mumbai, India, to see how feeling the ground can change her whole gait. And with Prof. Dan Lieberman, Chhavi learns what sets the human runner apart from other species while uncovering the strange form our feet have. She speaks with the Dr Peter Francis, a researcher whose life’s work has focused on curing the pain in his own feet and learning how to help others. But performance is also important for runners. Biomechanics and shoe expert Dr Sharon Dixon explains how modifications to the sports-shoe are helping marathon runners set records, and blade-running athlete Kiran Kanojia shows Chhavi how the technology behind her two prosthetic legs let her emulate either natural walking or natural running. Presented by Chhavi Sachdev Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: barefoot running on beach. Credit: Getty Images)
If you put one person’s blood into another person , sometimes it’s fine and sometimes it’s a death sentence. French physician Jean-Baptiste Denis discovered this when he performed the first blood transfusion back in 1667. He put the blood of a lamb into a 15-year boy. The teenager survived but Denis’s third attempt killed the patient and led to a murder charge. In 1900, Austrian doctor Karl Landsteiner discovered the reason for this lottery – blood types. The red blood cells in our bodies are decorated with different marker molecules called antigens. These define us as A, B, AB or O blood type. And this is just one of 38 different systems for classifying our blood. CrowdScience listeners have discovered that we aren’t the only animal with blood types and want to know more. Dogs have 12 different blood groups, so how do they cope when they need a transfusion? CrowdScience meets some very good dogs who donate a pint to the pet blood bank in return for a toy and a treat. Each pint saving up to 4 other dogs’ lives. We also hear how examining our blood types can tell us more about our links to our ape-like cousins and how the human species spread around the world. And what about the future of blood types – can we use science, and animal blood to get around the problems of transfusions? Producer and Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Photo: Red Blood Cells. Credit: Getty Images
What exactly it means to be conscious has long been a question of profound debate amongst philosophers, and more recently, scientists. There are no easy answers, and it gets even trickier when you start asking whether animals are conscious: how can you find out about their subjective experience when they can’t tell you about it? Never afraid to tackle the impossible, CrowdScience is looking for answers after listener Natalie got in touch. She has lived with her cat for years and has a strong sense that he has thoughts and feelings: he has his own personality, acts in complex ways, and even has ‘grumpy days’. But is this consciousness? Is there any way of scientifically testing for it? How different from our own inner world is that of a cat, an octopus, or a bumblebee? And if we can find any answers to these puzzling questions, how does that affect the way we treat animals - not just our pets, but all the animals we share our planet with? We meet Natalie and her cat, and discover how scientists have explored the minds of pigs, cows and cuttlefish. Helping us ponder the elusive question of animal consciousness are philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, neuroscientist Anil Seth, animal welfare expert Donald Broom, ethicist Jessica Pierce, and comparative psychologist Alex Schnell. Featuring David Seddon as the voice of Chicco the Cat. Presented by Anand Jagatia and Produced by Cathy Edwards for BBC World Service. (Photo: Black Cat. Credit: Getty Images)
We were bowled over by a question from one CrowdScience listener in Australia wants to know how likely it is that the atoms in his body have been used in someone else’s body? We all like to think we are unique; no one is quite like us. But is that really true? Presenter Marnie Chesterton tackles Moshe’s question with help from every area of science. From geologists helping us work out how many atoms are on the Earth’s surface to biologists helping us work out how many atoms each body uses. Perhaps we are much less special than we think. Presented by Marnie Chesterton. Produced by Caroline Steel for the BBC World Service. (Photo:
Have you ever broken up a fight? Or pushed someone out the way of an oncoming vehicle, only to be hit by it yourself? Most of us probably haven’t taken as many risks as listener Alix, who has put herself in peril to save strangers on several occasions, and she wants Crowdscience to investigate why. At a time when medical professionals have to weigh up the personal dangers of working on the frontline of the Coronavirus crisis, it’s a particularly timely question. Marnie Chesterton finds out why it’s a good thing that children push the boundaries of what’s safe during playtime, because it makes them less anxious adults. And she questions the existence of the so-called bystander effect, discovering how evolution has ensured we’re a much braver species than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. But she hears from some social scientists who say there’s no such thing as a ‘hero’, however likely they are to intervene to help others. The virtual reality experience in this programme was created by the Human-Computer Interaction Lab of the University of Udine, Italy This programme has been updated since its original publication to correct an editorial error. Presented by Marnie Chesterton Produced by Marijke Peters
This week the kids take over. Our younger listeners are as curious as their parents, it seems, so presenter Marnie Chesterton seeks out the finest minds and attempts to answer a raft of their science questions, including why can’t you tickle yourself? Why don’t our eyebrows grow as long as the hair on our heads? Not content with humankind, these whizz kids have been pondering deeply about other animals. Ava, 9, from the UK wants to know if any other animals kill for fun, like some humans do. Not limited by planet Earth, these little thinkers have been contemplating even weightier questions. Joshua, 13, from Kenya wonders if our Solar System rotates around anything. And Seattle-based Michael, 10, puzzles over what would happen if a black hole collided with a wormhole. These and other mysteries are uncovered by Marnie and her experts. Presenters: Marnie Chesterton & Arlo Byrne Producer: Dom Byrne [Photo: Children Tickling each other, Adorable laughter. Credit: Getty Images]
There are over 7000 living languages on earth today. These mutually unintelligible means of communication are closely associated with different groups' identities. But how does a new language start out? That’s what listener BK wants to know. BK lives on one of the islands of the Philippines, where he speaks three languages fluently and has noticed there is a different language on almost every island. Presenter Anand Jagatia finds language experts from around the world who tell him about the many different ways that languages can form. Professor Dan Everett explains that languages naturally change over centuries to the point they are mutually unintelligible, and Quentin Everett describes how his research has identified striking similarities between biological, and linguistic evolution. Sally Thomason, Professor of linguistics in the USA tells us about the more unusual ways that languages can form through contact, or purposeful distancing measures, and Anand speaks with a producer of the BBC’s Pidgin service, about how the contact language nigerian pidgin may be developing into an official language West Africa. Finally, the inventor of a constructed language from the movie Avatar, tells CrowdScience what he has learned about language by creating the fully functional Na’vi language from scratch, and what Na’vi’s adoption by speakers around the world can tell us about the importance of language for creating community. Hearing from different languages from around the world through the programme, CrowdScience get to grips with the many ways new languages can form. Presented by Anand Jagatia, Produced by Rory Galloway (Photo: Chalk board of languages, Credit: Getty Images)
Despite being a universal need, talking about our toilet use and the infrastructure that aids us remains somewhat taboo. Whilst sectors like telecommunications and computing have undergone rapid transformations over the past century, the flush toilet and wastewater system have mostly remained unchanged. CrowdScience listeners Linda and Allison wonder if flush toilets – and the clean water used to wash waste away - make economic or environmental sense. So CrowdScience presenter Marnie Chesterton looks under the toilet lid, to probe (in a sanitary fashion) whether our sewerage systems and plumbed toilets are fit for purpose. In a future where population growth and climate change are likely to affect water demands, can we continue to use clean water to dispose of our waste and should the developing world be emulating this model? Around 2 billion people don’t have access to proper toilets or latrines, risking serious health consequences. Marnie investigates how countries without comprehensive sewerage infrastructure deal with human waste and how science is providing novel ways to dispose of - and use – human waste. Marnie speaks to a Kenyan scientist using poo-eating fly larvae to process faeces and a North American scientist who is developing a smart-toilet she hopes will monitor our health through sampling our daily movements. Are we ready to break taboos to innovate our toilet habits? Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Melanie Brown (Image: Man looking at toilet. Credit: Getty Images)
What is the smallest particle of matter? How does radiation affect our bodies? And, how is particle physics useful in our everyday lives? CrowdScience takes on particle physics questions from listeners all over the world. Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia get help from particle physicists from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and medical physicist Heather Williams. Presented by Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia Produced by Cathy Edwards, Jen Whyntie and Louisa Field (Photo: Particle collider, Credit: Getty IMages)
What’s the importance of zero, and how was it discovered? How do scientists calculate Pi’s infinite digits? Why do so many people find maths difficult – and what’s the most difficult thing in maths? CrowdScience takes on a whole bunch of questions sent in by high school students in Spain. Like many children all over the world, their school is currently closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, but lessons continue at home. So how are their studies going, and can CrowdScience help out? We attempt to answer some of their trickiest maths questions, with the help of mathematicians Katie Steckles and Matt Parker, and mathematical biologist Kit Yates. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton. Producer: Cathy Edwards (Photo: A boy studying. Credit: Getty Images)
If you're an exercise fan, you'll know that sweating is how our bodies keep us cool, but how much water we lose and which bits of us get wettest depend on a whole host of factors. Jamaican listener Andre wants to know why he sweats in a heart-shape when he hits the gym, and we find out how everything from the clothes he wears to the moves he's doing explain his unusual perspiration patterns. In Kenya we meet a woman whose permanently clammy hands cause her to drop her mobile phone, and sweaty feet start to stink when she spends too long in shoes. Hyperhidrosis is a condition affecting millions of people worldwide but an expert explains some of the treatments for this mysterious condition. Presenter: Marnie Chesterton Producer: Marijke Peters Image Credit: Getty Images
If you have ever watched a spider as it works to build a web, spiralling inwards with a thread of silk, that intersects each glistening spoke with a precise touch of the foot, you will know that it is a remarkably complex behaviour. In this episode, presenter Geoff Marsh dives into the minds of spider-constructors as they build their webs. CrowdScience listener Daan asked us to find out how spiders can build webs without ever being taught how to do it. Are they just little robots controlled entirely by their genetic instructions? Spider silk expert Dr Beth Mortimer, describes the process of building a web in detail, while Professor Iain Couzin explains the simple modular behaviours that build up, in sequence, to create apparently complex instincts, like the huge locust swarms that are sweeping across vast areas of Africa and Arabia. Taking us deep under the exoskeletons of invertebrates, Professor Gene Robinson reveals an animal's behaviours can be altered by their genes, and the root similarity between learning and instincts. Spiders, despite their tiny size, have fascinating behaviours. Some jumping spiders can work out the best way out of a maze, and one arachnologist reveals how some social spiders can cooperate to build communal webs and capture moths that are many times their size. Geoff searches for the science that can reveal how instinct can create complex behaviour by setting up interviews at the homes of spider experts from around the world. Presented by Geoff Marsh. Produced by Rory Galloway for BBC World Service. Image: European garden spider, Araneus diadematus hanging in the web. Photo by: Michael Siluk / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
How can I reduce stress?

How can I reduce stress?

2020-04-1027:043

Listener Keith from Lincolnshire wants to know how to reduce stress as he is under extreme pressure as a firefighter. Not only does he have to cope with the stress of responding to emergency situations but he has to do it while wearing challenging breathing equipment. We all experience times of stress, especially given the current situation, our chest starts to feel tight and our breathing becomes shallow. Claudia Hammond – presenter of BBC World Service programme Health Check – explains steps we can take to protect our mental health during this pandemic. How should we alter our breathing to manage stress? Presenter Anand Jagatia speaks to breathing experts to find techniques to help listener Keith, and everyone else. Presented by Anand Jagatia. Produced by Caroline Steel for BBC World Service.
In medicine, it’s long been recognised that a placebo, a sham medicine or treatment, can have a powerful positive effect on a patient’s health. Part of that effect relies on a person’s belief that an inactive substance or treatment (for example, a sugar pill) is in fact an active drug. Placebos come in many forms, and the scientific study of placebo is an active area of research. With this in mind, CrowdScience listener Nigel got in touch to ask if can placebos be used to improve sports performance. As an amateur sports enthusiast, he’s been reading up on his sports psychology to try and improve his game, but he wonders if any coaches or psychologists use placebos to improve performance? Always ready to take up a challenge, presenter Anand Jagatia explores the world of endurance sport to find out how a placebo might used to improve athletes’ performances, as well as his own, and look at how advances in brain science are helping us understand the unusual neurobiology of placebo. And what of the amateur golfer, or rugby or table tennis player - can a placebo help? On an individual level, so called ‘verbal placebo’ is a technique that can help players with anxiety, confidence and concentration, and ultimately make them win more. And what about team sports? When, say, a new manager takes over at an ailing football club, and sparks a massive reversal in poor results, is that a placebo effect in action? The CrowdScience team investigates. Produced by Dom Byrne, presented by Anand Jagatia.
If you've ever felt the urge to shop till you drop, then you may already know about some of the clever ways retailers convince us to consume. From flash sales to so-called unbelievable offers, there are a whole range of techniques aimed at encouraging us to flash the cash. Listener Mo works in marketing, so knows more than most about the tricks of the trade - but he wants CrowdScience to investigate how neuroscience is being used to measure our behaviour and predict what we’ll buy. Marnie Chesterton finds out how brain scans are being used to discover which specific aspect of an advertisement a person is responding to, and then she hears how this information is being used by companies who want to sell us more stuff. But there's also evidence to suggest we have less control over these decisions than we think, and that computers are getting closer to detecting our intention before we're even aware of it ourselves. And this could have huge implications for the way we shop. Presented by: Marnie Chesterton Produced by: Marijke Peters (Photo:
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Comments (11)

Peyman Askaripour

I cannot either download or play this episode!

Jul 14th
Reply

Bhavana Dabir

so having a lower WBC ct isn't a bad thing. WBC are involved not just with managing infection, WBC are actively recruited during inflammatory events. we in medicine know that something like a heart attack is actually an INFLAMMATORY process - WBC are actively recruited to cholesterol plaques that can rupture and cause MI. so a lowering of WBC ct can in fact be a GOOD THING bc it signifies that your body isn't in active fight mode. obviously we don't want NEUTROPENIA but reduction may signify that your body is less constantly inflamed.

Apr 21st
Reply

Kath O'Reilly

Great honest overview of being vegan!

Oct 6th
Reply

ForexTraderNYC

excellent subject we can all relate to in life, so culture does impact our behavior & we can change if we get exposed to diff environments... unfortunately, I'm on inside extrovert but shy fearing judgement of not being able to meet people expectations of me. It makes me feel extremely sad that I didn't live up to people expectations of me. I am overthinker sometimes. its something i can't help but feel. As result, I at sometimes withdraw from crowded places & find comfort in quieter places but at same time I feel I'm lacking something because majority don't feel my way. I want to be part of amazing experience in a large crowd build memories but same time not lose my dignity or be rudiculed...so it's conflicting. I hope to grow stronger emotionally. thx this episode moves me closer to my goal.

Sep 7th
Reply

Matthew Richardson

A lot of the things mentioned in this poor l episode has nothing to do with evolution and are environmental factors. In short they never answered the questions.

Jul 15th
Reply

Jonathan Finch

If you have questions on any topic, Crowd Science will help you answer that question. #TaskDay5 #AmbassadorRecommends

Jun 25th
Reply

TheIainDowieFanClub

I like cabbage.

Jan 27th
Reply

Sonny Darvishzadeh

the expert doesn't know what she's rejecting about OMAD. simply pushing carbs carbs carbs. Sport is masking the poor diet of carb eaters. what is the nutritional value of bread and rice she's talking about?

Oct 31st
Reply

my.android. Mfz

there's a poluler singer duo band named BnS in Sri Lanka. the singer by the name Bathiya who can't speak properly but sing so well that got them some international awards also.

Jul 22nd
Reply

my.android. Mfz

this isa super exciting

Jul 16th
Reply

Anna Lovatt

I am a night person and my body would naturally want to keep the hours of sleep at 2am, wake at 10am.. was so weird to hear someone else say this!!

Dec 29th
Reply
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