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Listen to full episodes of WHYY’s health, science and innovation program, The Pulse.
324 Episodes
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The Science of Policing

The Science of Policing

2019-11-1500:49:23

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?
Beyond Measure

Beyond Measure

2019-11-0800:47:48

We look at things that are hard to measure and the different approaches that we take to get those measurements correct.
It’s About Time

It’s About Time

2019-11-0100:48:36

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.
Between Life and Death

Between Life and Death

2019-10-2500:48:521

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.
Shifting Gears

Shifting Gears

2019-10-1800:49:061

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.
Challenging the Norm

Challenging the Norm

2019-10-1100:48:481

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.
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.
Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

2019-09-2700:48:501

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.
Hair and our Health

Hair and our Health

2019-09-2000:52:231

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.
Gut Feeling

Gut Feeling

2019-09-1300:48:36

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.
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