Read Science!

Conversations about Science Communication and Communicating Science

Archive for the ‘Videocasts’ Category

Aug
02

S13:E01, “Mammalian” edition, with Liam Drew (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on August 2, 2019

Streamed live on 30 July 2019.

Since forever, it seems, people have been trying to decide what unique characteristic separates mammals from all other animals–and what unique characteristic separates humans from all other mammals. And yet, no one seems to have a definitive answer.

Liam Drew, in his book I, Mammal: The Story of What Makes Us Mammals, takes a different tack, and looks instead at the characteristics that humans have in common with other mammals, and at how evolution has created a number of shared characteristics. Which came first: the milk or the mammary glands? How did animals that give live birth to their young evolve from animals who lay eggs, and where do marsupials fit into that evolutionary picture? What makes the mammalian placenta the extraordinary organ that it is, and how did that come about? And, in discussing why we owe the entire book to an unfortunate encounter that the author had with a soccer ball, why in the world do so many mammalian males wear their testicles outside their body?

Author Drew weaves a remarkable number of fascinating facts into fun, informative stories about mammals and how we evolved, and we had a great deal of fun trying to mention all our favorites as our very short hour allowed. Put it all together and we find out that mammals are less a collection of traits, and more a parallel collection of histories of how we came to be.

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Jul
15

S12:E06, “Archaeology From Space” edition, with Sarah Parcak (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on July 15, 2019

Streamed live on 11 July 2019.

From Egyptology to satellites in space, from archaeological sites in Peru to remote sensing, we found an abundance of fascinating and exciting topics of discussion with our guest, archaeologist Sarah Parcak, author of Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past. While she writes about projects that she has worked on, we not only learn more about Sarah, but about what archaeology is, what its main concerns are, how archaeologists actually go about their business, what taking pictures of the Earth from space has to do with archaeology–and, as often happens, so much more crowded into our all-too-brief hour’s discussion.

But, we also found a few minutes to discuss the citizen-science/crowdsourcing archaeological project Sarah’s involved with known as GlobalXplorer: https://www.globalxplorer.org/ .

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Mar
25

S12:E04, “Good To Go” edition, with Christie Aschwanden (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on March 25, 2019

Streamed live on 20 March 2019.

Sports recovery–making the most of your workouts with less pain and/or more gain–was the topic in this episode of “Read Science!” when our guest was Christie Aschwanden, a science journalist and elite athlete herself, and author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery. We discussed what science has to say about rest, adaptation, hyponatremia, ice baths, cryotherapy, IR treatments, diet supplements, placebos, and even beer; and we saw how science goes about establishing their efficacy–or lack of it.

All of it added up to a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion with lots of insight and good stories, too.

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Mar
03

S12:E03, “Lost in Math” edition, with Sabine Hossenfelder (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on March 3, 2019

Streamed live on 11 February 2019.

Theoretical physicists often will talk about their favorite theories as “beautiful”, and many will use criteria of what they call “beauty” to judge the likely veracity of competing theories, as well as the success of their own work. Most physicists are aware of this–but where does this idea come from, is there any sense to it, and what does “beauty” even mean when talking about the math that physical theories are written in?

These are some of the questions tackled by Sabine Hossenfelder in her compelling book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray+. As she explores these ideas, and talks with a number of physicists about the ideas, she deepens her own understanding of what it means, and ponders what’s at stake for foundational physics theories, sharing her journey with us.

Discussing her book, her journalistic journey, and recounting stories and conclusions as we talked about “Lost in Math” with her, is what this episode of “Read Science!” was all about.

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Nov
17

S12:E02, “Catching Stardust” edition, with Natalie Starkey (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on November 17, 2018

Streamed live on 15 November 2018.

The details of just how our Solar System came to be, starting with a large, rotating solar nebula and ending with our Sun, our planetary companions, and moons and asteroids and comets, have been vague up until recent decades when scientists turned their deductive attention toward those unassuming asteroids and comets. Remote observations, observations up close with dramatic, technically challenging spacecraft missions, like Rosetta, and even missions with spacecraft that have returned sample to Earth, have all contributed deductive components that are coming together to make a clear, comprehensive, and at times very surprising story about the early days of our Solar System.

All these things were on our minds when we talked in this episode to Natalie Starkey, author of Catching Stardust : Comets, Asteroids and the Birth of the Solar System. Her authoritative book presents a wealth of recently learned facts and the knowledge that we deduce from all this recent scientific work. It also gave us more to talk about (as usual!) than we could fit into our surprisingly short hour-long conversation.

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Nov
17

S12:E01, “Math with Bad Drawings” edition, with Ben Orlin (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on November 17, 2018

Streamed live on 8 November 2018.

Probability, statistics, and math–oh my! For some, it’s the stuff of nightmares, but reading Ben’s book makes it all more of a dream. Who ever thought math could be such fun!

Our guest in this episode was Ben Orlin, mathematician, bad artist, and author of Math with Bad Drawings: Illuminating the Ideas that Shape Our Reality. While his book is indeed all about mathematical ideas, Ben elucidates those ideas with accuracy, clarity, and interesting examples. And to be honest, the drawings are fun and DO help get the ideas across. We talked about math, what it’s like to be a mathematician, what it’s like to be a student trying to learn math, and what seems to work best helping novices successfully approach the important ideas of mathematics.

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Oct
16

S11:E06, “The Poison Squad” edition, with Deborah Blum (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on October 16, 2018

Streamed live on 4 October 2018.

By the end of nineteenth century, buying food in American was dangerous–sometimes deadly. “Milk” might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This didn’t happen by accident; food manufacturers knowingly used poisons and non-food adulterants, sometimes as preservatives, sometimes just to cheat the customer and increase profits.

Against the powerful forces of food and drink manufacturers trying to quash any form of governmental regulation, come the somewhat reluctant crusader Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University who, in 1883, was named chief chemist of the Agriculture Department.

Therein lies a tale that includes unprecedented experiments on food additives, shocking revelations, intransigent politicians, and implacable food and drink manufacturers, but finally led to the passing of the Food and Drug Act of 1906–then the troubles really began!

This fascinating–at times disgusting–and cautionary tale is engagingly told by Pulitzer Prize winner author, and director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, Deborah Blum. She was our guest, and her book The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century our topic, for this episode of “Read Science!”

Like “Read Science!” on Facebook to hear about upcoming programs, easy links to the archive, and news about RS! guests: https://www.facebook.com/ReadScience/ .

Sep
16

S11:E05, “The Tangled Tree” edition, with David Quammen (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on September 16, 2018

Streamed live on 6 September 2018.

David Quammen returned to “Read Science!” to discuss his latest book with us, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life. When the subject is the entire history of life on Earth, you know we had lots to talk about: the discovery of Archaea as the (contentious) “Third Domain of LIfe” (along with Eukarya an Prokarya), endosymbiosis, and horizontal gene transfer, plus all the stuff in between and all the scientists involved in updating our understanding of evolution and the inadequacies of “The Tree of Life”. As usual, we had a spirited discussion that ran out of time well before we ran out of things to talk about.

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Jun
24

S11:E04, “Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” edition, with Steve Brusatte (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on June 24, 2018

Streamed live on 18 June 2018.

We love dinosaurs, and their story is a big one. In this episode we talked with paleontologist Steve Brusatte about his new book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World.

Dinosaurs were, by a huge margin, the most successful group of animals the Earth has ever seen, their time on the planet covering some 140 million years. In that time, what we think of as “dinosaur” exhibited a lot of diversity, with a lot of fascinating stories.

Our conversation was geologic in scope, covering the emergence of the dinosaurs from the late Permian, through the Triassic and Jurassic, all the way to the end of the Cretacious and their untimely demise by meteor strike. We also got up-to-date information on the latest methods for studying dinosaur fossils (CAT scans and digital modeling), and the most recent additions to our knowledge (feathers! colors! birds!).

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Jun
11

S11:E03, “Heredity” edition, with Carl Zimmer (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on June 11, 2018

Streamed live on 29 May 2018.

‘Heredity’, to this episode’s guest, is a big idea. Today, we think of heredity almost exclusively in terms of the genes we get from our biological parents–but what about before genetics became an idea? With its root meaning in ‘inheritance’, what the word encompasses has shifted, expanded, and contracted, in varied and fascinating ways.

In this episode we talked with Carl Zimmer about his magnificent new book, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, And Potential Of Heredity. With an encyclopedic approach and a fine ear for clarity of expression, Zimmer takes a comprehensive look at the state of the science in understanding the intricate operating of genetic inheritance, and adds historical depth to the exploration with compelling and illuminating stories from the past few centuries. The book is jam-packed with history, stories, personal reflections, and lots of science. Perhaps needless to say, we talked about as many of its ideas as we could pack into our hour-long conversation, and still only scratched the surface.

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Mar
17

S11:E02, “Human Performance” edition, with Alex Hutchinson (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on March 17, 2018

Streamed live on 13 March 2018.

Is it possible to run a marathon in under 2 hours? Probably. Running a mile in under 4 minutes was impossible until Roger Bannister did it. Reaching the peak of Mt. Everest without the help of supplemental oxygen was impossible until Messner and Habeler did it in 1978.

The world of endurance sports is filled with stories about humans testing the boundaries of what is possible to do, and scientists have been busy studying that performance and trying to understand whether there are real limits to performance, and what those limits might be.

Our guest on this episode of “Read Science!”, Alex Hutchinson, has written about all this, the science and the sport, in his engaging book Endure : Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. We talked about as much of it as we could fit into our hour, but we, too, had limits on how much we could discuss.

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Jan
14

S11:E01, “How to Tame a Fox” edition, with Lee Alan Dugatkin (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on January 14, 2018

Streamed live on 11 January 2018.

Perhaps the longest running scientific experiment of the 20th, and now 21st centuries, has been taking place in a remote “City of Science” (“Akademgodok”) in Siberia, involving raising generations of foxes selected from a larger population (bred for their fur) based on an individual’s demeanor toward humans. The goal of the project, begun in the late 1950s first by Dmitri Belyaev, soon joined by Lyudmila Trut, was to try to discover some clues to how dogs first became domesticated over 20,000 years ago. Trut was recruited by Belyaev to head the daily operation of the experiment when she was 23, and she’s still involved over 60 years later.

The results from the ongoing experiment are startling and telling. We had a lively discussion with Lee Alan Dugatkin, co-author with Lyudmila Trut, of How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution, discussing this fascinating and engaging book, details and outcomes of the experiment, the experiment’s emergence into the Western scientific awareness, Lysenkoism, and Belyaev and Trut and other personal stories of the people involved in this long-running story.

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Dec
12

S10:E06, “An Edition of Magnitude”, with Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on December 12, 2017

Streamed live on 7 December 2017.

Think about this: the Hubble Space Telescope has 300 times the mass of a golden retriever. Or this: Hally’s Comet has 109 times the mass of a blue whale. Surprised? NOT surprised?

Welcome to the fun world of magnitude: the sizes, masses, speed, and most anything else you can measure about all the stuff in the universe, both big and small, all presented with more interesting comparison, startling facts, and fascinating graphics in Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe, by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke. We talked to Kimberly and Megan about their passion for making science interesting and accessible, how their outlook is influenced by their careers, and how they came to write this book, as well as their previous book, Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond.

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Dec
12

S10:E05, “Smashing Codes” edition, with Jason Fagone (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on December 12, 2017

Streamed live on 30 November 2017.

Meet Elizebeth and William Friedman, quite possibly the most important people in recent US history that most people have never heard of: the power couple who conjured the US’s code-breaking capabilities virtually out of thin air in World War I, thanks largely to happenstance. Sometimes as a pair, sometimes as isolated individuals, they saw us through the lawless time of Prohibition rum-running, then several nail-biting events during World War II and the increasing importance of being able to decipher secret messages. So much of their work was classified, and Elizebeth’s remarkable abilities filtered through the lens of prejudice against women, that they are little known today, despite their vital work in the twentieth century.

It’s not often we get to say “their story can now be told”, but it’s true, thanks to the declassification of many of their papers, and a new generation’s receptiveness to hearing the story of a remarkable woman’s achievements. Elizebeth’s and William’s story is comprehensively researched and engagingly told by Jason Fagone in his book The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies.

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Nov
21

S10:E04, “Soonish” edition, with Kelly and Zach Weinersmith (video)

Posted by jnshaumeyer on November 21, 2017

Streamed live on 9 November 2017.

“This is one of those books where we predict the future.” So say authors Kelly & Zach Weinersmith as the first sentence of the introduction to their book, Soonish : Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything. As they note, predicting the future is easy, but getting the predictions right is harder. So, instead of worrying over much about the accuracy of the predictions, the authors look at 10 things that might happen in the not-so-distant future, and then consider in some detail interesting potential and ideas and questions and emerging technologies that might get us there soonish.

Interesting and exciting stuff like space elevators, asteroid mining, fusion, buckets of stuff, bioprinting, and brain-computer interfaces all make an appearance, along with lots of cartoons featuring characters that will look familiar to fans of “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal”.

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