Science & Health

All sciences, health & medical news

Some tiny clusters of brain cells grown in a lab dish are making big news at this week's Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. Known as "minibrains," these rudimentary networks of cells are small enough to fit on the head of a pin, but already are providing researchers with insights into everything from early brain development to Down syndrome, Alzheimer's and Zika. At a Sunday press conference at the neuroscience meeting, researchers said minibrains are helping them figure out how...

You can't choose your parents, so you can't help it if you're born with genes that increase your risk of heart disease. But a study finds that you can reduce that risk greatly with a healthful lifestyle. Scientists have been wondering whether that's the case. To find out, one international consortium looked at data from four large studies that had isolated genetic risk factors for heart disease. They identified genetic markers that seem to put people at nearly twice the risk for heart disease...

Its official name is the perigee-syzygy, meaning the moon is both full and closest to Earth. But many call it the supermoon, and Monday's version will be a "showstopper," NASA says. It's the nearest supermoon in almost 70 years — and we won't see another like it until 2034. "When a full moon makes its closest pass to Earth in its orbit it appears up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter, making it a supermoon," NASA says. Here are five things to help you enjoy this supermoon: When To...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. RACHEL MARTIN, HOST: There's something big on the horizon - a supermoon. You might have heard of supermoons before. When the moon gets particularly close to Earth, it appears larger than usual in the night sky. And tomorrow night, the moon will be the closest it has ever been to Earth since 1948. Here to explain how it all works is Jackie Faherty. She is an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History. Thanks so much for...

Is Birdfeeding Just, Well, For The Birds?

Nov 12, 2016

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Time now for some Talkin' Birds. (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCKIN' ROBIN") UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Tweedly-deedly-dee (ph). UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A bird show - I like that. I love birds. (SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING) UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Tweedly-deedly-dee (ph). UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds. UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Tweet. SIMON: Ray Brown is host of the radio show and podcast Talkin'...

The Vietnam War ended more than 40 years ago, but it continues to claim military lives. Nearly every spring new names are etched into the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which pays tribute to the more than 58,000 service members who lost their lives. Jim McGough is one of them. As a 19-year-old infantry soldier in 1971, Army Specialist McGough was with members of his unit near the Laotian border when came under fire. A grenade exploded nearby, tearing...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: When Donald Trump did talk about coal during the campaign, he often referred to it as clean coal. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) DONALD TRUMP: We're going to go clean coal. And that technology is working. I hear it works, so. SHAPIRO: To learn more about what he means when he says clean coal, we've got NPR's science correspondent Chris Joyce here in the studio. Hi, Chris. CHRIS JOYCE, BYLINE: Hello, Ari. SHAPIRO...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Coal country is celebrating Donald Trump's victory. Support for Trump was strong on Tuesday from Appalachia to Wyoming. Now that Trump has been elected, people are waiting for him to reverse coal's recent downturn. So can he? For Inside Energy, Wyoming Public Radio's Stephanie Joyce reports. STEPHANIE JOYCE, BYLINE: Jeremy Murphy listened to the election results on the radio in his pickup truck as he worked the...

Peanut allergies can be among a parent's biggest worries, though we've had good evidence for more than a year that when most babies are 6 months old or so, introducing foods that contain finely ground peanuts can actually reduce babies' chances of becoming allergic to the legumes. Even so, many parents are scared to do that. At this week's annual scientific meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in San Francisco, doctors are discussing the coming federal guidelines...

A genetic fluke stood in the way of love for a lonely, unique garden snail named Jeremy. But against all odds, and thanks to a global search, Jeremy has hopefully found a mate (or two). Jeremy is a "lefty" snail, meaning his shell swirls counterclockwise and his sex organs are on the left side of his head. He's a mirror image of other members of his species — and he wouldn't be able to mate with normal snails because their reproductive organs wouldn't line up. He could be one in a million,...

Imagine you're passing a fast-food restaurant and you smell hamburger on the grill. You're hungry, so you pull in and eat one ... and the foam box it comes in. That's apparently what's happening with some oceanic birds. And now scientists think they know why. The fact that sea animals and birds eat floating plastic has long puzzled biologists. Their best guess was that it looks like food. But the new evidence suggests that for a lot of birds, plastic actually smells like food. It all comes...

Scientists have pinpointed the ticklish bit of a rat's brain. The results, published in the journal Science , are another step toward understanding the origins of ticklishness, and its purpose in social animals. Although virtually every human being on the planet has been tickled, scientists really don't understand why people are ticklish . The idea that a certain kind of touching could easily lead to laughter is confusing to a neuroscientist, says Shimpei Ishiyama , a postdoctoral research...

In excavated waste heaps along the western coast of Greenland, researchers have found evidence that ancient Greenlanders, known as the paleo-Inuit or Saqqaq, may have been eating large amounts of bowhead whale. But these 4,000-year-old "dumpsters" are from millennia before humans had specialized technology to hunt down such massive prey. The pits are filled with the bones from other animals, like harp seals and caribou, but barely any whale. Out of around 100,000 excavated bones, only a mere...

During his campaign, Donald Trump called climate change a hoax. And he vowed to abandon the Paris climate agreement signed last year by President Obama and almost 200 countries. It probably wouldn't be hard for Trump to dump the climate deal. In Paris, the world's nations pledged to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. But the pledges are voluntary. And Jason Bordoff, a former energy adviser to the White House and now with Columbia University, says that gives Trump an opening. "If a...

A few months ago, neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch emerged from a 10-hour surgery that she hadn't done before. "Most of my patients are humans," says Bloch, who works at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland. This patient was a rhesus macaque. The monkey's spinal cord had been partially cut. So while his brain was fine and his legs were fine, the two couldn't communicate. "Normally, the brain is giving commands, and the legs are responding to the commands through the spinal cord. When...

Leaders from 195 countries are meeting in Morocco to discuss how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations climate change conference began Monday and runs through Nov. 18. It is the first major climate meeting since the Paris climate change agreement was passed at last year's conference . The main goal of that agreement is to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth by "[holding] the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees [Celsius] above pre...

Erik Vance didn't go to a doctor until he was 18; he grew up in California in a family that practiced Christian Science. "For the first half of my life, I never questioned the power of God to heal me," Vance writes in his new book, Suggestible You : Placebos, False Memories, Hypnosis, and the Power of Your Astonishing Brain . As a young man, Vance left the faith behind, but as he became a science journalist he didn't stop thinking about how people's beliefs and expectations affect their...

Conventional wisdom would have you drink red wine with cheese. A new study, published in the Journal of Food Science , only partially supports that pairing, and also adds a new tool to the scientific study of food combinations. "Red wine with cheese, it can either go really well or not that well," says Mara Galmarini, a sensory scientist at CONICET, the Argentinian National Scientific and Technical Research Council. "A white wine, you have less risk." Ed Behr, editor of the influential Art of...

Should I Trust Wikipedia With My Health?

Nov 8, 2016

Dr. James Heilman isn't an easy man to get hold of — he kept offering us odd, off-hour windows of availability to do a phone interview. When we finally connected, he explained: He works the night shift as an emergency room physician in British Columbia. He also puts in time as a clinical assistant professor in emergency medicine. And then there's the 60 — count 'em, 60! — hours a week he toils away editing Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia written and edited by, well, anyone who...

Halloween has come and gone, but piles of candy remain. You have two options: Eat it all and risk a serious sugar coma, or get seriously creative with some candy-themed science. We asked employees at various science museums what experiments they like to do with leftover candy. Get crackin'. The classic "what does candy REALLY taste like"? "Your sense of taste is actually really limited," explains Julie Yu, senior scientist and director of the Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium in San...

Of all the things that have come up during this election cycle — from immigration to the size of one candidate's hands — one issue that didn't get much air time was climate change. "We tend to be very focused on the short term," explains George Marshall, Director of Projects at Climate Outreach and author of Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. "We tend to discount [...] things happening in the future the further away they are." In this week's encore...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: Marvel's latest superhero movie, "Doctor Strange," worked its magic on audiences over the weekend and led the box office. (SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE") TILDA SWINTON: (As The Ancient One) Doctor Strange, you think you know how the world works. What if I told you, through the mystic arts, we harness energy and shape reality? SHAPIRO: And while many people might have gone to see Tilda Swinton there or...

There were snowy, icy balls everywhere. Videos and photos from western Siberia, on the Gulf of Ob, showed an entire beach covered in snowballs that had apparently washed ashore. In one image published online by the Siberian Times , a woman sat on the frozen balls. In another , a dog ran near the balls, which had also formed what looked like a vertical mass of balls mashed together into an icy ball-wall. The BBC reports that the balls started washing up about two weeks ago. They're strung...

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake shook central Oklahoma on Sunday evening, damaging several buildings. Multiple aftershocks also hit the area, the U.S. Geological Survey says. The quake epicenter was about a mile west of the town of Cushing, the largest commercial crude oil storage center in North America and the southern terminus of the Keystone pipeline . On Monday, public schools in Cushing were closed to assess damage, and the school district said in a statement on Facebook that two schools had...

Federal scientists have launched another test in human volunteers of a Zika vaccine. This one uses a more traditional approach than an experiment that started in August. Federal officials are eager to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible, which is why they are pursuing multiple approaches. This experimental vaccine , called ZPIV, has already proved effective when designed to target a virus similar to Zika, called Japanese encephalitis . "We urgently need a safe and effective vaccine to...

In Greensboro, N.C., Eyeisha Holt spends her days as a full-time child care worker at Head Start. But after a decade's work in early education she still earns only $11.50 an hour — barely enough, she says, to cover the basics as a single mom of two. So every weekday evening she heads to her second job, as a babysitter. "Are you ready to go to bed?" she asks, as she oversees bath time for her 3-year-old daughter and another of her charges. For 25 hours a week, Holt cares for toddler twins, in...

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Protests against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline continue along with periodic clashes between police and demonstrators. This week, President Obama said the Army Corps of Engineers may reroute the pipeline. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the Corps also met with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to try and avoid future confrontations with protesters. JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At the main protest camp about 40 miles south of...

Are the many hog and poultry farms of eastern North Carolina creating "fields of filth," as two groups of environmental activists put it last summer? And if they are, what happens when a hurricane comes along and dumps a foot and a half of water on them? The two groups, Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance, just issued a partial answer. It's a report filled with overhead photos taken in early October, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. They show flooded poultry barns and ...

If you're tracking emerging infectious agents in the United States, it's time to add a new one to the list. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 13 cases of a fungal infection first seen in Japan in 2009. The culprit is called Candida auris . The fungus has appeared among hospitalized patients with cancer-damaged immune systems or other serious conditions. Four patients died of the seven the CDC examined in detail. Because they were all quite ill to begin with, it's...

Are We Wrong To Think We're Right?

Nov 4, 2016

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Democracy On Trial About Julia Galef's TED Talk Our biases lead us to amend the facts. Writer Julia Galef explains how we can have better judgement by developing more empathy and testing our own beliefs. About Julia Galef Julia Galef co-founded the Center for Applied Rationality , a nonprofit organization devoted to helping people improve their reasoning and decision-making, particularly with the aim of addressing global problems. Copyright 2016 NPR. To...

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