Science & Health

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The operating theaters of 19th century England were dirty, crowded spaces where patients screamed and spectators bought tickets to watch life and death struggles.

Surgeons wore blood-encrusted aprons, never washed their hands, and speed was prized over skill, since most patients were awake during surgery in the pre-anesthesia days. Many patients died of infections soon afterward, if they didn't die from shock or blood loss right on the table.

So, the title of this post should really be "Is Deckard A Replicant?" — but that might start us off on too deep a level of fandom.

See, Rick Deckard is the name of Harrison Ford's character in Blade Runner, the uber-classic 1982 cyber-noir film that, you know, affected just about everything that followed. As for replicants, they're the artificial humans (androids) that blade runners like Deckard are tasked with hunting down and "retiring."

The speed and ferocity of the wildfires raging through Northern California's wine country have caught many residents off guard and left state officials scrambling to contain the flames.

But for fire researchers, these devastating blazes are part of a much larger pattern unfolding across the Western United States. So far this year, fires in the U.S. have consumed more than 8.5 million acres — an area bigger than the state of Maryland.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Manipulation.

About Elizabeth Loftus's TED Talk

Years of research have taught Elizabeth Loftus just how unreliable our memories are. From tweaking a real memory to planting a completely fabricated one, tampering with our minds is surprisingly easy.

About Elizabeth Loftus

Air pollution in counties of the San Francisco Bay Area this week has been the worst since 1999 when officials began collecting data.

"The pollution is so high it's comparable to high pollution days in China," says Lisa Fasano at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The worst hour so far was measured on Tuesday in Napa, Calif., with an Air Quality Index of 404 for small particulate matter — so high it's off the chart, as you can see below.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended a controversial proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. "There's no such thing as a free market in energy," he said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Governments are picking winners and losers every day."

It was a remarkable statement, coming days after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt derided such tipping of the scales as he moved to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

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It's in the name Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone National Park that blows over a hundred feet in the air every 90 minutes or so. It's enchanted millions of visitors for generations.

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Gene therapy, which has had a roller-coaster history of high hopes and devastating disappointments, took an important step forward Thursday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee endorsed the first gene therapy for an inherited disorder — a rare condition that causes a progressive form of blindness that usually starts in childhood.

The recommendation came in a unanimous 16-0 vote after a daylong hearing that included emotional testimonials by doctors, parents of children blinded by the disease and from children and young adults helped by the treatment.

As a Brazilian-born scientist, it pains me to witness the devastating cuts — and proposal of future additional reductions — to the country's science funding.

The cut of 44 percent in March brought the 2017 budget for Brazil's Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications the lowest level in 12 years. Additional cuts of about 16 percent have been proposed for the 2018 budget.

When Hahna Alexander set out to create a shoe that could charge a battery, she had no idea what challenges lay ahead of her.

The inventing part went smoothly enough. Like many first-time inventors, she had a good idea and a passion for her work. She successfully invented a shoe that harnesses energy from each step the wearer takes. That energy can be used to charge a battery.

The Coming Sewer Gold Rush

Oct 12, 2017

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Abstinence may have found its most impressive poster child yet: Diploscapter pachys. The tiny worm is transparent, smaller than a poppy seed and hasn't had sex in 18 million years.

It has basically just been cloning itself this whole time. Usually, that is a solid strategy for going extinct, fast. What is its secret?

Supposedly solitary pumas actually hang out with their fellow big cats quite often, frequently coming together and hissing and snarling before settling down to share a delicious elk carcass.

That's the startling discovery made by scientists who recently tracked 13 pumas — also called mountain lions or cougars — and set up cameras at kill sites. They recorded dozens of peaceful social interactions between these elusive felines.

For years, doctors have been warning us that high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, illegal drug use and diabetes increase our chances of having a potentially fatal stroke.

And yet, most of the stroke patients showing up at hospitals from 2004 to 2014 had one or more of these risk factors. And the numbers of people at risk in this way tended to grow among all age groups and ethnicities in that time period.

In Ticino, Switzerland, the streets aren't paved with gold. But the sewage pipes are packed with it.

And across the country as a whole, some $3 million worth of gold and silver is thrown out in wastewater every year.

"It won't happen to me." Maybe that sentiment explains the attitude of many employees toward long-term-disability insurance, which pays a portion of your income if you are suddenly unable to work for an extended period because of illness, injury or accident.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is vowing to speed the cleanup of toxic Superfund sites, part of a shift away from climate change and toward what he calls the "basics" of clean air and water. The EPA's Superfund program manages the cleanup of some of the most toxic waste sites. Pruitt says the EPA will soon name a top 10 list of sites to focus on.

One potential site for that list is the Tar Creek Superfund site in far northeast Oklahoma, where a team of agency officials recently visited.

It's not often you'll find these 24 names in the same place. They are historians and musicians, computer scientists and social activists, writers and architects. But whatever it may read on their business cards (if they've even got business cards), they now all have a single title in common: 2017 MacArthur Fellow.

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, the island's power grid remains in shambles, and authorities say it will take months to fully restore electricity.

Nearly 90 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico's Energy Commission, which regulates the island's electric power authority.

This summer, Florida beachgoers watched in astonishment as more than 70 strangers spontaneously formed a human chain that extended out into the whorls of a vicious riptide.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

The Trump administration will scuttle an Obama-era clean power plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, made the announcement in Hazard, Ky., on Monday, saying the rule hurt coal-fired plants.

"The EPA and no federal agency should ever use its authority to say to you we are going to declare war on any sector of our economy," Pruitt said, speaking at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Do mass shootings, like the tragic event in Las Vegas on the evening of Oct. 1, change people's minds about gun control?

From a policy perspective, we can ask whether changes in gun regulations would likely affect the occurrence of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. (We certainly should be asking these questions.)

Many leading AI researchers think that in a matter of decades, artificial intelligence will be able to do not merely some of our jobs, but all of our jobs, forever transforming life on Earth.

The reason that many dismiss this as science fiction is that we've traditionally thought of intelligence as something mysterious that can only exist in biological organisms, especially humans. But such carbon chauvinism is unscientific.

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Every day, we are inching closer to some kind of artificial intelligence.

At this point, it isn't so important whether we're talking about truly self-conscious machines or not. Advances in big data, machine learning and robotics are all poised to give us a world in which computers are effectively intelligent in terms of how we deal with them.

Should you be scared by this proposition? Based on a lecture I just attended, my answer is: "absolutely, but not in the usual 'robot overlords' kind of way."

Updated 4:52 pm

The Trump administration is rolling back the Obama-era requirement that employer-provided health insurance policies cover birth control methods at no cost to women.

According to senior officials with the Department of Health and Human Services, the goal of the new rule is to allow any company or nonprofit group to exclude the coverage for contraception if it has a religious or moral objection.

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Right now we're in the peak of the fall migration season. Billions of birds are making their way south. Many species travel at night, and a new study shows how artificial light can affect their journey through darkness. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports.

Neanderthals died out some 30,000 years ago, but their genes live on within many of us.

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