Remember the medfly? All bugs are pesky, of course, but the Mediterrean Fruit Fly might have been the peskiest. And a little bit scary. The threat was imminent: A tiny creature was going to ruin California’s agricultural industry.
But the battle of the Medfly soon became a battle over pesticides – mainly, one called Malathion – and the widespread spraying of California’s towns and cities – even Los Angeles.
What happened to the medfly? More importantly perhaps, with widespread spraying of pesticides to fight the pest, why did our public officials, news media and even the public get so concerned about this crisis? Which side of the science was right?
It was one of the worst oil spills in US history. The Exxon Valdez hit a reef off the Alaska coast in March 1989, spilling some 11 million gallons of crude oil. We remember the images: Birds, seals and other sea life, covered in black crude. Oil washing on beaches up and down the coast.
And many of us may think we remember the cause: The ship’s captain. He had been drinking, left the bridge and the ship hit that reef.
But, it turns out, fault for the Exxon Valdez spill went way beyond the captain. A key question: Where were the supposed emergency recovery plans – equipment, personnel – oil companies promised would be ready for disaster? What we subsequently learned about those emergency plans – or lack of them – raised questions then that remain relevant and concerning even today.
Few words did more to raise fears of environmental disaster over a generation than “Love Canal.” The small neighborhood outside Niagara Falls became big news when toxic chemicals – buried three decades earlier – began oozing from the ground.
The script that played out – new at the time – today feels like a long-running play: Fears, confusion, denials, public demands – demands for information and safety that largely went unheard and unacted upon. Until, that is, compelled by one local woman who kept up the fight, the government not only helped the residents move out, but eventually set up the landmark Superfund legislation in 1980.
But instead of that being the end of the story, some 15 years later, spurred by refurbished homes at below market prices, people moved back to Love Canal. And now it turns out some of them might have gotten more than they bargained for.
Here to explain: JP Olsen, a producer at Retro Report, the non-profit news and documentary group that specializes in following important news events after the headlines faded. Their new video is “Love Canal: A Legacy of Doubt.”
It was the day the lights went out across the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. Just more than 10 years ago, August 2003, 50 million people from New York to Ottawa were left in the dark.
The first thought for many was terrorism. But then it became clear: This disaster was not the product of some terror network, but of our power network. It had overloaded and shut down.
This was the warning shot many in the power industry had predicted: An old infrastructure, lacking sufficient investment and modernization left millions without electricity. No lights. Elevators stuck. Subways shutdown. For some, no water or bathrooms in the dangerous heat of summer. If bad things happen in the dark, this was a nightmare.
Now, 10 years later, are better prepared? Have we made the investments needed to keep the lights on?
Virtually all of us have dreams for a cure to cancer. But in December, 1971, the hope for a cure couldn’t have been higher. President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, launching America’s War on Cancer. With some reports predicting a cure by the bicentennial, the full power of the U.S. Government would go behind fighting this destructive disease.
Needless to say, more than 40 years later, cancer continues to ravage our society. Some 13 million people currently live with cancer in the U.S. About 1.6 million new cases are diagnosed yearly; and more than half a million Americans die of cancer each year. And while, thankfully, great progress has been made – more people not just surviving, but beating cancer – we all know someone who has suffered.
In looking back, were hopes of a quick victory overplayed by politicians and the media? And whatever happened to the promises made in that historic bill signing four decades ago? Can victory ever be declared?
Jill Rosenbaum is a producer at Retro Report, the non-profit news and documentary group that follows important events after the headlines fade. Their new video is “The Long War on Cancer.”
It was a scientific feat for the ages. A result so exciting and scary, that one reporter wondered , “Should we be applauding a mind-boggling scientific breakthrough or be nervous about where it might lead us?”
February 1997. Scientists in Scotland succeeded where no man had gone before. A mammal was cloned. Sheep number 6LL3. Her name was Dolly.
Dolly became an overnight sensation and fears of counting the same sheep over and over again – or, worse, the same cloned human being – took hold. But those concerns – some moral, and some the stuff of science fiction movies – soon got in the way of other promising science. Science that might have saved lives.
How did Dolly spin out of control? And to what extent did our fears at the time come true?
Matthew Spolar is a producer at Retro Report, the non-profit news and documentary group that follows important events after the headlines fade. Their new video is “Dolly the Sheep.”
Virtually no legal drug in American history carries as much fear as Thalidomide. A wonder drug, imported from Germany in the late 50s, that would help calm the nerves – even being prescribed for morning sickness among pregnant women.
But the drug had not been properly tested, and the side effects were devastating. Thousands of children, across the world, born deformed – arms, legs. The drug was taken off the market and banished.
But the Thalidomide story doesn’t end there. It turns out another use has been found, and this villain that caused so much suffering may have a second chance at becoming the wonder drug that was promised. How could this comeback occur? Is it worth the risk?
The story is being told by Retro Report, the non-profit news and documentary group that specializes in following important news events after the headlines have faded. Kit Roane produced their new video “The Shadow of Thalidomide.”
Some 20 years ago, the surprise hit film “Free Willy” followed a boy’s fictional quest to free a dancing, swimming, performing whale named Willy.
While you likely remember the movie, you may have forgotten that there was a real-life Willy, and his name was Keiko. Keiko played Willy on screen, and following the film’s success, lots of movie goers asked the same question: If Willy gained freedom, why not Keiko?
That launched a movement to Free Keiko and deliver his own Hollywood ending. But Keiko met a far different fate than Willy, and his story – and the stories of the humans who tried to save him – continues to affect the global animal rights movement even today.
It’s a story being told by Retro Report, a non-profit news and documentary group that specializes in following important news events after the headlines have faded. Josh Fisher produced their new video, “Freeing Willy.”
Harvard University recently announced the Top 25 programs in this year’s Innovations in American Government Award competition. We’re here to talk about one of them. It’s called LAUNCH. It’s a partnership among NASA, USAID, the State Department, and NIKE, the apparel company — and it uses online collaboration and crowdsourcing, as its mission says, to do no less than maximize human potential. What does that mean in actuality? How does it work? Diane Powell is from NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist, the area where LAUNCH was launched. (Originally broadcast 5-5-13 on The John Batchelor Show)
The battle to teach Creationism in classes is playing out in the Bayou. In 2008, Louisiana passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which many people say actually is an end around to allow teachers to refute Darwinism with Creationism. The law is supported by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, among others, but now, the debate has gone global. More than 70 Nobel scientists and scores of clergy have lined up behind an outspoken and well-organized leader who wants the Act repealed. Who is that leader? Zack Koplin is a Baton Rouge-born, 20 year old college sophomore at Rice University. He is leading the charge and he joins me now. (Originally broadcast 5-5-13 on The John Batchelor Show)
Today more than ever, great, new, innovative ideas come from anywhere. But if you had to name a capital for this place called anywhere, it just might be the MIT Media Lab, where researchers design technologies for people to create a better future. This group of incredible thinkers and doers take existing and non-existing technologies and evolve them to make our every day lives better. How does that happen? Within the Media Lab is something called the “Tangible Media Group,” and within the “Tangible Media Group” is my next guest – David Rose, visiting scientist, product designer, teacher, and serial entrepreneur. (Originally broadcast 5-5-13 on The John Batchelor Show)
If you heard President Obama’s Inauguration speech last week, it was as surprising to many as it was unmistakable: Climate change is back on the front burner. But why, after laying low as policy talk turned to tax increases and debt ceilings, is climate change hot again? And how do Americans really feel about it? Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz can give us a hint. He is Research Scientist and the Director of the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication, and among their various projects is “Global Warming’s Six Americas” that analyzes Americans’ interpretations of and responses to climate change. (Originally broadcast 1-27-13 on The John Batchelor Show)
This conversation is for the most rational among us. You know who you are: You collect the data. You even assign probabilities. Guess what — all that thinking, science and math can come undone in an instant through your emotions. But the impact of emotions on our decision making can be awfully hard to measure. From the simple choice to tell a harmless white lie to larger transgressions of love or money that play out on the front pages, connections among emotions and social behavior — in short, our character — often feel like an unsolvable mystery. Mystery solving exactly the mission of Dr. David DeSteno, Director of Northeastern University’s Social Emotions Group and co-Author, “Out of Character: The Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us.” (Originally broadcast 1-27-13 on The John Batchelor Show)
In late 1977, many of us were amazed by the possibility: NASA had launched Voyagers I & II to study the outer reaches of space. These vessels would do more than thrill Trekkies — they would help us understand where the solar system ends and maybe more. Fast forward some 35 years later. Today Voyager I either has or is about to leave our solar system. What will it find? What lies beyond? What might we learn? Few this side of Captain Kirk spend more time thinking about what lies beyond outerspace — and, indeed, how it all began, than Lawrence Krauss. Where to start: Dr. Krauss is a theoretical physicist and Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. He is the author of several bestselling books, including “A Universe from Nothing,” which was a NY Times best-seller and was translated into 19 languages… In other words, you might say Dr. Krauss spends his time determining the scientific answer to the world’s oldest question: What is the meaning of life? (Originally broadcast 10-27-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
It’s got no trees. No grass. No culture has ever lived there. It was the site to the greatest race among explorers in our time. It’s about 1.5 times the size of the US and for half the year, it sits in darkness. Of course, I’m talking about Antarctica. And if you’re at all like me and you spend too much time watching nature shows that take you to the furthest reaches of the Earth, you’re fascinated by the idea of this ice continent. It’s also a place that has drawn — some five times — scientist Gabrielle Walker. Dr. Walker has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Cambridge. She has taught there and at Princeton and she recently pulled together her views on what she calls “the most alien place on the planet.” (Originally broadcast 12-16-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
If you want to really feel panic, I’ve got some news for you: Only 8 shopping days left until Christmas. And if you’re still trying to figure out what to get for that special someone, you may want to listen up. You know the expression “give from the heart?” Turns out, that could be the worst gift-giving advice around. Instead, what you might need to understand more is not the emotion, but the science of giving. That’s right, the science. Strip away the warm feeling and sentiment, and what you get to is the science — and it just might be what you need to understand why you give and what people really want for Christmas. Leon Neyfakh is the Boston Globe’s Ideas reporter. He writes about new research and thought coming out of academia and his latest piece is for all you late shoppers out there. (Originally broadcast 12-16-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
From pro football to the pee wees, international soccer to girls youth leagues and beyond, the latest concern in sports has nothing to do with competition, sportsmanship or even TV money. It’s concussions. As quickly as we realized that seat belts save lives and texting while driving kills, a whole new consciousness exists around what happens when your brain shakes violently. This sociological and medical shift occurred seemingly overnight, faster than cigarettes were snuffed from resataurants or calorie counts appeared on menus. If you’re not aware of the issues around concussions, then you may not have listened to Dr. Robert Cantu, professor of neurosurgery at Boston University, senior consultant to the National Football League and co-author of “Concussion and Our Kids: American’s Leading Expert on How to Protect Young Athletes”. As much as anyone, Dr. Cantru drove the concussion discussion, and he joins us now. (Originally broadcast 10-27-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
You may be going through life thinking you are what you eat. But, it turns out, you may be more WHERE you eat. Even with a fast food, your calorie intake — and enjoyment — may result less from choosing chicken nuggets over burgers than Mozart over Metallica. A fascinating new Cornell study has show that ambience — lighting, music and color choice — instead of making you more relaxed and willing to kick back and eat more, may make you more relaxed and willing to eat less! why does this happen — and what might it mean for our super-size calorie debates? Dr. Brian Wansink is a Professor of Consumer Behavior at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. He studies food psychology and behavior change, and he co-authored the study: “Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music can Reduce your Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction.” (Originally broadcast 9-8-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
From Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” to Eddie Murphy’s “Trading Places” to today’s hidden camera TV shows that put unsuspecting people in morally-challenging situations and ask: “What would you do?”, questions about ethical behavior among the social classes has always been the stuff of literature, movies and TV. Now, it’s the stuff of science. A group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley [and the University of Toronto] have pulled together data from seven separate studies to look at which social class has a higher probability of ethical behavior. And the results may surprise you. Dr. Paul Piff, Social Psychologist at UC Berkeley, and co-author of “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior” joins us now. (Originally broadcast 6-2-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
You know how you’ve often thought — and, admit it, sometimes said — that you need some time alone? Turns out, you’re not alone. And a lot of people are acting on that notion — and they’re pretty happy about it. It has been called the biggest demographic shift since the Baby Boom, and the numbers tell the story: More than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million—roughly one out of every seven adults—live alone. People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S. households, which makes them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family. Why might this lifestyle lead to personal happiness? Helping us understand is Eric Klinenberg, New York University Sociologist and author of “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.” (Originally broadcast 4-14-12 on The John Batchelor Show)
Given all the arguing that dominates television, radio and the web -- the he said/she said, the all-or-nothing verbal warfare, the relentless search for scandal or quick quip -- the most simple element that drives important, human communication is often missing: Smart conversation.
Yes, there is a space that exists between the screaming -- between the one-sided agendas, the caustic commentary and irrational judgement that defines audiences down and drives much of today's content.
There is space between the noise. That's where "Conversations with Thinkers" sits.
At its best, smart conversation informs, excites and prods. It reveals, intrigues and explains. Always, it must entertain.
Here you'll find conversation on politics, business, foreign affairs, culture, economics, sports, public policy and more.
"Conversations with Thinkers" is for someone who wants to explore ideas in a rational way. Someone who wants to connect.