Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Chris Mooney and Indre Viskontas' Posts

Comments

8 scary facts about antibiotic resistance

A drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (staph).
Centers for Disease Control
A drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (staph).

This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of the surprising reasons that U.S. students are so bad at math (just 26th in the world, in a recent study). Plus, Indre takes apart a highly controversial new study purporting to show that male-female gender stereotypes are rooted in different wiring of our brains.

To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

It's flu season. And we're all about to crisscross the country to exchange hugs, kisses, and germs. We're going to get sick. And when we do, many of us will run to our doctors and, hoping to get better, demand antibiotics.

And that's the problem: Antibiotics don't cure the flu (which is viral, not bacterial), but the overprescription of antibiotics imperils us all by driving antibiotic resistance. This threat is growing, so much so that in a recent widely read Medium articleWired science blogger and self-described "scary disease girl" Maryn McKenna painted a disturbingly plausible picture of a world in which antibiotics have become markedly less effective. That future is the focus of McKenna's interview this week on the Inquiring Minds podcast:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

Comments

Which Hollywood-style climate disasters will strike in your lifetime?

In a just-released report, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has taken an extensive look at the scary side, the dramatic side … let's face it, the Hollywood side of global warming. The new research falls under the heading of "abrupt climate change": The report examines the doomsday scenarios that have often been conjured in relation to global warming (frequently in exaggerated blockbuster films), and seeks to determine how likely they are to occur in the real world.

So here's a list of some of the most dreaded abrupt changes (where abrupt means occurring within a period of a few decades or even years), and the probability that they'll happen — even if nothing like the Hollywood version — before the year 2100:

Disruption of the ocean's "conveyor belt"

movies day after tomorrow 2
20th Century Fox/Wikimedia Commons

As seen in: The scientifically panned 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow.

What would happen: The great overturning circulation of the oceans, driven by the temperature and the salt content of waters at high latitudes, transports enormous amounts of heat around the planet. If it is disrupted or comes to a halt, there could be stark changes in global weather patterns.

Chances it will happen this century: Low. For future generations, however, The Day After Tomorrow might be slightly less laughable (if still wildly exaggerated). In the longer term, the NAS rates the probability of a disruption as "high."

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

Why climate skeptics and evolution deniers joined forces

Are religion and end times thinking now wrapped up with the denial of global warming?
Shutterstock

All across the country — most recently, in the state of Texas — local battles over the teaching of evolution are taking on a new complexion. More and more, it isn't just evolution under attack, it's also the teaching of climate science. The National Center for Science Education, the leading group defending the teaching of evolution across the country, has even broadened its portfolio: Now, it protects climate education too.

How did these issues get wrapped up together? On its face, there isn't a clear reason — other than a marriage of convenience — why attacks on evolution and attacks on climate change ought to travel side by side. After all, we know why people deny evolution: Religion, especially the fundamentalist kind. And we know why people deny global warming: Free market ideology and libertarianism. These are not, last I checked, the same thing. (If anything, libertarians may be the most religiously skeptical group on the political right.)

And yet clearly there's a relationship between the two issue stances. If you're in doubt, watch this Climate Desk video of a number of members of Congress citing religion in the context of questioning global warming:

Comments

How the Simpsons have secretly been teaching you math

America's favorite dysfunctional family of math geniuses?
Fox
America's favorite dysfunctional family of math geniuses?

This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of some of the science behind Thanksgiving: Why thankfulness is good for us, and what kinds of food safety issues you should know about when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers.

To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

Simon Singh may not sound like your average fan of The Simpsons. He has a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge and made an award-winning documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem. Let's be frank: He's a math geek.

But then, so are a surprisingly large number of the show's writers. You may not have realized it, but as Singh shows in his new book, The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets, a seemingly endless supply of mathematical jokes and references are crammed into each Simpsons episode.

"There are lots of mathematicians on the Simpson's [writing team] … and they still have a great affection towards numbers and geometry," says Singh in this week's interview on the Inquiring Minds podcast (listen below).

Comments

A decade of monster hurricanes

NOAASuper Typhoon Haiyan as it made landfall in the Philippines. Earlier this month, Super Typhoon Haiyan stunned the meteorological community. The Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which tracked the storm, estimated its maximum one-minute sustained wind speeds at more than 195 miles per hour based on satellite imagery. If confirmed, that would exceed the official wind speed estimates for all other hurricanes and typhoons in the modern period. (Prior to 1969, some Pacific storms were recorded as stronger, but these measurements are now considered too high.) But here's the thing: Haiyan isn't the globe's only record-breaking hurricane in recent years. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

Meet the computer geek who took on Ken Cucinelli — and won

Climate scientist Michael Mann speaks alongside Terry McAuliffe at a campaign event in Virginia.
McAuliffe campaign
Climate scientist Michael Mann speaks alongside Terry McAuliffe at a campaign event in Virginia.

This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of the myth that left-brained people are logical and right brained people are creative, and the legacy of Carl Sagan and its lessons for today's science wars.

To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

For climate researcher Michael Mann, the last few weeks have hardly been average ones in the life of a scientist and university professor.

On Oct. 30, Mann introduced Bill Clinton at a campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe in Charlottesville, Va. A few days later, he listened as President Obama, also campaigning for McAuliffe in Virginia, brought up Mann's high-profile struggles with McAuliffe's gubernatorial opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Not exactly average — but then, as MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it when interviewing Mann back in August, "You didn't come to politics, politics came to you." The story of how Mann, a self-described math and computer nerd working in an esoteric field known as paleoclimatology, wound up front and center in a nationally watched political campaign is told on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast:

Comments

Could Carl Sagan have defeated climate denial?

Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander.
NASA
Carl Sagan with a model of the Viking lander.

Tuesday at the Library of Congress, a stunning list of science luminaries — from Bill Nye the Science Guy to Neil deGrasse Tyson to White House science adviser John Holdren — joined one funny science aficionado (Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) to celebrate the late astronomer and television star Carl Sagan. The occasion was the opening of the "Seth MacFarlane Collection" of Sagan's personal papers: 1,705 boxes of Sagan's letters, notes, and writings now reside at the Library. The event also felt much like a preview of the coming Fox series Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, a remake of the show that made Sagan famous, that will be hosted by deGrasse Tyson and produced by MacFarlane and Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan.

One of the leading themes, however, was political. Speaker after speaker used the occasion to lament the way science is treated in the United States today, usually leading with the example of climate change. Science is suffering from "politicization on steroids," said MacFarlane. "We took a big, big hit when we lost Carl Sagan," he added later. Holdren remarked that Sagan "would have loved" President Obama's comment in June that when it comes to climate, "we don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society." Steven Soter, a writer on the original Cosmos series, added that Sagan would have been "appalled" by today's attacks on climate scientists, and that he would have "deeply altered the landscape" on the climate issue were he still alive.

Read more: Climate & Energy

Comments

We all start out as scientists, but then some of us forget

baby genius
Shutterstock

This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion about why so many Ph.D.s today are unemployed and the surprising discovery that our brain cells actually have different DNA — different genetic codes within the same brain. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Up until fairly recently, scientists, writers and philosophers alike have viewed human babies as little more than primitive adults. …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

Comments

The science of Tea Party wrath

tea party protest
Fibonacci Blue

Climate Desk has launched a new science podcast, Inquiring Minds, cohosted by contributing writer Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas. To subscribe via iTunes, click here. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow, and like us on Facebook.

This episode of Inquiring Minds features a discussion of new research on how marmosets are polite conversationalists (seriously) and of how Glenn Beck doesn't understand statistics.

If you want to understand how American politics changed for the worse, according to moral psychologist and bestselling author Jonathan Haidt, you need only compare two quotations from prominent Republicans, nearly 50 years apart.

The first is from the actor John Wayne, who on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 said, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my president and I hope he does a good job."

The second is from talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who, on the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, said, "I hope he fails."

Comments

How do you get people to give a damn about climate change?

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are causing global warming. But does telling conservatives this actually make a difference?
Skeptical Science
Scientists overwhelmingly agree that humans are causing global warming. But does telling conservatives this actually make a difference?

This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by bestselling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of the strange and disturbing disappearance of moose across much of the United States, and of Oprah Winpfrey's recent claim that self-described atheist swimmer Diana Nyad isn't actually an atheist.

To catch future shows right when they release, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

As two top researchers studying the science of science communication -- a hot new field that combines public opinion research with psychological studies -- Dan Kahan and Stephan Lewandowsky tend to agree about most things.

There's just one problem. The little thing that they disagree on -- whether it actually works to tell people that there's a "scientific consensus" on climate change -- is a matter of huge practical significance. After all, many scientists, advocates, and bloggers are doing this all the time. Heck, Barack Obama and Al Gore are out there doing it. And the central message that the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sought to convey with its latest report, that scientists are now 95-percent certain that humans are driving global warming, is a message about scientific consensus.

In this episode of Inquiring Minds (click above to stream audio), Kahan and Lewandowsky debate this pressing issue. The discussion begins with a paper published in Nature Climate Change last year by Lewandowsky and two colleagues, providing experimental evidence suggesting a consensus message ought to work quite well.

Read more: Climate & Energy