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Science

Food Giants Want 'Sustainable' Beef. But What Does That Mean?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

McDonald's says it will start to buy beef that's "verified sustainable" in 2016. But defining sustainable beef production is tricky because the environmental issues involved are so complex.

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On The Media

When Your Favorite TV Show Jumped the Shark, In Graph Form

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Internet TV criticism means that we scrutinize each episode more minutely than we ever have before. Here's how to know if we're right.

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Can You Open A Bottle Of Wine With A Shoe? Yes, But It Ain't Pretty

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A YouTube video makes it look so easy: Nine swift strikes against a wall and voila! Your cabernet is ready for pouring. We weren't as successful. But we did figure out the physics behind the trick.

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Morning Edition

Can Mathematics Find Missing Malaysia Jetliner?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Investigators will be using every tool available to hunt for the missing Malaysian Air flight. Probabilistic analysis played a big hand in finding the missing Air France flight several years ago.

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PRI's The World

Facebook saved these bears from a life in captivity

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

There were once three bears in Kosovo, but no Goldilocks. And the bears were the ones who needed some rest and help.

It seems people just can't resist posting cute animal photos on Facebook — even when the cute animals are being held illegally.

Animal activists rescued three brown bear cubs last week — all just a month old and named Ema, Oska, and Ron — after people saw photos of the cubs on Facebook and tipped off the authorities. The bears were being kept at two homes in the western town of Peja in Kosovo. 

The cubs are now at a bear sanctuary run by the international animal organization Four Paws.

Keeping wild animals in Kosovo is illegal and authorities have cracked down on the buying and selling of brown bears. But some people still purchase bear cubs to have as pets.

"In the beginning, they are so helpless. They are blind, they can’t walk," said Carsten Hertwig, bear project leader for Four Paws. "They keep the bears like pets, like small dogs."

In 2013, Four Paws constructed a Bear Sanctuary in Pristina to house over a dozen of Kosovo's illegally-held bears that were seized by the authorities.

Most of the bears had been used as tourist attractions in restaurants, says Hertwig.

"For a restaurant, for example, it’s an attraction for the guests, or for pictures with [the bears] on a chain," she said. "There are dancing bears, or ... bears on a beach, for example, that you have to pay a little bit of money to have a picture. Also, baiting bears — where they have to fight with dogs. All these things happen to the bears."

Sometimes baby bears are bought as pets and then grow too big for their owners.

"We rescued one bear [that was six months] old and the owner was already surprised how big this bear was ... [it was] getting larger and larger and it needed more and more food and more and more space. It’s very hard to keep a bear."

As for Ema, Oska, and Ron, Hertwig said she wants the bears to eventually leave the sanctuary. "This is, hopefully, not the end. It was very important that we got the bears [young] and that they had had not so much contact with humans already," she said.

"Now we have to be very strict that only one person is in contact with them and only when it’s necessary — only when they need food. As Kosovo is a place with wild bears, our aim is to release them into the wilderness."

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PRI's The World

An oceanographer tells why it will be so tough to find missing Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A needle in a haystack is a metaphor that's been used a lot to describe the challenge of finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. On Tuesday, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, Australia's deputy defense chief, told reporters at a military base in Perth that they're still trying to determine where the haystack is.

Meanwhile, planes sat idle behind him, grounded because of bad weather over a wide swath of the Indian Ocean about 1500 miles from Perth.

David Gallo, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, knows the ocean floor in these waters. He's taken part in expeditions in all the world's oceans and was one of the first scientists to use robots and submarines to explore the deep seafloor.

"It's something called the Southeast Indian Ridge, an underwater volcanic terrain with probably a lot of fresh volcanics at the crest, maybe active vulcanism," he says. Gallo says the water depth at the crest of the underground mountain range is a mile and a half and then goes down to the north and south to about three miles.

Gallo has spent his career underwater. He was part of the team that recovered debris from Air France Flight 447 that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. It took his team two years to find that wreckage. "The terrain is smoother than the Atlantic sea floor where we found the Air France [flight]. But the thing that's really different is that with Air France, we knew we were going to have days when we could have counted on bad weather. With the south Indian Ocean, you're lucky to have days when you can count on decent weather."

Gallo says the weather is always lousy in the area where they're looking for Flight 370, and that has enormous consequences for the expedition to find the wreckage. 

"The site is about seven days steam from Perth, and you don't want to be out there for more than a month. So that leaves [between] two and three weeks to be on site," says Gallo. "If the winds are 60 miles per hour and the boat is going up and down thirty or forty feet with the swells and the tides, it's almost impossible to get any work done under those circumstances."

Add to that, he says, the fact that rough seas make it nearly impossible to launch or recover Autonomous Undersea Vehicles or AUVs, which have never been used in that part of the Indian Ocean. 

And Gallo is frankly surprised that no debris has been found so far. "In every expedition I've ever been on, we see some bit of debris from the sea. In this case, the satellites have seen objects that the aircraft can't find. The aircraft have seen objects that the ships can't find," he says.

Gallo hopes that more information will lead to a narrower search area. "In the case of the Air France expedition, we spent two months looking in the wrong part of the Atlantic Ocean. So even if you have the right resources, if you're in the wrong haystack, you're not going to find anything."

Gallo says the haystack they're working with now in the search for Flight 370 is about the size of the North Atlantic. "It's immense."

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PRI's The World

Is there any chance Russia-US tensions could end up on the International Space Station?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On the ground, Russia and the US may be on tense terms. But in space, it is another world.

Astronaut Steven Swanson of Colorado joined cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov in a Soyuz launch vehicle Tuesday to head for the International Space Station (ISS).

When they arrive, they'll greet the rest of the international team already aboard — fellow American Rick Mastracchio of Connecticut, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Japanese commander Koichi Wakata.

"I think they must feel quite uneasy watching what's happening with the international situation around the Crimea annexation," says Roald Sagdeev, a former director of the Soviet Space Research Institute. Still, he's confident the crew has been instructed to devote all of its energy and time to true international cooperation.

"Judging from what we actually witnessed during the real Cold War, 15, 25, 40 years ago, we can expect that, even at this time of international tension, space cooperation would proceed normally."

During the Cold War, Sagdeev says, scientific cooperation wasn’t distracted by political issues. "Despite the political confrontation — different strong and threatening pronouncements —both sides tried to keep certain channels of communication open, and space was one of them, always."

He cites the joint docking in space between NASA's Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in 1975, at the very peak of the Cold War.

"A similar thing was happening with international science cooperation. Despite all the rhetoric of the Cold War, whenever scientists were meeting each other, it was in the atmosphere of comradery," he adds.

If you've seen the popular space fiction movie 2010 (the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey) featuring a joint Soviet-US mission to Jupiter, then you might imagine the sort of trust issues the Russians and Americans could run into in space. But Sagdeev says that's not how things go in space.

"Of course, there was indoctrination. I don't know much about the American side, but on the Soviet side, when we Soviet scientists were allowed to participate in international conferences, we were instructed to talk about the superiority of the socialist system. It was in the list of instructions. So what we did was we exchanged political jokes and anecdotes," he recalls. "For example, there's a series of jokes from that era called the Armenian radio stories."

Here's an example: a radio listener asks Armenian radio "what is the difference between socialism and capitalism?" and the radio host answers, "Very simple. Capitalism is when one man exploits another. What is socialism? Quite the opposite." Sagdeev said jokes like that, funny or not, kept cooperation alive.

He says he's not aware of tension aboard the space station that would challenge the crew's focus on the mission. "I don't believe there will be any complication. I think there is the intention on both sides now to keep space cooperation — at least within the framework of the International Space Station — going as it was before. Perhaps cosmonauts and astronauts are exchanging these political jokes like we did during the Cold War."

NASA chief Charlie Bolden said recently that crews on the space station are accustomed to dealing with political tensions.

"I think people lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises," he said during a news conference.

"I don't think it's an insignificant fact that we're starting to see a number of people with the idea that the International Space Station be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It's not trivial," added Bolden. "It has continued to exist and continued to function with people from a variety of cultures and beliefs."

"Right now, everything is normal in our, NASA's, relationship with the Russians," Bolden said. "I'm not an historian — but over the duration of the human spaceflight program, particularly over the last 15 years since the International Space Station has been on orbit, it's very important to understand that it started with a partnership between the United States and Russia. That partnership in space remains intact and normal."

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Women's Rights Advocate Humaira Awais Shahid; Drama in Ancient Rome; Broccoli; Superfund Cleanup Makes a Mess

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On today’s show: Humaira Awais Shahid talks about becoming a prominent Muslim woman activist in Pakistan, and how Islamic values could become an agent for change. Classical historian James Romm looks at the dramatic life of Seneca, one of Ancient Rome’s best-known writers and philosophers. Dan Pashman, host of the Sporkful food podcast, tries to explain why broccoli isn’t more appreciated. And we’ll find out how the clean-up of Superfund sites has created its own host of environmental problems across the country.

All Things Considered

A Dubious Birthday For The Exxon Valdez

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Exxon Valdez spill prompted lawmakers and regulators to change how they oversee the oil industry. And while experts say the industry's safer now, riskier work continues to test the rules.

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All Things Considered

Oil Spill Disrupts A Waterway Thick With Barges And Birds

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thousands of gallons of fuel oil spilled from a barge in Galveston Bay, Texas, over the weekend. The spill disrupted shipping and threatens wildlife in the area, and the containment effort has begun.

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All Things Considered

The Hearts Of Fish Still Bear Scars Of Oil Spilled Years Ago

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Exxon Valdez spill happened 25 years ago Monday, and only 4 years ago this spring, a British Petroleum well spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. New research shows the effects of such disasters on the fish in those regions. The study focuses on commercially valuable fish and finds that concentrations of oil can be toxic to developing fish hearts.

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The Rotating Snakes Are All In Your Mind

Monday, March 24, 2014

Illusions aren't just for fun; they also help reveal how human vision works. Commentator Tania Lombrozo turns to an expert for an explanation of why we perceive motion where none exists.

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The Takeaway

Energy Giant Caught Illegally Polluting River

Monday, March 24, 2014

According to state regulators, Duke Energy illegally pumped 61 million gallons of contaminated water from a coal ash pit into the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. Michael Biesecker, a reporter for the Associated Press who's been following this story, and Kemp Burdette, a river keeper and executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, explain how the nation's largest electricity company got away with the illegal dumping for months.

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Morning Edition

25 Years After Spill, Alaska Town Struggles Back From 'Dead Zone'

Monday, March 24, 2014

The tiny fishing town of Cordova, Alaska, has weathered disruption in every facet of life since an oil tanker ran aground in 1989, spilling millions of gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Drug-Resistant TB; History of the Jews; Poverty and the Social Safety Net; Walter Kern and the Rockefeller Imposter

Monday, March 24, 2014

On today’s show: We’ll find out why tuberculosis has been making a speedy, drug-resistant comeback—with 8 million new infections each year. Simon Schama traces the Jewish experience across 3,000 years. Our series Strapped: A Look at Poverty in America continues with Michael Katz and Olivia Golden discussing the social safety net and the government programs designed to help the poor. Walter Kirn tells us about his odd 15-year friendship with a man who turned out to be an imposter, kidnapper, and murderer.

The Takeaway

U.S. Official Warns 'Putin Is Not Done in Ukraine' | For Flight 370 Families, Loved Ones Forever Missing | Energy Giant Caught Illegally Polluting River

Monday, March 24, 2014

U.S. Official Warns 'Putin Is Not Done in Ukraine' | The Takeaway TV Smackdown Round 2! | 'Baby M' and the Question of Surrogacy | Danger Lingers After Mudslide in Washington State | Barge Leaks 168,000 Gallons into Houston Ship Channel | For Flight 370 Families, Loved Ones Forever Missing | Energy Giant Caught Illegally Polluting River

The Leonard Lopate Show

Tuberculosis on the Rebound

Monday, March 24, 2014

There are more than 8 million new tuberculosis infections every year—virulent new drug-resistant strains emerging faster than ever, outbreaks occurring across the world, and TB has become the second leading cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet. Jezza Neuman, producer, writer, and director of the new Frontline documentary “TB Silent Killer,” talks about traveling to Swaziland, the country with the world's highest incidence of TB, to create a portrait of the people living at the pandemic's epicenter. “TB Silent Killer” airs March 25 at 10 pm on PBS.

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New Test Improves Detection Of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A group of scientists has developed a doping test 1,000 times more sensitive than those currently used. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with lead researcher Daniel Armstrong about how the test works.

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The Most Powerful Nerd In The Universe Is A Scientific Anomaly

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is everywhere these days. And his current stature is remarkable, in part because he's a black astrophysicist — seemingly as elusive a phenomenon as the Higgs boson.

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All Things Considered

Why The Exxon Valdez Spill Was A Eureka Moment For Science

Saturday, March 22, 2014

In the aftermath of the 1989 oil spill off the Alaskan coast, scientists expected the worst damage to be short-lived. Instead, the spill shattered conventional wisdom about oil's affect on wildlife.

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