Distillations: Science + Culture + History

On April 22, 2017, more than one million people in 600 cities around the world took to the streets in the name of science. Many were scientists themselves, and quite a few donned lab coats. Some were protesting for the first time. It was an unusual sight perhaps, but science has never been immune to politics.

“If we could imagine angels doing science maybe it wouldn’t be political,” says Liz Lopatto, science editor of the technology site the Verge, “But since it’s humans, it’s inescapable.”

Throughout the past century quite a few scientists have taken up political causes, but the tide of politics and science ebbs and flows, from the labs to the streets and back again. Now, after a period of relative quiet it seems to be flowing again. But this time it’s different. Sociologist Kelly Moore says, “I don’t know of any period in American history when scientists have felt the need to collectively defend science as a public good.”

Show Clock

00:32 March for science
02:14 Science as a noun, science as a verb 
04:55 Science and politics throughout history 

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional Reporting and Production: Kyrie Greenberg 
Audio Engineer: Dan Powell

Music 

Original music composed by Zach Young. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations221.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:26pm EDT

There was a time when tattoos were taboo, and you thought long and hard before getting one. Today 20 percent of American adults are inked. Tattoos just don’t carry the stigma they once did—unless it’s a particular kind of tattoo, in a particular place on the body.

Fortunately, as our penchant for getting tattoos has grown, so has our ability to get rid of them. In the 1960s researchers started experimenting with lasers to remove tattoos, and since then the technology has dramatically improved. Now we can erase our past, whether it’s a sailor’s bad decision from overseas or a gang identifier that prevents its owner from getting a job—and could even get him killed.

Sociologist and CHF research fellow Joseph Klett traces the modern history of tattoo removal through the stories of his father—a retired sailor—and ex-gang members in California.

 

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Reporter: Joseph Klett
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional production by Kyrie Greenberg 
Audio engineer: Dan Powell
Voiceover artist: David Dault 

Music 

Original music composed by Dan Powell

Direct download: Distillations220.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:10am EDT

Most of us are content to use our existing five senses to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch our way through the world. But an increasing number of people called biohackers are not satisfied with watching the everyday brilliance of a sunset or petting a silky kitten. They want infrared vision and electromagnetic fingertips.

“Why wouldn't I want to add one more sense to the ones I already have and enjoy so much? The ability to feel just a little bit more?” Nic Fox asked reporter Catherine Girardeau. Fox has a device embedded in his chest that vibrates when he faces magnetic north.

To understand more about these would-be cyborgs we turned to Kara Platoni, author of We Have the Technology: How Biohackers, Foodies, Physicians and Scientists Are Transforming Human Perception, One Sense at a Time. Platoni is a science reporter and a lecturer at University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She describes how many biohackers feel the future hasn’t gotten here fast enough. They’re ready to be cyborgs now.

Show Clock

00:03 Intro
03:10 The North Sense
13:12 Interview with author Kara Platoni

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest: Kara Platoni
Reporter: Catherine Girardeau
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations219_0406.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:42am EDT

For as long as humans have been around they’ve worried about their smell. “That’s why we’ve had perfumes for as long as we’ve had people,” says Cari Casteel, a CHF research fellow studying the history of deodorant. But, Casteel says, "it wasn't until the late 19th, early 20th century that the technology and the chemistry catches up to what people want."

Today most Americans don’t give a second thought to using deodorant. In fact, some 90% of the population slathers the stuff on. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries deodorants and antiperspirants were new, and their makers had to convince potential customers (all women) that perfumes alone weren’t cutting it and that their body odor and perspiration were unacceptable. They did so by preying on women’s insecurities, an approach later used successfully on men.

In this episode we explore some of the funny, disturbing, sexist, and quirky advertisements from deodorant’s history and discover that today’s commercials are strangely similar to those of the past.

Show Clock

00:01 Intro
01:20 Odorono ad 
03:57 The history and science of deodorant  
09:55 Old ads vs. new ads  

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest:  Cari Casteel
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional Production by Kyrie Greenberg 

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations218Deodorant.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:07pm EDT

We all know hydration is important to health, but many people find water boring to drink. Juice and Coke aren’t boring, but they aren’t very healthy either. One way to transform water into a more exciting drink is to add bubbles. For centuries carbonated water from natural springs was used as a medicine. Now lifestyle and health concerns have combined to drive fizzy water’s renewed popularity.

Join us as we unpack the long history of carbonated water, from natural mineral springs, to the invention of artificial carbonation by a radical 18th-century chemist, to the fading tradition of seltzer deliverymen in New York City.

Show Clock

00:01 Intro
00:24 The rise of fizzy water 
04:30 Seltzer Boys
06:40 What's the difference between seltzer, mineral water, and club soda? 
08:22 The history of carbonated water  
11:55 Seltzer and health

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional production by Kyrie Greenberg 

Special thanks to Alex Gomberg and Brooklyn Seltzer Boys

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations217.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:24am EDT

Second Skin: The Unexpected Origin of the Sports Bra

The sports bra is omnipresent in today’s sports landscape. But the current iteration of this nifty item is less than 40 years old, and it arrived with a serendipitous origin story.

For this episode of Distillations we talked to Lisa Lindahl, an entrepreneur from Vermont, who in 1979 patented what was to become the modern-day sports bra. It’s a story about a runner who wanted running to be more comfortable. “It was the right product at the right time. It really struck a chord for so many women,” says Lindahl. “This product came into being because it was something I wanted.”

We also talked to our museum team about their new exhibition, Second Skin: The Science of Stretch, and the roles stretch fabrics play in health and sports. Christy Schneider, exhibits project manager at the Museum at CHF, says it’s all about getting the body you want, whether you want to dance all night or run a marathon. “How do you that?” asks Schneider. “You clothe it in a second skin.”

Show Clock

00:05 Intro
00:32 ‘The Sports Bra Seen Round the World’
05:40 A brief history of the sports bra
10:53 The technology and science behind the sports bra
11:50 Why stretch fabric matters
15:20 Conclusion

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guests: Brandi Chastain, Lisa Lindahl, Gillian Maguire, and Christy Schneider
Reporter: Rigoberto Hernandez
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Seth G. Samuel

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations216.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:57pm EDT

Our producer is pregnant. For the past nine months people have asked what her birth plan is, which to her seems like asking what kind of weather she had planned for her wedding day. “All of a sudden my life was full of these terms: natural, medicated, doula, epidural, and it quickly became clear that there was a great debate—and I was supposed to choose a side.” 

We wanted to know when this controversy started, and why comedian Amy Schumer is joking about sea-turtle births. So we talked to Lara Freidenfelds, a historian of sexuality, reproduction, and women’s health in America, and learned some surprising things about our nation’s early childbirth practices.

Freidenfelds also shared her views about why a growing number of women are opting for unmedicated births, while Amy Tuteur, a retired obstetrician and the author of Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, tells us that once upon a time all births were natural—and a lot of mothers and babies died.

Show Clock

00:01 Inside Amy Schumer: "It's Better for the Baby"
01:00 Intro
02:32 Feature story: "I Can't Get To You"
11:25 Amy Tuteur and Lara Freidenfelds discuss the history and controversy behind natural childbirth

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guests: Amy Tuteur and Lara Freidenfelds
Reporter: Kristin Gourlay
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Seth G. Samuel

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations215.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:28pm EDT

Best of 2016: Insiders vs. Outsiders in Medicine

Over the past year we’ve brought you stories about tacos, taxidermy, and DDT. But at the same time we’ve been thinking about and researching medicine—specifically, how outsiders to the field have helped change the ways doctors practice. Join us to find out how philosophers, transgender patients, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have influenced health care in the United States over the past few decades. 

Show Clock

00:04 Intro
01:41 Transgender and intersex patients
06:51 Bioethicists
09:55 Jehovah's Witnesses

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest: Mariel Carr
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez

Music

"Nature Kid" by Podington Bear, courtesy of the Free Music Archive. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations214.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:00pm EDT

Human-Centered Therapy . . . with Robots

Now that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder as a significant issue among veterans, they’ve uncovered another problem—there aren’t enough therapists to go around. Virtual reality experts at the University of Southern California have a solution: robots. Reporter Anna Stitt explains how advocates see these “therapy bots” as enhancing the field of therapy; they don’t tire out, they don’t need a salary, and patients are often more honest with them than human therapists. The only problem? Some people are worried that these therapy bots will one day replace humans.

Fears of artificial intelligence aren’t new, but they do seem increasingly common. Elon Musk declared that creating artificial intelligence is akin to "summoning the demon.” And Hollywood has done a solid job of convincing us that we’re approaching an age of artificial superintelligence—when machines’ capabilities will greatly exceed those of humans. We turned to philosopher and University of California, Berkeley professor John Searle to get his take on how realistic these concerns are. He says he takes the threat just as seriously as if someone said “shoes have been walked on for centuries. Any day now, they might come out of the closet and walk all over us."

Show Clock

00:04 Intro
02:06 Human-Centered Therapy....with Robots
19:56 John Searle interview

Credits

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest: John Searle
Reporter: Anna Stitt
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez

Music

Music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: AI.mix3.wav
Category:general -- posted at: 1:55pm EDT

This Is Not Your Great-Grandfather’s Taxidermy

Have you noticed any antlered rabbits mounted on the wall of your local coffee shop? Or maybe some geese with butterfly wings? That’s because taxidermy has made a comeback. Our producer, Mariel Carr, wanted to know why, so she spent a few months exploring the alternative—or rogue—taxidermy scene in Philadelphia. Rogue taxidermy takes an artistic approach to the traditional craft. It combines materials, and even animals, in unconventional ways. And it seems to involve a fair amount of glitter.

Meet Beth Beverly, a young taxidermist; John Whitenight, an eccentric collector of Victorian taxidermy; and the polar bears and gorillas at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Together they explain taxidermy’s long history of combining art and science, and describe the role arsenic played in taxidermy’s rise to prominence in the 19th century.

Show Clock:

00:04 Intro
01:13 This Is Not Your Great-Grandfather's Taxidermy

Credits:

Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Reporter: Mariel Carr
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer:
 Rigoberto Hernandez

"Boop" and "Climbing the Mountain" courtesy of Podington Bear and the Free Music Archive.

Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.

Direct download: Distillations212.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:11pm EDT