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Science Weekly

Twice a week, the Guardian brings you the latest science and environment news

Tracks

Is there any point in taking multivitamins?
Multivitamins are cheap, convenient, and provide a little bit of reassurance if our diet isn’t quite as healthy as we’d like. But a recent study of nearly 400,000 people spanning 20 years found they didn’t help users live longer, and in fact appeared to show a 4% increased mortality risk. Ian Sample hears from JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, to find out what the evidence tells us about the overall health benefits of multivitamins, and how consumers can navigate this large and sometimes confusing market. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:14 18/07/2024
Can the climate survive AI’s thirst for energy?
Artificial intelligence companies have lofty ambitions for what the technology could achieve, from curing diseases to eliminating poverty. But the energy required to power these innovations is threatening critical environmental targets. Madeleine Finlay hears from the Guardian’s energy correspondent, Jillian Ambrose, and UK technology editor, Alex Hern, to find out how big AI’s energy problem is, and whether it can be solved before it is too late. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
18:08 16/07/2024
‘Lesbian’ seagulls and ‘gay’ rams: the endless sexual diversity of nature
Same-sex sexual behaviours have been reported in a wide variety of species, and a new study suggests that, although animal scientists widely observe it, they seldom publish about same-sex sexual behaviour in primates and other mammals. To find out why and to hear about some of the examples of sexual diversity from the animal kingdom, Ian Sample hears from Josh Davis, a science writer at the Natural History Museum in London and author of the book A Little Gay Natural History. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
18:05 11/07/2024
ZOE and personalised nutrition: does the evidence on glucose tracking add up?
You might have noticed that everyone has recently become a bit obsessed with blood sugar, or glucose. Wellness firms such as ZOE here in the UK – as well as Nutrisense, Levels and Signos – claim to offer insights into how our bodies process food based on monitoring our blood glucose, among other things. But many researchers have begun to question the science behind this. To find out what we know about blood glucose levels and our health, and whether the science is nailed down on personalised nutrition, Ian Sample hears from philosopher Julian Baggini, academic dietician Dr Nicola Guess of Oxford University and ZOE’s chief scientist, and associate professor at Kings College London, Dr Sarah Berry. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
29:08 09/07/2024
‘Spermageddon’: is male fertility really in crisis?
Recent research has suggested a global reproductive crisis could be in the offing, with researchers in Israel saying average sperm counts may have more than halved in the past 40 years. But a study published last month appears to call this narrative into question. Ian Sample is joined by the Guardian’s science correspondent Nicola Davis to unpick why these studies have come to different conclusions – and what could be causing the crisis, if declines are as dramatic as they appear. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:31 04/07/2024
Caroline Lucas on climate, culture wars, and 14 years as the only Green MP
As she steps down as the Green party’s first, and so far only, MP, Caroline Lucas tells Madeleine Finlay what it’s been like as the sole Green voice in parliament for the past 14 years, her hopes for her party in Thursday’s UK general election, and what she plans to do in her life beyond politics. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
18:34 02/07/2024
The surprising psychology behind extremism, and how politics is driving it
Psychologists usually expect ambivalence to be a driver of political apathy. But a new study appears to show a link between ambivalence in our views and the likelihood that we’ll support extremist actions. Madeleine Finlay speaks to the study’s co-author Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, to find out what pushes people to take extreme actions, how politics could be driving this behaviour and how it could be combated. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
17:01 27/06/2024
The infection that affects half of women and its link to antibiotic resistance
Anyone who has had a urinary tract infection knows how agonising they can be. Some infections go away on their own, but many need antibiotics. Beneath the surface of this very common infection lie many mysteries, unanswered questions, and unnecessary suffering. And it gets to the heart of the challenge of tackling antimicrobial resistance. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Dr Jennifer Rohn, head of the centre for urological biology at University College London, about what we now understand about how UTIs take hold, and the complexity surrounding their treatment. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:49 25/06/2024
A black hole awakens and why some people avoid Covid: the week in science
Ian Sample and science correspondent Hannah Devlin discuss some of the science stories that have made headlines this week, from a glimpse of a black hole awakening, to a new blood test that can detect Parkinson’s seven years before symptoms appear, and a study exploring how some people manage to avoid Covid infection. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
19:29 20/06/2024
What are the main UK parties promising on climate and is it enough?
Last week more than 400 scientists signed an open letter to political parties urging ambitious action on the environment to prevent making Britain and the world ‘more dangerous and insecure’. Now that the main parties’ manifestos have all been released, Ian Sample is joined by the global environment editor, Jon Watts, and the biodiversity reporter, Phoebe Weston, to find out what the manifestos have to say about nature and climate, and whether anyone is promising the level of action scientists are asking for. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
20:16 18/06/2024
Are cold and wet UK summers here to stay?
Here in the UK talking about the weather is already a national pastime, but this month the water-cooler weather chat has ramped up a notch as rain, grey skies and biting temperatures have put summer firmly on hold. Ian Sample talks to Matt Patterson, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, to find out what’s causing the chilly weather, whether it’s really as unusual as it seems, and whether any sun is on the horizon for the UK. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:08 13/06/2024
Slaughter-free sausages: is lab-grown meat the future?
Ian Sample hears from Linda Geddes about her recent trip to the Netherlands to try cultivated meat sausages, courtesy of the company Meatable. Advocates say that cultivated meat could be the future of sustainable and ethical meat production. Linda explains how they’re made, how their carbon footprint compares with traditional meat and most importantly … what they taste like!. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
14:13 11/06/2024
Golden rice: why has it been banned and what happens now?
A court in the Philippines has banned the commercial growth of golden rice, a genetically modified rice which was created to help tackle vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. It’s just the latest twist in a long and controversial journey for this rice. Ian Sample hears from the Observer science and environment editor, Robin McKie, and from Glenn Stone, a research professor of environmental science at Sweet Briar College in Virginia who is also an anthropologist who has studied golden rice, about why it has taken so long for this potentially life-saving technology to reach the fields, if it is the silver bullet so many had hoped for, and whether this ban is really the end of the story. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:49 06/06/2024
Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘The clock is ticking but the world will teach us what we need to do’
For a long time, western science and Indigenous knowledge have been seen as distinct ways of learning about the world. But as we plunge the planet deeper into environmental crises, it is becoming clear that it is time to pay attention to both. Bridging that gap has been the driving force behind the career of the botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer. She tells Madeleine Finlay what we can learn from the most ancient plants on Earth, why we need to cultivate gratitude for the natural world and what western science can learn from Indigenous knowledge. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
20:02 04/06/2024
Election risks, safety summits and Scarlett Johansson: the week in AI
It’s been a busy week in the world of artificial intelligence. OpenAI found itself in hot water with Scarlett Johansson after launching its new chatbot, Sky, drawing comparisons to the Hollywood star’s character in the sci-fi film Her. In South Korea, the second global AI summit took place, and a report from the Alan Turing Institute explored how AI could influence elections. The Guardian’s UK technology editor, Alex Hern, tells Madeleine Finlay about what’s been happening. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
18:52 30/05/2024
Concrete without CO2: can our biggest building material go green?
Concrete is strong and durable – which is why it’s the basis for so much of our infrastructure. It’s also terrible for the planet, due to one key ingredient: cement, which is responsible for almost 90% of concrete emissions. Researchers have now found a way to recover old cement while also reducing the environmental impact of recycling steel. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Julian Allwood, professor of engineering and the environment at the University Of Cambridge, to find out how the process works, and what it could mean for the emissions generated by the construction industry. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
14:53 28/05/2024
Why is air turbulence getting worse?
On Tuesday a British man died and several others were injured when their plane encountered severe turbulence between London and Singapore. And it looks like this kind of turbulence is something we’ll have to get used to. Last year a study found severe clear-air turbulence had increased by 55% between 1979 and 2020. Ian Sample speaks to Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and the environment at Cranfield University, to find out why this is happening, and whether there’s anything we can do to reverse the trend.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
13:34 23/05/2024
In their prime: how trillions of cicadas pop up right on time
Right now, across much of the midwestern and eastern US, trillions of cicadas are crawling out from the soil. And this year is extra special, because two broods are erupting from the ground at once. The first brood hasn’t been seen for 13 years, the other for 17 years and the last time they emerged together Thomas Jefferson was president. Ian Sample speaks to entomologist Dr Gene Kritsky to find out what’s going on, why periodical cicadas emerge in cycles of prime numbers and how they keep time underground. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:15 21/05/2024
AI, algorithms and apps: can dating be boiled down to a science?
Last week the founder of the dating app Bumble forecasted a near future dating landscape where AI ‘dating concierges’ filter out prospective partners for us. But does AI, or even science, really understand what makes two people compatible? Madeleine Finlay speaks to Amie Gordon, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, to find out what we know about why two people go the distance, and why she and her colleague associate professor of sociology Elizabeth Bruch, are designing their own dating app to learn more.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:46 16/05/2024
Backstabbing, bluffing and playing dead: has AI learned to deceive?
As AI systems have grown in sophistication, so has their capacity for deception, according to a new analysis from researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr Peter Park, an AI existential safety researcher at MIT and author of the research, tells Ian Sample about the different examples of deception he uncovered, and why they will be so difficult to tackle as long as AI remains a black box. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:29 14/05/2024
How much protein is too much?
Sales of cottage cheese are booming thanks to a boost from protein-hungry social media influencers. But do we really need all this extra protein? Madeleine Finlay speaks to Joanne Slavin, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, to find out what exactly protein is doing in our bodies, and what happens to it when we consume it in excess. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:17 09/05/2024
Why are the world’s cities sinking?
A study has found that more than two dozen US coastal cities are sinking by more than 2mm a year. It’s a similar picture across the world. Nearly half of China’s major cities, as well as places such as Tehran and Jakarta, are facing similar problems. These issues are compounded by sea level rises caused by global heating. Madeleine Finlay speaks to Prof Manoochehr Shirzaei of Virginia Tech University and Prof Robert Nicholls of the University of East Anglia to find out what’s making our cities sink and whether anything can be done to rescue them from the sea. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:19 07/05/2024
The extraordinary promise of personalised cancer vaccines
Glioblastomas are an extremely aggressive type of brain tumour, which is why the news this week of a vaccine that has shown promise in fighting them is so exciting. And this comes right off the back of the announcement of another trial of the world’s first personalised mRNA vaccine for melanoma, a kind of skin cancer. Ian Sample talks to Prof Alan Melcher of the Institute of Cancer Research about how these vaccines work and whether they could one day be used to target cancer before it is even detectable on scans. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
13:15 02/05/2024
The stream of plastic pollution: could a global treaty help us turn off the tap?
Guardian Seascapes reporter Karen McVeigh tells Madeleine Finlay about a recent trip to the Galápagos Islands, where mounds of plastic waste are washing up and causing problems for endemic species. Tackling this kind of waste and the overproduction of plastic were the topics on the table in Ottawa this week, as countries met to negotiate a global plastics treaty. But is progress too slow to address this pervasive problem?. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:56 30/04/2024
From birds, to cattle, to … us? Could bird flu be the next pandemic?
As bird flu is confirmed in 33 cattle herds across eight US states, Ian Sample talks to virologist Dr Ed Hutchinson of Glasgow University about why this development has taken scientists by surprise, and how prepared we are for the possibility it might start spreading among humans. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:05 25/04/2024
Hardwired to eat: what can our dogs teach us about obesity?
Labradors are known for being greedy dogs, and now scientists have come up with a theory about the genetic factors that might be behind their behaviour. Science correspondent and flat-coated retriever owner Nicola Davis visits Cambridge University to meet Dr Eleanor Raffan and Prof Giles Yeo to find out how understanding this pathway could help us treat the obesity crisis in humans. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
20:05 23/04/2024
Who really wins if the Enhanced Games go ahead?
Billed as a rival to the Olympic Games, the Enhanced Games, set to take place in 2025, is a sporting event with a difference; athletes will be allowed to dope. Ian Sample talks to chief sports writer Barney Ronay about where the idea came from and how it’s being sold as an anti-establishment underdog, and to Dr Peter Angell about what these usually banned substances are, and what they could do to athletes’ bodies. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:41 18/04/2024
Soundscape ecology: a window into a disappearing world
What can sound tell us about nature loss? Guardian biodiversity reporter Phoebe Weston tells Madeleine Finlay about her visit to Monks Wood in Cambridgeshire, where ecologist Richard Broughton has witnessed the decline of the marsh tit population over 22 years, and has heard the impact on the wood’s soundscape. As species lose their habitats across the world, pioneering soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause has argued that if we listen closely, nature can tell us everything we need to know about our impact on the planet. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
16:16 16/04/2024
The senior Swiss women who went to court over climate change, and won
This week, in a landmark case, the European court of human rights ruled that Switzerland’s weak climate policy had violated the rights of a group of older Swiss women to family life. Ian Sample talks to Europe environment correspondent Ajit Niranjan about why the women brought the case and what the ruling could mean for future climate policy.. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
15:30 11/04/2024
Remembering physicist Peter Higgs
The Nobel prize-winning British physicist Peter Higgs has died aged 94. The confirmation in 2012 of the existence of the Higgs boson particle, five decades after Higgs had first theorised its existence, paved the way for his 2013 Nobel win. Nicknamed ‘the god particle’, the Higgs boson was part of an attempt to explain why the building blocks of the universe have mass. Ian Sample and Madeleine Finlay look back on the life and legacy of a giant of science. Help support our independent journalism at theguardian.com/sciencepod
17:05 10/04/2024

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