Created with Sketch.
14 minutes | 10 days ago
Orphans Delivered The World's First Vaccine
When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use last December, it felt like - at last! - our nightmare was nearly over. Then came reports of botched distribution efforts, from broken websites to factory mix-ups. Scientists created the vaccine in record time, but it was beginning to look like that might’ve been the easy part. But if you think vaccine distribution was a logistical nightmare in 2021, try doing it in the early 1800s. In 1796, Edward Jenner discovered that cowpox worked as a vaccine against smallpox. All you had to do was pop a cowpox sore on someone’s skin and transfer the lymph fluid (a.k.a. pus) into a cut on a second person. Soon, they'd develop a few sores, but when they recovered, they'd be immune to smallpox, a far more serious disease. This worked well enough for short distances, but when smallpox began to destroy Spanish colonies in the Americas, Spain had to figure out a way to move the vaccine across the ocean. Their solution was resourceful, effective, and very ethically dubious. Science writer Sam Kean brings us the story of the world's first vaccination campaign. Guest: Sam Kean is a science writer, author of The Bastard Brigade, and host of the podcast Disappearing Spoon. Footnotes & Further Reading: Listen to our episode on the origin of the word ‘vaccine.’ Listen to a full episode about this story on Sam Kean’s podcast, Disappearing Spoon. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
25 minutes | 24 days ago
Diction Dash: You Asked, We Answer
Over the past year, you’ve sent us words you want us to cover on the show. And for months, we let those suggestions pile up into a list of nearly 200 words. Today, we begin to chip away at that lexical mountain. A team of Science Friday producers set out to tackle five listener-suggested words and quiz Johanna about their meaning or origin in a game we’re calling, Diction Dash. Feel free to play along... or just listen to Johanna get all the answers wrong. We still want your suggestions! If you want us to cover a word on the show, send an email to email@example.com. We’ll add it to the lexical mountain. Guests: Kathleen Davis is a Producer at Science Friday. Diana Montano is Events Producer at Science Friday. Lauren J. Young is a Digital Producer at Science Friday. Christie Taylor is a Producer at Science Friday. Alexa Lim is Senior Producer at Science Friday. Credits: Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and Elah Feder. Elah is also our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Robin Palmer helped fact check this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.
29 minutes | a month ago
Introvert: The Invention Of A Type
In 2013, introverts staged their comeback. For decades, they’d been told to get out of their shells and *smile*, while those showy, gregarious extroverts were held up as the American ideal. But when one author published a kind of introvert’s manifesto, she sparked an introvert pride movement. Since then, the war of the ‘verts has only escalated, with self-identified introverts accusing extroverts of being shallow and incessantly chatty party monsters, and extroverts declaring introverts self-absorbed shut-ins who are just jealous because extroverts are actually happy. (A contention that studies support.) It all feels like a very 21st Century, internet-era drama. But the history of the dubious and divisive introvert-extrovert binary began 100 years ago, when Carl Jung fell out with Sigmund Freud, and tried to make sense of where they’d gone wrong. In the process, Jung coined a couple of new terms, and unleashed an enduring cultural obsession with cramming ourselves into personality boxes. Guests: Dan McAdams is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. Wiebke Bleidorn is a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. Kelly Egusa is producer Chris Egusa’s sister, and a proud introvert. Footnotes & Further Reading: For an introvert’s manifesto, check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.Looking for a personality test backed by science? This one comes closest. Curious about the 18,000 words in “Trait Names: A Psycho-lexical Study”? Read them here. Read the 2019 study that suggests that introverted people feel happier when they force themselves to act extroverted. (And you can also check out a different study from the same year that adds a wrinkle to this finding.) Take a look at a study that analyzes the Big Five personality dimensions as they relate to career success. Credits: This episode was produced by Chris Egusa, Johanna Mayer, and Elah Feder. Elah is our Editor and Senior Producer. Daniel Peterschmidt is our Composer and did sound design for this episode. They wrote all the music, except for the Timbo March by Tim Garland from the Audio Network. Robin Palmer fact checked this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. This season of Science Diction is sponsored by Audible.
18 minutes | a month ago
Mercury: How It Made Cats Dance
In 1953, in the coastal town of Minamata in Japan, locals noticed some cats were acting strangely—twitching, spinning in circles, almost dancing. The reality was far darker. What looked like dancing was really convulsions. The cats drooled, spun in circles, and flung themselves into the sea. The cause of this strange behavior, residents discovered, was mercury. Mercury—a silvery liquid, named for a quick-footed Roman God—has captivated humans since ancient times. It’s found in Egyptian tombs that date to 1500 BCE, and the first emperor of unified China believed it was the elixir of life. But what happens when it invades a town, and seeps into our brains? Footnotes & Further Reading: For this story, we relied heavily on the book Minamata : Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan.Learn how mercury played a pivotal role in pinpointing a key campsite location in the Lewis and Clark expedition. Credits: This episode of Science Diction was written by Kaitlyn Schwalje, and produced by Elah Feder and Johanna Mayer. Elah is our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt sound designed this episode and composed all the music, except The Timbo March which is by Tim Garland, from the Audio Network. We had fact checking help from Danya Abdelhameid and Robin Palmer. Nadja Oertelt is our chief content officer. The season of Science Diction is sponsored by Audible.
17 minutes | 2 months ago
Lunacy: Mind Control From The Sky
On December 5th, 2012, a bill landed on President Barack Obama’s desk, meant to do one thing: remove the word “lunatic” from the federal code. This is because in 2012, you could still find the word in laws about banking and controlling estates, among others. And not only was it offensive, it was antiquated—ancient, in fact. The word lunacy comes from luna—Latin for moon. This is because there was a time when we thought the power to change our moods and minds came from the sky. Guests: Miena Hall is a Family Medicine Resident at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. Jo Marchant is a science journalist and author of The Human Cosmos. Footnotes & Further Reading: For a deep history on “madness,” check out Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull. Meta-analyses and literature reviews haven’t backed up a lunar effect on human behavior, but more recent studies have found intriguing patterns. Credits: Science Diction is hosted by Johanna Mayer. This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer, Chris Egusa, and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. Daniel Peterschmidt composed all the music and designed sound for this episode. Chris Wood mastered. We had fact checking by Danya AbdelHameid. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. Special thanks to Andrew Scull, Chiara Thumiger, who studies ancient medicine, and Janet Downie, Associate Professor of classics at UNC Chapel Hill. This season of Science Diction is supported by Audible.
17 minutes | 2 months ago
Mesmerize: The 18th Century Medical Craze Behind the Word
In the late 18th century, a doctor showed up in Paris practicing some very peculiar medicine. He would escort patients into dimly lit rooms, wave his arms over their bodies, and touch them with a magnetic wand. Patients would react to these treatments violently: crying, sweating, convulsing or shrieking. But then they would emerge healed. According to the doctor anyway. Many believed he was a fraud, but despite his dubious methods, this doctor inadvertently gave us a new approach to healing—and a new word: mesmerize. Because the doctor’s name was Franz Anton Mesmer. A depiction of Mesmer’s “treatment” baquets. (Wikimedia Commons) Guests: Emily Ogden is an associate English professor at the University of Virginia. Footnotes & Further Reading: For a deep dive on mesmerism, check out Emily Ogden's book, Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism. Credits: Science Diction is hosted by Johanna Mayer. This episode was produced by Johanna Mayer, Katie Thornton, and Elah Feder. Elah is our editor and senior producer. We had story editing from Nathan Tobey. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and we had sound design from Chris Wood, who also mixed and mastered the episode. Fact checking by Michelle Harris and Danya AbdelHameid. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer. This season of Science Diction is supported by Audible.
18 minutes | 9 months ago
Rocky Road: Why It Sounds So Dang Delicious
Rocky Road is just a good name for an ice cream flavor. So good, in fact, that two ice cream institutions have dueling claims to Rocky Road’s invention. It’s a story of alleged confessions and a whole lot of ice cream-fueled drama. If it were just the flavor that made Rocky Road so special, every company could have just made their own concoction of nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows, named it “Muddy Street” or “Pebble Lane,” and called it a day. But there’s a linguistic reason why Rocky Road just sounds so dang delicious—and it’s studied by linguists and marketers alike. Fenton's Creamery in Oakland, California, one of the institutions that lays claim to inventing Rocky Road. (Wikimedia Commons) In this episode, we mention the Bouba Kiki Effect. Imagine two shapes: One is a pointy, jagged polygon, the other an ameboid-like splotch. Which shape would you name “Bouba,” and which would you name “Kiki?” In study after study, 90% of people agree—the pointy shape is “Kiki” and the rounded shape is “Bouba.” This so-called “Bouba-Kiki Effect” holds in many languages, and has even been demonstrated with toddlers. But why the near-universal agreement? Cognitive psychologists like Kelly McCormick have several theories. Watch this Science Friday video to learn more. Guest: Alissa Greenberg is a freelance journalist. Dan Jurafsky is a professor of linguistics at Stanford, and the author of The Language of Food. Will Leben is professor emeritus of linguistics at Stanford, and is the former director of linguistics at Lexicon Branding. Footnotes And Further Reading: Read Alissa Greenberg’s full (highly entertaining) story of the history of Rocky Road ice cream. The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky is a word nerd’s dream, and contains more about his experiment on cracker and ice cream brand names. Credits: Science Diction is hosted and produced by Johanna Mayer. Our editor and producer is Elah Feder. We had additional story editing from Nathan Tobey. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, with help from Danya AbdelHameid. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Sound design and mastering by Chris Wood. Our Chief Content Officer is Nadja Oertelt.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021