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What does the word “meme” have to do with evolutionary biology? And why do we call it “Spanish flu” when it was never Spanish? Science Diction is a podcast about words—and the science stories within them. If you like your language with a side of science, Science Diction has you covered. Brought to you by Science Friday and WNYC Studios.
 
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COVID-19 Vaccines May Not Protect Immunocompromised People This week, California and New York, two of the states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, announced that they were relaxing almost all coronavirus-related business restrictions. Across the country, vaccination numbers are slowly ticking up—although a troubling COVID-19 variant known as De…
 
How To Talk About Medical Marijuana With Your Doctor Over the last decade, cannabis has had a moment. Thirty-six states and Washington D.C. have legalized it for medical use. (Fifteen states, plus D.C., have also legalized weed recreationally.) Altogether, about 5.5 million people in the U.S. now have medical marijuana cards. One of the primary arg…
 
Biden’s New Assistant Secretary Of Health On Protecting Trans Youth The American healthcare system is facing some incredible challenges: Black and Latino communities were hit harder by COVID-19, and have lower vaccination rates than white, Asian, and Native American communities. The opioid crisis is still raging, climate change is disproportionatel…
 
FDA’s Approval Of Debated Alzheimer’s Treatment Raises Controversy This week, the FDA gave the green light to a drug for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, a monoclonal antibody called aducanumab, is the first Alzheimer’s treatment to receive approval in almost 20 years. It targets the amyloid protein that forms the tangled plaques fou…
 
If you read the title of this episode and cringed, you’re not alone. At Merriam-Webster, editors and lexicographers receive countless letters grousing about the addition of certain words to the dictionary. And here at Science Diction, we get our fair share of emails pointing out our linguistic missteps. But the more you dig into the origins of word…
 
Research Reveals 178 Genes Are Associated With Depression If you have a family member that suffers from depression, chances are you may have more than one. Doctors often say “depression runs in families,” but scientists really had no good idea how—until a major analysis of the genomes of 200,000 military veterans uncovered the 178 genes that influe…
 
Anthony Fauci Reflects On 40 Years Of HIV/AIDS Research Every week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases its regular report of the latest developments on emerging diseases—a living record documenting decades of medical history, known as the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In May 1981, former MMWR editor Michae…
 
Shifting The Sand Business To Greener Practices Sand is one of the most in-demand natural materials on the planet—some 50 billion tons of sand and gravel are mined every year. It’s because the humble sand is a key ingredient in many materials, from concrete and asphalt to microchips and glass. But sand is also heavy, needed in large quantities, and…
 
How Do We Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy? This Memorial Day weekend, many people will be traveling to the beach, hitting the road or socializing with friends—maskless—for the first time in over a year. As of this week, 50% of people over 18 are now fully vaccinated. Another 15 to 20% of people are taking a “wait and see” approach. Of those still on the…
 
How did a country's name end up inside the word, “serendipity"? And what’s a “syzygy"? And, more importantly, why does it have so many y’s? Over the past year, several listeners have written to us asking about these two words. Now, we answer—with a little help. Eli Chen and Justine Paradis join us for a round of Diction Dash, where Johanna tries (a…
 
Americans’ Online Security Needs An Update Last week, all eyes were on the shutdown of a gas pipeline that delivered fuel to large portions of the Southeastern US. The shutdown was not due to a leak or planned pipeline maintenance, but to a ransomware attack that took billing computers at the pipeline operator offline. The attack had encrypted data…
 
How Do You Solve a Problem Like World Vaccination? Here in the U.S., it feels as if we’ve turned a corner in the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the population can be vaccinated, and restrictions for masks and distancing are loosening. But we won’t be able to get a handle on the pandemic until the rest of the world has access to a vaccine. If you though…
 
What’s Behind The Blockchain-Based Art Boom? From multi-million dollar art sales to short NBA video clips, non-fungible tokens have taken off as a way to license media in the digital realm. The blockchain-based tokens, which function as a certificate of ownership for purchasers, produce a dramatic amount of carbon emissions and aren’t actually new—…
 
Fully Vaccinated Can Unmask Often, CDC Says As the number of vaccinated Americans continues to rise and evidence mounts that the vaccines may reduce viral transmission in addition to lessening disease severity, the CDC announced Thursday that fully-vaccinated people may be able to go mask-free except in specific crowded indoor situations. The annou…
 
Last month, Science Diction received a letter from a listener named Ben. He wanted to know about ambergris, a strange substance that washes up on beaches from time to time. So today, we’re talking about this thing that for centuries, rich people coveted, rubbed on their necks, and even ate, all without having any idea what it really was. If they ha…
 
A Beetle’s Chemical (And Plastic) Romance For many species of beetle, the key to finding a mate is scent: Both females and males give off pheromones that signal their species, their sex, and even their maturity level. How do researchers know? In experiments with dead beetles that have been sprayed with female pheromones, live males reliably attempt…
 
Weighing COVID-19 Vaccinations For Teens Federal officials are reporting that the Food and Drug Administration is poised to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 by early next week—just as Canada became the first country to do so on Wednesday of this week. Pfizer has said they will seek out emergency authorization for even …
 
Uncovering Metal Crafts Of The Viking Age Vikings are often associated with scenes of boats and fiercely-pitched battles. But new research, published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, shows they also had other, calmer skills. The paper details advances in the cast metalwork of objects, such as keys and ornamental brooches,…
 
The Future Of Plastics Plastics do a lot of good. They’re sturdy, they’re clean, and the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted their benefits, with personal protective equipment like disposable gloves and masks. But its durability is also its biggest problem. We’ve all seen photos of piles of plastic trash washed up on beaches, and animals surro…
 
Proposed Legislation Threatens Trans Rights Nationwide Since the start of the 2021 legislative session, members of more than 30 state legislatures have proposed over 100 bills that would limit transgender children’s ability to play sports, or access gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blocking medications. One such proposal, restricting a…
 
World Leaders Gather Virtually For Climate Summit Forty world leaders attended an international summit on climate change to discuss how each country would commit to decreasing emissions. Sophie Bushwick from Scientific American fills us in on the commitments stated during the meeting. Plus, she talks about China launching its space station and how …
 
Conserving More Than Just the Planet’s ‘Beloved Beasts’ Historically, “conservation” simply meant not overhunting a game animal, preserving sufficient populations to continue to hunt the following year. Over time, however, conservationists have learned to broaden their focus from individual animals to entire ecosystems, protecting not just species,…
 
Understanding St. Vincent’s Volcanic Eruption Since April 9th, the Caribbean island of St. Vincent has been rocked by eruptions at the La Soufrière volcano. Over the last week, plumes of ash and gas have rained down on the island, and dense masses of debris, called pyroclastic flows, are destroying everything in their path. Tens of thousands of res…
 
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…
 
New AI Composes Songs From Silent Performance Videos There have been many awkward attempts in the quest to train algorithms to do what humans can. Music is a prime example. It turns out that the process of turning the individual notes of a composed piece into a fully expressive performance—complete with changes in loudness and mood—is not easy to a…
 
What Does The Future Look Like For COVID-19 Long-Haulers? There’s something strange happening with some people who’ve gotten sick with COVID-19: Somewhere between 10 and 30% of people who are infected are stuck with long-lasting effects and complications. People dealing with long-term symptoms after a coronavirus infection are known as COVID long-h…
 
The Buzz Over Non-Bee Pollinators When you think of pollinators, bees are probably the first insect that comes to mind. But there are actually all sorts of insects and animals that contribute to pollination, like moths, beetles and many kinds of flies—from hoverflies to gnats. Pollination biologist Robert Raguso joins SciFri to explain how differen…
 
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