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Big Picture Science

Science Podcasts

The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.

The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.


Mountain View, CA


The surprising connections in science and technology that give you the Big Picture. Astronomer Seth Shostak and science journalist Molly Bentley are joined each week by leading researchers, techies, and journalists to provide a smart and humorous take on science. Our regular "Skeptic Check" episodes cast a critical eye on pseudoscience.






SETI Institute 189 Bernardo Ave, Suite 100 Mountain View, CA 94043 510-644-2669

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A Twist of Slime (rebroadcast)

A Twist of Slime Your daily mucus output is most impressive. Teaspoons or measuring cups can’t capture its entire volume. Find out how much your body churns out and why you can’t live without the viscous stuff. But slime in general is remarkable. Whether coating the bellies of slithery creatures, sleeking the surface of aquatic plants, or dripping from your nose, its protective qualities make it one of the great inventions of biology. Join us as we venture to the land of...


New Water Worlds (rebroadcast)

New Water Worlds The seas are rising. It’s no longer a rarity to see kayakers paddling through downtown Miami. By century’s end, the oceans could be anywhere from 2 to 6 feet higher, threatening millions of people and property. But humans once knew how to adapt to rising waters. As high water threatens to drown our cities, can we learn do it again. Hear stories of threatened land: submerged Florida suburbs, the original sunken city (Venice), and the U.S. East Coast, where anthropologists...


Cicadas and Zombie Seeds

Rip van Winkle snoozed for 20 years, and Sleeping Beauty for 100. But seeds in an underground bottle have easily beaten both these records, germinating long after the scientist who buried them a few feet underground had died. We investigate biology’s long haulers–from seeds to small creatures–who are able to wake up and restart their lives, even after tens of thousands of years. Also, what are those buried 17-year cicadas doing as they wait to come back topside? Guests: Chris Simon – ...


Skeptic Check: Pentagon UFO Report

When the government announced it would release a report about strange aerial phenomena, public excitement and media coverage took off like a Saturn V rocket. But what’s really in the report? Do we finally have the long-awaited evidence of alien visitation? We discuss the report’s content and implications with both a former U.S. Air Force pilot and a skeptical investigator. And if it hasn’t proven alien presence, what happens next with those who nonetheless think Earth is being...


Skeptic Check: Science Breaking Bad (rebroadcast)

The scientific method is tried and true. It has led us to a reliable understanding of things from basic physics to biomedicine. So yes, we can rely on the scientific method. The fallible humans behind the research, not so much. And politicians? Don’t get us started. Remember when one brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” that global warming was a hoax? Oy vey. We talk to authors about new books that seem to cast a skeptical eye on the scientific method… but that are really...


After The Plague

Everyone is familiar with the immediate consequences of a pandemic – sickness and death. But the long-term ramifications can be just as dramatic: a breakdown of the family and society, shifts in political power, and widespread appeals to magical thinking. Plagues are societal disrupters. Their effects can linger long after the pathogens have gone. Also, hear how art responded to a pandemic and how the Louisiana Purchase was made possible by an outbreak of fever in the...


Flush With Excitement

The toilet: A ubiquitous appliance that dates to the time of Shakespeare. But billions of people around the world still lack modern sanitation infrastructure. And the incentive to modernize includes the possibility that recycling human waste could help with conservation efforts, energy generation, and even medicine. Also, a sixth-grader puts lipstick on cats’ bottoms to map places their tush has touched, and in Michigan, why peeing on the peonies can be a good thing. Guests: Kaeden Henry...


The Ears Have It (rebroadcast)

What’s the difference between a bird call and the sound of a pile driver? Not much, when you’re close to the loudest bird ever. Find out when it pays to be noisy and when noise can worsen your health. Just about everyone eventually suffers some hearing loss, but that’s not merely aging. It’s an ailment we inflict on ourselves. Hear how a team in New York City has put sensors throughout the city to catalog noise sources, hoping to tame the tumult. And can underwater speakers blasting the...


Air Apparent (rebroadcast)

Whether you yawn, gasp, sniff, snore, or sigh, you’re availing yourself of our very special atmosphere. It’s easy to take this invisible chemical cocktail for granted, but it’s not only essential to your existence: it unites you and every other life form on the planet, dead or alive. The next breath you take likely includes molecules exhaled by Julius Caesar or Eleanor Roosevelt. And for some animals, air is an information superhighway. Dogs navigate with their noses. Their sniffing snouts...


Feet Don't Fail Me

Standing on your own two feet isn’t easy. While many animals can momentarily balance on their hind legs, we’re the only critters, besides birds, for whom bipedalism is completely normal. Find out why, even though other animals are faster, we’re champions at getting around. Could it be that our upright stance made us human? Plus, why arches help stiffen feet, the argument for bare-footin’, and 12,000-year old footprints that tell a story about an Ice Age mother, her child, and a...


Skeptic Check: Rational Lampoon (rebroadcast)

Two heads may be better than one. But what about three or more? A new study shows that chimpanzees excel at complex tasks when they work in groups, and their accumulated knowledge can even be passed from one generation to the next. But group-think also can be maladaptive. When humans rely on knowledge that they assume other people possess, they can become less than rational. Find out why one cognitive scientist says that individual thinking is a myth. Most of your decisions are made in...


For the Birds

Birds have it going on. Many of these winged dinosaurs delight us with their song and brilliant plumage. Migratory birds travel thousands of miles in a display of endurance that would make an Olympic athlete gasp. We inquire about these daunting migrations and how birds can fly for days without rest. And what can we do to save disappearing species? Will digital tracking technology help? Plus, how 19th century bird-lovers, appalled by feathered hats, started the modern conservation...


End of Eternity

Nothing lasts forever. Even the universe has several possible endings. Will there be a dramatic Big Rip or a Big Chill­–also known as the heat death of the universe–in trillions of years? Or will vacuum decay, which could theoretically happen at any moment, do us in? Perhaps the death of a tiny particle – the proton – will bring about the end. We contemplate big picture endings in this episode, and whether one could be brought about by our own machine creations. Guests: Anders...


Skeptic Check: Flat Earth (rebroadcast)

The Earth is not round. Technically, it’s an oblate spheroid. But for some people, the first statement is not even approximately correct. Flat Earthers believe that our planet resembles – not a slightly squashed grapefruit – but a thick pancake. A journalist who covered a Flat Earth convention describes the rationale behind this ever-more popular belief. So how do you establish science truth? We look at the difference between a truly scientific examination of extraordinary claims and...


Waste Not (rebroadcast)

Waste Not Why create more landfill? Perhaps you should resist the urge to toss those old sneakers, the broken ceiling fan, or last year’s smart phone. Instead, repurpose them! Global junk entrepreneurs are leading the way in turning trash to treasure, while right-to-repair advocates fight for legislation that would give you a decent shot at fixing your own electronic devices. And, if you toss food scraps down the drain as you cook, are you contributing to a “fatberg” horror in the...


Venom Diagram (rebroadcast)

We all get defensive sometimes. For some animals, evolution has provided a highly effective mechanism for saying “back off!”. A puncture by a pair of venom-filled fangs gets the point across nicely. But one animal’s poison may be another’s cure. Some dangerous critters churn out compounds that can be synthesized into life-saving drugs. Meet the spiny, fanged, and oozing creatures who could help defend us against such illnesses as hypertension and kidney disease. Plus, the King of Pain - a...


Volcanic Mind Melt

The Earth’s surface is dappled with more than a thousand volcanoes. They mark the edges of tectonic plates, spewing hot gas and ash, and boiling over with lava. We can detect the warning signs of an eruption, but why is it still so hard to predict? Meet a few currently active hot heads: Mauna Loa, Nyiragongo, Fagradalsfjall, and Soufrière – and find out what gives them individual personalities. Plus, what a newly excavated snack bar in Pompeii, buried and preserved when Vesuvius erupted in...


Skeptic Check: Useful Delusions

Can self-deception be useful? During the pandemic, it has been fashionable to say that we’re “following the science,” and that our behavior is determined by verifiable facts. We are, after all, self-declared rational beings, and that’s clearly useful in guiding our reaction to a pandemic. It’s true that fear and suspicion have caused some to make contrary choices such as declining vaccines, but that behavior is considered irrational. But are there situations when delusional thinking can help...


Neanderthal in the Family

Back off, you Neanderthal! It sounds as if you’ve just been dissed, but maybe you should take it as a compliment. Contrary to common cliches, our Pleistocene relatives were clever, curious, and technologically inventive. Find out how our assessment of Neanderthals has undergone a radical rethinking, and hear about the influence they have as they live on in our DNA. For example, some of their genes have a strong association with severe Covid 19 infection. Plus, how Neanderthal mini-brains...


DecodeHer (rebroadcast)

They were pioneers in their fields, yet their names are scarcely known – because they didn’t have a Y chromosome. We examine the accomplishments of two women who pioneered code breaking and astronomy during the early years of the twentieth century and did so in the face of social opprobrium and a frequently hostile work environment. Henrietta Leavitt measured the brightnesses of thousands of stars and discovered a way to gauge the distances to galaxies, a development that soon led to the...