4/24/18 Show feat. Jane Baldwin on Why There Are Deserts in Asia

Featured image: A rugged climb up the hills of the Taklamakan Desert, which consumes much of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. (courtesy Zahariz Khuzaimah)

This week we host Jane Baldwin, PhD candidate in Princeton’s Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Dept., who studies the reasons that deserts exist in Asia. Jane first wondered about the changing climate of the steppes of Inner Mongolia, where famous grasslands have slowly morphed to low, dry shrubs. Surprisingly, she found a more fundamental question that needed study first: why do Asian deserts, like the Taklamakan and Gobi, exist in general? Global climate simulations give researchers a crucial tool to study WHY the climate works as it does, so Jane tested various hypotheses about the Taklamakan: does it still exist if you run a simulation without Tibet? Without Europe taking moisture from Asia’s westerly winds? Without the Tian Shan mountains, which lie between the Taklamakan and the Gobi? Tune in for surprising results that hint how important well-placed mountains can be for the climate.

In other news:

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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4/17/18 Show feat. Philosophy Professor Adam Elga on Decisions, Risk, and Cascading Failures

Science news and events started out the show. 45 minutes in, Professor Adam Elga came on the mic to speak on some thought problems in philosophy that are pertinent to his research. For instance we start with the problem of contingency: how concerned should we be that much of what we believe is contingent on, for example, the circumstances of our birth?

We then build up the conversation to his current research on cascading failures – this is when systems that depend on each other fail in a kind of domino effect. Think the 2008 Financial Crisis. This gets us in to topics like the Tragedy of the Commons, the Prisoners’ Dilemma, and his (and his collaborator Daniel Oppenheimer’s) new concept of Risk Pollution.

More information on the topics we discussed in the show, provided by Adam Elga:

Science News:


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4/10/18 Show feat. Sam Daley-Harris on Efficient Grassroots Action

Featured image: An army of heavily-educated volunteers advocates to Congress for a carbon fee and dividend policy in 2016. (Courtesy Citizens Climate Lobby)

This week we interview Sam Daley-Harris, grassroots organizer and coach for advocacy groups, on his philosophy for impacting policy as an average citizen. Most people feel there are critical issues the government needs to act on, but they feel powerless to change anything and therefore don’t speak up. Sam believes that this fear can be overcome by well-organized, educational advocacy groups that train volunteers deeply about an issue. Groups like RESULTS and Citizens Climate Lobby expose their members to curricula that teach them to write op-eds and meet with Congresspeople, regardless of party or beliefs, and over time they develop relationships that make an impact. Sam discusses pitfalls that make some groups ineffective, as well as success stories that show what well-educated volunteers can achieve on many important issues.

In other news:

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.

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4/3/18 Show feat. Matt Weinberg on Algorithms, Incentives, and Game Theory

Trouble with the Mixcloud embed? The live show can be found here.

Science news and events started out the show. Brian spoke on new research on concussions and Stevie on the Chinese space station that fell to Earth recently. 45 minutes in, Professor Matt Weinberg came on the mic to speak on his work as a theoretical computer scientist. He researches mechanism design – these are algorithms that take user incentives in to account. He considers human decision making and economics to design algorithms to guide the user to interact with the algorithm in the optimal way. He uses the example of online dating, ad auctions on sites like Facebook and Google, and cryptocurrencies.

Science News:


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3/27/18 Show feat. Rebecca Elyanow on Gene Assembly and Tracking Cancer Mutations

Featured image: Genetic variants of breast cancer cells, with different proteins highlighted by fluorescence. Many types of cancer cells coexist within a tumor, mutating more as time goes on. (Courtesy Marc van de Wetering et al., Cancer Research 2001)

Our guest this week was Rebecca Elyanow, PhD candidate at Brown University and Visiting Student Research Scholar in Princeton’s Department of Computer Science, who covered her fascinating work on understanding cancer mutations. All human cells copy DNA when they split, and many of these replications cause mutations in our genes. While these errors are normally corrected, some of them persist and develop into invasive cancers. Tracking these mutations and finding which ones are most harmful is a daunting task—which is why computer scientists like Rebecca write algorithms to sequence the tangled DNA of cancer cells. Hear how gene assembly works in practice (the shotgun method) and how computer science can help us unveil a mutation’s family tree. Plus, we end with a primer on machine learning and possible uses in keeping the government honest.

Listen to the whole recording for a sample of WPRB’s one and only All Vinyl Week, plus news about:

The playlist can be found online at WPRB.com or below.

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