Current Event May 13, 2020
A recent discovery indicates that our prehistoric relatives may have been smarter than previously thought. A team of paleo-anthropologists, scientists who study the origins of early humans and their relatives, found a bit of string on a prehistoric tool. This artifact offers evidence that Neanderthals had developed an important technology for survival. Listen to learn how Neanderthals made string and why the find is changing views of their intelligence.
Current Event May 8, 2020
Governments around the world are using surveillance technology to help keep citizens safe from the spread of the coronavirus. Collecting cell phone location data can help officials implement some of the most effective tools for containing the virus, including contact tracing. In some countries, however, the government’s use of personal data to track people’s movements is raising privacy concerns. Listen to learn how three different countries are tracking personal data to fight the pandemic and then debate: Should surveillance technology be used for contact tracing?
This audio story was recorded in late April. The news about COVID-19 is changing rapidly and parts of this story may be dated.
Current Event April 15, 2020
An experiment to improve people’s memory while they sleep has shown promising results. Researchers asked participants to learn a new video game, then tested whether their memories improved after electrical signals were sent to their brains while they slept. Scientists say the technique could someday help people boost their ability to learn. Listen to hear a reporter describe the brain cap she wore for the study and learn about potential concerns raised by the research.
Current Event April 9, 2020
With schools around the country closed due to COVID-19, teachers are using technology to help educate kids remotely. However, some students lack access to a computer, making online learning impossible. One school district in California is leveling the playing field by distributing laptops to children from low-income families. Listen to hear a principal describe the joy of seeing students in the computer line, and learn how a high school student has been spending her time at home.
Current Event April 3, 2020
Online discussions document history as it is lived, functioning as digital primary source artifacts. As Verizon prepared to delete archives of Yahoo Groups, among the earliest online discussions on the internet, some people were upset. They argued that these online discussions offered a valuable record of life in the early 2000s that should be preserved. Verizon said that maintaining the archives required resources that they wanted to use for other priorities. Listen to hear more about the dispute over Yahoo Groups and then debate: Should online discussions be preserved as historical records?
Update: Verizon deleted all content from Yahoo Groups on January 31st 2020, allowing users to archive their data before that date.
Current Event April 1, 2020
The group in charge of emojis is issuing some new designs, and scientists are buzzing. Researchers studying mushrooms, rocks, microbes, and insects enjoy using emojis to represent their work. They are happy to have appropriate images to share on social media, even if the emojis do not represent every scientific detail correctly. Listen to learn which group of animals have the most emojis, which groups are not well represented, and what happened when marine scientists complained about the accuracy of the squid emoji.
Current Event March 31, 2020
A chunk of chewed birch resin has revealed surprisingly detailed information about a woman who lived 5,700 years ago. Scientists investigated a brownish blob discovered at an archaeological site and were able to extract and analyze a complete strand of DNA that revealed details about the diet, health, and appearance of the Stone Age woman who had chewed it. Listen to learn why ancient people chewed birch pitch and how this very old piece of gum could inspire archaeologists to look in new places for clues to the past.
Current Event March 27, 2020
A town in Washington state made plans to boost voter turnout by offering smartphone voting. Less than 1% of eligible voters showed up for a prior election in King County, Washington, and officials reasoned that making elections more accessible to all voters, including people living overseas and the disabled, would increase voter participation. Opponents say the security risks of smartphone voting threaten our democracy, since it is only a matter of time before they are hacked. Listen to hear more about the pros and cons of electronic voting, and then debate: Is smartphone voting a good idea?
Update: Since this story aired, the election has taken place, and voters cast ballots by smartphone or in person. Voter turnout was half of 1%.
Current Event March 13, 2020
Many stores have recently gone cashless, requiring shoppers to pay for their purchases with a credit card or digital app. These business owners say security is better without cash on hand, and check-out lines move faster. But not everyone has a credit card, say opponents, who claim that the policy discriminates against low-income shoppers. Several big cities have now banned cashless businesses in response to complaints. Listen to hear more about the pros and cons of a cashless economy and then debate: Should cashless businesses be allowed?
Current Event February 28, 2020
Fleets of self-driving cars may hit city streets soon, ready to give pedestrians a lift when they need it. But where will the cars wait to be called? To avoid parking fees, experts say driverless cars may circle slowly or even turn deliberately into heavy traffic, clogging city and residential roads and wasting fuel. To discourage this behavior, some have suggested charging cars not just for parking, but for the time they spend on the road. Listen to learn why some people favor “congestion pricing” and then debate: Should self-driving cars be charged for idle time?
Current Event February 12, 2020
A new NASA study is looking for ways to predict snowstorms more accurately. Weather forecasters can tell when a snowstorm is approaching, but they cannot predict how heavily the snow will fall. To help improve forecasts, the study is sending aircraft directly into the center of storms to gather information. Listen to hear a NASA scientist explain what they are looking for and how the data they collect will help forecasters make better predictions.
Current Event January 24, 2020
Unmanned drones are already being used for photography, inspections, and other local projects, but now companies plan to launch them on longer trips to neighborhoods, homes, and health clinics. Some say drones can save lives by delivering medicines and organs for transplant to clinics and reaching people in rural areas with limited access to healthcare. But drones bring added noise to neighborhoods and could cause injuries. Listen to learn more about the pros and cons of drone delivery and then debate: Should drones be used to deliver packages?
Current Event January 9, 2020
Gifted autistic teens can have trouble finding summer programs that push them academically while also supporting their particular social needs. The University of Iowa’s College of Education summer program welcomes teens with autism spectrum disorder and provides the social and academic supports necessary for students to explore advanced subjects in math, science, and the arts. Listen to hear teens with autism spectrum disorder describe their experiences and how this unique summer program has made a difference in their lives.
Current Event December 6, 2019
Smartphones can help kids wake up on time, stay connected to their parents and friends, find information quickly, and access other useful resources. But children with smartphones are also vulnerable to cyberbullying, harmful content, and other risks. A recent national study found children are getting smartphones at younger ages, raising questions about how they are using smartphones and concerns about how to best protect them. Listen to hear more about the survey results and then debate: should kids have smartphones?
Current Event November 22, 2019
Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook disagree on what to do with political ads. Twitter recently banned all political advertising, saying it could not fact-check the claims made by politicians and did not want to spread misinformation. But defining what counts as a political ad is tricky. Facebook continues to run political ads without fact-checking them, citing free speech. Critics claim that political ads on social media can be particularly misleading. Listen to hear an expert discuss these issues and then debate: Should political ads be allowed on social media?
Current Event November 7, 2019
"Alice in Wonderland" is now on Instagram. Social media fans can find five works of literature, including the classic novel by Lewis Carroll, on their social media feeds. The New York Public Library has posted multimedia versions of the works through its new Insta Novel project. By combining the fun and appeal of social media with popular novels and poems, the library hopes to attract new readers. Listen to hear a blogger describe her experience with "Alice" online, and discover how it lined up with the aims of the Insta Novel creators.
Current Event November 4, 2019
For many years, Americans have questioned whether our election system is secure. After Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, officials have been trying to replace old voting machines and add other safeguards to ensure secure elections in 2020. In spite of their efforts, however, experts predict that millions of people will still vote on outdated machines in the next presidential election. Listen to hear about the risks to voting security posed by digital technology, how old-fashioned technology can help, and why more election interference is expected in the future.