Health & Science

Ways to Connect

Last week, my 13.7 co-blogger Tania Lombrozo reported on a study she developed with graduate student Sara Gottlieb on whether science can explain the human mind.

As Tania wrote, this was a survey-based study asking the participants "whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love."

A doctor offers a surgical add-on that leads to a $1,877 bill for a young girl's ear piercing. A patient protests unnecessary scans to identify and treat her breast cysts. A study shows intensive care-level treatment is overused.

ProPublica has been documenting the myriad ways the health system wastes money on unnecessary services, often shifting the costs to consumers. But there are ways patients can protect themselves.

Scientists say they have created a partly man-made bacterium that can produce proteins not found in nature. This new life form, the latest development in a field called "synthetic biology," could eventually be used to produce novel drugs.

These days, Charles Watmon shares his bed — a few sheets of thin, white foam on the concrete floor of his thatched-roof hut — with his dog.

It's not much. But to Watmon, 44, and his caramel-colored mutt, it's more than enough for a good night's sleep — and a welcome change from his past.

During the course of nearly a decade, Watmon fought on both sides of Uganda's brutal civil wars — first with the rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), then with the government.

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Eli Wheatley and Christian Guardino are among a growing number of patients whose lives are apparently being saved or radically improved by gene therapy.

Wheatley, 3, of Lebanon, Ky., and Guardino, 17, of Patchogue, N.Y., were both diagnosed with what were long thought to be incurable genetic disorders. In the past, Wheatley's condition would have probably killed him before his first birthday. Guardino's would have blinded him early in life.

But after receiving experimental gene therapies, both seem to be doing fine.

The Yurok tribe has fished for salmon in the Klamath River for centuries. Salmon is essential to Yurok ceremonies, for food, and for income. But this fall, the number of Chinook swimming up the Klamath, in the Pacific Northwest, was the lowest on record, threatening the tribe's entire culture and way of life.

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So new research suggests that you can tell a lot about people by the way they talk. In particular, there's a difference between people who ask questions and people who do not. Our own Rachel Martin asked some questions of NPR's Shankar Vedantam.

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The NHL And CTE

Nov 29, 2017

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Several years ago, Charles Tator was in Vancouver for an NHL hockey game. He had a personal connection to one of the players. It was his friend Paul Montador's son, Steve, and Steve even scored a goal.

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Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term "climate change" in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase "climate change" in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term's use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as "extreme weather" appears to be rising slightly.

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An investigation by New York's attorney general found that the Brooklyn Hospital Center improperly billed dozens of patients for the cost of forensic rape exams.

The delicate art of paper folding is playing a crucial role in designing robotic artificial muscles that are startlingly strong. In fact, the researchers say they can lift objects 1,000 times their own weight.

Big Tobacco's Big Apology

Nov 28, 2017

After more than a decade of appeals, and nearly two decades after they were first ordered to do so, big tobacco companies are running ads admitting that smoking is deadly and addictive, and their manufacturers know this.

Cellphones in the classroom were once considered little more than a distraction for students, but the devices have now become integrated into lessons. They can be great for research, calculations and social interaction with classmates.

For a long time, the residents of Acre State in Brazil were lucky.

They lived in the right climate for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries dengue fever. But that mosquito was nowhere to be found, and there were no recorded cases of dengue in the state.

Women are more likely to have asthma than men, and though sex hormones have been suspected as one reason why, just how they might be affecting asthma risk has been something of a mystery.

Seventy-five years ago this week, scientists from the University of Chicago created the first controlled, self-sustained nuclear chain reaction, a feat that was essential in the development of an atomic bomb during World War II.

Enrico Fermi and his team of physicists secretly conducted the Chicago Pile 1 experiment on a squash court under the stands of a football stadium on Dec. 2, 1942. The anniversary of this unprecedented achievement comes as tensions escalate between the U.S. and North Korea, which launched a new ballistic missile on Tuesday.

Two years ago, Margaret O'Neill brought her 5-year-old daughter to Children's Hospital Colorado because the band of tissue that connected her tongue to the floor of her mouth was too tight. The condition, called being literally "tongue-tied," made it hard for the girl to make "th" sounds.

It's a common problem with a simple fix: an outpatient procedure to snip the tissue.

During a preoperative visit, the surgeon offered to throw in a surprising perk. Should we pierce her ears while she is under?

Arby's is fond of touting "We have the meats" — and soon, the company will have a lot more chicken, as it has announced a deal to buy Buffalo Wild Wings for more than $2.4 billion in cash.

The deal commits the Arby's Restaurant Group to paying $157 in cash for each of the 15.51 million outstanding shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. The total value of the agreement swells to around $2.9 billion after Wild Wings' debt is included.

Talking about clay makes Amilcar Apaza nostalgic for his childhood in Juliaca, Peru, a city in the Andean highlands. He remembers gathering with his family in his grandmother's fields in the nearby countryside for the potato harvest. There, they would build a small oven to cook the fresh potatoes and eat them, dipping the potatoes in a sauce made of clay, water and salt.

"The flavor is like a creamy milk, very thick and salty," says Apaza, who now lives in Lima. During harvest time, the clay sauce is eaten nearly everywhere in the altiplano or high plateau region, he adds.

Do you need computer skills to be a competent doctor?

That's one of the central questions surrounding a difficult case unfolding in New Hampshire this month: Anna Konopka, an octogenarian doctor who eschews computers and has been practicing medicine for the better part of six decades, surrendered her license under a September agreement with the state's board of medicine — partly because of multiple complaints related to her record keeping, Merrimack Superior Court Judge John Kissinger said.

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Just before Thanksgiving, the Internet lit up with the remarkable video of Boston Dynamics' robot Atlas doing a backflip.

Are parents responsible for adult children's medical debts? Should people squeeze in appointments and expensive procedures before year's end because of changes that might come with the GOP tax bill? Should consumers pay a broker to help them enroll in a plan? Here are the answers to some recent questions from readers.

Q: My 25-year-old brother died in April, and now hospitals are calling my parents to cover his bills. He was covered under my parents' employer-sponsored plan, but are they liable for his medical debt?

perzonseo / Foter

The stress of work can often lead to unprofessional behavior. The scandals surrounding Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, and even Atlanta Public Schools demonstrate how high expectations can produce unethical decisions. Researchers at the University of Georgia just published research on what drives employees to engage in improper workplace behavior.

When I meet Ghanaian chocolatier Selassie Atadika, the first thing she does is pull a box of chocolates out of her bag. Then, introductions aside, she launches into a story.

It's a story of melding chocolate and spices, of straddling Africa and America, and of connecting cultures and people through taste.

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Scientists want to know how animals are adapting to climate change. In Israel, researchers are collecting carcasses to study how species change over time. NPR's Daniel Estrin joined an expedition.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

The U.S. Supreme Court confronts the digital age again on Wednesday when it hears oral arguments in a case that promises to have major repercussions for law enforcement and personal privacy.

At issue is whether police have to get a search warrant in order to obtain cellphone location information that is routinely collected and stored by wireless providers.

Cellphone thieves caught because they used ... cellphones

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