Creativity, Dirty Eggs And Vocal Fry: The Week In Science

Science is always churning out weird, funny and fascinating findings. What did we miss this week? NPR's Rachel Martin checks in with science writer Rose Eveleth.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. On this show, we sometimes do a wrap-up of the week in sports or politics. Well, this week, we're going to try to do something a little different. We're going to attempt to do a wrap-up in the world of science.

We wondered what sort of strange, quirky science stories might be falling through the cracks that you should know about. So we have called up Rose Eveleth. She is a science writer who's written for Smithsonian magazine, Scientific American and the BBC. So she knows what she's talking about. She kindly went down to our New York studios with a few pieces of scientific literature to share. Hey, Rose.

ROSE EVELETH: Hi.

MARTIN: So what do you got? I understand, first up, a study about creativity?

EVELETH: Yeah. So I think everyone wants to think of themselves as creative.

MARTIN: Sure.

EVELETH: But it turns out that maybe, we're not all nearly as creative as we think we are. When researchers asked people to sort of evaluate how creative they were in general, they would say that they were a little bit more creative, maybe, than they actually were. But when they asked them to answer that question when it comes to a specific task, they were much better.

So if you ask me to caption a photo, and say how creative do you think you are at captioning photos? I'm pretty good at telling you the answer to that question, but if you just ask me...

MARTIN: Are you good at that, Rose?

EVELETH: No. I'm terrible at it. But if you asked me, generally, how creative are you as a person? I think I'm wonderfully creative and, perhaps, more creative than I really am.

MARTIN: But how do you go about measuring creativity? Isn't that somewhat subjective in the first place?

EVELETH: Definitely. And it's a really tough question. And what they did in this study was that they asked a bunch of college students - 'cause it's always college students - to do a task. And my favorite one was imagine you have a million dollars, and you have to create some sort of project in your area of study in college. And then basically, they just compared the answers amongst the pool.

So if everybody said they wanted to build a spaceship, that's not that creative because everybody said it. And the one person who said they wanted to build a tunnel, you know, is more creative because it was the one answer that wasn't repeated.

MARTIN: Basically, if I just surround myself with people who all think the same, then by default, my original quote-unquote idea will be seen as more creative.

EVELETH: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Even if it's not nearly as complicated.

EVELETH: Right. Yeah. So just surround yourself with really boring people, and you'll, by default, be the most creative.

MARTIN: Perfect. OK. Second scientific study - this one about a phenomenon, I have to admit, I did not know existed. Please explain what vocal fry is.

EVELETH: So vocal fry is a vocal tick that usually shows up mostly in women. They call if fry because it sort of sounds like this low, creaky sound at the end of a sentence.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIK TOK")

KESHA: (Singing) Tik tok on the clock, but the party don't stop. No.

EVELETH: We actually have examples. My favorite is probably Kesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIK TOK")

KESHA: (Singing) Ain't got a care in the world but got plenty of beer. Ain't got no money...

EVELETH: So the beer sound.

MARTIN: It's that thing at the end?

EVELETH: Yeah. How the end of the work kind of just, like, sizzles out like, beer.

MARTIN: Beer.

EVELETH: It's similar to up-talk that, you know, people complain about women ending a sentence like it's a question. I actually catch myself doing it sometimes.

MARTIN: The study says that this thing called vocal fry - this is not so good for - in particular, women, in the job market?

EVELETH: Yes. So the sentence that they said - or the phrase that they said was thank you for considering me for this opportunity. And they had women say it. They had men say it. They had both of them do it with and without vocal fry. And then they asked people to evaluate who would be the better choice for a candidate - who would be more trustworthy.? And 80 percent of the time, they picked the person that was not doing vocal fry.

MARTIN: Oh, that's the implication that if you do that, you are untrustworthy?

EVELETH: Or you're less qualified or, maybe, you're not as intelligent.

MARTIN: Are you defending the vocal fry?

EVELETH: I think I am.

MARTIN: OK.

EVELETH: I think I am. I think it's sort of unfair - it does sound a little weird, but it doesn't reflect on their qualifications for a job for sure.

MARTIN: Moving on - the last study is about salmonella. Even though the eggs we get at the supermarket are washed before we get them into our kitchen, that might not be preventing salmonella the way we think it is?

EVELETH: Right. So we think that salmonella lives on the outside of the egg. But this study shows that four of the strands they tested, salmonella can actually live inside the egg shell. And so washing them doesn't necessarily get rid of it.

MARTIN: So the takeaway you're telling me, Rose, is that if I happen upon an egg that is contaminated with salmonella, there's not really anything I can do about it?

EVELETH: Well, just don't eat the egg raw. You cook it.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. All right. A little cheese, a little salt, a little pepper. That is Rose Eveleth, our science guide this week. She's a science writer in New York. Hey, Rose, thanks so much.

EVELETH: Thank you for having me.

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