The Pulse Go on a sonic adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with host Maiken Scott. Created by WHYY in Philadelphia, the NPR member station that brought you Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
The Pulse

The Pulse


Go on a sonic adventure into unexpected corners of the health and science world each week with host Maiken Scott. Created by WHYY in Philadelphia, the NPR member station that brought you Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Most Recent Episodes

Cats and Dogs, their Health and Ours

For a lot of Americans, cats and dogs are more than just pets — they're our fur babies. We're willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy. But sometimes — whatever it takes — gets complicated and expensive. On this episode of The Pulse, we examine pet health from Prozac to surgery, and the epidemic of fat cats and pudgy pups. Plus, how pets impact human well-being. Also heard on this week's episode: Every year, thousands of Americans end up in the hospital because of dog bites. K-9 behavior therapist Patricia Bentz discusses how to prevent bites. Tourist brochures for Paris don't tend to illuminate the city's dog poop problem. Journalist Marjorie Hache walks us through the City of Light's long struggle to get residents to clean up after their pets. When pet care gets too costly in the U.S., some people resort to "economic euthanasia." How did vet bills become so expensive? And, is universal health insurance for pets an answer? More than half of cats and dogs in the U.S. are obese — and the 'food is love' attitude from pet owners isn't helping. What do you do when the your usually sweet cat becomes angry and aggressive? For some pet owners , Prozac is the prescription. Daryl Whiting has had lots of cats and dogs over her lifetime. For her, the last moments in a pet's life are precious — she's become an unofficial pet chaplain.

Shifting Gears

Cars have played a fundamental role in changing our modern lives — where we live, where we work, the shape of our communities, and how we spend our money and free time. But along with new opportunities, cars have also brought negative impacts — air pollution, traffic deaths, congestion, and road rage, just to name a few. On this episode, we explore how cars have affected our world, and how we might reframe their role going forward. Also, why we often behave so badly while driving. Also heard on this week's episode: When wildlife meets cars, the results can be gruesome — and expensive. Injuries, damages, and clean up can all add up. Ecologist Kevin McLean brings us this story about the cost of roadkill in California. In the 1960s, drivers were more than twice as likely to die in an auto wreck than they are today. That changed thanks to improved design, and especially crash tests involving dummies. But there's a problem with these dummies — most of them are modeled on tall men. We discuss our urge to rage while driving with psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett. Also, Javier Hernandez from MIT's media lab explains how technology and artificial intelligence sense and ease driver stress. Long commutes can be a serious drag. We hop in the car with one driver who commutes 60 miles each way, but manages to find moments of zen on the highway. Jalopnik editors Michael Ballaban and Raphael Orlove share the special relationship they and Americans have with their cars.

The Skinny on Skin

When's the last time you saw a get-well card for psoriasis or eczema? Skin's our biggest organ — and does lots of hard work keeping us healthy — but still, it doesn't get much respect. Skin regulates our temperature, protects us from germs, and generally serves as the final barrier between our bodies and the world. On this episode, we look at what our skin does for us — and what happens when it breaks down. Also heard on this week's episode: Hong Kong beauty editor Francesca Ng works in an industry that idolizes skin perfection, but she's spent a lifetime struggling with eczema. Inadequate training and implicit bias may be keeping doctors from spotting skin problems in people of color. VisualDx says its tech fix could lead to better diagnosis. Dermatologist Anisha Patel explains how skin pigment works. Colorado Public Radio spoke with burn center patient Dave Repsher about his near-fatal helicopter crash and long recovery. How runners protect their skin from sweat, weather — and their greatest nemesis: chafing.

The Ocean and Us

Our planet's surface is 71% water — with five vast oceans that span a range of temperatures and shades of blue. Humans have long loved and feared these oceans. They sustain us and other animals, help regulate our climate, and offer endless opportunities for awe and joy. But our relationship hasn't always been smooth. The ocean can be a threat to us, and we — with our expanding environmental footprint — can be a threat to it. On this episode of The Pulse, we dig into the science of our oceans: Their connection to our survival, the threats they face, and the secrets they hide. We hear about the mystery of the great jellyfish boom, and why seaweed might just be the next hot (and sustainable) food trend. We also explore recent discoveries about the fate of plastic in our oceans — and why the impact goes deeper than we once thought. Also heard on this week's episode: Some scientists are calling it an invasion — across the world, jellyfish are swarming the coasts, leading to beach closures, and even several deaths in Australia and the Philippines. Gisele Regatao reports on what researchers are saying is behind this unprecedented boom. You may know Ellen Horne from her years working at Radiolab. But before that, she had another vocation — marine conservationist. Her passion for the field withered with the arrival of aquaculture, a method of seafood farming that she saw as an insurmountable threat to ocean ecosystems. But now, a lifetime later, Horne takes a second look, and explains why that could be changing. We also talk to Amy Novogratz, one of the founders of Aqua-Spark, a global firm that's trying to reinvent aquaculture in a more sustainable way. Before her death at 25, writer Mallory Smith spent years documenting her life and battle with cystic fibrosis in a series of raw and eloquent journal entries that comprise the newly published memoir, "Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life." We talk with her mother, Diane Shader Smith, who assembled the book, about Mallory and her deep connection with the ocean. Marine biologist Rick Stafford, who's based at Bournemouth University in southwest England, introduces us to underwater soundscapes and explains how our human sounds affect fish.

Marijuana Now

Marijuana is starting to feel like the new normal. In less than 25 years, it's gone from illicit drug to accepted medical treatment in more than half the country — plus cannabis is now legal recreationally in 10 states. It's been a stunning transformation — one that's thrust weed (and us) into a brand new reality. On this episode, we tackle some of the questions that have popped up along the way. How "medical" are those medical dispensaries, really? What are the risks for pregnant women and their babies? And what's weed's power and potential for abuse? Also heard on this week's episode: Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states — but are we really treating it like other drugs? You've heard of CBD and THC — but what are they, and what do they do? Emergency room physician Avir Mitra gets a refresher course. Doctors say marijuana's a no-no for moms-to-be — but for some, it's a big help for pregnancy-related nausea. We hear from moms in Los Angeles about what it's like using while expecting. We venture inside the kitchen of an edibles chef in Philadelphia, who says weed-infused goodies help her create community. Researcher and pediatrician Karen Wilson from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says we don't know enough about the potential health risks of second-hand marijuana smoke on kids. The mother of an autistic son says medical marijuana helped ease her son's violent outbursts.

Failing Better

In science — and in life — failure is both a stumbling block and a building block. We regard failure as the enemy of success — but really, it's just part of the process. Mistakes and missteps, blunders and slips are often stepping stones toward places of greater knowledge. But failure can also take us on detours, deflate our ambitions, and lead us down blind alleys. In this episode of The Pulse, we hear stories about failure — what we can learn from it, how we cope with it, and how we can harness its potential by observing the way it affects our thoughts and behavior. Also heard on this week's episode: Progress depends on acknowledging our mistakes. So why does it take us so long to admit when they happen? We investigate the mental block that prevents us from owning our failures in the moment, and what we could learn if we did. Psychologist Katherine Dahlsgaard explains the developmental logic behind a childhood superpower: the ability to fail constantly, and not to care. By day, James Heathers is a researcher at Northeastern University — by night, he's a "data thug," a self-appointed detective who tracks and exposes shoddy and fraudulent science. Ben Gross — vice president for research and scholarship at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City — tells us the story of the last consumer electronics product RCA ever tried to release, and how the line between success and failure is sometimes blurred. We hear about a new documentary from Frontline and ProPublica called "Right to Fail." It digs into an ambitious effort to give New Yorkers with severe mental illnesses the chance to live independently.

Becoming a Mother

"Motherhood will change your life." It may sound like a greeting card sentiment — but it's also a statement of fact. Pregnancy changes the way bodies function and look. It affects women's hormones and weight — even their brain chemistry. In this episode, The Pulse looks at the impact of new motherhood on women's health. We hear stories about the ongoing debate over breastfeeding, and why so many hospitals are no longer using their nurseries. Plus, why some women of color are reluctant to seek help for postpartum depression. Also heard on this week's episode: Inside a new initiative that's letting incarcerated women pump breast milk as a way to maintain their ties with newborn infants (based on this story published by Generocity) We hear from women about the many ways pregnancy and motherhood have affected their health.

How We Eat

Chow. Nibbles. Grub. Food — we relate to it in a lot of different ways. It can serve as nourishment, as pleasure, as fuel for our bodies, or the glue that holds communities together. But food can also make us sick — or cause us to feel powerless over our cravings and habits. So what determines our relationship with food? In this episode, we explore that question, with stories about the rise of — and backlash against — food allergies, the connection between climate change and eating meat, and how our circadian rhythms can drive appetite. Also heard on this week's episode: A recent study found that only half of people who say they have food allergies, actually do. So what's going on here? Is it all in our heads? We dive into the latest research to find out. You've heard of the Mediterranean diet, the Atkins diet, the Flexitarian diet — now consider the CRON lifestyle (don't call it a diet), in which practitioners use serious calorie restriction to fight the aging process. University of Pennsylvania researcher Kelly Allison explains how our circadian rhythms drive the way we eat — and how timing can determine whether we gain or lose weight. When a bully teased Sandhya Menon's 10-year-old daughter about the Indian food in her lunchbox, Sandhya issued a plea on Twitter: that parents talk with their kids, and correct the idea that foods from other cultures are "weird" or "gross." Your stories: Listeners sent in their favorite food memories.

Sex and Health

At its best, sex isn't just fun — it's good for our health. It can relieve stress, enhance our mood — even offer a bit of a workout! But sex can also be painful, both physically and emotionally; it can open the door to injury and disease; and it can reflect, or even magnify, changes that we're not willing to face. In this episode, we explore sex and our health. We hear stories about PrEP, asexuality, the online world of NoFap, and enjoying sex as you age. Also heard on this week's episode: We venture inside the world of NoFap — an online movement of men dedicated to improving themselves by abstaining from masturbation. We talk to a self pro-claimed "fapstronaught," as well as a urologist and a therapist to find out whether there's any real benefit to abstinence. Sex can be a healthy part of our lives. But what if the sex you want to have is painful — or even impossible? Noa Fleischacker opens up about her years spent dealing with this very question. Audio producer Paulus van Horne chats with a friend about asexuality — what it is, and the perfect metaphor for explaining it to family and friends. Retired sex therapist and columnist Ginger Manley discusses the challenges — both physical and mental — that come with intimacy as we age. Her book is called "Assisted Loving: The Journey through Sexuality and Aging." Writer and black feminist adrienne maree brown explains why it's important for women of color to discuss sexual pleasure, along with learning how to embrace your body. Sexologist Susana Mayer says post menopause —her sex life is the best it's ever been. She is the author of "Does Sex Have an Expiration Date? Rethinking Low Libido: A Guide to Developing an Ageless Sex Life."

Between Life and Death

Often we think of life and death as opposite sides of a coin — categories as final as they are discrete. But in an age when machines can keep hearts pumping and lungs breathing, the line between life and death can sometimes start to blur. Modern medicine pushes us to think differently, ask if perhaps life and death are instead two points on a spectrum of existence. In this episode, The Pulse explores the space between those points. How do we define life and death — medically and culturally? We hear about a court case challenging the legal definition of death; the evolving debate over end-of-life care; and what scientists are saying about near-death experiences. Also heard on this week's episode: In 2017, the family of 27-year-old Taquisha McKitty sued to keep her on life support, after doctors declared her brain dead. The question for the court was — was she actually dead? A look into the study of near-death experiences, and what those moments in the the runup to death are really like — and why. Working with the biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is using genetic samples to recreate the scents of extinct flowers. KCRW's Avishay Artsy reports on how shared ideas about the afterlife transcend not only time, but also religion and culture.

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