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.More from The Pulse »

Most Recent Episodes

Weighed Down

Sometimes it feels like the world is conspiring to make us pack on the pounds — we sit at desks all day, grab fast food on the run, and spend our evenings Netflixing on the couch. America is heavier than it's ever been. In 2017, the CDC found that 40 percent of Americans deal with obesity, and health problems related to weight gain are on the rise. On this episode of The Pulse, we looks at some of the ways that excess weight affects our health, our wallets and our lives. Also heard this week: Reporter Alan Yu explores the biology behind our love for sugar, and why it's so hard to quit. Plus, he visits the Culinary Institute of America in New York to meet some of the foodie experts experimenting with alternatives. In recent years, a growing number of countries have begun exploring taxes on junk food as a way of improving public health. UNC Nutrition Professor Shu Wen Ng explains how that's playing out in Mexico, which passed a soda tax back in 2014. Obesity medicine physician Fatima Cody Stanford explains why weight is a lot more complex than lifestyle, and the importance of clinicians not judging their patients. Nurse practitioner Barrie Levin in Bethel, Alaska talks about how her own weight issues have helped her treat patients dealing with the same thing. Mimi Dexter-El says intermittent fasting changed her life. Elana Gordon dives into the science and potential benefits.


The Atlantic hurricane season is here — that time of the year when tropical storms whip their way in from the sea, cutting paths of destruction from Nova Scotia all the way down to the Caribbean. From Katrina back in 2005, to Harvey and Maria more recently, we've seen the devastation these storms can do. How do we prepare better — and recover more fully? In this episode, we hear stories about the power of hurricanes, and how we deal with them. Also heard on this week's episode: Compost isn't just good for your garden — as reporter Zoe Sullivan explains, it's a weapon for cities in the fight against floodwaters. Yale historian Stuart Schwartz says hurricanes have the power to change political history. He takes us back to one storm in 1930 that helped shape the future of the Dominican Republic. Author Rachel Slade recounts the story of El Faro, a container ship sunk by a hurricane just east of the Bahamas, and why it didn't need to happen. Her new book is "Into the Raging Sea."

What Lab Animals Teach Us

We have dogs to thank for pacemakers. We probably should be a little grateful to mice for the development of chemotherapy. Cows helped us conquer smallpox, and chimp research led to the new ebola vaccine. But despite those breakthroughs, animal testing makes a lot of us squirm. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore our complicated relationship with lab animals (and insects). How do we treat them? What are we learning? And what do we owe them? Also heard this week: Medical historian and part-time comedian Michael Yudell pays homage to Tusko, the first elephant to drop acid. Neuroscientist Ashley Juavinett talks about doing experiments on mice and rats, and what it's like dealing with the backlash. Alan Yu reports that some researchers say bored mice and rats in barren cages are bad test subjects. Geneticist Stephanie Mohr explains what makes fruit flies popular for research on genetic mutations. Her book is "First in Fly: Drosophila Research and Biological Discovery." Geneticist Hugo Bellen from Baylor College of Medicine talks about which model organisms are best for different kinds of research. Duke University bioethicist Nita Farahany digs into the ethics of animal testing, and tries to answer the question of what we owe them.

Treat Yourself

On this week's show, we talk with people taking their health and wellness into their own hands — with varying results. What's the craziest thing you've ever done to treat yourself? Stories about the lengths we go to in search of a cure. Also heard on this week's show: A woman with a brain injury uses the software AUMI as informal musical therapy on her road to recovery. Bram Sable Smith from the podcast, The Workaround, shares the story of a man with Type-1 diabetes who died because he couldn't afford treatment. For the last year, Kristerpher Henderson has been living chiefly off of the nutritional drink Soylent. He says he feels great, though nutritionists may beg to differ. Art Caplan — the founding director of NYU Langone Health's Division of Medical Ethics — unpacks the debate over "right-to-try" laws, which aim to give terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs. Reporter Courtenay Harris Bond, who's dealt with serious depression most of her life, tries out transcranial magnetic therapy.

The Difference a Gun Makes

A gun can change a moment, a life, a family, an entire neighborhood. Like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, guns have a unique ability to transform the calculus of a situation. A gun can make you feel safe. Sometimes it's symbol of cultural identity. It also has the power to destroy. On this episode of The Pulse, we look at the difference a gun makes. Also heard on this week's episode: A chat with Lore McSpadden, the militant pacifist who went on to co-found an LGBTQ gun club called Trigger Warning. Jermaine McCory and Ted Corbin both have first-hand experience with gun violence — Jermaine as a victim, and Ted as an emergency doctor. They describe what gun violence looks like from each of their perspectives, and their work with Healing Hurt People, a violence intervention program. Jessie Wright-Mendoza talks with her grandfather about his choice to keep a gun in the house after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Poet and pediatrician Irène P. Mathieu wrote "Our Boy" to mark the murder of Jordan Davis — an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white man during a "loud music dispute" in front of a gas station.

Saving the Farm

We like to romanticize farming – but the truth is that it's tough, complicated, sometimes dangerous work. Technology has made some of that work easier, but it's also brought a whole new set of pressures. In today's episode, we hear about what some people are doing to help save America's family farms. Also heard on this week's show: Pennsylvania dairy farmer Frank Hartley sheds light on factors behind the falling price of milk Farmers in Boulder County, Colorado are facing a ban on growing genetically engineered crops. Reporter Liz Tung talks with Paul Schlakey and his son Scott about what that means for their family farm. Ann López, executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families, talks about the serious health challenges facing farmworkers in the US and Mexico. Reporter Alan Yu looks at the stresses behind farmers' high suicide rates, and how some of them deal with the pressure. What's it like to deliver piglets or get hit by a cow? Farm veterinarian Linda Kauffman gives us the scoop.


Giving birth. Giving support and feeling a fierce love. Being there. Being exhausted. It's all part of being a mom. To mark Mother's Day, we'll reflect on some of the ways humans and other species juggle the never-ending demands that come with mothering. We'll meet scientist moms who balance taking care of kids and applying for research grants. We'll find out how America's OB GYN shortage is affecting women in rural areas. We'll observe the bird who wins the award for worst mother ever, or maybe she's the smartest? Plus, we'll talk about the "mother of all science".

How do we know?

When it comes to scientific knowledge, we're selective about who and what we believe. But, how do we get to a place of knowing? We hear from people who were believed — and those who weren't — to find out what made the difference. Also heard on this week's show: Neuroscientist Beau Lotto challenges our perceptions of everything we see and hear, and talks about his book "Deviate." UPenn Philosophy professor Michael Weisberg explains what scientific knowledge is, and how we acquire it. We explore the history of mental illness in gun laws, and whether psychiatrists are good at determining who will be violent. Writer Lydia Pyne describes the enduring mystery of the longest-running hoax in science history – and why so many people believed it.

The Cost of Diabetes

Diabetes costs more healthcare dollars than any other disease in the United States. But beyond the huge financial price tag — diabetes takes a major toll on people's lives. Constantly chasing a stable blood sugar level. Feeling sick and tired. Having to be really careful about how you celebrate Thanksgiving, or your enjoy your wedding cake. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore the social and emotional costs of the illness. Also heard on this week's show: Reporter Alan Yu explores when and how diabetes can keep you from getting a job – and what some people are trying to do about it India is the new diabetes capital of the world — the University of North Carolina's Barry Popkin explains some potential reasons. Kaiser Permanente endocrinologist Amber Wheeler on why treating diabetes means striking a balance between cheerleader and enforcer

Shades of Green

As Kermit the Frog once said — it's not easy being green. Amid challenges like pollution, deforestation and climate change, engaging with environmental problems can feel like an overwhelming task. To mark Earth Day, we explore some of the ways, big and small, people are working to do just that. Also on this week's show: How a recent landmark study uncovered a hidden – and huge – source of air pollution. We talk with Chicago weatherman Tom Skilling on his decision to speak openly about climate change on the air. A look back at Population Bomb, the doom-and-gloom book from 1968 that helped shape the debate on saving the planet. Environmental scientist Halina Brown says saving the earth means cutting down what we buy. We ask a range of people about what "being green" means to them.

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