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

Math Attack

Math is a discipline of logic, but for lots of us, it may as well be magic: a force as powerful as it is unattainable. The "math anxious" among us get tripped up by simple calculations — lost in equations and fractions, until math becomes a barrier. But math competence is an everyday essential, from figuring out grocery-store discounts, to giving your kid the right dose of cough syrup, to deciding on a mortgage. Math also propels innovation and discovery. If you're avoiding math, you're probably missing out. On this episode of The Pulse, we explore why math is necessary to our lives and health, how so many of us got alienated by it early on, and how we might improve our skills. Also heard on this week's episode: Lots of little girls don't love math and end up avoiding advanced math classes. But math skills can be key to academic and professional success. Math lover Tanya Ott asks if we're socializing girls in a way that holds them back. Wellesley College math professor Oscar Fernandez — author of "The Calculus of Happiness" — explains how math can help you improve your love life, diet, and sleep. We get a blackjack tutorial from mathematician Adam Kucharski, then head to the casino to try out what we've learned. His new book is "The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling." Alex Stern says her stepdad (and his carpentry work) helped her learn her multiplication tables as a kid. A chat with Nan Morrison, head of the Council for Economic Education, about the roots (and the consequences) of financial illiteracy. Sixth-grade teacher Nicole Wisler says teaching math feels like an urgent calling — and a chance to disrupt the disempowering narratives students tell themselves about their math ability. Psychologist Ellen Peters explains why math skills matter to health.

Live, Play, Learn — What Keeps Kids Healthy

What matters to a child's health? Sure, some things are embedded in our genetics. But from the moment we're born, there are a million different experiences, factors, and choices that contribute — from our neighborhoods and homes, to screen time and family dynamics. There's also air pollution, neighborhood crime, where we're born. Health researchers call that stuff "social determinants." Sometimes, those things can cause stress that lead to sickness. Meanwhile, welcoming and supportive environments can be like winning the "health lottery" for some kids. In this episode, we examine how environments influence kids' health — their minds and bodies, growth and behavior — and their futures. Also heard on this week's episode: When a San Francisco Bay Area family discovered lead paint in their home, they had to move to protect their child from being poisoned. Read the original story from KALW here. For lots of kids, as they grow bigger and stronger, their eyesight gets worse. Researchers say increased exposure to daylight could help. A Michigan mom is teaching her 3-year-old daughter how to say "no" to adults, and hoping to change their family environment for the next generation. Plus, child psychologist Katherine Dahlsgaard weighs in on helping kids create boundaries. Nina Feldman's story from this episode is part of WHYY's series Uneven Play, all about playground inequities.

Separate: Black Health in America

Segregation in housing and education has had reverberations on health care and health outcomes for African-Americans. In this episode, we explore the legacy of that separation. We meet some of the people who helped integrate hospitals as the Civil Rights fight was heating up, and hear from a millennial mom, who says that, yes — even in 2018, finding a black doctor to care for her girls is "a thing." Throughout the episode, we also visit separate, largely black spaces that nourish African-American health and well-being. Also heard on this episode: Pierre Johnson talks about his path to becoming a physician – he's co-authored a book about his experiences called "The Pulse of Perseverance." New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah Jones explores segregation in schools and the long-lasting effects on health and career choices. Rickey Powell and Jeff Drew describe their experiences growing up in "Dynamite Hill," a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama that was targeted by the Klan.

In Science We Trust

From anti-vaxxers to climate change deniers and even flat-Earthers, there's a lot of mistrust in science. But how did we get here in the first place? How did we lose public trust in science and medicine — and is there a way to rebuild it? In this episode of The Pulse, we explore these questions — and the fallout for health and innovation when trust in science disappears. Also heard on this week's episode: Harvard University public health researcher David Williams talks about the wrongdoings and mistakes that have contributed to distrust of healthcare among minorities. One day in 2015, FBI agents with guns burst into physicist Xiaoxing Xi's house, and arrested him for economic espionage. Did a wider mistrust of Chinese scientists send the government to his door? Historian Audra Wolfe discusses the role scientists played in the arms race — and the impact on people's trust in science. Her new book is "Freedom's Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science." There's a new national initiative working to uncover the things that build trust among doctors and patients. Richard Baron of the ABIM Foundation says that sometimes, it's about little things — like not mispronouncing a patient's name. Drexel University's Mike Yudell — a public health historian and ethicist — digs into the "mad scientist" trope, explaining what it says about public perceptions of science.

The Inner Workings of Hospitals

Hospitals can be bewildering places. They operate according to their own special logic, which can make them feel a bit like a well-oiled machine — and a bit like organized chaos. As patients, we're dropped in and pushed through a maze of activity, mostly clueless about the hidden gears that keep this life-saving machinery chugging along. On this episode of The Pulse, we step through the "staff only" doors to get a better sense of the inner workings of hospitals. Also heard on this week's episode: Talking with microbiologist Jonathan Eisen and healthcare epidemiologist Jennifer Han about healthcare-acquired infections — and the ways proper cleaning mitigates the risk they pose. Violence erupts at hospitals more frequently than it should. Now, a California law is requiring medical centers to develop prevention plans to protect workers. Ballinger architect Erin Nunes Cooper explains the challenges in designing hospitals — and why medical facilities can feel like a maze. Writer-comedian Mimi Hayes found short-term love at the hospital, while recovering from a brain hemorrhage — call it a meet-cute for the ages (or, ahem — "the aged"). Every hospital has an employee whose positive attitude makes everybody's day better. At Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, that guy is George Benson.

What We Call Things and Why It Matters

How we talk about an issue has ramifications that go far beyond the words. Names, descriptions, and terms lay the foundation for how we think about an issue, how we deal with a problem — or whether we see something as a problem at all. Why do we call addiction a "brain disease," and how does that impact treatment and policy? Is stuttering a "disorder," or merely a different way of speaking? Plus, the debate over who gets called "Dr." and the respect that comes with that title. Also heard on this week's episode: Historian Sverker Sörlin explains the origins of "the environment" as a concept, and why it spawned a global movement to protect nature. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX has called the word nano "100 percent synonymous with bs." But what does the term actually mean? Scientists kvetch about the scientific terms that the public uses incorrectly.

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.

Understanding Violence

On this episode of the The Pulse, we examine violence — what sparks it, how it spreads, and where it can lead. We'll learn about the spectrum of violence, from everyday blowups to terrorist acts. The hour includes stories about the allure of violence — which some people admit can sometimes be a thrill. A public health expert discusses the far-reaching impact of violence on health and well-being, including the reverberations for African Americans affected by police violence. Plus, one researcher says 2-year-olds are the most violent people on the planet. Also heard on this week's episode: For years, psychologists have tried to understand the minds of terrorists so we can figure out why they commit violent acts. But now researchers are learning that might not be the best question to ask. We associate mass shootings with mental illness — but are they really connected? Psychiatrist Amy Barnhorst confronted just this question when an angry 18-year-old walked into her office, threatening to shoot up his school. We've all been there — on the brink of a conniption, ready to snap. Psychology professor Nathan DeWall zooms in on this fragile moment of flux to explain what makes us either control those impulses, or boil over. African Americans are more likely to be the victims of crime and assault, as well as police violence. Harvard public health professor David Williams explains how living under constant threat can take a toll on both physical and mental health. Community organizer Alfred Marshall spent years working to curb violence in New Orleans. His weapon: the gospel of de-escalation. His beliefs were put to the test when the city's violence hit close to home.

Body Politics

Our bodies are ours, but how we feel about them is largely defined by others — by the things people say, the culture we live in, the messages we get about which kinds of bodies are acceptable ... and which kinds aren't. On this episode of The Pulse, we look at how culture and politics shape the way we feel about our bodies. We'll hear stories about bodies transformed by disease, weight, and age, and how those changes affect people's sense of identity. We'll also talk about the struggle to reclaim bodies from other people's narratives about what is strong or beautiful, ugly or dangerous. Also heard on this week's episode: When Earni Young turned 68, arthritis started to slow her down. She talks about her struggle to keep active, and how aging can make you feel invisible. More men than ever are getting cosmetic surgery — we look at what they're getting done, and why. How the criminalization of HIV transforms bodies into weapons in the eyes of the law — and one man who spent nearly a decade in prison as a result. Writer Kiese Laymon talks about what it means to be black, male and overweight, and how his relationship with his body changed along with his size. His new memoir is called "Heavy." We talk to yoga therapist Jennifer Kreatsoulas about recovering from an eating disorder, and how yoga can help people love their bodies. Her new book is "Body Mindful Yoga." Filmmaker Emily MacKenzie shares the stories of two people whose conceptions of their bodies changed after getting double mastectomies. Shane Duquette was always skinny — until he hit the gym, and added 50 pounds of muscle. We talk to him about his transformation from beanpole to buff, and his efforts to help other skinny guys with his muscle-building website From Bony To Beastly.

The Water We Drink

Most of us take our drinking water for granted — switch on the tap, and out it flows. But in much of the world, that's not the case. At home and abroad, tensions are mounting over water. In this episode, we take a closer look at the water we drink. We'll hear stories about why water's so important to our health; why we enjoy some kinds of water, but not others; how exactly water becomes clean enough to drink; and we'll explore its ability to shape communities, and even politics, around the world. Also heard on this week's episode: Scooch over soda — the age of seltzer has dawned. We visit Brooklyn Seltzer Boys to hear about how fizzy water works, and why we love it. A chat with Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint, Michigan, pediatrician who blew the whistle on the city's drinking water crisis. Her book is What the Eyes Don't See. How private wells sparked "water wars" in a Washington state farming community. Scott Harrison talks about his transformation from hard-partying nightclub promoter to founder of the nonprofit Charity: Water. His new book is Thirst. In arid Phoenix, Stina Sieg describes the sweat-inducing adventure that helped her realize the importance of hydration.

Back To Top