Radio Lab 5

Season 5

January 25 - March 2
Sundays at 2pm & Mondays at 9pm

Each Radio Lab episode is an investigation made up of a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around one big idea. It's a program where science bumps into culture and information sounds like music.

The Radio Lab series is designed for listeners who demand skepticism but appreciate wonder, for people who are curious about the world but who also want to be moved and surprised.

January 25 & 26 | Choice

Having an abundance of choices is the hallmark of freedom, but does it make us happy? Just because we have more choices doesn't mean we're better at choosing.

We escape into the quiet mind of a perfectly rational man on our journey to understand how emotion and logic interact to guide us through a million decisions a day. We turn up the volume on the voices in our heads and try to make sense of the babble. Forget free will, some important decisions could come down to a steaming cup of coffee.

February 1 & 2 | Sperm

Peering through his microscope at the seeds of human life, the discoverer of sperm thought he was seeing the smallest incarnation of a human soul. If that was the case, why so many wasted souls?

We turn to the animal kingdom to answer that question, with a tour of sperm battles in ducks, flying pig sperm, and promiscuous whippoorwills. We ponder the necessity of males in a world where sperm can be frozen and kept for all eternity. And we sit with a widow struggling to keep some essence of her husband alive through sperm collected from his body minutes after his death.

February 8 & 9 | Race

At the turn of the millennium, researchers succeeded in sequencing the entirety of the human genome. Our President exulted in announcing that humans, regardless of race, are more than 99.9% the same. But as scientists continue to parse the genome into smaller fragments, it turns out that maybe race, or rather ancestry, does have a genetic signature.

We find ourselves at the scene of a crime, a DNA lab where machines map out the identity of a single human, and the lunchroom of one of the country's most diverse middle schools to talk about the rainbow of hyphenated ethnic distinctions in teenage life. Finally, we follow an Iraqi man back through his memories of the narrow divisions between Sunni and Shi'a that terrorized daily life in Baghdad.

February 22 & 23 | Diagnosis

 What’s in a name? Everything, if that name is carcinoma, or Alzheimer's, or AIDS. Diagnosis comes with a tangled entourage of emotional, social, and medical implications for patient and diagnostician alike.

We ride along on the subways and streets of NYC with a young man who's been keeping his mental disorder a secret from his family. We step behind the curtain that separates patients from doctors and find a roller coaster of detachment, empathy, and gallows humor that accompanies the responsibilities of medical professionals. And we lose ourselves in a historical mystery racing to find our way back from a wrong turn that led to the fatal radiation treatment of healthy babies.

March 1 & 2 | Yellow Fluff & Other Curious Encounters

 Science is an exacting mistress. After long months, years, decades of meticulous work, you think you've taken a step forward only to find yourself two steps back. But the promise of an answer is seductive. In this episode of Radio Lab we hear from scientists about their passionate and sometimes fraught relationships with science.

Theoretical physicist and author Alan Lightman takes us into the consuming world of pursuit and inquiry, and geneticist Jerry Coyne describes the sense of wonder he felt when faced with his own personal parasite. We go on location to the Gakkel Ridge with an Arctic research expedition in search of three-eyed tube worms, only to find ourselves holding nothing but yellow fluff. Yellow fluff? It’s an hour of scientific questions with no answers at the back of the book.

These Radio Lab presentations are part of the weekly documentary series Showcase, Sundays at 2pm and Mondays at 9pm.