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Phone calls about science, health, and how to keep things in perspective.

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  • Episode 87

    Fires Outside, Virus Inside

    Katherine’s in California, where things could be better. She’s been wearing two masks—one for the coronavirus, and one for the wildfire smoke—but she isn’t sure how to interpret the air quality warnings. Jim wants to know how air pollution like the smoke interacts with COVID-19. So they called Dr. John Balmes, an expert who’s studied inhaled pollutants for decades and serves as the Physician Member for the California Air Resources Board.


    Join us live next week at the Atlantic Festival at 12pm ET. We’ll be joined by Alexis Madrigal and will take questions. Register for free at: theatlanticfestival.com

  • Episode 86

    Is Faster Better?

    The path out the pandemic is a vaccine. Short of that, it could be rapid testing. And the sooner, the better ... right? Sarah Zhang and Alexis Madrigal explain how close we are to each solution — and how much of a solution each may be if rushed.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 85

    Herd Immunity is Not a Strategy

    With news that a White House pandemic adviser reportedly pushed a “herd immunity strategy,” Katherine and Jim ask an expert about what that would mean. Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor and emergency radiologist, explains why Sweden isn’t the example people think it is—and why many people are talking about “herd immunity” all wrong.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 84

    Plasma and Immunity

    Writer F.T. Kola had COVID-19 in March, and she’s still dealing with the aftermath. She calls to ask about whether she should donate plasma, and if she should worry about “reinfection.” Then, senior editor John Hendrickson talks about disability at the DNC. Read his definitive story on Joe Biden and stuttering here.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 83

    The Comedy and Tragedy of Virtual Live Events

    When live events went online, they lost something indescribable. But did some gain something new? Maeve Higgins explains why comedy needs a crowd. James Fallows argues that politics might be better on Zoom.

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 82

    Millennials Are Buying COVID Cars

    Katherine takes a road trip. Jim talks to staff writer Robinson Meyer about COVID cars—and how a new wave of car ownership could change cities for better, or worse.

    Also: N95s! Surgical masks! Gaiters! What face coverings actually work? (And when should you wear them?)

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 81

    This Episode Has Not Been Peer-Reviewed

    Jim explains the terms Katherine hears in news about scientific studies — and why the pandemic may be changing science. And Ed Yong joins to discuss how American healthcare needs to change to beat the coronavirus. (Read his cover story here.)

    Support this show and all of The Atlantic’s journalism by becoming a subscriber at www.theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 79

    The Tree Army

    Jim wants to see a modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps. As it happens, there’s a bill in Congress to dramatically expand national service called the CORPS Act. Senator Chris Coons has led the effort to pass it. He joins the show to talk about solving two problems with one bill.


    Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic: theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 77

    How Immunity Works

    Katherine gets the results of her coronavirus and antibody tests. She has questions about what they mean, so immunologist Dr. Lisa Butterfield joins to explain the immune system (with help from Jim’s metaphors).


    Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic: theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 76

    $600 a Week

    In a few days, 30 million Americans will lose the $600 in unemployment insurance they’ve depended on every week. What happens next? Annie Lowrey, staff writer and author of Give People Money, joins to explain.


    Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic: theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 74

    CDC Data Goes Dark

    This week, the Trump administration mandated that hospitals no longer send their data to the CDC, and the public appears to have lost access to key data. Alexis Madrigal, staff writer and co-founder of The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, joins to explain what happened and why it matters as states seek to reopen.


    Support the show by subscribing to The Atlantic: theatlantic.com/supportus

  • Episode 73

    Is it Safe To Fly?

    Jim answers a listener question about plane flights. Katherine peppers him with hypotheticals. Jim unfurls a bad metaphor, again.

  • Episode 72

    Our Deadliest Pandemic Mistake

    Over 40 percent of all coronavirus deaths in America have been linked to nursing homes. How did it happen, and how bad could it get? Staff writer Olga Khazan joins to explain.

    Read her piece on nursing homes here, and Jim's piece on herd immunity here.

  • Episode 70

    The Sun Belt Spike

    What does the surge in cases in the south and west mean for the country’s chances of containing the pandemic? Staff writer Alexis Madrigal explains.

  • Episode 68

    Why the World Can’t Reopen If Schools Can’t

    Many plans for school reopenings involve a mix of online and in-person instruction. That could have huge downstream effects on a workforce that can’t rely on children being in or out of school. Staff writer Helen Lewis shares a solution that’s too logical to actually happen.