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

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  • Episode 65

    The Ethical Calculus of Reopening

    Cases are on the rise in twenty-five states. A vaccine is, for now, a distant dream. How do we negotiate the ethical trade-offs of the deaths to come in the meantime? Dr. Lydia Dugdale, medical ethicist and author of The Lost Art of Dying, joins to discuss.


    Note: this episode was recorded on June 23rd, 2020. All numbers mentioned were accurate for that date.

  • Episode 64

    The Air Conditioning Question

    Jim explains how ventilation affects the spread of the virus with yet another unwieldy metaphor. Plus, a puppy update.

  • Episode 63

    People Are Panic Moving

    In the last few months, many people who have the option have chosen to leave big cities. Will their departures be permanent? Staff writer Amanda Mull has been talking to demographers to find out.

  • Episode 62

    Serenity Now

    As the virus continues to spread, how do we reckon with the reality of ongoing death and disruption? Public theologian Ekemini Uwan explains the idea of “radical acceptance.” Read Ekemini’s piece in The Atlantic.

  • Episode 61

    Should I Be Taking Something?

    Supplements and vitamins claim to “boost your immune system.” Jim explains why this is nonsense.

  • Episode 60

    An Extremely Bizarre Plan to Play Basketball

    Rising case numbers, an empty theme park, and 22 teams in quarantine. What could go wrong? Joel Anderson, Slate staff writer and co-host of Hang Up and Listen, joins to explain what's going on with the NBA.

  • Episode 59

    Can We Sing?

    Jim answers listener questions: Is it safe to sing? Should we be worried about asymptomatic spread? Plus, a "kerfluffle" for Katherine.

  • Episode 57

    Would Defunding Police Make Us Safer?

    City and state budgets are in serious trouble after the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. Some protesters have a proposal: defund the police. Sociologist Alex Vitale, author of “The End of Policing,” explains the research and nuance behind the idea.

  • Episode 56

    How Limiting Protests Will Spread the Virus

    The killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has sparked large protests and marches, giving rise to a new set of concerns about how to safely and effectively exist. Jim and Katherine share the latest on how to protest as safely as possible. Ultimately, safety has less to do with the protesters than those overseeing them.


  • Episode 55

    Fighting the Machine

    The health effects of racism are usually less obvious than murder.

  • Episode 53

    Is America Going to Make It?

    If you watch the news, the country sounds deeply divided about the coronavirus. But polls show an uncommon unity among Americans. Staff writer James Fallows joins to share some historical perspective and answer the question he’s found himself grappling with across his decades-long career: Is America going to make it?

  • Episode 52

    Is Anyone Else Not Showering?

    Jim spent years writing a book on hygiene beliefs and the new science of the skin microbiome. In it, he suggests that some people overuse cleansers and soaps, and may benefit from doing less. But now, there’s a pandemic, and he also really wants to remind people to wash their hands. Jim tries to explain the nuances of good cleaning and bad cleaning—and why he does not shower in the traditional sense.


  • Episode 51

    It’s a Small World Health Organization

    The president wants to pull the United States out of the WHO. Public health professor Kelley Lee explains what it does and why defunding the world’s main public health body during a pandemic is not a great idea. Plus, Jim shows off his math skills.

  • Episode 50

    Is There a Vaccine Shortcut?

    There’s promising news around a vaccine, but what does it mean? And should we speed up its development with ‘challenge trials’ by letting vaccinated people be exposed to the virus?

    Infectious disease expert Dr. Stephen Thomas returns to the show to discuss the medical and ethical issues. Also, Katherine faces a minor challenge of her own.

  • Episode 49

    Am I Depressed?

    Many of our isolated lives fit the normal criteria for depression, but of course these aren't normal times. So, when the world is this depressing, how do you tell when you're actually depressed? Clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Rapke explains how to think through mental health questions in the time of COVID-19.

  • Episode 48

    The Comforting Appeal of Conspiracy Theories

    A video making outlandish and obviously false claims about the coronavirus is making the rounds on the internet. Adrienne LaFrance joins to talk about the psychology of abandoning the factual realm.

    Check out "Shadowland" from The Atlantic here.

  • Episode 46

    Have the Uncomfortable Conversation

    It’s hard to talk about end-of-life care. You should do it anyway. Edo Banach, the President & CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, explains how to create an advance directive — and the best ways to approach the conversation with loved ones.

  • Episode 45

    The Racial Contract

    The pandemic has made the terms of the “racial contract” visible — but it is a structure that existed long before. Adam Serwer joins to discuss the connection between coronavirus policy and the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Read his recent piece in The Atlantic.

    Note: this week, the show will be publishing on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.