Fall Foliage Research, Voyager Scientist Retires, Flaws in Human Judgement, Milky Way Tell-All. Nov 4, 2022, Part 2


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Using Family Photos Of Fall Foliage To Track Climate Change

Leaf-peeping, or tourism based on observing the colors of fall foliage, is a big industry in parts of the Northeast. So as leaves continue to change across the northern United States with the turning of the seasons, researchers are working to better understand how climate change may be affecting fall colors—changes that may affect the bottom line for those tourism-rich areas. But to tease out the factors involved with the timing of peak leaf color, the researchers need data on when leaves started to change color, when they arrive at their peak color, and when the leaf-peeping season ends. Unfortunately, satellite imagery showing leaf color is only available dating back to the year 2000—and so Stephanie Spera of the University of Richmond is trying to get data in some unconventional ways.

Spera and colleagues are engaging in a massive citizen-science project, asking for tourist snapshots of Acadia National Park that show the colors of fall. While they’ll accept your cellphone selfies, they’re especially interested in older, pre-digital images—the sort of vacation pictures that might be in your family albums, or in shoe boxes in an elderly relative’s attic. Adding those images to their data set, she says, will both help them to validate the satellite data and to extend the boundaries of their data set outwards.

Heather Goldstone, host and executive producer of Living Lab Radio on WCAI, joins Ira to talk about the project and how listeners can participate.

The ‘Grandfather’ Of The Voyager Mission Retires

45 years ago, the Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecraft were launched into the cosmos from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Since then, they’ve traveled over 14 billion miles from Earth, on a grand tour of our solar system, and beyond. The mission is still running, making Voyager 1 the farthest human-built artifact from Earth.

Even before launch, scientists and engineers were hard at work planning and designing the mission. Last week, NASA announced the retirement of Dr. Ed Stone, who some called the ‘grandfather’ of the mission. Dr. Stone shepherded the Voyager program as its project scientist for 50 full years.

In this conversation from 2013, just after Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, Ira spoke with Dr. Stone for a status update on the mission.

A Flaw in Human Judgment: How Making Decisions Isn’t As Objective As You Think

If two people are presented with the same set of facts, they will often draw different conclusions. For example, judges often dole out different sentences for the same case, which can lead to an unjust system. This unwanted variability in judgments in which we expect uniformity is what psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “noise.”

The importance of thoughtful decision-making has come in stark relief during the pandemic and in the events leading up to the January 6th insurrection.

Ira talks with Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman about the role of ‘noise’ in human judgment, his long career studying cognitive biases, and how systematic decision-making can result in fewer errors.

Kahneman is the co-author of “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” along with Oliver Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein, now available in paperback.

Frenemies, Lovers, And The Fate Of The Cosmos: Our Galaxy Tells All

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 13.6 billion years old, all-knowing, and a little sassy. It has a rich social life of friends, frenemies, and even love interests—all other galaxies in the local group, including the stunning Andromeda. And the Milky Way is a little disappointed that we’ve stopped telling as many stories about it.

Or at least, that’s how folklorist and astronomer Dr. Moiya McTier imagines the galaxy’s personality when writing her new book, The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy. The book stretches from the beginning of the universe to the birth of our planet, and then on to the eventual theoretical end of the cosmos. Along the way, we learn both the science of how stars form and galaxies collide, and the many stories and myths humans have told about these bodies throughout our relatively brief lives.

McTier joins Ira to tell all (on behalf of the Milky Way), and explain the importance of story in scientific knowledge and discovery.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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