Nerve Agents, Straws, Soccer Flops, Happiness. July 13, 2018, Part 2 | WBEZ
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Science Friday

Nerve Agents, Straws, Soccer Flops, Happiness. July 13, 2018, Part 2

Four months ago, an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were hospitalized in the U.K. They came into contact with a substance known as Novichok—a nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists during the Cold War. And recently, two U.K. citizens were hospitalized. One died after apparent exposure to Novichok. Russia has so far denied any involvement in the attacks. The nuclear arms race wasn’t the only focus for the U.S. and Soviets during the Cold War. The proliferation of chemical weapons—nerve and blister agents like mustard gas—was also high on their priorities. The first nerve agent was the result of 1930’s German chemists’ experiments to develop new insecticides. The substance was toxic to insects but also, at certain doses, to animals and humans as well. Luckily, a brush with a nerve agent isn’t always fatal. Dr. Rick Sachleben joins Ira to discuss how nerve agents interact with our body chemistry and what can make a difference between life and death for someone who’s come into contact with the deadly substance.

This week, coffee giant Starbucks announced that it was phasing out the use of plastic straws in its stores, instead using what some are calling “adult sippy cup” lids. Other restaurants have also made the move to scale back use of the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw, while some municipalities have considered total straw bansNew York Magazine food business reporter Clint Rainey joins Ira to talk about some of the alternatives companies are considering to plastic straws, from compostable paper straws to pasta tubes to reusable metal straws, and about the challenges restaurants need to address—from durability, to price, to usability by people with disabilities.

In late April, FIFA announced that they would be adding four more referees to each soccer match. These refs won’t be running alongside players. Instead, they’ll be in a control room watching the match closely on computer monitors. The video assistant referees will be scanning instant replay for the typical fouls like hand balls and offside goals—but they will also be monitoring soccer dives. Soccer players are notorious for dives, or faking injuries. If players can successfully convince a referee they are temporarily injured, their team can get rewarded with a free kick, a yellow card for the opposing team, or the coveted penalty kick. If they get caught faking it, referees don’t really punish them. But there is a strategy to these flops. One study showed that players flopped when they were closer to referees and twice as much when the score was tied. Vox reporter Umair Irfan joins Ira to discuss some of the science, strategies, and behavior economics behind these soccer dives.

What really makes a person happy? What is “the good life”?  Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos spends her research hours studying primate and canine cognition for clues to how humans think and learn. She also teaches Yale University’s most popular course (also available free online), “PSYC 157: Psychology and the Good Life.” She joins Ira to discuss her work and the psychology of happiness.  

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