U.S. Intelligence Dabbles in Forecasting the Future

Sep 29, 2015
CALI / Flickr

The participants are average citizens: school teachers, waiters, pharmacists, perhaps even your neighbor. By day they work and pay their bills, but when they return home, things change. These elite individuals go to work forecasting the outcomes of global events (sometimes years into the future), all at the direction of a little-known government intelligence agency called IARPA.

While this all sounds ripped from the latest Hollywood thriller, the truth is that this is happening right now in America. The "superforecasters," as they are known, are all volunteers. They are Americans like you and me who signed up to take part in a long-running experiment put together by U.S. intelligence officials and several university professors.

The Benefits of Being Afraid

Sep 28, 2015
Patrick McGarvey/flickr creative commons

Think about what it's like to ride that super-fast, double-looped, mountain-high roller coaster. Hyper-focused, you study the rickety bones of the structure while waiting your turn. You hear the clattering of the cars as they climb to the highest peak, and then watch as they plunge toward the ground with their loads of screaming passengers. Eventually the cars glide back to the starting position and it’s your turn. 

Matt Crowely / Flickr

Between all we know to be true, and all we know to be false, lies a world of woo. Woo-Woo, to use the official term, refers to ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence, or that appeal to mysterious occult forces or powers.

But who decides what's woo-woo, and what gets accepted into the hallowed halls of scientific truth?

There’s a proposal to build a 16-bed mental health care facility in Essex County. A non-profit agency serving the Northeast Kingdom wants to partner with the state to add more psychiatric beds.

Supporters say such services are sorely needed, but not everyone agrees on where and how they should be provided.

Does Your Dog Really Know How You Feel?

Aug 4, 2015
Chion Wolf / /WNPR

Our show is all about "man's best friend." 

Dogs are, generally, cute and cuddly and many of us adore them. But what's the science behind our puppy love? We talk with researchers and reporters who study whether or not our dogs are as intuitive as we sometimes think they are or whether they are just "dumb as a dog."

The Flap Over Flags

Jul 22, 2015
Sam Howzit / Creative Commons

Flags have been in the news a lot lately. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its Statehouse this month and one Missouri county threatened to lower the flags at their courthouse for one full year to mourn the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. 

The Backstory of Advice

Jul 21, 2015
Chion Wolf / WNPR


What makes advice good or bad? When and why do we listen to what others have to say? It is human nature to turn to others for advice when the going gets tough; we seek the wisdom of loved ones, lawyers, doctors, therapists, and advice columnists. But even when presented with good advice, we don't always take it. This hour, we get down to business about advice.

anoldent/flickr creative commons

Science still can't say for sure why we need sleep, though we spend a third of our lives asleep, or trying to sleep. Those trying to sleep include the millions who have some sort of sleep issue, from insomnia to over-sleeping.

lculig/iStock / Thinkstock

We usually think of propaganda as a tool used by autocrats eager to manipulate minds and limit rights we take for granted in the West. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un or King Salman bin Abdulaziz wouldn't have a chance with us.

But Western culture is steeped in propaganda that's more insidious and less blatant.

Klan McKellar / Creative Commons

Oh no! It's my turn to speak. My throat is tight, my mouth is pasty and the butterflies are eating at my stomach. My mind feels blank, what if my voice cracks? My heart is pounding so hard I feel lightheaded.   This is how I felt before speaking in front of an auditorium filled with over 300 teachers and administrators in the town in which I live. I made it - but there was a moment when I wasn't sure I would. In the end, I liked it more than I thought I could. 

Gareth Williams/flickr creative commons

Since we are the narrators of our lives, we control our perspective in the stories we tell to make sense of the world. Psychology professor Timothy Wilson says in his book Redirect these tales we tell have a powerful reality, determining whether we will lead healthy, productive lives—or get ourselves into trouble. 

Joel Ormsby / Creative Commons

All of us know what it feels like to have a bad day - the pain, the regret, the sheer misery. We also know how one bad decision can spiral into a day(s) filled with misery.  Sometimes, misery stems from really bad events that are out of our control, like the loss of a loved one. But, too often, we're quick to blame misfortune on chance, the toss of the dice, bad luck. 

PBS NewsHour

More Connecticut students report feeling sad and hopeless and they are seeking help at school-based health clinics, counselors say.

Their problems range from bullying to family issues to anxiety.

Rennett Stowe / Flickr Creative Commons

In 1954, Roger Bannister did the previously unthinkable. He ran a mile in under four minutes. Six weeks later, his chief rival John Landy, did the same thing, and bettered Bannister's performance.

Thirteen months later, three other runners broke four minutes. Bear in mind that this had been considered impossible for as long as there had been time-keeping at track meets.

Practice of Forgiveness Shown to Help Victims Heal

May 6, 2015

Think back to a time you felt wronged by someone. Does the memory of the injury still make you upset or cause you stress? 

Considering the amount of minor and major trauma we sustain throughout our lives, we are given surprisingly little information about how to process these unpleasant experiences to help minimize long-term negative effects.

Columbine; Port Arthur, Australia; The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin; Newtown — the list goes on and on. And, by now, the elements of this type of massacre have become ritualized: usually one, but sometimes more than one, deeply disaffected person, almost always male, who is heavily armed with guns and/or explosives, targets the innocent. In the aftermath, which sometimes includes a trial, the crucial question of "Why?" is never really answered. Instead, most of us are left to wonder how any human being, however twisted, could be capable of such horror.

Mike Licht / Creative Commons

University of Kentucky Biology professor James Krupa is frustrated with the resistance of his non-biology students to accept the theory of evolution as established fact, despite what he calls an "avalanche of evidence" supporting its validity.

Krupa says that evolution is the foundation of our science, and just as we accept germ theory, cell theory, quantum theory, and even game theory, we must understand the significance of evolution even if it challenges long-held religious beliefs.

Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation

Scarlett Lewis is on a mission. She lost her six-year-old son, Jesse, during the 2012 Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead. But somehow, through something barely short of a miracle, she’s been able to use that pain and turn it into something powerful. 

Lewis created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation to honor the message her son left on the family’s chalkboard the day he died – nurturing healing love. One of the things she’s trying to do is bring social and emotional learning into public schools.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

The State Department of Public Health has just released 2013 data on Health Risk Behaviors in Connecticut’s High School Age Youth. This week, WNPR is focusing on one particularly troubling condition described in the report: self injury.

On Wednesday, we learned about how one Connecticut school district is trying to cope with a substantial rise in the number of high school students who are cutting themselves.

In part two, we bring you the story of a Connecticut man’s journey through mental illness and self-injury to recovery. 

Unraveling the Web of Deception

Apr 8, 2015
Chion Wolf

We fool people all the time. Whether with bad intent or not, deception has become a common practice in today's society. While modern tools such as texting, social media and the internet at large have all made the practice easier, deception in its most basic form goes back to Man's beginning.  Some believe it to be an assertion of power while others claim it's in our blood- a practice born out of our species' need to cooperate in order to survive.

Gareth Williams/flickr creative commons

Since we are the narrators of our lives, we control our perspective in the stories we tell to make sense of the world. Psychology professor Timothy Wilson says in his book Redirect these tales we tell have a powerful reality, determining whether we will lead healthy, productive lives—or get ourselves into trouble. 

Andre Silva / Creative Commons

On the series "NewsRadio," the character played by Phil Hartman once said, "Experience once taught me that behind every toothy grin lies a second row of teeth."

Smiling is a universal way to show happiness. But not all smiles are happy. In reality, we smile less for happiness than for social reasons that have nothing to do with happiness. That said,  few things are more ingratiating and calming as another person's genuinely warm smile. But, maybe it's because a genuine smile is such a great thing that we're always looking for the false one. 

What's In a Name?

Mar 26, 2015
Natalie Maynor / Creative Commons

Author Michael Erard is interested in how and why we name things - especially non-human objects and animals - and how naming affects our perceptions and behaviors toward those objects.

He spent a lot of time researching how different subcultures name things - including rock musicians, scientists and Maine lobstermen, because naming tells you a lot about what's going on in a particular culture.  

Andrew/flickr creative commons

Respected researcher and psychologist John Mayer says we can become the best version of ourselves by building our “personal intelligence” to understand ourselves and perceive what makes others tick.

PT Vote / Flickr Creative Commons

Why do we vote the way we do? The easy answer, of course, is that we pick the politician whose values, beliefs and opinions most closely resemble our own. But while that does play a part, there are other, less obvious influences as well.

It turns out that much of why we make the voting decisions we do comes from our subconscious: biases we hold towards things like a candidate's height, weight, looks, tone of voice, and even choice of clothes. Campaigns have known this for years and, with every vote being fiercely sought, have employed a variety of tactics to make their candidate appeal to parts of our psyche we're not even aware of.

The ouster of Bryan Stockton from his perch as CEO at Mattel this week came as the toymaker's best-known brands like Barbie stagnate and it loses business to Web-based games.

Stockton himself said last year that Mattel lacked an innovative culture and blamed it in part on something specific: bad meetings. That's a common and persistent corporate ailment.

Scott Ryan-Hart is a cartographer for the Ohio Department of Transportation, where a typical meeting can last more than two hours.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Here's my favorite one. Eighty-four percent of Frenchmen rate themselves as above average lovers. Ninety-three percent of young drivers in another survey said they were above average. And, 68% of the faculty at the University of Nebraska place themselves in the top 25%.

All of those numbers reflect misplaced confidence. It seems to be genetically wired into us in certain ways.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

The Alzheimer’s Association says about five million people in the United States have some form of dementia. They expect that number to increase dramatically as baby boomers age and more people live longer. By 2050, we can expect that number to rise to about a million new diagnoses every year.

Unless things change, many of us will end up in nursing homes.

Alberto Bocchetta, Giorgio Tamburini, Pina Cavolina, Alessandra Serra, Andrea Loviselli and Mario Piga / Wikimedia Commons

Yale University and the state are now offering a new treatment to young people living in the New Haven area who are experiencing psychotic symptoms. The treatment is also the subject of a soon-to-be-released study.

Jim The Photographer / Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to reach people, sing to them, and make them sing. Experience tells us that singing changes people's relationships to reality, maybe even getting them ready to experience pain in a protest march.

Here's a term that was new to me anyway: "Collective Effervescence". It was coined by the sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe a lot of things, including the state we might achieve if we all got together and sang a song about our political aims. You see this in times of protest, from the streets of Ferguson to the streets around Tahrir Square. When people sing, or hear someone else sing, it activates them.