cover art for Talking politics, talking science

Nature Podcast

Talking politics, talking science

Science and politics are not easy bedfellows - "Stick to the science" is a three part series which aims to find out why.

In the third and final episode we try to get to the bottom of how journalists, communicators and policymakers influence how science is perceived. We discuss the danger of politicization and ask the question - can science be part of the political narrative without compromising its values?

Tell us what you think of this series:

This episode was produced by Nick Howe, with editing from Noah Baker and Benjamin Thompson. It featured: Deborah Blum, Bruce Lewenstein, Dan Sarewitz, Hannah Schmid-Petri, Shobita Parthasarathy, and Beth Simone Noveck.

Further Reading

The great fish pain debate

Politicization of mask wearing

Masks work

Donald Trump used a quote from Anthony Fauci to falsely suggest Fauci approved of his actions in the pandemic

Comparing Norway and Sweden in their coronavirus combating actions

Beth Simone Noveck argues for more open and transparent governance

Solving Public Problems, by Beth Simone Noveck

Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing, by Beth Simone Noveck

The Received Wisdom Podcast, with Shobita Parthasarathy

More episodes

View all episodes

  • The plastic that biodegrades in your home compost

    01:04 A gel to safely transport proteinsA gel that encases proteins could be a new way to safely transport medicines without requiring them to be kept cold, according to new research. To test it, the team behind the work posted themselves a protein suspended in this gel, showing that it was perfectly preserved and retained its activity, despite being dropped in transit and exposed to varying temperatures. The researchers hope this gel will help overcome the need to freeze protein-based medicines, which can be expensive to do and difficult to maintain during transportation.Research Article: Bianco et al.News and Views: Gel protects therapeutic proteins from deactivation — even in the post08:51 Research HighlightsHow an abundance of cicadas led to a host of raccoon activity, and how wine-grape harvest records can be used to estimate historical summertime temperaturesResearch Highlight: Massive cicada emergence prompted raccoons to run wildResearch Highlight: Wine grapes’ sweetness reveals Europe’s climate history11:24 Making a plastic biodegradableBy embedding a plastic with an engineered enzyme, researchers have developed a fully biodegradable material that can be broken down in a home compost heap. Plastic production often requires high temperatures, so the team adapted an enzyme to make it more able to withstand heat, while still able to break down a common plastic called PLA. They hope this enzyme-embedded plastic could replace current single-use items, helping to reduce the huge amount of waste produced each year.Research Article: Guicherd et al.19:53 Briefing ChatThis time, how to make lab-grown meat taste more meaty, and a subterranean Moon cave that could be a place for humans to shelter.Nature News: This lab-grown meat probably tastes like real beefThe Guardian: Underground cave found on moon could be ideal base for explorersNature hits the books: Living on Mars would probably suck — here's whySubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • Breastfeeding should break down mothers' bones — here's why it doesn't

    00:45 In situ editing of the gut microbiomeResearchers have developed a method to directly edit the genes of specific bacteria in the guts of live mice, something that has previously been difficult to accomplish due to the complexity of this environment. The tool was able to edit over 90% of an E. coli strain colonising mice guts, with other work showing the tool could be used to edit genes in pathogenic bacterial species and strains. It is hoped that with further research this technique could be adapted to work in humans, potentially altering bacteria associated with disease.Nature News: This gene-editing tool alters bacteria in the gut of living miceResearch Article: Brödel et al.06:56 Research HighlightsThe ants that perform life-saving surgery on their nest-mates, and why amber’s scarcity led ancient artisans to make imitation jewellery.Research Highlight: Ants amputate their nest-mates’ legs to save livesResearch Highlight: Fake jewellery from the Stone Age looks like the real deal08:46 How is bone health maintained during breastfeeding?During breastfeeding bones are stripped of calcium, while levels of oestrogen — which normally helps keep them healthy — drop off precipitously. This puts bones under tremendous stress, but why they don’t break down at this time has proved a mystery. Now, a team has identified a hormone produced in lactating mice that promotes the build up of bones, keeping them strong during milk production. Injecting this hormone into injured mice helped their bones heal faster, and the team hopes that their finding could ultimately help treat bone-weakening conditions like osteoporosis in humans.Research Article: Babey et al.17:55 Briefing ChatThis time, new clues about the neurological events that spark migraines, and a quick chemical method to recycle old clothes.Nature News: What causes migraines? Study of ‘brain blackout’ offers cluesNature News: Chemical recycling’: 15-minute reaction turns old clothes into useful moleculesSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • These frog 'saunas’ could help endangered species fight off a deadly fungus

    00:47 Searching for dark matter in black holesResearchers have been scanning the skies looking for black holes that formed at the very beginning of the Universe — one place where elusive and mysterious dark matter is thought to be located. If these black holes did contain dark matter, they would be especially massive and so researchers would be able to see the bending of light as they pass in front of stars. Such events would be rare, so to find them researchers trawled through a decades-long dataset. However, despite the large number of observations, the researchers didn't find many examples of these events and none that were long enough to show signs of much dark matter. So, the hunt for enigmatic material goes on.Research Article: Mróz et al.09:42 Research HighlightsHow some comb jellies survive the crushing ocean depths, and how giving cash to mothers in low-income households can boost time and money spent on children.Research Highlight: Deep-sea creatures survive crushing pressures with just the right fatsResearch Highlight: Families given cash with no strings spend more money on kids12:39 A simple, solution to tackle a deadly frog diseaseA simple ‘sauna’ built of bricks and a supermarket-bought greenhouse, can help frogs rid themselves of a devastating fungal disease, new research has shown. While options to prevent or treat infection are limited, the fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis has an achilles heel: it can’t survive at warm temperatures. A team in Australia used this knowledge to their advantage to develop saunas where frogs can warm themselves to clear an infection. Frogs who spent time in these hot environments were able to shake the fungus, and gained some immunity to subsequent infections. While this research only involved one type of frog, it offers some hope in tackling a deadly disease that has driven multiple species to extinction.Research Article: Waddle et al.News and Views: Mini saunas save endangered frogs from fungal disease20:06 Briefing ChatThis time, we discuss what the upcoming UK election could mean for science, and the return of rock samples from the Moon’s far side.Nature News: UK general election: five reasons it matters for scienceNature News: First ever rocks from the Moon’s far side have landed on EarthSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • Audio long read: How NASA astronauts are training to walk on the Moon in 2026

    In 2026, NASA aims to send humans back to the Moon's surface, as part of the Artemis III mission. In preparation, astronauts have been performing moonwalking simulations to ensure that they are able to make the most of their precious time on the lunar surface. In one dress rehearsal, a pair of astronauts took part in a training exercise in an Arizona volcanic field, working with a science team to practice doing geology work in difficult conditions designed to mimic some that will be experienced at the lunar south pole.This is an audio version of our Feature: How NASA astronauts are training to walk on the Moon in 2026Never miss an episode. Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify YouTube Music or your favourite podcast app. An RSS feed for Nature Podcast is available too.
  • Why ‘open source’ AIs could be anything but, the derailment risks of long freight trains, and breeding better wheat

    00:31 How open are ‘open source’ AI systems?Many of the large language models powering AI systems are described as ‘open source’ but critics say this is a misnomer, with restricted access to code and training data preventing researchers from probing how these systems work. While the definition of open source in AI models is yet to be agreed, advocates say that ‘full’ openness is crucial in efforts to make AI accountable. New research has ranked the openness of different systems, showing that despite claims of ‘openness’ many companies still don’t disclose a lot of key information.Nature News: Not all ‘open source’ AI models are actually open: here’s a ranking06:12 Why longer freight trains are more prone to derailmentIn the US, there are no federal limits on the length of a freight train, but as companies look to run longer locomotives, questions arise about whether they are at greater risk of derailment. To find out, a team analysed data on accidents to predict the chances of longer trains coming off the tracks. They showed that replacing two 50-car freight trains with one 100-car train raises the odds of derailment by 11%, with the chances increasing the longer a train gets. While derailments are uncommon, this could change as economic pressures lead the freight industry to experiment with ever-longer trains.Scientific American: Longer and Longer Freight Trains Drive Up the Odds of Derailment11:44 How historic wheat could give new traits to current cropsGenes from century-old wheat varieties could be used to breed useful traits into modern crops, helping them become more disease tolerant and reducing their need for fertiliser. Researchers sequenced the genomes of hundreds of historic varieties of wheat held in a seed collection from the 1920s and 30s, revealing a huge amount of genetic diversity unseen in modern crops. Plant breeding enabled the team to identify some of the areas of the plants’ genomes responsible for traits such as nutritional content and stress tolerance. It’s hoped that in the long term this knowledge could be used to improve modern varieties of wheat.Science: ‘Gold mine’ of century-old wheat varieties could help breeders restore long lost traitsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • How do fish know where a sound comes from? Scientists have an answer

    00:46 How light touches are sensed during sex150 years after they were discovered, researchers have identified how specific nerve-cell structures on the penis and clitoris are activated. While these structures, called Krause corpuscles, are similar to touch-activated corpuscles found on people’s fingers and hands, there was little known about how they work, or their role in sex. Working in mice, a team found that Krause corpuscles in both male and females were activated when exposed to low-frequency vibrations and caused sexual behaviours like erections. The researchers hope that this work could help uncover the neurological basis underlying certain sexual dysfunctions.News: Sensory secrets of penis and clitoris unlocked after more than 150 yearsResearch article: Qi et al.News and Views: Sex organs sense vibrations through specialized touch neurons07:03 Research HighlightsAstronomers struggle to figure out the identity of a mysterious object called a MUBLO, and how CRISPR gene editing could make rice plants more water-efficient.Research Highlight: An object in space is emitting microwaves — and baffling scientistsResearch Highlight: CRISPR improves a crop that feeds billions09:21 How fish detect the source of soundIt’s long been understood that fish can identify the direction a sound came from, but working out how they do it is a question that’s had scientists stumped for years. Now using a specialist setup, a team of researchers have demonstrated that some fish can independently detect two components of a soundwave — pressure and particle motion — and combine this information to identify where a sound comes from.Research article: Veith et al.News and Views: Pressure and particle motion enable fish to sense the direction of soundD. cerebrum sounds: Schulze et al.20:30: Briefing ChatAncient DNA sequencing reveals secrets of ritual sacrifice at Chichén Itzá, and how AI helped identify the names that elephants use for each other.Nature News: Ancient DNA from Maya ruins tells story of ritual human sacrificesNature News: Do elephants have names for each other?Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • Hybrid working works: huge study reveals no drop in productivity

    00:48 Short-haul spaceflight's effect on the human body.A comprehensive suite of biomedical data, collected during the first all-civilian spaceflight, is helping researchers unpick the effects that being in orbit has on the human body. Analysis of data collected from the crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission reveals that short duration spaceflight can result in physiological changes similar to those seen on longer spaceflights. These changes included things like alterations in immune-cell function and a lengthening of DNA telomeres, although the majority of these changes reverted soon after the crew landed.Collection: Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA) across orbits12:13 Research HighlightsResearchers have discovered why 2019 was so awash with Painted Lady butterflies, and the meaning behind gigantic rock engravings along the Orinoco river.Research Highlight: A huge outbreak of butterflies hit three continents — here’s whyResearch Highlight: Mystery of huge ancient engravings of snakes solved at last14:55 The benefits of working from home, some of the timeA huge trial of hybrid working has shown that this approach can help companies retain employees without hurting productivity. While a mix of home and in-person working became the norm for many post-pandemic, the impacts of this approach on workers’ outputs remains hotly debated and difficult to test scientifically. To investigate the effects of hybrid working, researchers randomly selected 1,612 people at a company in China to work in the office either five days a week or three. In addition to the unchanged productivity, employees said that they value the days at home as much as a 10% pay rise. This led to an increase in staff retention and potential savings of millions of dollars for the company involved in the trial.Research article: Bloom et al.Editorial: The case for hybrid working is growing — employers should take note25:50: Briefing ChatGermany balks at the $17 billion bill for CERN’s new supercollider, and working out when large language models might run out of data to train on.Nature News: CERN’s $17-billion supercollider in question as top funder criticizes costAssociated Press: AI ‘gold rush’ for chatbot training data could run out of human-written textSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.Subscribe to Nature Briefing: AI and Robotics
  • Twitter suspended 70,000 accounts after the Capitol riots and it curbed misinformation

    In this episode:00:46 Making a molecular Bose-Einstein condensateFor the first time, researchers have coaxed molecules into a bizarre form of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate, in which they all act in a single gigantic quantum state. While condensates have been made using atoms for decades, the complex interactions of molecules have prevented them from being cooled into this state. Now, a team has successfully made a Bose-Einstein condensate using molecules made of caesium and sodium atoms, which they hope will allow them to answer more questions about the quantum world, and could potentially form the basis of a new kind of quantum computer.Research article: Bigagli et al. News: Physicists coax molecules into exotic quantum state — ending decades-long quest9:57 How deplatforming affects the spread of social media misinformationThe storming of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 resulted in the social media platform Twitter (now X) rapidly deplatforming 70,000 users deemed to be sharers of misinformation. To evaluate the effect of this intervention, researchers analysed the activity of over 500,000 Twitter users, showing that it reduced the sharing of misinformation, both from the deplatformed users and from those who followed them. Results also suggest that other misinformation traffickers who were not deplatformed left Twitter following the intervention. Together these results show that social media platforms can curb misinformation sharing, although a greater understanding of the efficacy of these actions in different contexts is required.Research article: McCabe et al.Editorial: What we do — and don’t — know about how misinformation spreads onlineComment: Misinformation poses a bigger threat to democracy than you might think20:14: Briefing ChatA new antibiotic that can kill harmful bacteria without damaging the gut microbiome, and the tiny plant with the world’s biggest genome.News: ‘Smart’ antibiotic can kill deadly bacteria while sparing the microbiomeNews: Biggest genome ever found belongs to this odd little plantSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
  • How AI could improve robotics, the cockroach’s origins, and promethium spills its secrets

    In this episode:00:25 What the rise of AI language models means for robotsCompanies are melding artificial intelligence with robotics, in an effort to catapult both to new heights. They hope that by incorporating the algorithms that power chatbots it will give robots more common-sense knowledge and let them tackle a wide range of tasks. However, while impressive demonstrations of AI-powered robots exist, many researchers say there is a long road to actual deployment, and that safety and reliability need to be considered.News Feature: The AI revolution is coming to robots: how will it change them?16:09 How the cockroach became a ubiquitous pestGenetic research suggests that although the German cockroach (Blattella germanica) spread around the world from a population in Europe, its origins were actually in South Asia. By comparing genomes from cockroaches collected around the globe, a team could identify when and where different populations might have been established. They show that the insect pest likely began to spread east from South Asia around 390 years ago with the rise of European colonialism and the emergence of international trading companies, before hitching a ride into Europe and then spreading across the globe.Nature News: The origin of the cockroach: how a notorious pest conquered the world20:26: Rare element inserted into chemical 'complex' for the first timePromethium is one of the rarest and most mysterious elements in the periodic table. Now, some eight decades after its discovery, researchers have managed to bind this radioactive element to other molecules to make a chemical ‘complex’. This feat will allow chemists to learn more about the properties of promethium filling a long-standing gap in the textbooks.Nature News: Element from the periodic table’s far reaches coaxed into elusive compoundSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.