Health & Science

Air pollution in counties of the San Francisco Bay Area this week has been the worst since 1999 when officials began collecting data.

"The pollution is so high it's comparable to high pollution days in China," says Lisa Fasano at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The worst hour so far was measured on Tuesday in Napa, Calif., with an Air Quality Index of 404 for small particulate matter — so high it's off the chart, as you can see below.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended a controversial proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants. "There's no such thing as a free market in energy," he said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Governments are picking winners and losers every day."

It was a remarkable statement, coming days after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt derided such tipping of the scales as he moved to repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now we turn to Sabrina Corlette. She used to be a staffer with the Senate Health Committee. She now studies the health insurance industry at Georgetown University. Welcome to the program.

SABRINA CORLETTE: Thank you.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's in the name Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone National Park that blows over a hundred feet in the air every 90 minutes or so. It's enchanted millions of visitors for generations.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An outbreak of the plague is growing in Madagascar.

Gene therapy, which has had a roller-coaster history of high hopes and devastating disappointments, took an important step forward Thursday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee endorsed the first gene therapy for an inherited disorder — a rare condition that causes a progressive form of blindness that usually starts in childhood.

The recommendation came in a unanimous 16-0 vote after a daylong hearing that included emotional testimonials by doctors, parents of children blinded by the disease and from children and young adults helped by the treatment.

As a Brazilian-born scientist, it pains me to witness the devastating cuts — and proposal of future additional reductions — to the country's science funding.

The cut of 44 percent in March brought the 2017 budget for Brazil's Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications the lowest level in 12 years. Additional cuts of about 16 percent have been proposed for the 2018 budget.

When Hahna Alexander set out to create a shoe that could charge a battery, she had no idea what challenges lay ahead of her.

The inventing part went smoothly enough. Like many first-time inventors, she had a good idea and a passion for her work. She successfully invented a shoe that harnesses energy from each step the wearer takes. That energy can be used to charge a battery.

The Coming Sewer Gold Rush

Oct 12, 2017

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Abstinence may have found its most impressive poster child yet: Diploscapter pachys. The tiny worm is transparent, smaller than a poppy seed and hasn't had sex in 18 million years.

It has basically just been cloning itself this whole time. Usually, that is a solid strategy for going extinct, fast. What is its secret?

In director Wes Anderson's film "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the ever-fussy, high-class hotel concierge Gustave H. takes viewers on a rollicking journey around the world. To real-life concierge Jack Nargil of the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C., the film was important for rekindling interest in an old-timey profession that is increasingly under threat by automation and apps. Many millennial hotel guests, he says, still need reminders about what exactly a concierge does, and the film served as a romantic representation of what they can provide.

Shortly before Election Day last year, some helpful-looking posts began popping up on Twitter: No need to stand in line or even leave home, they said — just vote by text!

The messages, some of which appeared to come from Hillary Clinton's campaign, had versions in Spanish, with gay pride flags and other permutations. They were also 100 percent false.

Where did they come from?

A Washington, D.C., judge has significantly narrowed the Justice Department's warrant related to a website used to plan anti-Trump protests during the Inauguration.

Supposedly solitary pumas actually hang out with their fellow big cats quite often, frequently coming together and hissing and snarling before settling down to share a delicious elk carcass.

That's the startling discovery made by scientists who recently tracked 13 pumas — also called mountain lions or cougars — and set up cameras at kill sites. They recorded dozens of peaceful social interactions between these elusive felines.

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