Autistic Researchers Studying Autism, Canned Salmon Insights, Medieval Friars’ Parasites. August 26, 2022, Part 1

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California Accelerates Its Push For Electric Cars

This week, air pollution regulators in California voted to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles, with a complete ban on gas car sales by 2035. The decision could have a larger impact on the automobile industry, however, as many states choose to follow California’s lead with regard to air quality and emissions decisions. Sophie Bushwick, technology editor at Scientific American, joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to help unpack the decision.

They also discuss some of the other science stories from this week, including a survey-based study showing that Americans really do care about climate change and support mitigation measures, a look at how sugar substitutes can change the microbiome, and an engineer’s advice for how to build the sturdiest sandcastles.

Meet Two Autistic Researchers Changing How Autism Research Is Done

For many decades, autistic people have been defined by non-autistic people, including in science. Since the very beginning of research about autistic people, neurotypical scientists and institutions have been at the helm. The field has largely been defined by what neurotypical researchers are curious about learning, instead of prioritizing research that the autistic community asks for.

Because of that, and the invisibility of autistic adults in our society, a large chunk of this research has neglected the needs of autistic people. In many cases, it’s caused harm to the very people the research aims to help. Until recently, there have been very few openly autistic researchers who study autism. But there is a growing body of openly autistic scientists who are using both their expertise and their own lived experiences to help shape the future of autism research.

Guest host Roxanne Khamsi speaks with Dr. TC Waisman, a leadership coach and researcher studying autism and higher education, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Patrick Dwyer, a Ph.D. candidate studying sensory processing and attention in autism at the University of California, Davis. They talk about the history of autism research, why the inclusion of autistic people in research leads to more helpful outcomes, and how they see the future of autism research changing.

Ira Kraemer consulted on this story.

Ecological Data From Deep In The Pantry

Most people wouldn’t be excited by a call offering a basement full of canned salmon dating back to the 1970s. But for researchers trying to establish baselines for what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to aquatic parasite populations, the archive of fishy tins, maintained by the Seattle-area Seafood Products Association, was a valuable resource.

Natalie Mastick and colleagues combed through the tins with tweezers, counting the numbers of parasitic anisakid worms they found. (Since the salmon was cooked, the worms—though gross—posed no risk to human eaters.) The team found that in their samples of chum and pink salmon, the incidence of parasitic infection increased over the 40 years covered by the salmon archive. The finding might be good news—an increase in the numbers of marine mammals in the area, key hosts for the parasites, could be responsible for the wormy increase. Natalie Mastick, a PhD candidate in the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to explain the study.

Medieval Friars’ Farming May Have Caused Tummy Troubles

What was life like back in medieval England? You might think that the learned friars who lived in the town of Cambridge—scholars, with access to innovations like latrines and places to wash their hands—might have lived healthier lives than the common folk. But a recent study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology says that, at least when it comes to intestinal parasites, the friars may have been worse off.

Dr. Piers Mitchell runs the Cambridge Ancient Parasites Laboratory and is a senior research associate in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Mitchell and colleagues excavated soil samples from around the pelvises of medieval skeletons in one Cambridge cemetery, then examined the soil microscopically looking for parasite eggs. They found that friars in the cemetery had almost twice the incidence of intestinal parasites as commoners in the town—a fact they speculate could be related to friars using human feces, from the friary latrine, to fertilize the gardens. Mitchell joins guest host Roxanne Khamsi to explain the study.

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

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