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Technology has made us healthier in a lot of ways. It’s beaten back old threats from smallpox to stillbirth to scarlet fever. But many think the march of progress has gone too far, and we need to get back to nature. 

Author Nathanael Johnson says most of us are in the middle – suspicious of technology run amok, but unwilling to trade the condo for a mud hut. He investigates whether the natural approach is really better for us in his book, “All Natural.” 

Nathanael also laid out five common myths about nature versus technology. Get the gist below, or click below and listen to the full conversation:

Big science paves the way forward

Jan 31, 2013

Arguments are often heard against big (read: expensive) scientific projects, especially those without an immediate pay off. "Why spend so much money building this machine or spacecraft, when there are so many pressing social issues we must deal with?"

Microbes are known to be able to thrive in extreme environments, from inside fiery volcanoes to down on the bottom of the ocean. Now scientists have found a surprising number of them living in storm clouds tens of thousands of feet above the Earth. And those airborne microbes could play a role in global climate.

In 2007, Christoph Bartneck, a robotics professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, decided to stage an experiment loosely based on the famous (and infamous) Milgram obedience study.

If you’ve been to an emergency room in Washington in recent months, you're probably in a new database.

The goal is to treat more injuries and illnesses outside the emergency department, in a simpler setting, which should save money, curb drug abuse and also benefit patients.

Washington's hospitals and doctors have agreed to enter some basic information about their emergency patients into a computer system. Once you hit your fifth emergency visit per year, the hospital will assign a case manager to look at your records.

massdistraction / Flickr

Drug overdose deaths are on the decline across Washington, at least when it comes to prescription painkillers.

Those pills have been under scrutiny since overdose deaths rose dramatically starting in 1998. They reached a peak in 2008, killing more than 500 people that year.

It is rather rough to see that we are still in the stage of our swaddling clothes, and it is not surprising that the fellows struggle against admitting it (even to themselves).

Keith Seinfeld / kplu

Getting lost in an airport or giant hospital can be like getting lost in a giant maze. So, there's a risk when a hospital remodels and abandons its familiar landmarks.

But, Seattle Children’s hospital is hoping its new navigation system is better--and even will reduce stress and be fun. 

The Associated Press

You may have heard this year’s flu shot is about 60% effective. To be precise, the official estimate is 62%, and it's based on research conducted partially at Group Health Cooperative in Washington.

What does that mean for you? How can someone use that information?

And, how did they arrive at a number like 62%?

How evil is sugar? That's long been a hard question for researchers to answer. Most of the studies about sugar's health effects to date have been too small, too short-term, or too poorly designed to nail it one way or another.

Keith Seinfeld / kplu

Physical signs of President Obama’s health care law are springing up across western Washington. Wherever you live, there’s probably one nearby. They’re medical clinics that cater to low-income people--and they are in growth mode.

It's hard to imagine how this teeny little rock — it's not even a whole rock, it's just a grain, a miniscule droplet of mineral barely the thickness of a human hair — could rewrite the history of our planet. But that's what seems to be happening.

This year's flu season started about a month early, prompting federal health officials to warn it could be one of the worst in years. They're urging everyone to get their flu shots.

But like every flu season, there are lots of reports of people complaining that they got their shot but still got the flu. What's up with that?

Well, as Michael Jhung of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains, there are lots of possible reasons.

The lab robot affectionately called "Vomiting Larry" has gone viral. His image and videoed vomiting for science are all over the Web.

TheGiantVermin / Flickr

A team led by Professor Christine Moon of Pacific Lutheran University, tested newborn babies in Tacoma and Stockholm, Sweden. Moon said they played recordings of a distinctly American English vowel sound and a Swedish one, and tested the babies responses by measuring the one thing a day-old baby is really good at: sucking on a pacifier. Their sucking patterns reveal that babies show a familiarity with the vowel sounds of their mother tongue even at birth, suggesting they’ve been listening carefully in utero.

Being a little overweight may tip the odds in favor of living a long life, according to a new analysis. Researchers say there may be some benefit to having a little extra body fat.

This isn't the first time researchers have raised questions about the link between body weight and how long someone will live. While there's no debate that being severely obese will raise the risk of all kinds of illnesses and even cut some lives short, it's less clear what happens to people who are less overweight.

For anyone who loves holiday meals, the last hurrah comes tonight or perhaps New Years Day. But, those big buffet-styles meals are tough on people with eating disorders.

The evidence comes from a surge in people seeking treatment this time of year. 

For the complete story, click the "listen" button above.

It's well-known that chemotherapy often comes with side effects like fatigue, hair loss and extreme nausea. What's less well-known is how the cancer treatment affects crucial brain functions, like speech and cognition.

For Yolanda Hunter, a 41-year-old hospice nurse, mother of three and breast cancer patient, these cognitive side effects of chemotherapy were hard to miss.

"I could think of words I wanted to say," Hunter says. "I knew what I wanted to say. ... There was a disconnect from my brain to my mouth."

Health care is probably taking a bigger chunk out of your paycheck than it was a decade ago. The rising cost of insurance and deductibles has been dramatic whether you work for a small business or a large one.

dearshirnk.com

The school shootings in Connecticut have an extra layer of sadness for parents whose children are mentally ill.

In fact, Washington’s and America's main advocacy group for the mentally ill -- the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) -- was organized by a Seattle mother back in the 1970s, after her son, filled with schizophrenic delusions, shot and killed a man. 

AP

The whooping cough epidemic in Washington is nearly over – but not soon enough for a baby in King County. The newborn was Washington’s first fatality this year, despite a near-record number of infections.

"The baby had gone home, and we believe it was exposed to someone with unrecognized pertussis, got infected, and then developed complications and died," says Jeff Duchin, chief of epidemiology for Public Health Seattle & King County.

Keith Seinfeld / KPLU

Walking is becoming more hazardous, with the spread of smart-phones. And it’s not just because drivers are distracted.

Pedestrians who are texting or reading messages are four times more likely to do something dangerous than other pedestrians, according to researchers who looked at 20 of Seattle’s busiest intersections.

The study of cosmology, the branch of the physical sciences that investigates the universe and its properties, presents quite a practical challenge: contrary to most other sciences, where different samples can be probed and analyzed directly, it's impossible to experiment with different universes in the lab.

"The night is nowhere as dark as we might think."

That's the word from Mitch Goldberg, program scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Joint Polar Satellite System. Together with NASA, scientists have unveiled a new composite, cloud-free image of our planet at night.

Mark Witton / ©Natural History Museum, London

A researcher at the University of Washington says he’s identified the oldest dinosaur ever – pushing back the emergence of dinosaurs by millions of years.

The fossilized bones were discovered back in the 1930s, in Tanzania, in a major find that included a vast collection of specimens. They were gathering dust at the Natural History Museum, London, until the scientist who had custody passed away. 

Longest unpublished dissertation ever?

NASA is finally receiving data on Martian soil samples from Curiosity, its rover currently traversing the red planet. The results from the soil samples hint at something exciting, but rover scientists are making very sure not to raise expectations.

The Associated Press

Washington scientists guessed that mysterious mounds hundreds of feet below the surface of Hood Canal were deposited by Ice Age glaciers or built up by natural gas seeps or geothermal vents.

After taking a closer look with a remote control camera they have another theory.

Alex Alonso / Flickr

A resurgence of AIDS among young men nationally is raising alarm bells – but not in the King County area.  Local health officials say outreach efforts here could be a model for how the rest of the country can keep the AIDS epidemic under control. 

Mercury is not the first planet to come to mind if you were searching for ice in the solar system. After all, the surface temperature across most of the planet is hot enough to melt lead.

But at the poles on Mercury it's a different story. Almost no sun reaches the poles, and as a result, temperatures can drop to less than -100 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, three papers in the journal Science suggest there really is ice at the bottom of craters near the poles on Mercury.

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