PRI's The World on RADIO IQ with BBC

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on our RADIO IQ With BBC network.

PRI’s The World is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. Launched in 1996, PRI’s The World, a co-production of WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service.

The World's coverage is provided by a global network of international journalists. The program also has access to the 250 BBC correspondents located around the world. Unique in public radio, this network works in concert with the program's multinational team of producers and editors, and brings an exceptional depth of understanding and freshness of perspective to the program content. The result is an award-winning hour of breaking news, in-depth features, hard-hitting commentaries, and thought-provoking interviews found nowhere else in U.S. news coverage.

PRI's The World -- international news for an American audience -- weekdays at 4:00 on our RADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

Local Host(s): 
Beverly Amsler
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Program Headlines

  • Monday, July 6, 2015 3:06pm

    Louie Cronin is a novelist, essayist and audio engineer for PRI's The World. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for Car Talk on NPR.

    Recently on PRI's The World, as part of our Across Women’s Lives series, we aired several interviews that encouraged young women who liked math to go into engineering, one of the so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)

    I followed that advice. And here's mine: “No! Don’t fall for it. Run the other way, as fast as you can!” 

    I made that mistake. You see, loving math and loving engineering are two completely different things. 

    The summer before I headed back to college to finish my degree, I discovered college radio and fell in love. This was what I wanted to do with my life. I would study mass communications and work in radio. But a friend who had graduated in mass communications, and was working fulltime as a waitress at a steakhouse, warned me off.

    “You’ll never get a radio job with a degree in communications. Look at me! But if you’re good at math, all the broadcast networks are looking for women engineers. You can break in that way.” 

    I was good at math. I was on the math team in high school, even won an honorable mention in a math journal. I tutored math when I lived in New York, everything from arithmetic to calculus. And I admit, I love sitting down with a pad of paper and a freshly sharpened pencil, and working on a math problem. It feels so clean, so pure, so orderly. It feeds my soul. 

    Not so with engineering.

    I enrolled in Electrical Engineering classes instead of my intended communications. My first EE professor told this joke to welcome us to the profession: An engineer, a mathematician and a physicist are standing in three corners of a room, in the middle of which is a naked woman. The men are told, you can approach this woman, and when you get there, do whatever you want with her, but each step you take has to be half of the one before.

    A young woman studying math.


    Jonah G.S./Flickr/Creative Commons

    The mathematician laughs. “Ha! That’s an old one,” he says. “If you approach a point in space by halves, you’ll never get there.” The physicist nods. “That’s Zeno’s Paradox. You think we don’t know about infinity?” The engineer says, “That’s OK, I’ll get close enough for my purposes!”  

    All the elegance, beauty and purity of my beloved mathematics flew right out the window. I should have changed majors that day. I would have been happier in math, physics or communications. But it’s hard to do that when you’re a kid. And that’s what students are, kids. So I worry about all this pressure on girls to go into the STEM fields. Girls should find out what they love and go into that. If it’s engineering, fine. Let’s break down the walls, remove all gender barriers, give them the math skills they need. But please, don’t push them.

    I do think it’s a shame that girls get turned off by math. I tutored a lot of women to take the GMATs, GRE’s, SATs, etc. And I found that my average female student had checked out of math around fractions! What year is that? Third grade? And forget about decimals and percentages. I could see their eyes glaze over at the mention of them.

    One of the interviews we did as part of the AWL series was with Anna Rothschild, an inspiring young colleague here at WGBH who does a web series for PBS called Gross Science. She told us she loved science as a girl, the slimier the better, dissected frog guts, tongue-eating parasites, regurgitated owl pellets. You get the idea. Her love of science was infectious and she encouraged other young women to follow her into the STEM fields. I was almost taken in myself.

    But girls, listen closely. That happy young woman waxing eloquent about undigested mouse bones? She works in TV.


  • Monday, July 6, 2015 11:25pm

    I've lived and worked at PRI in Minneapolis for almost four years. Summers are usually the best time of year up here — temperatures are fairly moderate, days are long and the air is clear.

    On Monday, though, the air was anything but. Canada is burning. Not all of Canada, but rather tens of thousands of acres of forest from Manitoba to Saskatchewan to British Columbia are on fire and all of that smoke is choking much of the western and central US.

    Monday, that smoke settled over the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, leading to alerts about dangerous air quality and countless photos of the haze on social media. Government officials advised people to limit outdoor activities, especially among populations sensitive to bad air, including children and the elderly.

    Crews in British Columbia alone were battling 89 new wildfires, according to Canadian officials. One fire, known as the Elaho Valley fire, near Whistler, BC, had burned more than 77 square miles. Thousands of homes have been evacuated across parts of Canada. A Red Cross spokesman told the CBC on Sunday that Saskatchewan's evacuations were the biggest that province has experienced.

    Saskatchewan's fires are the main source of smog in the Twin Cities. As of Wednesday, there were 113 burning, including 23 that weren't contained. While fire crews managed to extinguish eight on Tuesday, seven new fires started. 

    CBC reporter Chris Brown, in Vancouver, says the fires there started when the snow began melting in British Columbia's mountains. Brown says 2015 is on track to be the most destructive forest fire season in history.

    A map from the Canadian fire service shows the breadth and extent of the fires.

    "Over 10 years, what we’ve noticed is that there has been an increasing number of forest fires. The trend certainly seems to be that they’re getting worse, there’s more of them, they’re more costly to fight," Brown says. "Incidents like what we’ve seen in Vancouver the last couple of days, where a city of 2 million people that’s often voted one of the most livable cities in the world, has become one of the places that’s hardest to breath because there’s been so much thick, heavy, ash-laden smoke hanging over the city."

    Brown says Vancouver on Sunday and Monday "really looked like Mars here. The skies were so dark, almost brown if you will."

    Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Monday afternoon brought the same yellow haze and a palpable smell of smoke in the air. It was thick enough you could taste it. Looking out PRI's office windows, you could tell the pollution was bad, and the air monitoring statistics proved that.

    According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, PM2.5 air pollution levels topped out at 187 on Monday, a level deemed universally unhealthy, and worse than the air pollution levels reported in notoriously polluted Beijing over the past two days, according to the US State Department.

    Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner tweeted that it was the worst air pollution he had ever seen.

    While Minneapolis bore the brunt of the pollution on Monday, the smoke has spread as far south as Tennessee and practically from coast to coast — though along the eastern seaboard, the smoke did little more than provide for brilliant sunsets. Various levels of air quality alerts were in place for the entirety of Minnesota; large parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, as well as northeastern Colorado; and much of western and central Washington, according to NBC News.

    While air pollution levels remained in the unhealthy level into late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, there was hope — at least in the Twin Cities — that we'd get a break as Tuesday dawned and turned into Wednesday. But as the graphic indicates, even if the Twin Cities are spared the brunt of the smoke, it has to go somewhere.

  • Monday, July 6, 2015 12:26pm

    Today in your nightmares: Scientists have just discovered that you’ll never be safe from spiders, even at sea.

    Spiders can sail. Well, at least some of them can — according to researchers at the University of Nottingham. 

    Scientists observed 325 adult spiders from 21 different species by placing them in trays of water and using pumps to simulate wind.

    Because of their water-repellent legs, all of the spiders were able to stand on the water. And 201 of them, which covers most common species, are also sailors. The spiders catch the wind by doing a handstand, stretching their legs and abdomen up in the air. Some simply extend their front legs straight up.

    In fact, weight is likely the most limiting factor, according to Sara Goodacre, who worked on the study.

    The spiders also use their silk as an anchor or a dragline to hook onto floating objects and use them as a raft on their way to shore. Once attached to an object, the report reads, the spiders walk along the silk until they reach safety.

    Spider using silk as an anchor or dragline

    Because they're able to use their silk as an anchor or a dragline, sailing is a much less risky way for spiders to travel long distances over open ocean.


    Alex Hyde

    This study adds on to the knowledge that spiders are able to fly using a technique called “ballooning.”

    “Even [Charles] Darwin took note of flying spiders that kept dropping on the [HMS] Beagle miles away from the seashore,” Morito Hayashi, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “But given that spiders are terrestrial, and that they do not have control over where they will travel when ballooning, how could evolution allow such risky behavior to be maintained?”

    Scientists have used ballooning to explain how spiders have traveled hundreds of miles over open ocean in the past, but spiders have no control over their direction or speed while in the air. Sailing spiders don’t lose that control, even when traveling over rough seas.

    While this may seem like bad news for every arachnophobe, researchers say this is only good news for farmers, who welcome spiders as a form of pest control.

  • Friday, July 3, 2015 2:25pm

    Now that a solar-powered plane has set an amazing record, we're ready with the next question: Will there soon be a fleet of solar-powered planes?

    Not quite, but airlines are moving in that direction.

    On Friday, Andre Borschberg, in a plane powered completely by the sun, pushed past Amelia Earhart-esque territory — completing a five-day solo flight across the Pacific, from Japan to Hawaii. It the longest leg on a planned around-the-world trip for the solar-powered plane.

    Not only did Borschburg make it, he got a lei around his neck.

    "This particular flight is really on the edge of the envelope," MIT aeronautics professor John Hansman says. 

    Borschberg touched down outside of Honolulu at dawn this morning. At 120 hours, it was the longest solo flight ever. And the plane did it without a drop of fuel. It was powered instead by 17-thousand solar cells mounted on its 236 foot-wide wings.

    Borshberg says he himself was also powered through the flight by yoga and meditation.

    First thing he says he wants to do now, after five days in the air, is take a shower. And the next stop for Solar Impulse 2 after a layover in Hawaii is Phoenix, Arizona, en route to Abu Dhabi, where the plane first set out on March 9.

    Will Solar Impuse 2 inspire a whole fleet of solar planes? Even small planes? Not quite yet, says Hansman, given the power limitations of current solar panels.

    However, those panels are improving rapidly. One start: biofuels.

    Earlier this week, United Airlines announced it was investing $90 million in a 10-year effort to use jet fuel made from solid waste.

  • Friday, July 3, 2015 1:16pm

    It's never been seen in the wild before now, as least in reptiles. Researchers have published a study demonstrating that when the mercury rises, the Australian bearded dragon changes its sex.

    The study, in the journal Nature, refers to the change as "sex reversal"  which means that the bearded dragons actually have genes and sex chromosomes of a male individual, but they look, act, behave and, incredibly, reproduce just like females.

    Even more surprising is the reason the sex reversal takes place. The researchers showed that by incubating the bearded dragon's eggs in very warm temperatures (above 89.6 degrees) you can trigger them to reverse sex.

    The lizards switch from having their sex determined by genes to having it determined by temperature.

    There are examples of sex reversals known in fish like the parrotfish that start life as females and change to males. There are amphibians as well. But, it's the first time the it has been demonstrated in the wild by a reptile.

    Is this remarkable change a positive thing for the bearded dragon? That is, does this suggest that animals are adapting and surviving, or will something like the temperature increases from climate change ultimately lead to them becoming extinct?

    "That’s actually one of the big questions that we don’t quite have an answer to yet," says Clare Holleley, lead author of the study. "There’s sort of two definite possibilities: If the climate does continue to warm exponentially and they don’t have a chance to adapt, then of course the populations are going to become increasingly female. If you go to the complete extreme where there is only females, that’s of course going to threaten the survival of the species."

    However, there is a possibility that they may be able to adapt to climate change.

    "Indeed, some could argue that maybe being able to manipulate your sex ratio by adapting and laying your eggs in different temperatures in different regions, could potentially be a benefit to the species," Holleley says. "We’re not too sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing yet."