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Town Hall Seattle Science Series

Science Podcasts

The Science series presents cutting-edge research about biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, astronomy, and more. These events appeal to many different levels of expertise, from grade school students to career scientists. With a range of relevant applications, including medicine, the environment, and technology, this series expands our thinking and our possibilities.

The Science series presents cutting-edge research about biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, astronomy, and more. These events appeal to many different levels of expertise, from grade school students to career scientists. With a range of relevant applications, including medicine, the environment, and technology, this series expands our thinking and our possibilities.


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The Science series presents cutting-edge research about biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, geology, astronomy, and more. These events appeal to many different levels of expertise, from grade school students to career scientists. With a range of relevant applications, including medicine, the environment, and technology, this series expands our thinking and our possibilities.








109. Dr. Jennifer Reich: From Parents’ Rejection of Vaccines to a COVID Vaccine—Understanding the Politics of Immunization

Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) is a collaborative cross-disciplinary nonprofit biomedical research organization based in Seattle. In 2020, ISB is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a four-party virtual speaker series highlighting some of the most important topics in science and health care. ISB and Town Hall proudly present Dr. Jennifer Reich, a Colorado-based sociologist who researches how individuals and families weigh information and strategize their interactions with state and...


108. Richard Yonck: Future Minds—The Rise of Intelligence

From chatbots to brain-computer interfaces to the possibility of superintelligences, our reality is being transformed before our eyes. But can we actually know the nature of intelligence? Futurist and author Richard Yonck joined us to explore our past and future understanding of intelligence. Drawing from his book Future Minds: The Rise of Intelligence, From the Big Bang to the End of the Universe, Yonck challenged our assumptions about what intelligence actually is—many scholars view...


107. Wenfei Tong: The Private Lives of Birds

Birds are intelligent, sociable creatures that exhibit a wide array of behaviors—from mobbing and mimicking to mating and joint nesting. But why do they behave as they do? Biologist Wenfei Tong joined us with observations from her new book, Understanding Bird Behavior, bringing to light the remarkable actions of birds with cases from species around the world. Through engaging vignettes about the private lives of birds, Tong explored how birds find food, what their courtship rituals look...


106. Erin Brockovich with Suzanne Boothby: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It

Imagine turning on the tap in the morning to find an unpleasant brown sludge that tastes like metal. Then imagine you were told by officials that the water was safe to drink. Would you believe them? Environmental activist and renowned crusader Erin Brockovich joined us via livestream in conversation with journalist Suzanne Boothby to explore how cases just like that are happening across the United States. Drawing from her long-awaited book, Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis...


105. Jonathan Berman: Anti-Vaxxers and How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement

Vaccines are a documented success story, one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Yet there is a vocal anti-vaccination movement. How can we better understand the history and concerns behind that movement? Science professor Jonathan Berman joined us via livestream with revelations from his book Anti-Vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement. He explained how the origins of today’s anti-vaccine movement stretch all the way back to the resistance to Britain’s...


104. David Allen Sibley: What It’s Like to Be a Bird

Can birds smell? Do robins ‘hear’ worms? Is this the same cardinal that was at my feeder last year? To answer the question of what birds are doing—and why—David Sibley joined us via livestream with insight from his new book What It’s Like to Be a Bird. Sibley answered frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often, covering everything from familiar backyard birds—such as blue jays, nuthatches, and chickadees—to less common species we might still easily observe, such as the...


103. Cass Sunstein: Too Much Information

How much information is too much? Do we need to know how many calories are in the giant vat of popcorn that we bought on our way into the movie theater? Do we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? Not necessarily, argues behavioral scientist Cass Sunstein. Drawing from findings shared in his book Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don’t Want to Know, Sunstein joined us via livestream to investigate how information can make us happy or miserable, and...


102. Sophie Egan with Tim Egan: Conscious Food Choices For Ourselves and the Planet

Is organic food really worth it? Are eggs okay to eat? What does it mean if something’s labeled “Fair Trade,” or “Biodynamic,” or “Cage Free”? Health, nutrition, and sustainability expert Sophie Egan explored the world of ethical food choices we face every day. With insight that aims to revolutionize our understanding of food, Sophie drew from her book How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet and was joined in conversation with...


101. Ross Bayton: The Gardener’s Botanical

Horticultural author Ross Bayton presented a crash course in plant history, ruminating on the origin and significance of the Latin plant names we encounter every day. Scientific plant names are an invaluable tool for those who understand them. Formed from Greek and, more commonly, from Latin root words, not only do they make it possible for gardeners and botanists to communicate, they also contain a wealth of hidden information. Bayton joined us with a deep dive into this intricate world,...


100. Dan Esty: Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future

Sustainability has recently skyrocketed as a global priority. The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change and the adoption of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals through the United Nations have highlighted the need to address critical threats to our environment. But according to Daniel Esty, in the United States issues like partisan divides, regional disputes, and deep disagreements over core principles have stalled progress toward policies and initiatives that aim to build a...


99. Bees, Guts, Soil, and Cancer: The Microbiome

How are the health of soil, plants, bees, and humans connected? An all-star panel of experts joined us to answer this question with a discussion of the microscopic universe at the beginning and end of our food chain—the microbiome. Delve into the intricate world of microbes present in every human, the bacteria that help us digest food, regulate our immune system, and produce vitamins essential to our health. Explore unique connections that expand our everyday understanding—the decline of...


98. We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea

Puget Sound is a magnificent and intricate estuary, supporting an abundance of resident and migrating life—notably two iconic, interdependent endangered species: Southern Resident orcas and chinook salmon. Town Hall Seattle and Braided River presented an evening celebrating a new multimedia book and campaign We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and Recovering the Salish Sea to protect and restore Puget Sound. Hear from book contributors such as Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman and Mindy...


97. Susannah Cahalan: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness

For centuries, doctors have struggled to define mental illness—how do you diagnose it, how do you treat it, how do you even know what it is? Author Susanah Calahan made her way to Town Hall to explore the history of psychological understanding in our country with her book The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness. Cahalan chronicled the 1970’s story of David Rosenhan, a Stanford psychologist who took himself and seven other people—sane, normal,...


96. Azra Raza with Leroy Hood: The Human Costs of Treating Cancer

According to oncologist Azra Raza, we have lost the war on cancer. We spend $150 billion each year treating it, yet—a few innovations notwithstanding—a patient with cancer is as likely to die of it as one was fifty years ago. Most new drugs add mere months to one’s life at agonizing physical and financial cost. In her book The First Cell, Raza offered a searing account of how both medicine and our society (mis)treats cancer, and how we can do better. In conversation with Leroy Hood of the...


95. Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth with Eric Horvitz: Designing Ethical Algorithms

Over the course of a generation, algorithms have gone from mathematical abstractions to powerful mediators of daily life. Algorithms have made our lives more efficient, but some experts contend that they are increasingly violating the basic rights of individual citizens. Professors Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth delved into the complexities of this topic with insight from their book The Ethical Algorithm. Joined by moderator Eric Horvitz of Microsoft Research Labs, Kearns and Roth contended...


94. Dan Hooper: Our Universe’s First Seconds

Scientists in the past few decades have made crucial discoveries about how our cosmos evolved over the past 13.8 billion years. But there remains a critical gap in our knowledge: we still know very little about what happened in the first seconds after the Big Bang. Astrophysicist Dan Hooper revealed new understanding about this mysterious period of time at the beginning of cosmic history with his book At the Edge of Time. Hooper grappled with the extraordinary and perplexing questions that...


93. Ian Urbina: The Outlaw Ocean

There are few remaining frontiers on our planet, but perhaps the wildest and least understood are the world’s oceans. Too big to police, and under no clear international authority, these immense regions of treacherous water play host to rampant criminality and exploitation. Drawing on five years of perilous and intrepid reporting—often hundreds of miles from shore—New York Times investigative reporter Ian Urbina introduced us to the inhabitants of this hidden world. With accounts from his...


92. Susan Schneider: AI and the Future of Our Minds

Humans may not be Earth’s most intelligent species for much longer: the world champions of chess, Go, and Jeopardy! are now all AIs. Given the rapid pace of progress in AI, many predict that it could advance to human-level intelligence within the next several decades, and could even outpace human intelligence. Susan Schneider took Town Hall’s stage to delve into these theories of the mind with perspectives from her book Artificial You. She contended that it is inevitable that AI will take...


91. Melanie Mitchell: A Thinking Human’s Guide to AI

No recent scientific enterprise has proved as alluring, terrifying, promising, and frustrating as artificial intelligence. Leading computer scientist Melanie Mitchell joined us to reveal the turbulent history of this field and the recent surge of apparent successes, grand hopes, and emerging fears that surround AI. She presented insights from her book Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans, addressing our many burning questions concerning AI today. How intelligent—really—are...


90. Lawrence Millman: Exploring the World of Mushroom Lore

Alice in Wonderland, chestnut blight, medicinal mushrooms, and more—fungi pop up in our lives in more ways than we think! To introduce us to the remarkable universe of fungi, author and mycologist Lawrence Millman took the stage with his new book Fungipedia: A Brief Compendium of Mushroom Lore, combining ecological, ethnographic, historical, and contemporary knowledge. Millman discussed how mushrooms are much more closely related to humans than to plants, how they engage in sex, how insects...