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Living Lab Radio: Cold Streak and Historic Flooding, Plus E-Cigarette Research and Stories to Watch in 2018

A firefighter wades through flood waters in Boston on Jan. 4 after a massive winter storm with high winds dumped snow along the coast.
Michael Dwyer/AP
  • Cold and climate: The last week of December and the first week of January brought a prolonged stretch of unusually cold temperatures across the northeast. A map of global temperatures shows Arctic air spilling down over eastern Canada and the U.S. Sean Birkel, Maine's state climatologist and assistant professor at University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, cautions against confusing weather and climate but says there could be a "climate significance" to this cold spell.
  • It depends on what the meaning of the word "moderate" is: Last Thursday’s powerful winter storm brought widespread flooding to coastal Massachusetts, including record-setting water levels in downtown Boston. Despite forecasts calling for moderate to major coastal flooding, what actually happened went well beyond many expectations. Glenn Fields, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, stands by the forecasts and says there's a lot of misunderstanding about what "moderate" means in this context.
  • Pros and cons of e-cigarettes: We’re one week into the New Year, and there are no doubt plenty of people struggling with their New Year’s resolution to quit smoking. A new study suggests that electronic cigarettes could help. The small pilot study found that smokers who were provided with e-cigarettes smoked fewer cigarettes and were more likely to quit smoking. But another study released days later highlighted a risk often cited by e-cigarette opponents, finding that adolescents who used e-cigarettes or other smokeless tobacco products were more likely to start smoking cigarettes within a year. Matthew Carpenter, a tobacco control and addiction expert at the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, says we need more research and science-based policy that balances the benefits for established smokers with the risks for young would-be smokers.
  • Targeting mild infections to fight antibiotic resistance: More than 20,000 Americans die of antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and that number is rising. Efforts to overcome antibiotic resistance have largely focused on finding different ways to treat the most deadly infections. But a new analysis suggests that focusing on alternative treatments for mild infections might actually be more fruitful, and could reduce antibiotic resistance overall. Lead author Kristofer Wollein Waldetoft explains.
  • 2018 look-ahead: 2017 brought a new president, a second gravitational wave detection, and advances in human gene editing. What science headlines might 2018 hold? Jane Lee, news editor for Nature News, talks through some of the likely candidates — from moon missions, to ancient human migrations, and the redefinition of the kilogram.


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