Rebecca Hersher

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.

Hersher was part of the NPR team that won a Peabody award for coverage of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and produced a story from Liberia that won an Edward R. Murrow award for use of sound. She was a finalist for the 2017 Daniel Schorr prize; a 2017 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fellow, reporting on sanitation in Haiti; and a 2015 NPR Above the Fray fellow, investigating the causes of the suicide epidemic in Greenland.

Prior to working at NPR, Hersher reported on biomedical research and pharmaceutical news for Nature Medicine.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is fending off multiple accusations that he misused taxpayer funds and maintained improper ties to companies regulated by the EPA.

Each spring in the global north, brown bears around the world emerge from their dens with new cubs. The cubs come into the world hapless and fragile. Their fathers are long gone; bear mothers must find a way to raise the cubs while surviving themselves.

Female bears generally spend either 1.5 or 2.5 years with their young. In many ways, the pressures of bear life favor the shorter option — a mother with cubs cannot mate, so the more time she spends with each litter, the fewer offspring she'll have over her lifetime.

President Trump's nominee for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, has spent much of his career working for less oversight from the agency.

Robert Taylor isn't sure why he's alive.

"My mother succumbed to bone cancer. My brother had lung cancer," he ticks them off on his fingers. "My sister, I think it was cervical cancer. My nephew lung cancer." A favorite cousin. That cousin's son. Both neighbors on one side, one neighbor on the other. "And here I am. I don't understand how it decides who to take."

An analysis published Friday confirms the state of American gun policy science is not good, overall.

The nonprofit RAND Corporation analyzed thousands of studies and found only 63 that establish a causal relationship between specific gun policies and outcomes such as reductions in homicide and suicide, leaving lawmakers without clear facts about one of the most divisive issues in American politics.

In 2015, the top toxicologist for the state of Texas, Michael Honeycutt, was interviewed on Houston Public Radio. At the time, the Environmental Protection Agency was pushing for tighter limits on ozone, a type of air pollution that is hazardous for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

In one week, outdoor enthusiasts converged on two very different trade shows in two cities. The Outdoor Retailer and Snow Show in Denver, Colo., and the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., offered a portrait of a complex and divided American conservation movement.

The divisions began with the overtly political. The Outdoor Retailer show changed locations this year over a bitter dispute about public lands policy.

An outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that killed 12 people and sickened at least 87 in Flint, Mich., in 2014 and 2015 was caused by low chlorine levels in the municipal water system, scientists have confirmed. It's the most detailed evidence yet linking the bacterial disease to the city's broader water crisis.

In 2016, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a radio host in Tulsa, Okla., "I believe that Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama, and that's saying a lot."

His comments surfaced at a routine Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., read from a transcript of the interview and asked administrator Pruitt whether he remembered it. "I don't, Senator," Pruitt replied, "and I don't echo that today at all."

Imagine the following experiment: you choose people at random and play snippets of songs they've never heard. A grocery clerk in Illinois listens to an 8th century Berber ballad. A child in Beijing listens to Childish Gambino.

How would listeners react? Would they immediately recognize something universal, say "Oh, this song is clearly for dancing!" Or would the differences in musical style and language leave people confused?

The man was unconscious and alone when he arrived at University of Miami Hospital last summer. He was 70 years old and gravely ill.

"Originally, we were told he was intoxicated," remembers Dr. Gregory Holt, an emergency room doctor, "but he didn't wake up."

"He wasn't breathing well. He had COPD. These would all make us start to resuscitate someone," says Holt. "But the tattoo made it complicated."

In 1545, people in the Mexican highlands starting dying in enormous numbers. People infected with the disease bled and vomited before they died. Many had red spots on their skin.

It was one of the most devastating epidemics in human history. The 1545 outbreak, and a second wave in 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 17 million people and contributed to the destruction of the Aztec Empire.

But identifying the pathogen responsible for the carnage has been difficult for scientists because infectious diseases leave behind very little archaeological evidence.

Butterfly beak. Moth mouthpiece. Lepidoptera lips.

Call it whatever you want, the proboscis is a big deal. It's a defining feature of many moths and butterflies – the long, flexible mouthpiece that dips into flowers and draws out nectar.

A new study describes, in detail, the stiffness of beetle penises, which might serve as inspiration for people who design medical catheters.

The industry has long struggled with an engineering problem: How do you keep a very thin tube flexible enough to snake into hard-to-reach places but rigid enough to withstand insertion? Plus, there is the problem of buckling — when a thin tube crimps so fluids can't flow through it anymore.

Penitent penguins. A seal aghast. A turbocharged wigeon, a vain gnu and a kickboxing kangaroo.

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards are back. This year's winners were announced Thursday morning.

Ticks sucked the blood of feathered dinosaurs some 99 million years ago, a new study suggests.

Modern ticks are infamous for biting humans and other mammals. But ticks are very ancient, and scientists who study their evolution have long wondered what (or who) the little vampires ate before there were lots of mammals to feed on. Feathered dinosaurs apparently were among the possible creatures on the menu.

After the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., people across the country went out and bought guns.

A study published Thursday concludes that a subsequent increase in gun exposure led to more accidental firearm deaths than otherwise would have occurred in the months after the school shooting.

Peregrine falcons, known for making spectacular dives to snatch smaller birds midair, conduct their aerial assaults in much the same way that military missiles hit moving targets, scientists have found.

Peregrines have been known to dive at 200 mph or more, plummeting toward dinner with astonishing precision. How, exactly, the birds are able to do that at such speeds has been the subject of decades of research.

Scientists appear to be self-censoring by omitting the term "climate change" in public grant summaries.

An NPR analysis of grants awarded by the National Science Foundation found a steadily decreasing number with the phrase "climate change" in the title or summary, resulting in a sharp drop in the term's use in 2017. At the same time, the use of alternative terms such as "extreme weather" appears to be rising slightly.

NASA has big hopes for virtual reality technology. The agency is developing a suite of virtual reality environments at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland, that could be used for everything from geological research to repairing orbiting satellites.

One displays fiery ejections from the Sun. In another, scientists can watch magnetic fields pulse around the earth. A virtual rendering of an ancient lava tube in Idaho makes scientists feel like they're standing at the bottom of an actual cave.

Juan Flores and his family live in Galena Park, Texas, which is bordered on three sides by pipeline terminals, oil refineries, fertilizer plants and rail yards.

Flores has lived in the town of about 11,000 people just east of downtown Houston since he was 4 years old. For a while, he even served on the City Council.

Dr. Christopher Fisher was working at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center just off the Las Vegas strip on Sunday evening when the patients starting arriving.

"It did look a bit like a war zone, can't say that it didn't," he remembers. "Frantic families, blood in the hallways."

People came in so grievously injured and so many at a time that Fisher, who is the medical head of trauma services for the hospital, and his colleagues used markers, writing directly on patients, to do triage.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hurricane Harvey flooded more than a dozen Superfund toxic waste sites when it devastated the Texas coast in late August. An EPA report predicted the possibility of climate-related problems at toxic waste sites like those in Texas, but the page detailing the report on the agency's website was made inactive months before the storm.

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