Shankar Vedantam is a science correspondent for NPR. The focus of his reporting is on human behavior and the social sciences, and how research in those fields can get listeners to think about the news in unusual and interesting ways.

Before joining NPR in 2011, Vedantam spent 10 years as a reporter at The Washington Post. From 2007 to 2009, he was also a columnist, and wrote the Department of Human Behavior column for the Post. Vedantam writes an occasional column for Slate called "Hidden Brain."

Presidential Race
10:05 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Gingrich Out Of The Race, But Still In Debt

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pauses while announcing that he is suspending his presidential campaign Wednesday in Arlington, Va.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 6:42 am

Newt Gingrich is officially out of the presidential race. The former House speaker said Wednesday that he's suspending his campaign, and he's ready to help the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, battle President Obama. But Gingrich might have a more pressing problem: His campaign has about $4 million in debt.

In Gingrich's exit speech, he opened by thanking people — first his family, then his financial backers.

"I also want to single out, first of all, the over 179,000 donors who helped us at Newt.org and who helped make the campaign possible," he said.

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Humans
10:04 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Put Away The Bell Curve: Most Of Us Aren't 'Average'

Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth's record for career home runs as he hits No. 715 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974, on his way to a career 755 home runs. Research suggests that in a wide variety of professions, including collegiate and professional sports, a small but significant number of individuals perform exceedingly well and the rest of individuals' performance trails off.
AP

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 6:06 pm

For decades, teachers, managers and parents have assumed that the performance of students and employees fits what's known as the bell curve — in most activities, we expect a few people to be very good, a few people to be very bad and most people to be average.

The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they're either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers.

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Commentary
10:02 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Watching 'The Avengers' In India, With A Twist

In The Avengers, the Hulk lives in Calcutta — and doesn't lose his temper over the city's traffic and other problems. That might not ring true to anyone who's been there, says Sandip Roy.
Marvel

Originally published on Thu May 3, 2012 5:31 am

When I went to see The Avengers the very day it was released, I texted a friend in San Francisco. It seems kind of unfair, I said, that because of the 12-hour time difference, I get to see The Avengers before you do.

Turns out I was a week off. The Avengers actually released in 39 countries around the world, including India, a week before it opens in America.

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The Two-Way
2:52 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

'Zombie' Ants And The Fungus That Saves Them

A zombie ant with the brain-manipulating fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l.) having been castrated by an hyperparasite fungus (white with yellow material).
David Hughes Penn State University

Originally published on Wed May 2, 2012 2:59 pm

As you can probably tell, at least one person on this blog's masthead likes ants.

So we've always been bummed that we haven't had the opportunity to tell you about zombie ants, but today we are glad to report there is a new development in the field. Luckily, it's a good-news report about a fungus that limits the fungus that turns ants into zombies.

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It's All Politics
2:34 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Could Electoral College Calculus Give Obama An Edge?

AP

Originally published on Wed May 2, 2012 3:27 pm

Now that President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney are pivoting to the general election, campaign watchers are handicapping the race that counts this fall — the Electoral College.

And right now, the Electoral College map is looking better for the president than the (generally very close) national polls, says NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

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High Plains History episode
2:23 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Old Tascosa Lives On

The site of Old Tascosa in the Texas Panhandle has a rich history, beginning centuries ago with a prehistoric Indian culture that settled in a valley where several creeks converged into a river we now call the Canadian.  The Spanish explorer Coronado probably rested at the campsite in 1541 when he followed the Canadian in his trek across the plains.  Mexican traders used the site to barter with Indian tribes, and ultimately named it for the quicksand at the crossing.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.

Totenberg's coverage of the Supreme Court and legal affairs has won her widespread recognition. Newsweek says, "The mainstays [of NPR] are Morning Edition and All Things Considered. But the creme de la creme is Nina Totenberg." She is also a regular panelist on Inside Washington, a weekly syndicated public affairs television program produced in the nation's capital.

Europe
1:26 pm
Wed May 2, 2012

Investors Flee Spain As Economy Spirals Downward

People attend a demonstration in Madrid organized by unions against financial cuts in health and education on April 29.
Dominique Faget AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 9, 2012 5:44 am

The news keeps getting worse for Spain. This week came word that the country has fallen back into recession. Meanwhile, Spain's unemployment rate is the highest in Europe. Investors are once again fleeing the country and interest rates on government debt are climbing.

The numbers coming out of Spain these days are stark. The economy contracted at a 0.3 percent rate during the first part of this year. Housing prices are down 21 percent from their peak, and unemployment is nearly 25 percent.

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