Half of all money spent on advertising is wasted. But we just don't know which half. In recent years, marketing professionals have been trying to use neuroscience to locate the "buy button" in our brain, which if pressed would make us buy their stuff. It's the holy grail: a way of knowing, in advance, which ads are going to work and are worth spending money on, and which ones would flop. The promise, from both marketers and some neuroscientists, is that our brains can, effectively, be hacked. But does it work?
Presenter/producer: Jolyon Jenkins
How to memorise anything
"Memory athletes" compete to see who can remember the most random numbers in an hour. Or else to memorise decks of playing cards. Memory training is big in China, where there are TV game shows for memory contests, and where parents pay good money to get their children trained in memorisation techniques.
Everyone thought the Chinese were invincible, and that we were at the limits of what could be memorised - until 2019 when a group of North Korean teenagers arrived at the world championships, smashed a bunch of records, and returned to Pyonyang. Since then, nothing has been heard of them. What's their secret? And why does North Korea want to dominate the world in this obscure sport?
Presenter/Producer: Jolyon Jenkins
Ever since the middle ages, pieces of the True Cross, and other relics such as saints' bones, have been sold to the gullible. But now the trade in bogus relics has moved online, to the fury of traditional Catholics. They are even more alarmed at the sale of "genuine" relics, which is also picking up pace as monasteries and convents close and their treasures come on the market. In theory selling a relic is an offence under Church law, warranting immediate excommunication. But what is a genuine relic, and how its provenance proved? Jolyon Jenkins goes on a deep dive into a world where faith, science and archaeology collide.
Producer/Presenter: Jolyon Jenkins, BBC Audio in Bristol
Aliens are the size of polar bears (probably)
There are millions of planets out there that could contain intelligent life. We can't look at them all, so which should we focus on? Using nothing but statistics, astronomer Fergus Simpson predicts the aliens will be living on small, dim planets, they'll have small populations, big bodies, and will be technologically backward.
This goes against many astronomers' working assumption that the earth is typical of inhabited planets - and that our sun is an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy. Fergus argues that this is an example of the "fallacy of mediocrity" which we fall for time and time again, whether it's in our assumptions about gym membership, taxi drivers, or train overcrowding.
Presenter/Producer: Jolyon Jenkins
Have we already found aliens?
As telescopes get better, astronomers are seeing more and more things in the night sky. Sometimes they can't explain them. Is it unreasonable to suggest that they might have found evidence of alien civilisation, or at least some form of extra-terrestrial life? Call it right and they could get the Nobel prize. Get it wrong and it could be career suicide. Only those at the very end of their career, with a well-established reputation, can afford to take the chance. Jolyon Jenkins reports on some of the cases where scientists have stuck their necks out, and how badly it can go wrong for them if their findings are less robust than they thought.
Producer: Jolyon Jenkins