I listen to lots of podcasts; some of them are science one’s, here are my favourites, why not give them a try?
Science Weekly – the science podcast from The Guardian, an eminent British newspaper. Most mainstream science reporting is pretty dreadful, but The Guardian’s is usually decent and this podcast is the cream of their science crop. Each week they cover a couple of scientific news stories with interviews with key scientists, with a broad-range of scientific topics covered. The hosts are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and they have great guests. The tone is often slightly jokey but the science is explored and presented with clarity and intelligence. I can’t say enough good things about this podcast; it’s the best science one I listened to.
Nature podcast – this comes a close second to Science Weekly. Its produced by the journal Nature, probably the joint most influential journal in science, along with Science. Each week the podcast team explore some of the best articles published in the journal, usually with interviews with one of the scientists involved. As expected, the scientific content is top-notch, with a broad range of topics covered, but never gets too dry or technical as the presenters are fun and do a great job at explaining the science for mere mortals, like me.
Science in action – the best of the range of science podcasts from the BBC. Sometimes the BBC’s on-line science reporting can be a bit shoddy, with some hastily written articles and overly credulous reporters (and they hardly ever quote their sources), but this podcast is an exception. Like the previous two podcasts I mentioned, each week a range of current scientific topics are discussed, with interviews with relevant scientists. It’s as intelligent as the other two podcasts but not quite as fun, as, in typical BBC fashion, it takes itself very seriously. Professional but dry.
Exploration – a podcast presented by the string-theory physicist and great populariser of science Michio Kaku. This weekly (usually) podcast is rarely about physics though, each episode Michio begins with a run-down of the big science news stories, and then typically has two guests who he interviews about their field of expertise, it can be anything from genetics to saving planet Earth. Michio is a genius and a great scientist so it’s wonderful that he devotes his valuable time to the podcast and I feel slightly blessed each week when it pops up in iTunes, however he does take himself and the podcast very seriously which can give the show a slightly camp feel at times, particularly the classical music that’s played in the interludes. Also, sometimes he repeats some of the interviews in more than one podcast; I don’t really mind though, its still a great podcast.
BBC Focus Magazine – the monthly podcast from the famous magazine (at least in the UK, with geeks) that attempts to explain entertaining scientific topics to the general public. Usually the team cover interesting subjects and often have interviews with great scientists, after all this is a BBC production. However the tone the podcast takes is pretty annoying, as the team often seek to make fun of the stories or to find the most amusing angles; for instance after a really interesting talk about artificial intelligence the team discussed the best way to punch a robot. Another memorable incident was an interview with Sir David Attenborough, the Focus interviewer completely misunderstood what Sir David was talking about and asked irrelevant questions, Sir David got more and more pissed off. You’ll probably learn something, but you’ll have to wade through some childish shit on the way.
Diffusion science radio – this is a long-running radio show produced by a team in Sydney. It’s not got the highest production values, and it can be released a bit sporadically, but it sets out to entertain and that it does. Rather than discussing the latest science news, the team seem to choose topics purely based on which would be the most fun to learn about, with any science subject, from dwarf planets to sex, fair game for discussion. The podcast never gets silly though, unlike the Focus podcast, and the science is always strong, but delivered in a light-hearted manner that’s fun and entertaining.
The infinite monkey cage – this is an occasional podcast that tends to be released in series of four or five episodes at a time, usually one per week. The two presenters are the lovable comedian and supporter of all things rational, Robin Ince, and the brilliant scientist and broadcaster, Brian Cox. Each week there is a particular topic that the two explore and debate; Robin brings the humour and Brian the science genius, and it works brilliantly. Also, they usually have two or more guests per episode, quite often a leading scientist and another comedian or two. The only problem is that the podcast isn’t very long, usually around 30 mins, and with so many guests it sometimes feels like they’re squeezing too much into the show and it can sound a bit rushed. I often wish they could have spent more time on a particular topic or talking to one of the guests. I guess another criticism is that there aren’t podcasts more often.
The skeptics guide to the universe – a science podcast with a particular emphasis on promoting scepticism and fighting anti-science groups. The SGU team are clearly devoted as it’s released weekly, its pretty long and is clearly well-researched. It’s a mix of science and scepticism, with a huge variety of topics covered, often with the help of guest presenters. It’s both clever and funny, although at times the focus on scepticism and arguing with anti-scientist lunatics can be a bit depressing, as it reminds you how stupid but popular some of these quacks can be. Still, its always fun to take the piss out of homeopaths and reiki healers.
Freakonomics radio – a show from one of the guys’ who wrote the hit book Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner. OK, it’s not a natural sciences podcast, but the hosts do use the scientific method to look at interesting social phenomenon such as how much power does the President of the USA really have, and why don’t NFL teams have sponsorship on their shirts? Its kind of like what would happen if Spock studied 21st century Western society, but with a lot more humour; the hosts are very insightful, but amusing and don’t take themselves too seriously. A great podcast to get you thinking differently about the society around you.
If you’re reading this and you listen to a great science podcast that I’ve not mentioned, then let me know. I’m still looking for some good astrobiology podcasts; I’ve just started listening to the NASA Astrobiology Magazine podcast, seems OK so far, but its early days.