Science Podcasts

I listen to a number of podcasts, including some about science fiction, but my favorites all deal with real science in one way or another.

The Naked Scientists
The Naked Scientists is a weekly, hour-long, general interest science program produced at Cambridge University by the BBC. Dr. Chris Smith, a medical doctor, created the show and hosts about half the episodes. He is joined by a fairly large collection of colleagues who share hosting and reporting duties. Episodes start with a recap of the week’s notable science news stories, and then usually move to short interviews with scientists. There is a Question of the Week from a listener that is answered by one or two experts. Dave Ansell performs “Kitchen Science” each week, simple experiments to demonstrate scientific principles. This is a often a nice counterpoint to the science news from American sources. There are now several spin-off podcasts: Naked Archeology, Naked Astronomy, Naked Engineering, Naked Oceans, and Ask The Naked Scientists.

Quirks and Quarks
Quirks and Quarks is a weekly, hour-long science program from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Host Bob McDonald presents a mixture of news and in-depth reporting and interviews on all kinds of science. Quirks and Quarks has been on the forefront in talking about climate change, often painting a more dire future than most other science news outlets.

Science Friday
Science Friday is a two-hour, weekly science talk show, broadcast live over public radio stations as part of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” programming. Panels of expert guests join Science Friday’s host Ira Flatow, a veteran science journalist, talking about a wide variety of topical science discoveries. The podcast is broken up into two, one-hour segments. This is, for me, the premier science podcast, covering all the major science developments while talking with the foremost experts around the world.

Skepticality is the official podcast of Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptics Society  for the promotion of critical thinking, science, and the elimination of supernatural thinking. A woman who goes by the nickname “Swoopy,” with an assist from Derek Colanduno, co-hosts the program, which varies in length from about 45 to 60 minutes bi-weekly. Each episode usually starts with a short segment on skeptical history by Tim Farley. Program topics usually have something to do with science, but some of the episodes delve into religion and philosophy, depending on who the guest is. An episode usually consists of a single, in-depth interview. Swoopy is an excellent interviewer.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, produced by SGU Productions, is dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and the public understanding of science. This program was one of the first podcasts of any kind, first going online in May of 2005, and continues to be one of the most popular science podcasts. Dr. Steven Novella, an academic neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine, is the host for the weekly, 80-minute show. His brothers Bob and Jay Novella, along with Rebecca Watson and Evan Bernstein, join him every week. Each episode usually starts with the panel chatting about the news of the week, then there is either an interview or an extended discussion of listener email (“Name that Logical Fallacy”), a short segment called “Who’s That Noisy?” where a brief audio clip is played that the listeners try to identify by the subsequent episode, and finally, a segment called “Science or Fiction” where the panel tries to identify the bogus story from a group of possibilities. Topics usually stay within the realm of science, but occasionally they delve into religion and philosophy. The SGU panel tends to chatter a bit longer than I think is necessary, and Watson in particular seems to force a lot of humor into her discussions that falls flat. There is another spin-off podcast called SGU 5×5 that presents a 5-minute dose of skepticism for those who can’t sit through the regular SGU nattering.

StarTalk, from Curved Light Productions, is a commercial radio program devoted to all things science, with an emphasis on space-related topics, and is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Tyson usually has a comedian co-host. The show usually features a taped interview with a scientist that is broken into small chunks for Tyson and his co-host to riff on. This is a program that is entertaining while keeping the science understandable for ordinary listeners.

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