Category Archives: Science

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
www.thenakedscientists.com
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
www.cbc.ca/quirks
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
sciencefriday.com
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
www.skepticality.com
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
www.theskepticsguide.org
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
www.startalkradio.net
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.

2011 in Review

I started this blog in late August 2011. My goal was to write at least 500 words a day, which I accomplished. Views of my blog have steadily increased, approximately doubling every month.

The most viewed posts were:

  1. Real Steel
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist
  3. Evangelion
  4. Batman: The Brave and The Bold
  5. Arthur Christmas
  6. The New 52: Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Batman and Robin

My favorite posts were:

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My favorite comics were:

My favorite novels were:

Initially, I didn’t think this was a great year for movies, but looking back on my favorites, there are actually quite a few good, if not necessarily great, ones on my list:

My favorite TV series were:

There were several novels published in 2011 that I’m looking forward to reading:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
  • Embassytown by China Miéville
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  • The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

2011 was a good year for conventions, too. I attended the San Diego Comic-Con, the World Science Fiction Convention (Renovation) in Reno, and a number of smaller, local conventions.

I’m looking forward to 2012.

Dinosaurs: Earth’s Ancient Aliens

This has been a dinosaur-centric week for me. On Sunday, the Discovery Channel premiered a new series, Dinosaur Revolution, and on Tuesday I went to the new Dinosaur Hall at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (free admission on Tuesdays—woo-hoo!).

These two experiences reinforced that almost everything I learned as a kid about dinosaurs was incorrect. Some things didn’t change, such as the fact humans and dinosaurs lived millions of years apart. Well, other than birds, which are now definitively categorized as dinosaur descendants. That’s right; dinosaurs’ closest living modern-day relatives are not reptiles, but birds. Based on their skeletal structure and egg-laying strategies, paleontologists theorize that birds either evolved from dinosaurs, or at the very least shared a common ancestor. Fossil evidence has also shown that some dinosaurs had feathers.

The centerpiece of the Hall of Dinosaurs is the T. rex growth series.  An 11-foot-long “baby” T. rex, a 20-foot-long juvenile, and a 30-foot-long young adult dubbed “Thomas” stand over the partial carcass of a duck-billed Edmontosaurus. Thomas is one of the most complete T. rex skeletons ever found. It is clear that just as modern animals change shape and proportions as they grow, so too did dinosaurs.

The long reign of the dinosaurs is vividly demonstrated by the fact that Stegosaurus (Jurassic period, 150 million years ago) was further removed from T. rex than T. rex (Cretaceous period, 67 million years ago) is from humans.

Not everything in the Hall of Dinosaurs was a dinosaur. The marine reptile called Morenosaurus roamed the warm sea that once covered California during the age of dinosaurs. Their closest living relatives are snakes and monitor lizards. A pregnant Plesiosaur specimen provides the first evidence of live birth in another kind of prehistoric marine reptile. This was shown in a segment of Dinosaur Revolution.

Flying reptiles known as Pterosaurs also coexisted with dinosaurs. They were on display at the museum and were vividly animated in Dinosaur Revolution. New evidence shows them using their folded wings to help walk.

The well-arranged displays enable visitors to discover for themselves how the dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals lived. Dinosaur tracks, skin samples, pieces of internal organs, and various kinds of dinosaur eggs show that dinosaurs were diverse animals that often defy generalization. Dinosaurs and the other animals of the time were as alien as anything on Star Trek.

There is still a lot of debate about how the dinosaurs became extinct. It’s true that a giant asteroid collided with Earth 65 million years ago, but the dinosaurs weren’t all killed instantaneously. The asteroid may have triggered tsunamis, acid rain, and long-lasting dust clouds that caused global climate change. Naturally occurring earthquakes and volcanoes from shifting continents could also have caused climate and sea level changes that worked to eliminate the dinosaurs either alone or in conjunction with the asteroid effects.

One of the things that neither the Hall of Dinosaurs nor Dinosaur Revolution talked much about was whether dinosaurs were cold- or warm-blooded, or perhaps a combination of some sort. There is apparently much contention about this within the paleontological world.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend going to see the new Hall of Dinosaurs. The day I was there, there were tons of school children eagerly absorbing this fascinating world. The Dinosaur Revolution miniseries is a must-see. It is the most up to date information about the reign of the dinosaurs, done in high-definition animation, and told in an exciting narrative style.