I’m not science-trained, but throughout my school years, science was one of my favourite subjects. I was never a science whiz, but I’ve always been curious about, in the words of Douglas Adams, ‘life, the universe, and everything.’
I fail to understand how anyone cannot be curious about how things work. The continuing breakthroughs in molecular biology, physics, and astronomy are breath-taking. As more species are studied, and more fossils emerge, the history of life on Earth becomes increasingly complex and fascinating. As Carl Sagan once pointed out, we’re built from the stuff spewed from supernovae — matter somehow come to life. I personally don’t have a need to go beyond science to experience the miraculous.
The problem with trying to keep abreast of even a few of the recent scientific findings, though, is that most of us require an interpreter. Science publications are written to communicate findings to other specialists in the field. There is no point in a layperson even trying to read them. Fortunately, there are a number of science writers and science-news podcasters, who have the training and the knack for explaining science to ‘the rest of us.’
What follows are some science podcasts I find particularly good. By definition the list is neither comprehensive nor perhaps even representative of your interests. They’re simply the ones I’m currently listening to on a regular basis.
General Science News
For me, the best overall science podcast for busy people who don’t want to delve into science too deeply, but would like to hear interesting bits of discovery, is the New York Times Science Times weekly podcast, hosted by David Corcoran. I cite this one as best overall in this category because it’s short — about 20 minutes per episode — and well presented. Unlike many newspapers, The New York Times has a strong science section and a stable of excellent science/health writers, many of whom appear on the podcast.
My second choice in this category (busy people who don’t want to delve too deeply), is the Guardian’s weekly podcast Science Weekly, hosted by Alok Jha and a roundtable of regulars. It’s at times comical and bantering, and always likable. It runs roughly one hour in duration and includes interviews with scientists around the globe.
Raising the ante a bit: for a general science podcast with depth on selected topics, nothing beats the Scientific American weekly one-hour podcast, Science Talk. Host Steve Mirsky does excellent interviews with guest scientists and science writers. He spends more time on a topic than the other general podcasts, which is good if you find the subject of interest, and less good if the subject doesn’t grab you.
Of course there are many more general science podcasts than just these. Search on ‘science podcast’ and you’ll have plenty of options to select from.
Specific Science Podcasts
I also subscribe to some science podcasts with a more specific focus. One I happened upon by chance is Chemistry World, a monthly one-hour podcast sponsored by the Royal Society of Chemistry. It’s a general roundup of chemistry news from around the globe, and chemistry, as should not be too surprising, covers pretty much everything in the universe — including the universe. Because of this, there’s a broad range of interesting topics covered in the podcast, some of which I never hear about elsewhere. As a result of listening, I’m developing a profound interest in nanotechnology and molecular biology.
I’m highly biased, but my favourite science podcast of all is Brain Science, a monthly, one-hour podcast about discoveries in neuroscience, hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell. A medical doctor, Ginger Campbell is not a brain researcher herself, so her podcasts consist of in-depth interviews with brain scientists and extensive reviews of new books published about brain science.
A highly intelligent, articulate, and charming host, Dr. Campbell’s podcasts are the highlight of my science-listening cycle. (I should also add that her admitted addiction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer has doubly enamored me of her work.) Her other monthly podcast, Books and Ideas, frequently features interviews with other, non-brain-science, scientists, and is equally informative and interesting.
One final link to the remarkable Dr. Campbell, is her site called SciencePodcasters.org, where you can explore yet more science podcasts.
Every subject needs an other or miscellaneous category and here’s mine. My favourite ‘other’ podcast is Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid. It defines itself as ‘a weekly science podcast dedicated to furthering knowledge by blasting away the widespread pseudosciences that infect popular culture.’ It’s a short, 10-min, weekly podcast that’s energetic, fun, and controversial to pseudoscience and paranormal enthusiasts.
If you know of others you’d recommend, please leave a comment so I can have a listen!