Geek is chique. Thanks to the rising popularity of science in new media, there are a huge number of information-based news sites and podcasts to choose from. It can be tricky to find the good ones, but lucky for you we've already done the hard work. Here are five of the best science and fact-based podcasts from around the web.
Stuff You Should Know
Josh and Chuck may be one of the most laid-back presenter duos ever, yet their episodes are informative, funny and oftentimes fascinating.
Each week they pick a topic, seemingly at random, and tear it apart to find interesting depths of information. Topics range from those as dry-sounding as the history and chemical usefulness of Sugar, to the intriguing how and why modern science thinks the Placebo Effect works, to the palpably inflammatory “Is your employer spying on you?”
Episode length varies from week to week, during each of which there are two episode releases. Generally things tend to run between 30 and 45 minutes, but Josh and Chuck can run either side depending on how the conversation goes.
Infinite Monkey Cage
The ubiquitous Dr Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince host a weekly panel for the BBC’s Radio 4 that is, thankfully for those of us outside the UK, available as a podcast. Guest stars range from experts to comedians and UK-based celebrities as Brian and Robin discuss hard questions about leading-edge science, the perception of science by the public and the effect that science has on our society today.
This is a podcast for the hardcore science-lover that doesn’t mind a little, or a lot of unapologetic bias for science over religion, or even science over diplomacy. Despite its unapologetic lean towards logic over everything else, the show manages to maintain a light-hearted, jocular attitude that more often than not leads to as many laughs as it does key points of information.
Dual-hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab holds itself apart from other podcasts in its production value and uniquely-edited style. This is another podcast along the lines of “whatever interests the hosts and producers this week”, except episodes often take months to put together thanks to the depth of research that goes in to them.
Each week (or whenever they’re uploaded) Jad and Robert tell three stories centered around one unifying theme. Often there are other single-story episodes called “shorts” that can either build on a previous episode or stand alone.
Recommendations are the Stochasticity episode from Season 6, Colors from Season 10 and 60 Words from Season 12. Really, though, this podcast is so much more hit than miss that you’re unlikely to find a boring one.
The episodes are often told with the help of the show’s producers, who double as field-reporters, and feature excerpts of adventures and interviews recorded out on the road. These are always littered with audio punctuations and comments or questions from Jad and Robert, which creates an easy flow to what might otherwise become a plodding narrative. Also see Freakonomics Radio for a similar style of podcast.
Freakonomics radio is very similar to Radiolab in many respects. Both shows have a very similar sound and feel, using such similar production styles that it would be unsurprising if they used the same editing team.
The hosts, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt are the successful authors of the award-winning 2005 book of the same name.
As a show, Freakonomics asks a lot of questions, which it tries to help answer with the aid of stories and guest experts. If you’re a fan of Radiolab, then you should absolutely give this one a whirl.
No Such Thing as a Fish
If you’re familiar with the Stephen Fry-hosted BBC show Qi, then you’ll know that it boasts a team of dedicated fact-finders and fact-checkers for each of its weekly episodes. These intrepid web-searchers are known as the “Qi Elves” and wouldn’t you know it, they have their own podcast.
Each week the elves get together to share some of the more interesting facts they’ve discovered that week and a discussion fills out from there.
Of course, being such truth-minded people, there is always one of their number furiously checking everything that is said on the podcast. This is a nice touch. It lends a certain level of surety to the tidbits of information you pick up while listening to the show, so that you can be confident when you share them in the pub later.
While it’s not technically a show about science, more often than not the discussion leans in that direction. Either way, you’re going to come away from each episode knowing more than when you started, which is what we’re all really here for anyway, isn’t it?