Communicating science: The podcast

Authored by Jenna Pfeifer

These days there is an overwhelming volume of information out there and with google algorithms designed to trap you in a perpetual cycle of your own design, it can become easy to fall down a rabbit hole of misinformation. How do we source information that is accurate, being careful not to be misguided by clickbait articles such as “Sugar is as addictive as cocaine” or “Maggots prove effective treatment for leg ulcers”? One way to gather information critically and quickly, without having to read the heavy literature in scientific journals, is the podcast. Podcasts enable us to listen to the views of established academics, practitioners and students as they describe their research in a conversational and entertaining setting. These tools have revolutionised the way we learn. Many are open- access and freely available so you can now acquire knowledge running on the treadmill, taking a shower, cooking a curry. Here is a list of my favourites.

  1. The infinite monkey cage – A BBC classic. Guided by a physicist and a comedian and a host of other academics and entertainers; this show is extremely informative and exceptionally hilarious. I recommend listening to Parallel universes, Are humans still evolving? or The mind v the brain to get you going.. although any episode is likely to ignite your curiosity, while compelling fits of laughter.

  2. The Naked scientists – Scientists from Cambridge university’s institute of continuing education make science relatable and tackle issues from ‘stripping down STIs’ to ‘why does dark matter matter?’. Moreover, they have separate podcasts dedicated to gaming, neuroscience, genetics and astronomy – so whatever your niche is – the naked scientists will deliver! Each episode is focused on one theme but touches on a multitude of interesting discoveries and latest news surrounding the main subject. For example in Biomimicry: Borrowing from biology a diverse set of ideas are encountered, from dragon-fly inspired wind turbines to the self-mending airplane.

  3. Radio lab – Investigates the perplexing world we inhabit since 2002 where it began as a radio show. This podcast tackles complex concepts combining science with story-telling to fully engage the listener.

  4. Hidden brain – Another narrative-based podcast; join Shankar Vedantam as he navigates the unconscious patterns that give rise to our actions and beliefs. Both breath-taking and disturbing, these stories comment on cultural trends in light of the science. The anecdotes attempt to answer questions such as how the way we sound shapes our identities, or how fear of death can drive our behaviour.

  5. Waking up with Sam Harris – Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has authentic discussions with a myriad of characters. His approach in many of the conversations is two-pronged, marrying science with philosophy. Tackling the problem of addiction, digital capitalism, the intellectual dark web and many more prevalent topics in the media, all with a scientific grounding. A personal favourite: An insiders view of medicine.

And for those with a particular interest try Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, Genetics unzipped or Physics world weekly.