Friday, 13 March 2009

Top of the Pods

Public broadcasting is all well and good when your message has broad appeal. Sadly the interest in scientific and critical thinking seldom has such widespread interest. Until recently technological ability has made efficient and effective narrowcasting a little tricky. The podcast however is the ideal vehicle for reaching a suitable target audience, and with any luck promoting its content to a wider audience as interest grows and blossoms. (As Chris French tells us it is in the Guardian this week)

A very healthy crop of scientific and critical thinking podcasts have been seeping their way into the thinking community, and I myself have been downloading numerous shows and experimenting with them. Due to the limitations enforced by the amount of hours in a week, I have distilled these podcasts down to a manageable amount that I can keep up with and regularly listen to. Which has left me with ten top regular science and critical thinking podcasts that are just crying out for chart run down....

In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg’s weekly Radio 4 programme, where his guests help him explore the history of ideas covering philosophy, science, religion and literature, and what impact those ideas have had on our current lives. This show is admittedly a national broadcast but is also not solely restricted to the title of my blog page

Bad Science
Ben Goldacre’s podcasts to accompany his excellent “Bad Science” blog is an ad hoc affair that if you subscribe to occasionally seems to appear on your iPod. The podcasts are normally audio clips taken from relevant TV or radio shows. The last couple of which I found a little harrowing especially listening to Jeni Barnet’s verbal diarrhoea concerning her bigoted and poorly informed views on the MMR vaccine. I believe Ben had to remove that particular episode but I look forward to being kept up to date with any more quackery.

The Skeptic Zone
The science and reason podcast from Australia presented by Richard Saunders and Stefan Sojika. This is the newest entry in my list of weekly podcasts and is rapidly becoming a favourite with its guest interviews and various contributions from other sources.


The Royal Society
For over 350 years the Royal Society has been at the cutting edge of scientific research and progress and has influenced science policy and promoted scientific debate. Many of their lectures and events are now easily accessible as straightforward audio or even video recordings and available for download as podcasts. As I listen to the audio only podcasts, I especially enjoy the lecturers who don’t use PowerPoint / Keynote presentations.

Skepticality
Skepticality is the official fortnightly podcast of the Skeptic Magazine. Skepticality is presented by Derek and Swoopy and generally features an interview from a special guest.

Skeptoid
Brian Dunning’s short 10 minute podcasts manage to take a different topic each week and apply some impressive critical thinking and research to present us with rational explanations for paranormal, pseudoscientific, religious and new age phenomenon.

Brian is an accomplished barber with Occam’s razor, and skilfully wields it to deftly cut through the crap and logical fallacies surrounding many popular myths.

Point Of Inquiry
Hosted by D.J. Grothe, Point of Inquiry is the première podcast for the Center for Inquiry (CFI). The topics and issues discussed and addressed by the CFI align rather nicely with my particular interests and concentrate on secularism, religion and its intersection with science as well as pseudoscience, paranormal and alternative medicine. Guests on the show include leading minds in all of these fields

Material World
Quentin Cooper’s weekly radio 4 afternoon science show is made readily accessible to me via the flexible convenience of the podcast. Material world is a 30 minute scientific magazine usually covering 2 scientific topics each week with appropriate guests.

Quentin obviously also has a keen interest in popular music as he frequently embeds a few oblique musical references into his introductions and comments which I always enjoying picking out. I also enjoy the sound of Quentin guffawing away to himself in the background after making one of his frequent humorous interjections.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
The Skeptics guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast hosted by Dr Steven Novella and with witty, informative and intelligent comment from: Bob Novella, Jay Novella, Evan Bernstein and Rebecca Watson. Previous episodes also featured cofounder Perry DeAngelis who sadly passed away in 2007.

Each show follows a format with a number of great regular features and science news updates and invariable some cheesy English accents from Jay, that I am actually starting to quite enjoy now. It was also nice to see Rebecca visiting us here in London back in January, and it would be great to see the other rouges here sometime, after all TAM London is coming up.

Little Atoms
Little Atoms is produced and presented by Neil Denny and Padraig Reidy and is broadcast on Resonance FM (104.4) in the UK on Fridays between 19:00 and 19:30, or in my case downloaded via iTunes.

Neil gives a brief outline of the shows rationale at the top of each programme that I think perfectly explains what it’s all about. I couldn’t describe it any better so I’ve blatantly lifted this introduction from the little atoms web site and pasted it below. For those who listen to the show regularly it will be impossible to read the following text without hearing it in Neil’s voice.

“Little Atoms is a live talk show about ideas. Each show features a guest from the worlds of science, journalism, politics, academia, human rights or the arts in conversation. If the show has a dominant and recurring theme, then it coalesces around the ideas of the Enlightenment, by which we mean freedom of expression, free inquiry, empirical rationalism, scepticism, the scientific method, secular humanism and liberal democracy. These ideas find their antithesis in superstition, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism, medievalism, totalitarianism, censorship and conspiracy theory. Our guests bring ideas that are challenging, sometimes controversial, often polemical, but always interesting.”

Little Atoms recently celebrated its 100th show party where I was delighted to meet Neil and Paidrag along with a selection of previous guests of the show and other listeners. The past guest list is extremely impressive with major name influential scientists and journalists too numerous to list. (They are however listed on the Little Atoms Web Site).

Shows often concentrate on the recent works of the guests and Neil and Paidrag always demonstrate a good knowledge of the subject material by asking good relevant and incisive questions and inviting their guests to elaborate on particular ideas, thoughts and anecdotes.


Of course this list is just my subjective opinion and bears no relationship to the actual popularity of the shows, but let me know if I have any glaring omissions.
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