The world of podcasts is wide and almost infinitely varied. If you can think of a topic that you’d like to listen to someone talk about for over 90 minutes, you can probably find a corresponding podcast. For those looking to increase their knowledge and expand their horizons, this is wonderful news. If you’re looking to learn something, just stick a podcast on and let the friendly tones of the host pump information directly into your ears. Science podcasts in particular have flourished here – meeting the public desire to learn things about science in a way that doesn’t leave them exhaustedly scratching their heads. There are some truly excellent scientific podcasts out there, that manage to strike the perfect balance between educating and entertaining.
If you’ve ever sat around wondering about the logistics of a distinctly unlikely situation, ‘Flash Forward’ is the podcast for you. The premise of ‘Flash Forward’ is that its host, Rose Eveleth, takes a hypothetical scenario – often from a piece of science fiction – and asks scientific experts about how, if at all, that scenario would actually play out. ‘Flash Forward’ is ideal for people who find their thoughts led by the random and seemingly foolish thoughts that pop into their heads from time to time. There are no silly questions here – and if there are, they can at least be given a silly answer. Rose is an excellent host, using fun framing devices and an engaging style of interview to make what would otherwise be quite impenetrable questions a breeze to understand. The podcast’s use of fiction to provide a scenario also means that it provides excellent sci-fi recommendations – what’s not to like?
As human civilization has progressed ever further, fields of scientific discovery become ever wider. People talk about polymath geniuses hundreds of years in the past – but would Da Vinci have found it so easy to master different disciplines when the study of mushrooms alone can get ridiculously specific? We think not. ‘Ologies’, hosted by Alie Ward, takes an area of very specific expertise – bones, sea tortoises, aging – and does a deep dive with an expert in that field. The show frames sciences – and sometimes other topics such as flags, marriage, and the constitution – in a way that is simple and easy to understand, despite the sheer specificity of the subject. In fact, that specificity is the greatest strength of ‘Ologies’. Not only do they cover a huge range of topics, but the tight focus means that listeners don’t get bogged down in absurd amounts of pointless information. Most importantly, however, is the way that ‘Ologies’ uses these seemingly absurd focuses to bring incredibly important issues to life – making listeners more and more aware with every episode.
The process of scientific discovery has always been presented as mysterious and inscrutable to the public. Films and TV present images of labs filled with bubbling beakers and test tubes, and reams and reams of paper covered in indecipherable equations. However, ‘Undiscovered’, hosted by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff, is a podcast that reveals that scientific discovery can be pushed by literally anything. The show is all about the incidental encounters and strange happenstances that lead people to their most profound discoveries. Feder and Minoff are impeccable hosts – they blend an easy and engaging tone with friendly humor and an expert sense of narrative to create stories of discovery that are interesting and profound. ‘Undiscovered’ is an important podcast, because it makes it clear just how personal scientific discovery can be, and the way that it affects all our lives.