Science for The Rest of Us: Podcasts At a Glance

Today, Eliz­a­beth Green Mus­sel­man has penned a guest blog post that you’re bound to enjoy. Eliz­a­beth is a pro­fes­sor and his­to­ri­an who works on the his­to­ry of sci­ence, and she has recent­ly launched a thought­ful pod­cast on the his­to­ry of sci­ence, med­i­cine, and tech­nol­o­gy. It’s called “The Miss­ing Link” (iTunesFeedWeb Site). Below, she high­lights for us a range of pod­casts that will appeal to every­day sci­ence enthu­si­asts. (If you’re inter­est­ed in doing some guest blog­ging, drop us a line.) Thanks Eliz­a­beth and take it away:

These can seem like dark days for those peo­ple who love sci­ence but who nei­ther spe­cial­ize in the field nor can quite stom­ach the gee-whiz fac­tor that plagues so much pop­u­lar sci­ence writ­ing and broad­cast­ing. Now that Stephen Jay Gould is cavort­ing some­where in the Beyond with Charles Dar­win, and ever since the New York Acad­e­my of Sci­ences put the ax to its inspired mag­a­zine The Sci­ences, where is a lev­el­head­ed lover of the sci­ences to turn?

The pod­cast world has begun to devel­op a niche mar­ket for just such lis­ten­ers, that is, lis­ten­ers who like their sci­ence rel­a­tive­ly non-tech­ni­cal but still high-mind­ed – lis­ten­ers who think of sci­ence as a part of human cul­ture, rather than an arcane tem­ple. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, some of the best con­tent comes from radio pro­grams that have been re-released as pod­casts. These include WNYC’s Radi­o­Lab, an hour-long show whose seri­ous inves­ti­ga­tions on a theme (such as sleep or mor­tal­i­ty) take on an intrigu­ing­ly fun­house qual­i­ty through the program’s inven­tive use of sound and the humor­ous inter­ac­tion between co-hosts Jad Abum­rad and Robert Krul­wich. NPR has also released Krulwich’s solo reports in pod­cast form as Hmmm… Krul­wich on Sci­ence.

Anoth­er long­stand­ing NPR favorite, The Engines of Our Inge­nu­ity, began broad­cast­ing brief, thought­ful reflec­tions on tech­nol­o­gy and cul­ture in 1988. Writ­ten and host­ed by John Lien­hard, a retired pro­fes­sor of mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing and his­to­ry at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hous­ton, the show now airs five days a week on 30 NPR affil­i­ates in the U.S. The brief pro­grams are also avail­able in pod­cast form.

On the oth­er side of the pond, the BBC 4’s long-run­ning, pop­u­lar show, In Our Time, fre­quent­ly con­sid­ers sci­en­tif­ic top­ics and can also be heard in pod­cast form. Most recent­ly, the pro­gram explored anti­mat­ter. On each hour-long pro­gram the host, Melvyn Bragg, keeps a pan­el of three schol­ars mov­ing at a pace that skirts neat­ly between brisk and con­tem­pla­tive.

Final­ly, sev­er­al pod­casts pro­duced by indi­vid­u­als have begun to appear, each of which con­sid­ers sci­ence in con­text. Explor­ing Envi­ron­men­tal His­to­ry fea­tures Jan Oosthoek’s smart inter­views with his fel­low envi­ron­men­tal his­to­ri­ans and sci­en­tists, often focus­ing on how his­tor­i­cal study can point us toward stronger envi­ron­men­tal pol­i­cy solu­tions. The most recent episode con­sid­ers Arc­tic cli­mate con­di­tions both today and in the Lit­tle Ice Age. My own month­ly pod­cast, The Miss­ing Link, con­sid­ers those fas­ci­nat­ing moments in the his­to­ry of sci­ence, med­i­cine, and tech­nol­o­gy, when our intel­lec­tu­al and tech­ni­cal prowess rubs up against our very human dreams and fail­ings. The most recent episode vis­its Berlin, Ger­many, where the grue­some­ness of a pathol­o­gy museum’s col­lec­tion masks a cen­turies-long his­to­ry of both inequitable med­ical care and bril­liant micro­bi­o­log­i­cal research. The pro­gram also dis­cuss­es the Berlin Phono­gram Archive, one of the first attempts to record the world’s music for pos­ter­i­ty, designed orig­i­nal­ly to demon­strate the evo­lu­tion­ary scale of prim­i­tive to civ­i­lized human­i­ty.

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