Our radio editor chooses his favourite science shows
WNYC's Radiolab describes itself as “a show about curiosity, where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience”. Presented by NPR veteran Robert Krulwich and sound designer and composer Jad Abumrad, the show has a unique style which can often sound as much art installation as radio show. This can make it a bit of an acquired taste, but for me this remains the very best podcast broadcasting today. The monthly(ish) longer show usually cover three stories based around a theme (e.g. Space, Parasites, Falling, Famous Tumors), and often feature friends of Little Atoms such as Mary Roach, David Eagleman and David Quammen. They plug the gaps between these longer shows with shorter, stand-alone stories.
Presented by Desiree Schell and Rachelle Saunders, this Canadian radio show and podcast “explores the connections between science, popular culture, history, and public policy”, and features in depth interviews with scientists and science writers from a social justice/lefty perspective. Formally known as Skeptically Speaking, this show has gone from strength to strength since its makeover. With a deep and impressive back catalogue, and non-expert but curious and enthusiastic hosts, imagine Little Atoms with snow and poutine.
The podcast of Brian Cox and Robin Ince’s now venerable Radio 4 show usually features extra material which “wasn’t considered good enough for the radio”. While the conjunction of the words Radio 4 and comedy can often leave a listener diving for the off switch, this The Infinite Monkey Cage gets the balance right. The show isn’t afraid to tackle the big concepts of science, but a fantastic selection of guests, a mixture of scientists, comedians and wizards (ok, Alan Moore) keep it entertaining and accessible, the best moments often coming from the comedian’s reactions to these ideas.
Featuring news, analysis and interviews from the Guardian’s science team, and currently fronted by science editor Ian Sample, this is the UK’s best magazine style science podcast.
Presented by astrophysicist and erstwhile Carl Sagan impersonator Neil Degrasse Tyson, Star Talk mixes science and pop culture. Tyson is an avuncular host and a perceptive interviewer, and I love the structure of this show, where a big-name interview is regularly interrupted by Tyson and a comedian guest host who carry out a parallel conversation discussing that interview. It’s an odd format but it really works. The show also has a star filled back catalogue, with Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Rickman and Dan Aykroyd amongst its impressive roster.