Illustration of researcher preparing for a science podcast
Science podcasts are a great way to learn about the world around you while also on the go. (Illustration by Baz Pugmire, Michigan State University)

5 Science Podcasts To Help You Better Understand the World Around You

Whether you’re strapped for time, want to learn more about the environment or have the need to comprehend how the mind works, there’s something for you.

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Illustration of researcher preparing for a science podcast

Whether you’re strapped for time, want to learn more about the environment or have the need to comprehend how the mind works, there’s something for you.

As COVID-19 and climate change increasingly impact our world, you may find yourself wondering about the science behind the recommendations, regulations and headlines that shape your life. How did we get here, how does the world work and where are we headed next? How do we understand things too small to be seen with the naked eye, or too large to imagine? The answer to your questions lies in scientific research. If you have ever wanted to hear from the scientists themselves, you are in luck; journalists have created an ever expanding array of science podcasts. Here are five science podcasts to help you get started.

1. For a daily briefing on COVID-19, there’s “Prognosis Daily: Coronavirus” by Bloomberg

As misinformation about COVID-19 swirls around the internet, a daily dose of clearly communicated information about the pandemic may be just what the doctor ordered. Coverage started on March 26 and host Laura Carlson has continued to provide a brief update on the latest advances in health and science every afternoon.

The podcast helps listeners stay up to date on new treatments, new information about the illnesses transmission and the different ways countries around the world are adapting to the policy implications of the pandemic. The podcast starts with the day’s international COVID-19 news before moving on to a more in-depth story, providing both broad and narrow reporting.

2. If you are in a rush, try “60-Second Science” by Scientific American

If you only have a few minutes but want to expand your scientific knowledge, “60-Second Science” by Scientific American is the podcast for you. “60-Second Science” episodes fall into the categories of health, the mind, sustainability, technology and the sciences, creating a broad range of content.

Recent hosts of “60-Second Science” include Annie Sneed, Susanne Bard, Jason Goldman, Christopher Intagliata, Emily Schwing, Sarah Frasier and Steve Mirsky, each lending their own unique science expertise to the day’s episode. After a few seconds of introduction, the podcast distills research, clinical recommendations and other topics into their most important details and core questions.

Listening to “60-Second Science” may not be enough to make you an expert on any given subject, but it can introduce you to new topics that you may want to explore when you have more time.

3. If you have the time to sit back and relax, tune in to “Science Friday” by WNYC

If you are a science nerd with some time on your hands and a wide-ranging curiosity about the world, WNYC “Science Friday” is a great way to end the week. Host Ira Flatow interviews scientists, journalists, clinicians and other experts whose experiences range from the smallest of intermolecular reactions to the expansion of space. “Science Friday” has particularly focused on COVID-19 in recent months. However, it has continued to explore all fields of science, from entomology to astronomy.

In addition to the hard facts of the research itself, Flatow’s interviews explore the nuance of not only contemporary science, but also science’s past. Flatow helps explore the controversies surrounding practices such as proactive policing and racially unequal healthcare, illuminating the context for today’s headlines about police brutality and racial inequities. WNYC “Science Friday” offers science as a lens on the world by examining the ways that the societal context of research influences discoveries and their applications.

4. To better understand your own mind, listen to “Hidden Brain” by NPR

Host Shankar Vedantam helps listeners understand the psychological and neurological underpinnings of their lives. He pivots seamlessly between interviewing academics, lawyers, clinicians, historians and ordinary people, helping listeners understand the unique perspectives that each interviewee has to offer.

Vedantam explores the science behind high profile cases of love, conflict, fear and individual or group decision making, paying equal attention to the specifics of each example as well as their context. In recent days, Vedantam has focused on police violence and other racial inequities, helping listeners better understand the consequences of bias.

Listen to “Hidden Brain” for long enough, and it may change the way you see the world, yourself and the people you interact with.

5. Learn about the environment by listening to “Climate Conversations” by MIT

If you have heard the latest headlines about climate change, you may feel defeated in the face of gloomy projections of increased rates of flooding, droughts, hurricanes, rising temperatures and rising tides.

While these problems are very real, so are the technical, policy and economic solutions that could help mitigate them. To learn more about the interconnected web of technological innovation, policy, environmental science research and sustainable businesses working together to limit the impact of climate change, listen to “Climate Conversations,” produced by MIT.

The deep engineering expertise present at MIT lends a strong technical foundation to the podcast, offering in-depth information about different technologies that may help avert climate change. If you are fascinated by any particular episode, many come with recommendations of free online courseware on the topic that had been discussed, links to research papers mentioned in the podcast and links to lab websites of researchers who spoke during the program. These extra resources are a treasure trove of information for curious listeners.

Listen in and let science be your guide in an increasingly chaotic world

Science podcasts were made to help share the ongoing process of scientific discovery with the public, interviewing experts and explaining their work in plain language. As you struggle to wade through seas of misinformation and conspiracy theories online, let rigorous science journalism be your guide.

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