Sunday, July 03, 2005

Best science podcasts

Looking at my referrer logs, it seems that the most frequent searches that end up at my blog are people looking for podcasts and finding my two previous posts: "Best podcasts?" and "Some good specialized podcasts". Who am I to argue with such demand, especially now that iTunes supports podcasts directly? One type of podcast that I like to listen to are science podcasts, and so I went through the entire list of science podcasts on the iTunes music store (a superset of the PodcastAlley list) and here are my opinions. No doubt, this summary will be incomplete almost as soon as it hits the web. For each that I liked, I have two links: one to the RSS feed (from the show title) and one to the iTunes music store entry; you can use the latter to subscribe using iTunes without bothering with the "Advanced/Subscribe to podcast..." menu and dialog box, or the former to manually add the feed in whatever podcast client you prefer. I'll go from ones I like the least to ones I like the most. Be forewarned: I prefer podcasts with a high information-to-time ratio. In other words, a 10-minute podcast with a 4-minute intro will get a low rating from me, as will a very chatty podcast that has 15 minutes of real information in a 30-minute show. I also like those either produced by or including scientists who talk from first-hand knowledge (as opposed to people just reading or who have just read something on the topic). That's my bias.

Not science at all

I won't even both linking to "Consciousness: The Inside Story," which is produced by the Maharishi University of Management, the transcendental meditation (TM) people. TM might be a helpful relaxation method, and most of us can certainly use a bit of relaxation, but it has nothing to do with quantum physics (at least, nothing more than anything else in the world). What they have to say about neuroscience or consciousness isn't science, either. All this is probably best left to a Skeptics' Circle contribution.

"The infidel guy show" (iTunes) is a mixture of all sorts of things, including some science, but also lots of other stuff, mostly skepticism about religion. The detailed information about it in the iTunes Store lists it under "Religion & Spirituality", so I don't know why it is under "Science" in category browsing mode.

"International House of Dancakes" (iTunes) seems to contain science-themed original music from the podcaster. Or maybe it's just mis-filed.

For some reason, some local radio weather forecasts are classified under science. These include the "K8 WeatherTALK Podcast" and the "Kansas City Weather Podcast".

The "MAKE Magazine Podcast" (iTunes) has a strange title; perhaps the folks who added it to the iTunes Music Store messed up. It's from O'Reilly and Associates and focuses on seriously geeky software development. An interesting tech podcast, but it's not science.

The "Matamea Podcast" (iTunes) is a science fiction podcast about a fictional world, I guess invented by the podcaster.

Low signal-to-noise ratio

I like to talk as much or more than the next guy, but that doesn't mean I like to listen to other people nattering on.

"BeachCast" (iTunes) has some science content, mostly things like interviews with volunteers at a marine mammal care center. I thought about putting this under "not science," but there is some science there. If you like more personal podcasts and aren't searching for a lot of real science content, then you may like this. (You can tell I got a "good vibe" about the people making this and wanted to say something nice about it. Not really my cup of tea.)

"Berkeley Groks" (iTunes) is a weekly radio program from Berkeley, California. Not really bad, but lots of jabbering from the hosts.

"Dr. Karl podcast - from triple j" (iTunes) from Australian "youth radio". Jabber, jabber, jabber, tidbit, jabber, jabber, jabber.

"Slanderbox Media" (iTunes) has a combination of science and other shows. I don't have the patience to manually delete the shows I don't want to listen to.

"SWAOG Amateur Astronomy Network" (iTunes) is for and by amateur astronomers. Recorded off of ham radio. Pretty much an in-group discussion.

Honorable mentions

Because there's only so many minutes in a run, I don't subscribe to these. They're not bad, they just didn't make my cut to be added to my iPod.

"Singularity Podcast" (iTunes) is focused on answering emailed in listener questions and current events in physical science. Fairly basic information (that may be good or bad, depending on your preferences).

The Great Lakes Radio Consortium (formerly part of US public radio) produces the " Weekly News Report" (iTunes) focusing on environmental news, with some regional emphasis on the Great Lakes region of the US (Michigan and Ontario primarily, it seems). Very much a professional-quality newscast, which means lots of short segments.

"Radio Frontier Channel" (iTunes) is quite interesting. It's a mixture of shows about science and shows about scientists (interviews, not historical). I have provisionally subscribed to it, but I suspect that I won't listen to it very often because of its length (seems to be typically an hour long).

"Regulus! The Astronomy Newsletter" (iTunes) is for amateur astronomers, talking about what can be seen in the night sky. If I were an amateur astronomer, I'd be more interested in this. Maybe when the kids are older and stay up later? Who am I kidding, by then they won't be interested in star watching with their old man.

"Science Friday" (iTunes) is a well-known US National Public Radio program. It's wide-ranging in scope, but the shows are hit-or-miss as far as my interests are concerned, and they're long.

"" (iTunes) is an amateur science podcast from Germany (in English). It's not clear to me how much of the commentary is from personal knowledge and how much is read from other sources. Part of that feeling may come from hearing someone talk in a second language. It also includes snippets from radio shows and podcasters from around the world. In my opinion, those inclusions could be more selective. A good portion of the content is really tech, rather than science.

"Skepticality - Science and Skeptical Thought" (iTunes) interviews people like The Amazing Randi and Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy. Not in my core interest area, maybe a bit long at around 45 minutes per show, and uneven in terms of first-person expertise, it's unlikely to stay permanently in my subscription list.

"The Science Show" (iTunes) is from Australian ABC radio. Not bad; shows are a bit under an hour long. I put it here simply because there are other shows I prefer that are shorter.

"The Space Show" (iTunes) is an interview show about space development. It can be interesting, but is invariably quite long.

"theWatt" (iTunes) has both a mini and full-length podcast about energy and related topics. Fairly basic stuff. The links are to the mini podcast.

"This week in science" (iTunes) is similar to Slacker Astronomy, but with a broader scope. It's recorded from a radio program, with phone calls from live listeners. The biggest effect of it being a radio program is time overhead and chattiness. I want to like this show more, but there's just too much extra talk.

"Wanhoffs Wunderbare Welt der Wissenschaft" (iTunes) is in German, despite being listed in the iTunes Music Store as being in English. I put it here as an act of faith, as it is from the Fraunhofer Institut, which are well-respected research institutes in Germany.

The good stuff

To make my cut, shows had to have a high information-to-time content. Here they are, in no particular order.

I listed "Science@NASA" (iTunes) as one of the best podcasts there are. Short and filled with information, right from the source. I wish they'd improve their sound quality a bit, though.

From Canada, there's "Quirks & Quarks" (iTunes), CBC Radio's Weekly Science Radio Program. It covers all sorts of topics, usually including university faculty and listener questions in at least part of the show. The also have a weekly email newsletter.

From Australia, "All In The Mind" (iTunes) from Radio National focuses each week on brain and behavioral sciences. Recent topics include Alzheimer's disease and hysteria.

The US National Public Radio podcasts its weekly show, "Living on Earth" (iTunes), which focuses on environmental issues. They also have a weekly email newsletter, and an information-rich web site.

"EarthNews Radio" (iTunes) is a 90-second program from the Environmental News Network. An eclectic (and brief) podcast.

"EarthWatch Radio" (iTunes) is from the University of Wisconsin and focuses on earth, ocean, environment science, and global climate change. Five, roughly 2-minute, shows per week.

"SETI Podcast" (iTunes): who wouldn't listen to a science podcast from the SETI Institute?

"Slacker Astronomy" (iTunes) is just great fun. Lots of information and fun to listen to, this should serve as proof that amateur podcasts can be as good as any the professionals do.

"Stardate" (iTunes) should be familiar to many US National Public Radio listeners. Short, single-topic shows written by the folks at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

"Universe Today" (iTunes) has some good astronomy interviews and the show is tight at less than a half hour each (many around 10 minutes).

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  1. Howdy. I am he of the "International House of Dancakes". As you say, my podcast is misclassified. I've alerted the iTunes people to this, but they haven't fixed it yet. Soon, I hope! Not that I don't want the traffic, but I don't want to dupe people into listening to it.

  2. Howdy. I am he of the "International House of Dancakes". As you say, my podcast is misclassified. I've alerted the iTunes people to this, but they haven't fixed it yet. Soon, I hope! Not that I don't want the traffic, but I don't want to dupe people into listening to it.

  3. ...And for some reason that posted twice.