Radiolab & Probably Science

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With exams looming for many I felt this week, instead of compounding already weary minds with cutting-edge complex science, I’d review two of the more entertaining science podcasts.

Radiolab comes from New York radio station WNYC and takes a charming and discursive look at science. Human stories are interwoven with scientific themes, which creates a captivating and intelligent documentary of the sort our television screens are accustomed to but which remain elusive on radio. At times, it feels like an audiobook that cleverly mixes narration, from presenters Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, with interview clips, and is brought alive by a variety of ambient and melodic sounds.

The recent episode 23 weeks 6 days explored the story of Kelley Benham who, after many attempts and a plethora of technological aids, finally got pregnant. Complications meant her child was born 23 weeks and 6 days into the pregnancy, just over half a term. Anything less than 22 weeks is regarded as a miscarriage so a doctor will not get involved, but beyond 25 weeks most doctors feel a moral obligation to intervene. This leaves weeks 22 to 25 as a grey zone, or as Abumrad quite poetically puts it: “A luminal space between life and death.”

In my opinion, this is an ‘entertainment first, science second’ programme and episodes vary in the amount of scientific content they contain. With 23 weeks 6 days the discerning scientist may find cold hard facts few and far between, but it is impossible to avoid being pulled in by the story and, in that way, one appreciates the programme as drama rather than a scientific master class. The entertainment value is what appeals to its vast number of listeners (now over 3 million) and, in some ways, it can be seen as the Attenborough documentary of the podcast world – reaching out to science-lovers worldwide regardless of qualifications or prior knowledge.

If you’re looking for something a bit more light-hearted and if quirk comedy is your thing, try Probably Science. The show certainly doesn’t take itself seriously and presenters Matt Kirshen, Andy Wood and Brooks Wheelan joke about their lack of science background (despite Kirshen having a Maths degree from Cambridge). Released weekly, the show takes a comedic look at recent science news.

Episodes tend to last between 60 and 80 minutes which, for me, is a little too long for a show of this style, especially as the first 25 minutes of last week’s episode was just idle chat. I’ve seen Kirshen on TV and don’t find him particularly funny, which is an issue for a comedy show, but at times I found myself chuckling. Oddly, when the show ended, I was left unsure as to whether or not I had enjoyed it. With in-depth conversations about science news alongside slightly peculiar comedy, the show fits with a small but devoted following so if quirky-geeky comedy is your thing, give it a try.

 

IMAGE: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich from Radiolab

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