Last Updated: July 31st
Scientists are the thought leaders who will help us push society forward and, more than ever, they’re sharing their knowledge with the rest of us in creative ways, via podcasts. Suddenly, just by listening, you can be up on some serious scientific knowledge. No Ph.D. or lab hours required.
Here are the best science podcasts right now — from explorations of climate change to fun stories of what lurks in our guts.
We typically forget or ignore the history of medicine, but that’s a shame — since it is often both hilarious and completely disgusting. Dr. Sydnee McElroy and Justin, her husband (and co-host of My Brother, My Brother and Me) go on a comedy journey as they explain medicine’s ugly past.
Best Episode: “Salt”, which may simultaneously be the funniest and most horrifying thing you ever listen to. Let’s just say we got a lot of things wrong about salt.
Science journalist Wendy Zukerman tackles everything controversial in science, from vaccines to going bald, often with a funny take on complicated subject matter.
Best Episode: “Bigfoot”, probably one of the funniest and most educational takes on the legend of the giant hairy cryptid.
Are We There Yet?
Space is exciting, and nobody’s more enthusiastic about it than Brendan Bryne, WMFE’s space reporter. Bryne’s podcast Are We There Yet? covers all the nitty-gritty of space, from museum exhibits to the legal niceties of owning moon rocks to future launch vehicles, interviewing scientists, fellow reporters, and politicians on getting to space.
Best Episode: “The Space Painter”, where Bryne interviews the first known artist to work in space, and the technical challenges that come with painting in zero-g.
10 Episodes, Episodes Expire After Two Months
Birds are all around us, and are the subject of both scientific and cultural obsession, on BirdNote. It’s brisk, at less than two minutes per episode, and arrives daily, offering both scientific and artistic perspective.
Best Episode: “Pterodactyls And Birds”, which explains why birds aren’t descended from the dinosaurs you might expect.
The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week
The Popular Science staff talk about the strange, the odd, and the random in a weekly podcast. Flesh-eating mushrooms, the world’s most isolated yet inhabited island, and why scientists thought there were tiny men in the place where you would least want tiny men to be are just a few of the topics that come up.
Best Episode: The First Celebrity Diet, which explores the eating disorders and general weirdness of about the last celebrity you’d expect to have pioneered the fad diet: Lord Byron.
Two Scientists Walk Into A Bar
Scientists from Genentech, the pharmaceutical company, explain their jobs in a way you’ll actually get what’s going on, and have quite a bit of fun doing it.
Best Episode: “Connective Tissue: The Hidden Metropolis,” which dissects both medical history and how what a piece of us that should have been treated like an organ for decades is only now getting the scientific appreciation it serves.
Science reporter and comedian Alie Ward goes through, well, the -ologies, all the disciplines (all of which, in their own way, turn out to be scientific even if they don’t seem so at first), in hour-long deep dives.
Best Episode: “Thanatology”, which turns out to be far, far more than just the study of death.
Why do we do seemingly illogical things? Why does our brain trip us up? Why, sometimes, does it feel like we’re fighting it? Shankar Vedantam digs into the latest in neurology and psychology to explain why our brains work, or don’t work, the way they do.
Best Episode: “I’m Right, You’re Wrong”, an episode that lays out cognitive biases and why you will never, ever convince somebody how wrong a deeply held belief is, no matter how utterly incorrect it happens to be.
This Podcast Will Kill You
Who doesn’t love infectious disease?! Okay, so almost nobody loves it, but it is intriguing to learn about. Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke offer an engaging and funny overview of all the horrible things out there, their history, how we treat them, and how likely you are to get them in the first place (hint: Usually, not very.)
Best Episode: “Gnarlypox”, which is a gleeful look at smallpox, one of the nastiest diseases that you’ll be glad we got rid of.
Want to be up on the latest in science? Every Wednesday, Nature, one of the most respected journals, drops a concise summary of the science news you need to know in a round-table format, hosted by Adam Levy. It keeps you up to date on the most important, intriguing, and sometimes weirdest and funniest, papers that Nature is putting out.
Best Episode: “Luck, Debate, And The Quantum Internet,” where you can enjoy a rollicking debate over what the first flower looked like.
How we react to the world is not a self-contained phenomenon. Our actions and reactions are shaped by outside forces, many of which we’re so used to we don’t even notice. Invisibilia is dedicated to finding those forces and helping us understand them (and by extension ourselves) just a little bit better.
Best Episode: “Emotions”, which explores the cutting edge neuroscience behind the weird feelings we all have.
The Infinite Monkey Cage
Brian Cox, an actual scientist, and Robin Ince, decidedly not an actual scientist, team up to examine everything from how animals screw to why we sleep. While the show is decidedly titled towards entertainment, it packs a heck of a lot of intriguing, up-to-the-minute data in each episode, and Ince’s jokes keep things on pace. Especially great if you want to bolster your general knowledge, it’s one of the most fun listens out there.
Best Episode: 200 Years Of Frankenstein looks at the mad scientist and his moralizing monster from both a scientific perspective and in terms of how it’s influenced the way we look at science.
The great-granddaddy of science podcasts, this WNYC production has been around since 2002 in some form or another. Well, there’s a reason it’s endured for nearly two decades: The mix of in-depth reporting, thoughtful analysis, and unlikely subjects has set the tone for most other science podcasts, and opens the door to a host of different topics. It’s particularly good at unearthing and discussing scientific history, including figures that never wanted a role in our progress as a species.
Best Episode: “Revising The Fault Line”, which explores the psychology of blame, who we blame for things, why we blame them, and whether we’re right to.
Movies are not noted for their scientific accuracy, but hey, twenty years ago, if you’d made a movie where everybody had a glowing rectangle in their pocket that connected to the vast library of human knowledge via radio, they’d laugh at you. So this podcast convenes a roundtable of respected scientists and one comedian and tries to find scientific credibility for even the most outlandish of movies.
Best Episode: “Back To The Future”, which, among other things, has Doug Benson proving that being high might actually help you better understand advanced physics.
Sabrina Stierwalt offers a short, practical take on science in the news and all around you. Why is Hawaii banning sunscreen? Are the essential oils being pushed by Facebook friends worth a shot? If you need to get caught up on science, whether in the news or just in general, this will fit it in in under ten minutes.
Best Episode: “Do Microwaves Cause Cancer?”, where Stierwalt offers a very patient explanation of a very dumb Facebook meme.
I Need My Space
A decidedly more lighthearted take on space in a podcast genre full of chatter about going to the stars, Inverse.com’s senior editor Rae Paoletta plays silly space games like “Best Planet/Worst Planet” (which poor Mercury often loses) and interviews space professionals about what they love about space and what people should know about their work.
Best Episode: “Space Ain’t The Wild West,” which sees Paoletta interview a space lawyer, Michael Listner. Yes, that’s a real job and space law is far, far weirder than it sounds.
Costing The Earth
What happens when we change the Earth? How does it react? And, worryingly… what happens if it decides to fight back? This BBC podcast explores different ecological questions in deep detail, with a British focus, and often finds both encouragement and worry.
Best Episode: “Uncharted Columbia” — which explores the scientific and political cost of fifty years of war in one of the world’s richest places for biodiversity.
Every Little Thing
Flora Lichtman takes on the sometimes absurd questions that her listeners phone in with and digs into them in extreme detail. No topic is off-limits, and the answers Lichtman and her team turn up are often fascinating in their own right, offering deeper insights into the world around us. It’s also brisk, usually coming in at under 25 minutes or so an episode, perfect for binge listening.
Best Episode: “This Is An Activation”, which explores the history and current state of the Emergency Alert System, including that one time where everyone thought the bomb really was about to drop.
Science For The People
Over the years, Canada’s long-running science program has honed its approach to a fine point. It takes a scientific concept, explains it clearly enough for the layperson to grasp it, and then lays out, clearly and concisely, just how this is going to affect your everyday life. Sometimes it’s dramatic, other times it’s hilarious, but in all cases, it’s an hour well spent.
Best Episode: “Inside A Conservation NGO”, a look at the people fighting to save the environment and the sometimes messy realities of trying to make the planet a better place.
15 Episodes, Episodes Expire After One Month
The idea is in the title: The Scientific American team explains a scientific concept in… well, really it’s more like two and a half minutes, but 150-Second Science isn’t quite as compelling a title. True, it’s not going to get super in-depth, but it’s one of the more fascinating executive summaries of interesting scientific ideas, science in the news, and just outright weird stuff.
Best Episode: “Drumming Beats Speech For Distant Communication,” which manages to blow up stereotypes and teach you how to communicate with a long distance friend in just two and a half minutes.
Science Solved It
Speaking of brisk, this podcast hosted by Kayleigh Rogers, now in its second season, offers a look at a list of mysteries that science has definitely cleared up. The solutions are often more fascinating than the mysteries involving hairy flies, barfing vultures, and scientists very patiently explaining that no, chemtrails are not a thing.
Best Episode: “The Devil’s Kettle,” which explains a curious optical illusion involving a waterfall and a seemingly bottomless hole.
Stuff To Blow Your Mind
This long-running podcast lives up to its name by delving into the bleeding edge of science and exploring scientific ethics in fairly deep detail, a welcome change of pace from some science podcasts that ignore the ethical side of things.