By Patrick Metzger
Science, Philosophy, and Critical Thinking
- What is it?: The OG evidence-based radio show that took sound design for radio to a whole new level. It’s existed in various incarnations since 2002, exploring scientific discoveries, ethical dilemmas, and human interest stories.
- Hosts: Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and some of the best producers in the biz
- Where should I start?:Colors (2012) – On where color comes from and how our perceptions can sometimes deceive us.
- From Tree to Shining Tree (2016) – Trees talk to each other through fungus networks in their root systems. For real.
- CRISPR (Updated, 2017) – Just last year, the FDA approved the first gene editing therapies for humans, and this episode gives a great background on the development of one gene-editing method called CRISPR-Cas9.
- Shots Fired (Part 1, Part 2; 2017) – Two episodes of in-depth investigative reporting on police shootings and how there should (and can) be fewer of them.
- You will wish there were more episodes. The show is full of discussions on psychological concepts and how they impact our perceptions of and behavior in the world around us.
- Hosts: Hanna Rosin, Alix Spiegel, and Lulu Miller
- Where should I start?:Start at Episode 1 and just keep going.
- Interviews with scientists and philosophers, always with a compassionate analytical perspective on some of the most interesting concepts of our time.
- Hosts: Julia Galef (and Massimo Pigliucci for earlier episodes)
- Where should I start?:Seth Stephens-Davidowitz on “What the internet can tell us about human nature” (2017, iTunes)
- Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why He Doesn’t Call Himself an Atheist (2014, iTunes)
- The Turing Test (2014, iTunes) – …and why “Eugene” probably didn’t pass it.
- Jennifer Michael Hecht on Science, Religion, Happiness, and Other Myths (2010, iTunes)
- When Smart People Endorse Pseudoscience (2010, iTunes)
- What is it?: Coming out of the How Stuff Works studios, this podcast explores some of the most interesting discoveries and concepts of all time in an attempt to “blow your mind.” The enthusiasm of the hosts is genuine and incredibly infectious.
- Hosts: Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick (and Allison Loudermilk for earlier episodes)
- Where should I start?:Bicameralism (Part 1: The Voice of God, Part 2: The Silent Pantheon, 2017) – In lieu of our modern-day consciousness, did ancient humans hear an internal voice that commanded them to do things? The hosts explore this hypothesis in-depth.
- First Messenger from an Alien Star (2017) – Incredible science storytelling that showcases the truly exciting moment when, last year, scientists observed the first confirmed interstellar object flying through our solar system.
- The Shaman and the Scientist: Hallucination (2012) – A discussion of hallucinogens and natural hallucinations, examined through the lens of scientific research (follow-up to My Egoic Mind).
- The show typically discusses one philosopher or school of philosophy in-depth for a series of episodes, covering the concepts that they’re best-known for in an approachable, often comical, manner. The episodes go chronologically from the pre-Socratics up through modern day, including a few non-European thinkers, always focused on deeply engaging with philosophical concepts and whether they have relevance to our lives today.
- Host: Stephen West
- Where should I start?:The Frankfurt School (2017-18, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
- s the title suggests, this podcast goes in-depth (in digestible segments) on hundreds of philosophers, including a bunch you never knew existed. It’s a bit academic (coming out of King’s College in London) and focuses a fair amount on history, but it also gives great summaries of the core philosophical concepts (including those from Islamic, Indian, and Chinese traditions). The podcast goes roughly chronologically, has 286 episodes as of this writing, and is still in the Medieval era.
- Host: Peter Adamson
- Where should I start?:Into Thin Air: Avicenna on the Soul (2013)
Economics & Politics
- What is it?: Ezra Klein is another master interviewer who brings together some of the most interesting perspectives in journalism, media, politics, and beyond.
- Host: Ezra Klein
- Where should I start?:Deborah Tannen on gendered speech, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and you (2016)
- What is it?: Hard-hitting political and cultural analysis with an emphasis on one of the most pressing issues in this country: racial justice and equity.
- Hosts: Some of the most intelligent political organizers and analysts in this country right now—DeRay McKesson, Brittany Packnett, Samuel Singyangwe, and Clint Smith.
- Where should I start?:Since the show discusses contemporary issues, starting with the most recent episode is not a bad idea.
- Let’s Do Better in the New Year (Dec, 2017) – A discussion on prison reform with incredible guests like Piper Kerman (author of Orange is the New Black).
- War on Science (Oct, 2017) – The crew talks to Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, former head of the EPA, discussing climate change and the urgency of our environmental predicament.
- What is it?: If you enjoyed the book or the movie, you’ll love these regular installments that analyze quirky aspects of economics, sociology, and human behavior.
- Host: Stephen J. Dubner
- Where should I start?:Chuck E. Cheese’s: Where a Kid Can Learn Price Theory (2017) – A great example of how Dubner pairs great storytelling with economics and statistics theory.
Culture & Storytelling
- What is it?: One of the most famous storytelling events in America. The podcast collects the best stories from live tellings all across the country.
- Host: Dan Kennedy
- Where should I start?:The Apron Strings of Savannah (Edgar Oliver, 2006) – Edgar and his family create their own strange kind of culture, guided by their mother’s peculiar sense of reality. Also check out the sequel.
- Life Support (Stephanie Summerville, 2007) – After facing homelessness and depression, Stephanie takes a job that brings her face to face with the racism that runs rampant in her home town.
- Yes Means Yes? (Elna Baker, 2006) – Elna is a Mormon and doesn’t have sex. But she lives in New York and wants a relationship. Thus, a predicament.
- Data Mining for Dates (Chris McKinlay, 2016) – Chris reverse engineers OKCupid’s algorithm in order to get dates.
- What is it?: Probably the single most influential radio program of the last 20 years. It showcases stories from all across America that exemplify (in extremely varied ways) the American experience.
- Host: Ira Glass
- Where should I start?:The Problem We All Live With (Part 1, Part 2, 2015) – Schools are more segregated now than they were in the late 1960’s. These episodes go in-depth on the problem and potential solutions.
- What is it?: Sci-fi & fantasy short stories by great new writers, read aloud by stellar narrators. Lightspeed has historically published stories by everyone from George R. R. Martin to Anne McCaffrey. It’s hard to go wrong with these stories if you’re into the genre!
- Where should I start?:The West Topeka Triangle (Jeremiah Tolbert, 2017) – Equal parts mystery and coming-of-age drama.
- What is it?: A fantasy podcast showcasing stories from numerous writers. It won best fictional podcast at last year’s Academy of Podcasters Awards.
- Where should I start?:Crickets Sing for Naomi (by Eden Royce, 2017) – The crickets have followed Naomi all her life. It turns out they might be more helpful than she thought.
- What is it?: Unlike the shows listed above, this one is a single sci-fi story spread across 14 episodes. Great storytelling, an immersive soundscape, and richly developed characters.
- Writer: Mac Rogers
- Where should I start?:Since this is a coherent narrative, start at Episode 1 and keep going.
Spirituality and Unanswerable Questions
- What is it?: The show brings together scientists, poets, musicians, and other creative thinkers for conversations that focus on metaphysics, spirituality, and what it means to be human. She’s an incredible interviewer (see her interview with on , and the episodes are often optimistic meditations that help soothe the mind in times of chaos.
- Host: Krista Tippett
- Where should I start?:Marie Howe — The Poetry of Ordinary Time (2014)
Honorable mentions (because, let’s be honest, we’re living in the golden age of podcasts):
The Adventure Zone
BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time (multiple programs including Philosophy, Science, History, etc)
Conversations with People Who Hate Me
Death, Sex, and Money
How Did This Get Made
LeVar Burton Reads
The Longest Shortest Time
Love and Radio
The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn
Missing Richard Simmons
My Brother, My Brother and Me
On the Media
School of Greatness
Spinning on Air
Switched on Pop
TED Radio Hour
Twenty Thousand Hertz
Welcome to Night Vale
The West Wing Weekly