Podcast Roundup–The Naked Scientists and Naked Archaeology

I haven’t done one of these in a very long while. Too long, I’m afraid. I don’t feel like I support my favorite podcasts nearly enough, and at least when I was writing about them before people were clicking through. Long story short, I am well overdue. I did absolutely nothing on the kitchen today; I was away from the house so I can’t report on my tomato garden today; I have seen no new episodes of any television show to write about; I am stalled on my book so I have no book review. So, like Michelangelo, I am chiseling away everything away that isn’t podcast.

The following pair are both products of the BBC radio arm, or division, or branch, or whatever it’s called. I download them from iTunes, and I probably learned about them as iTunes recommendations from some other science podcast I’ve subscribed to.

The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists is a weekly production that posts Mondays, usually, but airs live on Sundays at 10:00 AM Second Life Time, otherwise known as Pacific. It is a panel production, and most episodes have a theme, although the news reports at the beginning and the listener questions at the end can be on any topic. They run about an hour.

Pause: I am totally distracted by fireworks. It’s time for the nightly show at Sea World, but I am miles and miles away from the ocean, albeit on a hill above the riverbed. Sound could come right up the valley, I suppose. It’s pretty loud. Not window shaking loud, but I wasn’t expecting to hear it. It’s making me nostalgic for when I lived right at the beach and could even see the fireworks, and could set a clock by them during the summertime.

The panel is composed of several men and women, who all speak very naturally and who have personal interests that you almost never hear about until some part of a story crosses paths with some piece of information that he or she has picked up during his or her own work. One’s a doctor; one’s into marine life; one is a member of a band. They don’t talk about their personal histories–it’s a show that stays very much on topic–but their personalities come right through the broadcast and makes it a very enjoyable program. The show starts with them taking turns presenting news stories that seem to me to be just the most interesting things they’ve found in the past week. After a handful of those, they move into the longer stories that comprise the theme: transportation, bioengineering, and climate represent a few that I have stocked up on my podcast waiting to get to (yeah, I’m behind). The stories include interviews with (or at least recordings of interviews from) the scientists working on the projects they report on. What’s nice is that you get people from all over the (mostly the English-speaking) world; it’s not strictly local topics. There are so many accents on this show I honestly don’t even notice them anymore.

Halfway through the main stories segment is a break for “Kitchen Science,” which is a laboratory follow-along demonstration that listeners are encouraged to try at home. The materials are almost always something you’d have on hand. They set up an experiment, ask the audience to make predictions, and return to the kitchen lab later. It’s my least favorite part of the show, but probably because I don’t listen at my house, or with kids. It’s not something I’m going to try, especially if I don’t know what kind of mess it will make in advance. (Like what happens if you cover an inflated balloon with a hill of flour and then pop the balloon? It’s hard enough for me to clean the kitchen without five pounds of flour all over everything. That’s not a risk I am willing to take.) The good part of this segment is that the instructions are pretty easy to visualize, and the explanations easy to understand. I wish it wasn’t in the show–I’d personally rather hear another science story–but I’m not a big do-er, and I’m not a teacher, and I really am not on the market for science activities right now. All this could change in two years, and if I suddenly need to run a different Kitchen Science experiment each week, well, the website has them all archived, as audio and as transcripts.

The last part of the show–Listener Questions–used to frustrate me until I started listening to the episodes in sequence. They play a voicemail of a listener with a question, and then end the show. In the next episode, they replay the question, and an answer from some audience-member topic expert who calls in. Then they play the question for the following week. I don’t know why I used to get so confused, but it’s now my favorite part of the show. People think of very interesting things to ask, and somewhere in the vast audience of 6,000,000 people, the person who has the perfect answer phones it in. I like hearing where all the people are from, and all the different specific fields of expertise that there are, as much as I like getting the new information. It’s definitely a hook for the next episode, so it keeps you listening. Of course, for the purpose of full disclosure I should let you know that on iTunes you can subscribe just to the question of the week and circumvent the whole rest of the show, but that’s the cheater’s solution.

The Naked Scientists have a very rich website that is easy to navigate, seems to contain audio and transcripts of most of the interview segments, has a lot of history, and a pretty active participant forum. I am not a member of the forum, for no particular reason. Actually, because I am already a member of two other forums, and find myself repeating the same things over and over again. What with this blog, and Facebook, and actual friends, I don’t need to be socializing in quintiplicate. I’d never be able to keep my stories straight.

Naked Archaeology
Naked Archaeology is a splinter podcast hosted by one of the Naked Scientist regulars. She is the only host on the show, and it sticks to its topic, with longer stories and interviews; there’s no news segment or questions segment, although there is a piece called “Backyard Archaeology,” which is very local to Cambridge (for obvious reasons). This is a relatively new program, I think, and it doesn’t flow as well as the main show, but that’s because there’s just the one host and not a panel. I have come to the conclusion that a panel podcast is easier to do and easier to listen to. The changing voices of a panel really help me focus, especially when I am doing another task while listening. But that is entirely my issue and other people may disagree.

I do like this show, and I love the information. I am not trying to dissuade anyone from listening. It is an excellent program and the host is not awkward at all. The episodes run from twenty-five to thirty minutes and come out monthly, about halfway through the month. The show has a page on the Naked Scientist main website, and you can listen to the archives there (or via iTunes or whatever), but they don’t seem to have transcripts. Maybe those are forthcoming. Like I said, it’s a very new show.

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  • Chris  On August 15, 2009 at 2:11 am

    What an amazingly helpful and thorough review; thank you.


  • […] might enjoy reading based on tags and key words (I guess). Well, a few weeks ago you may have read my riveting post about the Naked Scientists and Naked Archaeology podcasts; perhaps you have even since subscribed to them on iTunes. Perhaps when you came to the end of the […]

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