The approval of two Covid-19 vaccines for use in the United States was a much-needed flicker of hope in recent weeks. Though that wave of relief has since been dampened by a slow and stumbling rollout, with inoculation appointments scarce in many states as the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.
But in the spirit of a gratitude practice, let’s focus on the positive. It is nothing short of miraculous that within a year, scientists have developed multiple vaccines against such an aggressive virus — the previous record-holder for the fastest vaccine ever developed was mumps, which took four years.
This is a triumphant moment, and these seven podcasts celebrate the wonders of science through expert-led deep dives, humorous debates and rich storytelling.
‘Ologies With Alie Ward’
There’s something thrilling about hearing very smart people talk passionately about the things they’re smartest about, especially when their area of expertise is unusual. Anchored by the witty and charismatic presence of Alie Ward, a science correspondent for CBS’s “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca,” “Ologies” puts the spotlight on scientific experts working in fields you may never have heard of — and gives them an entertaining platform to wax lyrical about their particular “ology.” Ward’s intellectual curiosity is as infectious as her guests’ enthusiasm, and she keeps things accessible no matter how esoteric the subject: Recent episodes have focused on desairology (the science of mortuary makeup), agnotology (the science of ignorance) and pelicanology (self-explanatory, but still full of surprises). You’ll probably never think of science as dry or dull again.
Starter episode: “Urban Rodentology”
‘The Story Collider’
The premise behind this decade-old show is simple: We all have science stories to tell, because simply existing in the world means we’re interacting with science all the time. The Story Collider is a nonprofit group founded by two physicists who wanted to amplify personal stories that “spark emotional connections to science,” a mission encapsulated by its podcast. Most episodes present two stories that share a common thread about the human experience behind scientific experiments, interactions with animals or how biological impulses shape our lives. Since November, the show has been dedicated to telling “Stories of Covid-19” from different angles, such as the pandemic’s impact on different generations or how society adapts to a new normal.
Starter episode: “Celebrating 10 Years: Our Favorite Stories”
‘Stuff to Blow Your Mind’
The title might sound hyperbolic, but it’s generally pretty accurate. In each episode of this show from iHeartRadio, the hosts, Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick, tackle a different scientific phenomenon, mystery or quandary that will expand your understanding of how the world works. “Deep in the back of your mind, you’ve always had the feeling that there’s something strange about reality,” reads the show’s official teaser, which might lead you to suspect that you’re in for an hour of wacky conspiracy theories. But “Stuff to Blow Your Mind” is always evidence-based and thoroughly researched, whether it’s exploring seemingly unremarkable subjects (tomatoes, squirrels, sinkholes), mythical figures like the Minotaur or the question of whether Santa Claus is a god.
Starter episode: “Psychedelics: The Manifested Mind, Part 1”
‘America Dissected: Coronavirus’
Best known for left-wing political hits like “Pod Save America,” Crooked Media expanded its horizons significantly a couple of years back, and in September 2019 debuted “America Dissected” with the aim of “discussing pressing health questions in America.” Six months later, for obvious reasons, it rebranded itself as “America Dissected: Coronavirus,” and now dedicates each weekly episode to a different aspect of the pandemic. Hosted by Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a physician and epidemiologist who first rose to prominence as Detroit’s director of public health during the Flint water crisis, the show offers both a merciless analysis of the federal government’s Covid-19 failures and a more hopeful blueprint for how the country can move forward.
Starter episode: “The Vaccine Episode”
‘The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry’
If you like your science stories with a side of Sherlock Holmes-esque intrigue, look no further than this charming BBC series. Hosted by the “science sleuths” Dr. Adam Rutherford and Dr. Hannah Fry, “The Curious Cases” sees the duo tackle listener-submitted scientific mysteries, many of which you may have wondered yourself (why do we find noises like a fork scraping a plate so unbearable?) and others you may never have thought of (how many hamsters on wheels would it take to power London?). No matter the subject matter, the hosts’ chemistry and wry rapport makes every episode a delight.
Starter episode: “The Mosquito Conundrum”
The sheer volume of misinformation around the coronavirus has become such a liability that it’s been referred to as an “infodemic,” but it’s also a symptom of a bigger and more systemic anti-science movement. In this Gimlet Media show, the journalist Wendy Zukerman pits “fads, trends and the opinionated mob” against science — fact-checking falsehoods and delivering the truth in entertaining and authoritative style. Though many recent episodes are devoted to Covid-19 mythbusting, “Science Vs” also offers plenty of escapism through other questions: Is there any scientific basis to astrology? Can lab-grown meat truly replace the real thing? And did the C.I.A. plant a virus in Cuba in the 1970s?
Starter episode: “Hunting an Invisible Killer”
Listening to its blend of rich narrative storytelling and scientific concepts, it’s no surprise that “Invisibilia” shares DNA with “This American Life” and “Radiolab.” Created by Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller in 2015, the show focuses on the invisible forces that shape our world, control our behavior and — when harnessed — can help us to live better. Though the show has continuously shape-shifted during its six-season run, its very first episode remains a perfect encapsulation of everything “Invisibilia” does best. That chapter, “The Secret History of Thoughts,” begins with the story of a surfer tormented by invasive thoughts about hurting his loved ones. From that haunting jumping-off point, the episode delves into the wider question of whether our thoughts control us, or vice versa.
Starter episode: “The Secret History of Thoughts”
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