The Struck By Enlightning Guide to Skeptical Podcasts
[NOTE: This is an ongoing project, more to come!]
I am a huge fan of podcasts. They’re a great way to keep up on issues in science and skepticism, and to get to know the people who are advancing enlightenment ideals. Podcasts have been a huge influence on my ongoing transformation to a critical thinker, and I’m pretty much listening to them constantly: on my way to and from work, at work, grocery shopping, exercising, doing the dishes, etc.
So I’ve decided to write this guide to save you some time when you’re trying to pick which podcasts to subscribe to. If I’ve missed a podcast that you would like me to review please send it to me through the contact form, even if it’s your own podcast.
If the podcasts I review have a website, you can click on their logo to get to it.
I’ll also give each podcast a rating between one and five “enlightning bolts”.
And the length of the podcast will be shown in this format:
Without further ado…
Are We Alone is a podcast that I would have loved to listen to when I was younger, but I still enjoy it as an adult. It’s a show about science, and it’s put out by SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), so discussions on science are framed in the context of how we might look to ETs, or of how we might go about seeking out little green men. I think that’s something everyone can enjoy. My only complaint about this show is that it’s very scripted and it’s checkered with cheezy jokes, but sometimes that’s exactly what a science podcast needs, so I won’t hold it against them. Each episode of Are We Alone features interviews with a handful of scientists doing really interesting work, and once a month they will host a skeptically themed episode – I always look forward to those ones. Are We Alone is a fantastic podcast for a layperson to learn about science, and it’s fun for the whole family.
The Atheist Experience
Hosts: Matt Dillahunty, Russell Glasser, Don Baker, Jeff Dee, Tracie Harris, Jen Peeples, Martin Wagner
The Atheist Experience is actually a TV show on public access in Austin, Texas, but it’s available as an audio podcast on iTunes. It’s a live call-in show, and it’s at its best when believers call. They like to ask believers “what do you believe and why”, and that often triggers interesting debates and discussions. Unfortunately because of the unstructured approach, it can be frustrating to listen to as it can get boring when fans of the show call in to heap praise, and if you don’t live in Austin the long announcements are pretty useless. I would recommend this show if you like listening to believers being challenged to back up their beliefs. The Atheist Experience has many clips on YouTube of their best debates with believers, so if you don’t have a lot of time to listen to podcasts that would be your best bet.
Hosts: Leighton Allred and Chuck Morrison
Updated: Weekly (more or less)
This podcast is interesting because it’s hosted by a couple of ex-Mormons who know a lot about religious history and philosophy. The hosts are quite crass and politically incorrect, but if you can get past that you’ll learn a lot about religions, especially Mormonism (which, it turns out, is a hilarious religion…and frightening). Each episode is a discussion on one particular topic to do with religion, and sometimes they conduct interviews. The interviews on Irreligiosophy are good because they’re with people you won’t hear on other podcasts, and often they’re with believers. Regular episodes are complimented by shorter “Atheist News Network” episodes, where they dissect atheist news items (Update: Atheist News Network episodes have been cancelled – good decision IMO). Irreligiosophy alternates between informative, funny, and cringe-worthy…but it’s worth subscribing to.
Hosts: Neil Denny, Padraig Reidy, Richard Sanderson and Rebecca Watson
Little Atoms describes itself as a show about ideas, and that it is. Since discovering this podcast I’ve been introduced to so many interesting ideas. This show features comfortable, conversation-style interviews with writers, philosophers, scientists, and so on. The hosts know their stuff, and ask fantastic and well-thought-out questions. Little Atoms does have the odd episode about politics that may go right over your head if you’re not British, but it’s easy to skip those.
It was quite a long time between when I heard about this podcast and when I started listening to it, as I was skeptical that a podcast about monsters and cryptozoology could go anywhere. Boy was I wrong, now I’m hooked! It’s hard to think of any cryptids besides Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, but Monster Talk has introduced me to a variety of interesting mythological creatures, from a skeptical point of view. They talk about the history of the monsters in popular culture, and they also interview scientists about the evidence for or against the existence of the various creatures, and about their plausibility. The hosts are entertaining, the interview guests are unique, and looking at skepticism in the framework of monsters is a lot of fun.
The Non-Prophets is a bunch of guys and one or two girls sitting around talking about atheism. And talking, and talking, and talking. Episodes are usually between an hour and a half to two hours, and the hosts discuss recent news items that are of interest to atheists and skeptics. The Non-Prophets is really casual, and I suppose it’s appealing in that it’s an unedited conversation between a smart group of people on interesting topics. But the unedited-ness also makes it frustrating to listen to – there is a lot of dead air, a lot of “Mm-hmms”, and a lot of “Uhs”. I like to put the Non-Prophets on in the background when I’m busy with something, and start paying attention when they sound like they’re getting riled up. It’s a lot of fun to when the hosts have differing opinions, as they’re really great arguers, but other than that you can get most of the news items and ideas discussed on the Non-Prophets from reading a couple of popular atheist blogs. If you don’t find a lot of time to listen to podcasts, then I would skip this one.
Point of Inquiry
Host: DJ Grothe (episodes 1-207)
Produced by the Center for Inquiry, Point of Inquiry features long-format interviews with scientists, philosophers, skeptical activists, and so on. Point of Inquiry always has interesting guests, and Grothe has a talent for playing devil’s advocate and asking open-minded and challenging questions. If I had to recommend any one podcast it would be Point of Inquiry.
Point of Inquiry now has three new hosts, so once they’ve put out a fair number of episodes I’ll adjust my review. Grothe is now hosting a podcast for the JREF called “For Good Reason”, which I will also review once it has more episodes.
The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
Hosts: Steve, Jay and Bob Novella, Evan Bernstein and Rebecca Watson (also the late Perry DeAngelis ♥)
The SGU ‘s hosts are passionate about what they do. This podcast takes an evidence-based approach to everything from alternative medicine to religious claims. It’s broken up into segments including science news, interviews, and science or fiction which is a game that’s pretty much an excuse for Steve to talk about some interesting, and often more obscure, science news items. It’s a really fun, often hilarious, and very informative look into the grassroots skeptical movement.
The Skeptic Zone
Hosts: Richard Saunders, Stefan Sojka, Kylie Sturgess, Dr. Rachael Dunlop, Dave the Happy Singer, Dr. Krissy Wilson, Eran Segev, Joanne Benhamu, Amanda Rose and Jim Wilshire
If you’re wondering how a podcast can possibly have so many hosts, it’s because the Skeptic Zone is broken down into several segments from Dr. Rachie Reports (a doctor’s take on alternative medicine), Eran Segev’s Grain of Salt, interviews with all kinds of interesting people, the Think Tank (skeptics in the pub), as well as recordings from festivals and live panel events, etc. The Skeptic Zone is entertaining and informative, and their passion for fighting pseudoscience is infectious. They are particularly skilled at taking down the bogus claims of anti-vaccionationists, and they do a lot to advance science apart from the podcast.
Host: Brian Dunning
I find that Skeptoid is almost a course in skepticism 101. Brian Dunning looks at all kinds of pseudoscientific claims, and looks at what the evidence shows. He frequently proves that the scientific explanation is more interesting than the magical one. Dunning also has a video series called In Fact, and a critical thinking introduction video called Here be Dragons, which are all educational and suitable for children. Dunning doesn’t only look at things like ghosts and psychics, but also things that you might not expect like locally grown produce and cell phones on airplanes.