Welcome to “Should I Listen To This?”, where we deep-dive into a podcast to find out what it’s about, what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not you need to make the all-important decision to hit subscribe and add it to your rotation.
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Podcast: Science Vs
Network: Gimlet Media
What Is it?: “The show that pits facts against everything else.”
So let’s say you’re on Facebook. Someone has presented a piece of information in the form of a link from a website you’ve never heard of. Someone else comments on that information by contradicting it strongly. Another person adds their own “Well, Actually” comment to dispute that. Someone else then picks a fight with both of them and the comments devolve into a name-calling affair.
Sounds familiar? And all the while you’re left wondering “Wait, is that initial piece of information actually true?” This is your podcast because you don’t have the time or energy to go digging around to find out if gun control really works or if organic food really is better for you. You just want someone to do the busy work for you and then give you the facts. That’s what Science Vs is about.
Who’s The Host?: Wendy Zukerman, an Australian science journalist who has worked for ABC (the Australian one) and New Scientist Magazine as well as many other publications. She’s extremely affable and is prone to making truly terrible jokes, but she also knows she’s making truly terrible jokes, and that in turns makes them delightful (but still terrible).
What’s A Normal Episode Like?: Zukerman introduces a topic or big idea. Sometimes it’s something in the news such as gun control or the Zika virus. Other times it’s more of an evergreen issues like forensic science or the G-spot. From there she interviews leading experts on both sides of the issue and presents the latest scientific findings that either back up or disprove the generally-accepted principle.
Who Is It For?: There’s a whole subset of podcasts I like to call “Impress Others With This Knowledge” podcasts. These are the shows that provide you with the ammunition you need so later on you can bring it up in casual conversation with friends in order to sound way smarter than you actually are. This is a prime example of that. It’s also for anyone who have ever found themselves in a discussion or argument or big ideas like the ones this show covers and wants some scientific facts to be able to use next time around.
Who Is It Not For?: People who prefer anecdotal evidence. People who just want to believe what their uncle says on Facebook and take those links from websites you’ve never heard of before as fact. If it’s safer to stick your head in the sand and stick to what you think you know, then don’t listen.
As a side note, I’ll also say that this podcast can be a bit confronting at times and you learn exactly where you stand on science by listening. Take the organic food episode. I’m someone who shops organic and tends to favor that over non-organic options. Listening to an episode in which Zukerman outlines how organic vegetables and fruits are not really any “better” for you than non-organic foods was something I really didn’t like hearing. But that’s the point, right? We’re here for the facts (or you’re not here for the facts and therefore not listening).
How Many Episodes Are There?: As of the time of this writing there are ten official episodes and one bonus episode. Each episode is it’s own standalone topic, although there are some multi-episode discussions based around bigger ideas.
Any Special Guests?: Depends on your idea of a special guest. What about some of the world’s leading scientific minds? Is that special enough for you? Huh?
If not, then….no. No special guests.
Can I Jump Right In?: Yes with a caveat. Make sure you check to see if it’s the second episode in a two-parter. So far there have been two of those (Guns & Gun Control, Forensic Science & DNA and the Smell of Death).
What’s Not Great?: Some of the topics might not appeal to you as much as others. And depending on how strongly you feel about a certain topic you might come away offended by the notion that what you believe is scientifically-incorrect (although that’s when it becomes your job to check yourself).
Gimme Some Great Episodes to Get Started:
Fracking – The first episode is a pretty good place to start anyway. The topic of fracking is one where you’ve probably already made up your mind. You either think it’s worthwhile or you think it’s dangerous and problematic. Consider this a good way to get used to what’s coming. What’s good about Zukerman is that it becomes clear in this episode she’s not afraid to push for answers but she’s also more than happy to let the science speak for itself, even if that science is unclear.
Hypnosis – This is one of those things I know I was fascinated to find out about. Does hypnosis actually work? We won’t spoil the answer here but it’s interesting to find out that it’s not as cut and dry as you might think.
Forensic Science – We all know that forensic science doesn’t lie…right? Turns out…wrong. You’ll come away from this episode wondering why Law & Order: SVU has been lying to you for so long about how exacting things like hair samples and fingerprints really are. You might even come away realizing that what we all thought we knew about forensics is actually kinda wrong.
So, Should I Listen To This?: Science Vs gets the thumbs up because of the way it doles out great information that you can trust but Zukerman does it in an entertaining way that rarely gets bogged down in the boring details. That the show isn’t afraid to say “we don’t know” lends it a lot of credibility and it could become a great resource for anyone who needs a little backup the next time their crazy uncle tries to convince them of something that just doesn’t sound right.