I have written about the Skeptics Guide to the universe podcast twice before. The first gave my impression after listening to the first 50 episodes. My review was not overly positive and I ended by stating I likely would not continue listening. Soon after that I reviewed episode 51 that contained a rather unique interview with a physics crank.
Since then I have listened to approximately 300 additional episodes, leaving me only two years behind real time. That may sound like a lot of episodes, but I do spend about two hours a day commuting.
I felt it was necessary to revise my review somewhat. Those 300 episodes cover about six years of real time. In that time, the quality has steadily improved, along with the chemistry between the hosts. Each episode typically begins with a discussion of current events—obviously with a focus on science. When I began listening, I recognized very few of the stories. Now that we are quickly reaching the present, I am beginning to recognize more of the stories. For instance, they just recently spent half an hour detailing all of the flaws and sloppy writing of the movie Prometheus, a critique I heartily agreed with.
As I said in my first post about the podcast, it really excels when discussing biology and medicine. These are two topics that I know very little about, so it is always enjoyable to learn more about them.
I now look more critically at my own beliefs. Where did they originate from and what evidence do I have?
They often discuss books of a scientific nature, either with the author or among themselves. The discussions have encouraged me to read many interesting books. A few examples are:
- A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss: A concise history of the theories of the universe. Presents a hypothesis on how the universe could have formed from “nothing”. The concept of nothing is in itself difficult and is discussed in some detail.
- Microcosm by Carl Zimmer: A introduction to evolution and life as told through the lens of E. coli. This bacteria is the most studied organism in history. By reviewing the experiments, Zimmer is able to describe some of the strongest evidence for evolution.
- 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman: Like any popular self-help book, except actually based on scientific evidence. Interesting to learn that many of the common beliefs stated in the self-help industry are either based on zero evidence or completely contradicted by it. While Wiseman tends to overstate the case for things based on a single study, it is a good alternative to the garbage in the self-help industry.
The interviews are still good, though their importance has decreased as the show has improved. I now feel I can learn a great deal from a single episode even if there is no interview with an expert.
The podcast has also introduced me to two informative blogs. The first is Neurologica, the blog of Steven Novella. He generally posts something 4-5 days a week about science and skepticism. The second is Science-Based Medicine, where Steven Novella is also a contributor. Many of the posts give an insider’s look at the science behind medical treatments and procedures. They also spend much of their time combating the misinformation produced by alternative medicine.
Now that I am over 350 episodes into the podcast, I think I will continue until I reach the present day. My review of the first 50 episodes does not reflect the present quality of the show. It is both entertaining and informative, and something that makes my daily commute bearable.