Thursday, June 23, 2011

JJJPod: 60-Second Science

Although it’s a nice round number, let me petition Scientific American, producers of the 60-Second Science podcast, to change the title to a more accurate number: 79-Second Science. Using a sample of new episodes, n=41, I calculated the mean, x=79.

Despite the deceptive title, this podcast RULES. Released weekdays, it’s hosted by a handful of characters who use quirky sounds and songs to enhance the random selection of science snippets.

As one host might say, thanks for the minute!

JJJPod: Science Magazine Podcast

I've donned my jogging clothes and laced up my shoes. As I step outside, I stretch my arms up to the sky, and turn on my iPod. I rev my legs into a jog and enjoy the intro music of the Science Magazine Podcast, an upbeat riff. I imagine some hipster dude with crazy hair and gigantic headphones jamming on a keyboard and then pointing to the host with a wink, shooting the attention to him. A friendly voice cuts in and the music fades. "Hello and welcome to the science magazine podcast for June 3rd, 2011. I'm Robert Frederick." He launches into the line up science news stories for the week and I can't help reciprocate his excitement. My legs find a tempo as a young woman explains that the podcast is supported by AAAS, the science society!

The intro music finally fades and the first story begins. I've found my stride. There are about 3 or 4 stories, each lasting roughly 10 minutes and cover an array of topics. They delve into each interview, diving below the surface but not far enough as to get lost (or confuse their listeners). I nod in agreement, chuckle at the jokes, and form questions of my own as I listen--keep in mind I'm running and listening.

Finally, Frederick says, "Now, David Grim, Science's online news editor, is here with a wrap-up of some of the latest science news from our online daily news science site, ScienceNOW." When I hear this, I know the program (and my jog) is almost over. I kick it into high gear for the last 15 minutes, wiping sweat off my brow.

This program is my favorite jogging podcast because it just the right length (35 to 50 minutes), the reporting is professional (supported by AAAS), and the topics are diverse yet not too complex. I enjoy solid science stories while experiencing oxygen deprivation from a reputable organization. Outstanding!

Special note: I am sad to say that this episode featured in this post, June 3rd, is Frederick's last with this program. When I complied a list of reasons why I like this show, he was on top. He has such a kind voice and it makes me feel like I'm going for a jog with an old friend who knows a lot about science. I hope he can be replaced with someone just as nice!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

JJJPod: Emerging Infectious Diseases

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's social media involvement is impressive. They're on twitter, flickr, facebook, and they have podcasts. In fact, they have a lot of podcasts that cover an array of topics. My favorite of which is esoteric and comes as a supplement to the CDC's Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) journal. As an aspiring epidemiologist, I have a special interest in diseases. And infectious ones. And also emerging ones! This program rules for three reasons: it's technical, it's short, and it has bonuses.

When I first listened to the EID podcast, I was deterred by the formality of it. The host and guest often read right from the script. However, I came to appreciate this element, knowing that I'm going to get a highly research-based and technical explanation of each topic. It often feels as if I'm reading out of a textbook or reading a research paper, a level of science that I sometimes crave.

This program delves deep into science in less than 10 minutes. Simple as that! A listener can spend hours reading the online journal or they can just enjoy the audio snippet available during their morning commute.

The online journal is a bonus to me as initially just a podcast listener (although it is the other way around--the podcast is a supplement to the journal). Published monthly, the journal offers the high quality of research generated through the CDC. The podcast interviews one of the scientists whose work is featured that month. I often pull up the journal on my iPhone and read it when I'm waiting for the train or during a break at work. This can be trouble, however, when a coworker asks, "What are you up to this weekend?" after I've completely immersed myself in tick-borne relapsing fever borreliosis in rural Senegal and that the presence of this bacterial infection was detected by using specific semiquantitative real-time PCR with primers. Additionally, they used water as their negatives! Science is so incredible yet simple and you're asking me about my weekend?

Another wonderful element of the journal is the cover artwork, highlighting the connection between art and science. Each month features a piece of artwork, entitled by a poem. In June the CDC is remembering the 30 years that HIV/AIDS has been prevalent and this month's cover, "captures both the complexity of the scientific challenge of this unknown and lethal disease and the massive human loss." The piece depicts those tangled in the human web, either from illness or the complexity of life. We are all humans, suffering from the same diseases and living in the same way. The poem connecting this all together is from Wallace Stevens, called The Emperor of Ice Cream. As the cover description says,

The only element of value is to "be" alive. Prolong and embrace it. All other considerations only "seem" important. Or as Stevens put it, "Let be be the finale of seem / The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."
In short, this podcast and it's "bonus material" successfully cover rare diseases and contemplate the meaning of life. Yay science!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

JJJPod: Science Friday

Pretty blue lichen on a tree. I like lichen because of Science Friday! See my Flickr photo sets for more (here and here).
NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow set the standard for my love of science podcasts. Back in the day my iPod was a silver nano with the round dial controls, and I slipped it in my fifth pocket as I hoofed it to class. Flatow interviews scientists and takes callers (if you hadn't guessed this program typically airs on your local public radio station on Fridays), covering a wide array of topics. I love this program for three main reasons: it has history, it has unpredictability, and it has passion.

Science Friday has history. It has been on air for 20 years, bringing experience to every aspect of showcasing science and technology. This ranges from consistent sound quality to interviews with big name scientists. Flatow's experience in interviewing brings out the silliness and intellect of each guest. In addition, they air some throw backs to highlight the change in technology.

There is an element of unpredictability because the show is recorded live. My favorite moment was the discussion on forensic science. At the time I was working in a forensic toxicology lab and had a very clear view of how difficult this one small aspect of forensic work could be. Of course, it is nothing like TV--not everyone is that sexy. Specifically, Flatow and the guest were discussing bite mark analysis and how judges and juries opinion of this science have been swayed because of shows like NCIS, thinking this science is ironclad. This is way subjective. A caller was invited on the air and the interchange went something like this:

Caller: I just wanted to talk to you guys about bones. Specifically teeth bones. They can chew stuff really well.

(Long pause)

Flatow: Ok. Do you have a point you want to make?


Caller: Yeah, when they bite into human skin they leave marks.


Flatow: Are, are you a scienist?

Caller: Yes.

Flatow: And, so, what is the point you're trying to make?


Caller: They can leave marks that can be studied.

The caller was attempting to welcome another argument and probably got nervous. However, I laughed about this for weeks (I'm still laughing) AND I remembered the discussion very clearly. Way to go aloof caller! The magic that goes along with live recordings can be very charming and lasting.

In addition to Flatow's experience, he brings passion for science. Each week, I find myself interested in the random topic discussed due to the contagious excitement of the host. I can imagine he has an intense stare or tips his head at pensive angle as he opens a new segment or banters with an expert. Maybe he nods fervently when he agrees with a guest. Of course, I'm not sure if he's doing those things but I know I am when I listen.

BONUS: This program has a video program! Their lichen video is the reason I became and avid lichen hunter.

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