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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