Amongst the half a million podcasts in existence are a richness of topics for curious minds. Here are the 10 best academic podcasts (that you probably haven’t heard of).
Podcasting is a broadly democratic channel that gives voice to pretty much anyone with a microphone and an opinion. But as the medium has evolved, there’s an ever-growing legion of academic podcasts delivering millions of hours of free knowledge direct to your ears.
Runaway podcast favourites like 99% Invisible and Planet Money are dominating the field. But what about the lesser-known podcasts out there for academics? We’ve collected 10 of the best academic podcasts that you may not have heard of. Each one will tickle your cerebral cortex and teach you a thing or two.
1. In Depth, Out Loud (General)
In Depth, Out Loud is an academic podcast from the UK branch of The Conversation, an independent news and opinion site from the research community. The podcast delivers a selection of long-form stories by academic experts, read out loud for your listening pleasure. Lecturers, professors and PhD candidates cover topics across a range as broad as the relevance, usefulness and legitimacy of the IQ test, to how the humble potato fuelled the rise of liberal capitalism.
Best academic podcast for: Delving deep into someone else’s research.
Sample Episode: The heartbreaking story of the flying mathematicians of World War I
2. More or Less (Economics)
Whether it’s politicians’ promises, rail fares, public spending or education, More or Less is an academic podcast that patiently dissects the statistics we hear in the news. The show carefully considers the numbers in stories ranging from whether women average five and a half hours of daily selfies to how Trump uses statistics. In a world packed with dodgy stats and alternative facts, More or Less host Tim Harford offers a little oasis of academic rigour.
Best academic podcast for: Tackling fake news, one statistic at a time.
Sample episode: Missed appointments, Graduate pay, Cocaine on bank notes
3. Distillations (Science and humanities)
Distillations is a podcast that exists in the space where science, culture and history overlap. If you’re curious about science in society, or about how things like asteroids or fizzy water came to be, this is the best podcast for you. Each episode of Distillations takes a long, curious look at a moment of science-related history in order to shed light on the present.
Best academic podcast for: Examining the space shared by science and the humanities.
Sample episode: Butter vs. Margarine
4. Sawbones (Medical history)
Marital partners in crime Dr Sydnee McElroy and Justin McElroy use each episode of Sawbones to explain a different oddity from medical history. Whether it’s discussing medical tattoos or the practice of using fecal matter to treat goitres, the pair sifts through the disgusting and horrifying history of the not-always-too-distant medical past. You’ll be left with a wealth of fascinating medical facts (as well as a sense of relief that you live in the present tense).
Best academic podcast for: Uncovering misguided, bonkers and downright disgusting medical history facts.
Sample episode: Wound Care
5. Future Thinkers Podcast (Technology)
The Future Thinkers Podcast fosters explorative dialogue in the space where futurology and philosophy collide. If you wonder where the human species is headed (and what preparations we should be making to get there) this academic podcast for you. Hosts Mike Gilliland and Euvie Ivanova discuss topics as broad as the technological singularity and AI with everyone from leading scientists and entrepreneurs, to fiction writers and out-there consciousness explorers.
Best academic podcast for: Facing the future head on.
Sample episode: What Happens When We Give People a Basic Income?
6. The Allusionist (Language)
The Allusionist is an academic podcast about etymology and so much more. Host Helen Zaltzman covers topics as varied as how swearing can benefit your health, the unofficial dictionary of San Quentin prison and the syntax of emoji. Among Helen’s guests are linguists, psychologists and historians, and if you have even a passing interest in the way words shape our lives, it’s well worth a listen.
Best academic podcast for: Peering into the private lives of words.
Sample episode: Take a Swear Pill
7. Hidden Brain (Psychology)
If you’re searching for an academic podcast that isn’t afraid to get cerebral, Hidden Brain might be the one for you. Shankar Vedantam blends science and storytelling in his podcast’s quest to explain our thinking and behaviour. From innovative ideas about how we learn, to implicit biases and the insidiousness of advertising, Hidden Brain teases apart the complex and sometimes unexpected reasons humans do what we do.
Best academic podcast for: Examining why people behave the way they do.
Sample episode: Hungry, Hungry Hippocampus
8. Hardcore History (History)
Hardcore History is a podcast that makes the past as entertaining as a blockbuster. Host Dan Carlin puts his journalistic and broadcasting skills to good use in digging up some of the most compelling scenes in history and presenting them in a manner that’ll have you on the edge of your seat. Topics range from the bloody success of the Mongol Empire to the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage.
Best academic podcast for: Meditating on moments that changed our world.
Sample episode: The Destroyer of Worlds
9. Little Atoms (General)
Little Atoms is an ideas and culture podcast where host Neil Denny speaks to some of the best writers in literature, science, art and politics about the more interesting aspects of their work. With a focus on science and social science, as well as a strong literary angle, Little Atoms is for listeners who are generally interested in the world, whatever the context.
Best academic podcast for: Questioning the world around you.
Sample episode: Orwell in Tribune
10. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe (Science)
The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is an academic podcast dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason, and public understanding of science. Loaded with intelligence, information, and humour, the podcast’s panel of “skeptical rogues” work through the week’s news, slowly dismantling the world of flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers and pseudoscience. For a society where truth can feel even more difficult to see, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe acts as a primer on critical thinking.
Best academic podcast for: Laying waste to pseudoscience.
Sample episode: Podcast #186