Tag: Radiolab

Eight Podcasts to Fill that Serial-Sized Hole in Your Commute

Because selection bias, if you’re reading this I’m willing to bet you listened to, and loved, Serial.

Maybe you had never previously listened to a podcast before and picked up Serial halfway through, on the recommendation of a rabid fan. Maybe you heard it on This American Life. However you got to it, it’s over – at least for now.

Here are a few excellent podcasts to fill the Serial-sized hole in your Thursday morning commute. If you already listen to podcasts, you’ll almost certainly know the first few.


WNYC_Radiolab_logo.svgRadiolab is my favorite podcast, and one of my favorite things, period. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich have consistently put out eminently re-listenable, curiosity-driven inquiries that rival the best efforts of journalists and entertainers everywhere. It has an extensive back catalog of episodes, so it’s the perfect companion for a long run/bus ride (during which I’ve listened to literally hundreds of hours of it) or your daily commute.

Start With: Memory & Forgetting; Falling; Colors; Translation; Blood; Patient Zero





Planet Money


Born from the 2008 financial crisis and This American Life, Planet Money is an economics-focused podcast consistently delivers entertaining, thoughtful, and edifying 15-20 minute episodes.

Start With: Just download the most recent two or three






The Memory Palace 

The_Memory_Palace_logoHost Nate DiMeo’s The Memory Palace highlights historical ephemera – entertaining vignettes that could be footnotes in your college history textbook. DiMeo has an uncanny ability to dredge up the fascinating, humanist, often-heartbreaking tales behind World Fairs, elevators, and the Civil War. New episodes are rare these days, but it has a long back catalog to pull from.

Start With: Picture a BoxAfter PartyDistanceSix StoriesLost LobstersSix Scenes from the Life of William James SidisGiants in Those DaysCrazy Bet






99% Invisible


99% Invisible is all about design, and the little things that so blend into the background of our daily lives that we forget that they were once made. Roman Mars is a remarkable storyteller, and this podcast will teach you to look at the daily things in your life differently.


Start With: Higher and HigherOctothorpe; Queue Theory; Future Screens are Mostly Blue; Reversal of Fortune









In some ways, the most similar to Serial, StartUp (now Gimlet Media) is a, well, serialized look at starting a business. It’s hosted by Alex Blumberg, a great storyteller who was a founding member of Planet Money and a former producer for This American Life.

Start With: Episode One








Very Bad Wizards


A philosophy and psychology podcast for a (smart, curious) lay audience. Hosts Tamler Sommers (a philosopher) and David Pizarro (a psychologist) are friends and have a natural rapport, which they use to cover complicated philosophical concepts — but always in a way that is easy and entertaining to follow.

Start With: Trolleys, Utilitarians, and Psychopaths; Paul Bloom and the Perils of Empathy








The Gist


The only daily podcast I listen to, The Gist is hosted by Mike Pesca, an entertaining guy who was made to be a daily podcast host. He’s smart, funny, and clearly in love with the job.

Start With: yesterday’s episode






Slate’s Political Gabfest

slates-political-gabfestSlate’s Political Gabfest is a weekly digest of the most important stories in American politics. The hosts are informed, smart, and entertaining, and I learn something every episode.


Start With: last week’s episode


Sunday Links



Tuesday Links

*Though you could make the argument that delaying the first birth would lead to fewer pregnancies, which would lead to a lower chance of death. But then again, you could also make the argument that delaying the first birth would push the birth dating back, which theoretically could put more mothers at risk if they give birth well into their late 30s or 40s. Things are complicated.

Saturday Links

*”Is it possible?” is really three separate questions: 1) Is it theoretically possible? (the answer is probably yes); 2) Is it feasible? (the answer is much less clear); 3) Is it the right way to expend limited global health resources? (again, even less clear)

Friday Links

  • Will baristas go the way of bank tellers? Probably – at least in the sense that many of them will be obsolete but some will still remain important. Initially, though, the Briggo machine really seems to be competing for a relatively small slice of Starbucks’s space (and baristas) – the universities, airports, and hotels with lots of foot traffic and middling coffee. Interested to see if this is a classic case of disruptive innovation or just a unique way to address the demand for coffee in non-Starbucks environments
  • If you’re in a position of power and act as a mentor to younger people, don’t be a creep – excellent advice from Laura Helmuth after a science blogging scandal, and always. Though I strongly disagree with Helmuth’s assertion that young people shouldn’t seek out mentors; she seems to be using mentee to mean protege, where I take mentor to mean something much broader
  • In addition to consolidating memories and improving learning, sleep seems to flush out toxins from the brain, according to recently-released research (and yes, there is a Radiolab episode on sleep – give it a listen)
  • This is pretty great: Goldman Sachs introduces a 25% discount on the cost of lunch if employees eat before or after “rush hour,” so that its employees can get back to work as quickly as possible

Thursday Links

  • A hookworm vaccine would be a big deal for hundreds of millions of people around the world – one of my favorite Radiolab episodes, Parasites, discusses why
  • On one level, the atrocious rollout of the federal health insurance exchange, healthcare.gov, is obvious and to be expected – it’s a rollout of a hugely complex website that was hampered by serious political roadblocks. On another, though, it’s pretty disappointing to see just how badly its gone, and how many people working on it knew it would end up this way
  • I like Soko’s idea of giving designers and independent creators (sub-Saharan African women seem to be the main target) direct access to consumers. But shipping things internationally is expensive, which is part of the allure of the traditional exporter: it can drive shipping costs down with scale. Soko may have a plan to do that, but this article didn’t touch on it
  • An on-the-ground look at Sudan and South Sudan’s border conflicts. Nice overview of the area, the players, and the goals of each

Sunday Links

  • “There is a weird kind of discombobulating pleasure in having to switch sides. The world gets a tiny bit bigger every time you have to switch sides” – Jad Abumrad, during an interview in which he and Robert Krulwich share their favorite Radiolab episodes and discuss their craft. A must-read for everyone, but especially Radiolab fans
  • “Conservatives keep hoping that they can drive the system to collapse. That won’t happen. Enough people, states, and health-care interests are committed to making it work, just as the Massachusetts version has for the past seven years. And people now have a straightforward way to resist the forces of obstruction: sign up for coverage, if they don’t have it, and help others do so as well” – lucid take on the Affordable Care Act and the dangerous futility of Republican obstructionism, by Atul Gawande
  • “The key problem isn’t that the poor are incompetent but rather that they are chronically exposed to scarcity. Our social policy must address that inequality of scarcity” – a very interesting take on Sendhil Mullainathan’s and Eldar Shafir’s new book, Scarcity, from Bill Gardner at the Incidental Economist
  • How to create a $10,000 (total) bachelor’s degree

Saturday Links

Wednesday Links

  • Can emotional intelligence be taught? Fantastic article. It seems that the answer is “yes, probably, but more research is needed”
  • Epigenetics – broadly speaking, the change in gene expression caused by “nurture,” or environmental factors – is fascinating. This article by David Dobbs is a good (if long) overview, and Radiolab’s Inheritance episode is an accessible entry point to the topic, too
  • What’s it like to break the Ramadan fast with Islamic fundamentalist rebels (linked with Al Qaeda) in Syria? My friend Anna Day finds out
  • Since the day Jon Krakauer published Into the Wild, there’s been heated debates about what exactly killed Christopher McCandless (besides hubris). It seems that now there’s a plausible explanation

Monday Links