by Capla2 min read25th Oct 201431 comments


Personal Blog

I discovered podcasts last year, and I love them! Why not be hearing about new ideas while I'm walking to where I'm going? (Some of you might shout "insight porn!", and I think that I largely agree. However, 1) I don't have any particular problem with insight porn and 2) I have frequently been exposed to an idea or been recommenced a book through a podcast, on which I latter followed up, leading to more substantive intellectual growth.)

I wonder if anyone has favorites that they might want to share with me.

I'll start:

Radiolab is, hands down, the best of all the podcasts. This seems universally recognized: I’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees. Even the people who make other podcasts think that Radiolab is better than their own. This one regularly invokes a profound sense of wonder at the universe and gratitude for being able to appreciate it. If you missed it somehow, you're probably missing out.

The Freakonomics podcast, in my opinion, comes close to Radiolab. All the things that you thought you knew, but didn’t, and all the things you never knew you wanted to know, but do, in typical Freakonomics style. Listening to their podcast is one of the two things that makes me happy.

There’s one other podcast that I consider to be in the same league (and this one you've probably never heard of) : The Memory Palace. 5-10 minute stories form history, it is really well done. It’s all the more impressive because while Radiolab and Freakonomics are both made by professional production teams in radio studios, The Memory Palace is just some guy who makes a podcast.

Those are my three top picks (and they are the only podcasts that I listen to at “normal” speed instead of x1.5 or x2.0, since their audio production is so good).

I discovered Rationally Speaking: Exploring the Borderlands Between Reason and Nonsense recently and I’m loving it. It is my kind of skeptics podcast, investigating topics that are on the fringe but not straight out bunk (I don't need to listen to yet another podcast about how astrology doesn't work). The interplay between the hosts, Massimo (who has a PhD in Philosophy, but also one in Biology, which excuses it) and Julia (who I only just realized is a founder of the CFAR), is great.

I also sometimes enjoy the Cracked podcast, which has topics that touch on cognitive bias and statistics but also analysis of (pop) culture and interesting things about the world in general. They are comedians, not philosophers or social scientists, and sometimes their lack of expertise shows (especially when they are discussing topics about which I, and I think the average LW reader, know more than they do), but comedians often have worthwhile insights and I have been intrigued by ideas they introduced me to or gotten books at the library on their recommendation.

To what is everyone else listening?

Edit: On suggestion from several members on LessWrong I've begun listening to Hardcore History and it's companion podcast Common Sense. They're both great. I have a good knowledge of history from my school days (I liked the subject, and I seem to have strong a propensity to retain extraneous  information, particularly information in narrative form), and Hardcore History episodes are a great refresher course, reviewing that which I'm already familiar, but from a slightly different perspective, yielding new insights and a greater connectivity of history. I think it has almost certainly supplanted the Cracked podcast as number 5 on my list.

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31 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:48 PM
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[-][anonymous]6y 7

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is my favorite podcast, by far.

In Our Time is a BBC production, where 3-4 academics explain a topic from their field to a lay audience. The host manages it very well, and it has a large archive, so you can pick and choose topics.

Also, if you like podcasts, consider audiobooks.

Lionhearted suggested Hardcore history when I asked him about history books. I've only gotten though n episode and half, but I'm enjoying it.

Audiobooks are great. I tend to alternate between full books and podcast, catching up on the shows while I'm waiting for things on hold from the library.

[-][anonymous]6y 5

Radiolab is, hands down, the best of all the podcasts. This seems universally recognized: I’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees.

FWIW, I disagree (though I agree that everyone else seems to love it). It has high production values but I think it's pretty bad if you're actually interested in learning about something. They drag out even the most basic fact by coating it in (to me) extremely boring narrative, and leave out anything that would let you actually reason about the subject they're talking about.

I seem to be alone in this opinion.

I think Econtalk is a much better podcast for actually learning about something. Hardcore History also seems to be pretty good for this, though I've only just started listening to it.

I'm currently doing a Microeconomics Podcast optimized for students taking an introductory microeconomics course.

I listen to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, EconTalk, Meet the Composer, Planet Money, Radiolab, Serial, StartUp, and This American Life.

Singularity 1 on 1 is a podcast that has interviewed people associated with this forum, like Lukeprog, Robin Hanson and James Miller. However there seems to be a lot of inferential distance between the host and his guests. I think someone like James Miller or Yvain would make a better host for this type of podcast.

Side note, if you find podcasts almost unlistenable at normal speed, you should use Overcast, which has the best speed-up effects of any app I've tried.

I concur. I started using overcast a few month ago.

Will look into S1o1.

Planet Money is fantastic, I never miss it. Savage Love is equally fantastic, and on a topic too many people neglect because they don't think there's much to learn.

Welcome to Night Vale is quirky and fun. Plus quite popular, so gives you something to talk about with other geeks you run into at random.

I almost exclusively listen to medical podcasts (as I work in the medical field), but have been meaning to break into some non-medical podcasts; this looks like an interesting list to start with, thank you.

If anyone else is interested in medical podcasts, particularly from the emergency/intensive care/anaesthetics/retrieval sphere, there is a flourishing community of #FOAMed (Free Open Access Meducation) that strive to provide quality, evidence based teaching in medicine. It aims to reduce the knowledge translation time, as well as discuss cutting edge topics and portray different styles of work from around the world. I have found it excellent for making me both more passionate and more knowledgeable about my work.

Some of the best from my perspective are EMCrit, the SMACC conference talks from 2014 (or direct download here) and 2013, Life In The Fast Lane, The RAGE Podcast, St.Emlyn's Virtual Hospital podcast, and the Intensive Care Network

Writing Excuses is good.

Lukeprog's Pale Blue Dot podcast is great.

When I'm in the mood for light entertainment, I like the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality podcast (even though the written version didn't interest me). I will definitely try Cracked, though.

Thanks for raising the topic.

[-][anonymous]6y 2

The only ones I listen to semi-regularly are Planet Money and Econtalk, and even then it depends on the subjects being discussed/the people being interviewed.

For better link formatting you might remove the space between ] and (

I'm actually quite surprised at RadioLab's high ranking. I've not listened for a few months because I found a rather startling drop in quality from the good old days (the early episodes are certainly unbelievably good). Has it improved again recently, or have others not found a recent drop in quality?

I can't say, since I'm working though their archives in chronological order. I did feel a little bored by a newer one that I happened to listen to recently (on the Galapagos islands), but was full engaged in the recent one about dolphins (though that might be a topic of specific interest to me and my endeavors).

Interviews with people who've recently written history books

This Week in Microbiology
If you're in the mood for more science than you'll get from a TED talk.

[-][anonymous]6y 1

Why do you listen to all but a few of the podcasts at x1.5 or x2 speed? I know there's another person on here who does the same with audio books (can't remember who). Does it improve retention/enjoyment or does it simply allow you to get through more items quickly?

I find that I can follow pretty much all media (with the exception of a few things that require more careful consideration) at just under double-speed or faster. My mind just acclimates, so that if I do slow it down by accident, it sound like the speakers are talking in slow motion.

It doesn't effect my enjoyment or comprehension, and I can listen to twice as much in a year (and a lifetime).

I find broadcast speech in general, and especially recorded narration such as audiobooks, to be slow enough as to provoke distraction.

On top of the additional focal intensity, there's double the time bandwidth. Of course, it's sensitive to my mental state -- sometimes when I'm de-energized I need to slow it down to 1.5x, but I'd ideally hover around 2.5x (though software rarely goes above 2x yet).

To get started, listen to something at 1.25x, and crank it up further as you get accustomed to the density.

Radiolab is, hands down, the best of all the podcasts. This seems universally recognized: I’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees. Even the people who make other podcasts think that Radiolab is better than their own. This one regularly invokes a profound sense of wonder at the universe and gratitude for being able to appreciate it. If you missed it somehow, you're probably missing out.

Is there a particular episode that you can recommend?

Nope. There's to much variation in the topics. Just pick one who's title strikes, or start from the beginning and work your way though. (I remember one early episode that was about the bible and Abraham being willing to kill his son. You can skip that one if it's not up your alley.)

James Altucher, the serial entrepreneur and chess champ, has a great podcast. Recently he interviewed Geoffrey Miller, the evolutionary psychologist who wrote the Mating Mind. The other episodes feature guests that dispense advice relating to business, life, entrepreneurship etc... Itunes link :https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-james-altucher-show/id794030859?mt=2

Roderick on the Line is an entertaining podcast, mainly because John Roderick is a quirky storyteller with a lot of stories to tell. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/roderick-on-the-line/id471418144?mt=2

I'm surprised to see Radiolab get top billing, and This American Life not even get a mention. I think of Radiolab as an excellent imitation of TAL. :-)

Ira Glass seems to think Radiolab is better.

Wow, that's neat. I guess I'd better move Radiolab higher up on my list.

I had to stop listening to TAL because I was tired of wanting to kill myself after every episode.


Every single episode seems to have the deep underlying message of "Humans are fucked up, on a fundamental level. This is what it means to be human, and it cannot be changed. Let us revel in it." Sometimes it's melancholy, sometimes it's straight-up sad-as-hell, but there's never a feeling of "things can get better." It's always of "these problems are too large to change, nothing can be done but to embrace and accept it." It is the loss of all hope that makes me want to just give up on everything and crawl into a dark corner for the rest of the day.

I like reading the transcripts of TAL, but I hate listening to podcasts, so I don't know what the audio is like. I do definitely recommend the reporting/storytelling!

I've found The Art of Charm Podcast valuable in helping me overcome mild social anxiety and in being more confident generally. The podcast has its roots in the pickup community (which is particularly evident in its early episodes), but has morphed into more of a "men's lifestyle" show.