The 6 best Science Focus Podcast episodes of 2019

It’s been a vintage year for us on the Science Focus Podcast, so we’d thought we’d share our pick of the crop.

Did you know we have a podcast, one that we happen to think is really rather good? If so, marvellous, go tell your friends and leave us a review. If not, well today is your lucky day, as the team here at BBC Science Focus have picked out what we think are our best podcasts of 2019.

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Somehow, our inspiring chat with American astronaut Kathryn D Sullivan about what it’s really like to walk in space didn’t make the list, nor did our discussions with household names like Richard Dawkins, Sir David Attenborough and Jim Al-Khalili.

Other corkers that didn’t make it on cover subjects like artificial intelligence, our skin, the significance of the Moon landing, and race science, among many more. You can listen to all of them and find out how to subscribe here, but until then, here are our picks of the best science podcasts of 2019:

Gretchen McCulloch: How has the internet affected how we communicate?

As someone who grew up socialising on the internet, starting in the days of MSN Messenger, I’ve always been a keen user of “internet speak” – that is, ALL CAPS FOR SHOUTING, ~sparkly tildes for sarcasm~, emoji, and only sometimes ending a sentence with a full stop.

So, it was a pleasure to talk to Gretchen McCulloch, who strongly believes that this isn’t a sign that we’re all forgetting how to write “proper” English, but that we’re developing a style that’s much more useful for talking through text. We talked about the history of internet speak, why humour is so important, and why emoji are really just gestures. 

Sara Rigby – Online assistant at sciencefocus.com

Read more about language:

Adam Kay: Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year on a labour ward?

Over the festive period, when we’re pulling crackers, stuffing our faces with turkey and enjoying some well-earned time off, it can be easy to forget about the thousands of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff who are toiling away on Christmas Day. In this episode, comedian and writer Adam Kay, who was formerly a junior doctor, gives a warts-and-all account of what it’s like to work on the frontline of the NHS at Christmas.

The podcast ties in with his new book Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas, which follows on from his enormously popular This Is Going To Hurt. Hearing Adam talk about his experiences – the good and the bad – gave me even more respect for the wonderful army of staff who give up their own family time in order to ensure that we stay healthy over the Christmas period, and I’ll be raising a glass to them this year. 

Alice Lipscombe-Southwell – Production editor, BBC Science Focus

Read more about Christmas:

Bill Bryson: What should we know about how our bodies work?

Our bodies are pretty amazing. They put up with a lot from us – our fondness for fast food, a tipple or two (or more at this time of year) and, certainly in my case, relative inactivity sat at a desk for 7 hours a day.

Hearing Bill Bryson talk about the human body and all the wonderful processes that keep us going gave me a new appreciation for the strange circumstances that led to my life here on Earth.

Amy Barrett – Editorial assistant, BBC Science Focus

Read more about the human body:

James Lovelock: What can the father of Gaia theory tell us about our future?

James Lovelock is one of the sharpest thinkers on our planet. Best known as an environmental guru and creator of the Gaia hypothesis, he also developed scientific instruments for NASA missions to Mars, invented the electron capture detector (with which he became the first person to detect the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere), and even carried out influential work in cryopreservation, bringing frozen hamsters back to life.

He’s long been something of a scientific hero of mine, so I was chuffed to meet up with him on the eve of his 100th birthday for a look back at his life and career.

James Lloyd – Staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Read more about the future of the planet:

Caroline Criado Perez: Does data discriminate against women?

Scientific research has a blind spot when it comes to women, the consequences of which aren’t trivial. Take car crashes as an example. Crash dummies and car collisions are typically imagined with men in mind. Women tend to sit further forward, changing the geometry of their bodies and therefore the forces they’re subjected to in a collision.

The result of this difference is stark. Women are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured in a crash and 17 per cent more likely to die. It’s easy to feel angry, but in this interview and in her book, Caroline’s measured, thoughtful journalism shines a light on the problems and explains how we can be better. Essential listening (and reading!)

Dan Bennett – Editor, BBC Science Focus

Read more about women in science:

Andrew Hunter Murray and Dan Schreiber: Is there really no such thing as a fish?

How do you pick out the best podcast from such an extraordinary pack this year? Talking to Brian Switek about bones gave me a new appreciation of our internal scaffolding, John Higgs gave me hope for the future, and I could have spoken to Mark McCaughrean about launching space missions for hours were it not for boring things like train timetables getting in the way.

However, easily the most fun I’ve ever had when recording a podcast was with Andrew Hunter Murray and Dan Schreiber from the award-winning (and hilarious) podcast No Such Thing As A Fish. We got meta by doing a science podcast about doing science podcasts, and chatted nonsense about lecturing to empty theatres, scientists who put fake eyes on a cow’s backside, and the logistics of building a statue out of sausages.

Alexander McNamara – Online editor, sciencefocus.com 

Read more about the science of comedy:

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That’s it for this year, but be sure to subscribe to the Science Focus Podcast on AcastiTunesStitcherRSSOvercast, or wherever else you listen to podcasts for more insightful and entertaining interviews in 2020.