What are the most intellectually stimulating podcasts?
November 20, 2007 9:01 AM   Subscribe

What podcasts will make me more intelligent just by listening to them? I enjoy the BBC's "In Our Time", which features serious discussion of historical events and people by academics working in the field, and also quirky, thought-provoking programs like WNYC's "Radio Lab" and "This American Life". I'm not so keen on some of the podcasts I typically get from newspapers that gloss over the surface of a subject with little analysis. What other highbrow podcasts are made by people who really know their shit?
posted by nowonmai to Computers & Internet (59 answers total) 407 users marked this as a favorite
NPR science Friday
Harvard Business Review's IdeaCast
posted by Gungho at 9:08 AM on November 20, 2007

Quirks and Quarks from the CBC
posted by chrisamiller at 9:16 AM on November 20, 2007

I listen to The Naked Scientists. Isn't as lowbrow as it sounds...
posted by cosmac at 9:17 AM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: NPR's Intelligence Squared is a podcast that airs debates where the participants are experts in the topic and take opposing viewpoints on a particular issue. The podcast description: "Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2 US) is an Oxford-style three-on-three debating series sponsored by The Rosenkranz Foundation".

Just looking in my list of podcasts, I see topics like "A Booming China Spells Trouble", "Should We Welcome Undocumented Immigrants", and "Is Spreading Democracy in the Middle East a Bad Idea?" I enjoy the podcasts, as the topics usually seem to be timely but it's not a sensationalistic "ripped from the headlines" kind of thing.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:18 AM on November 20, 2007 [5 favorites]

Writer's Almanac. Garrison Keillor is God.
posted by SansPoint at 9:20 AM on November 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Faith from American Public Media is fantastic, if you're interested in religion, ethics, spirituality, etc.
posted by vytae at 9:21 AM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: "Quirks & Quarks" is a fine CBC podcast, but I suspect that you're looking for something more along the lines of the Ideas podcast. I only wish it were every weekday like it is on the radio.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:28 AM on November 20, 2007

I'm an addict.

Fresh Air is the best.
On The Media is surprisingly relevant to everything
Selected Shorts is variable but sometimes it's amazing.
There's a ton of New Yorker Podcasts, they are all pretty good.
posted by sully75 at 9:39 AM on November 20, 2007

--Absolutely seconding DrGirlfriend's above suggestion of Intelligence Squared.
--Anything put out by the University of Chicago--CHIASMOS, the UofC International and Area Studies Multimedia Outreach Source is excellent, as is their World Beyond the Headlines podcast. They do a Human Rights program and a law school faculty podcast as well.
--Stanford University does a series of podcasts that are quite good as well, covering topics like diplomacy, globalisation, international economics, etc.
--There's podcast lessons out there on things like Kant's Epistemology, and game theory.
--The Word Nerds are really interesting and entertaining, as well.
--There's a HowStuffWorks podcast that gives short, pithy descriptions of, well, how stuff works.
--This Week in Science/TWIS is an intelligent, interesting approach to science broadcasting, done out of UC Davis, I believe, and often have good interviews with scientists from varying fields.
--Dan Carlin's Hardcore History can be fun, too.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2007

  • The Naked Scientists, as mentioned by cosmac, are real doctors and biologists and physicists and whatnot. I dig them.
  • The CERN podcast is from an Large Hadron Collider guy.
  • The Scientific American podcasts are good -- they usually feature interviews with Real Scientists (though sometimes just mere science reporters).
  • I enjoy the Guardian's Science Weekly podcast, and while it is a newspaper's, if you've not tried it, I'd suggest giving it a shot.
  • I've read good things about Dan Carlin's Common Sense and Hardcore History podcasts, but haven't tried 'em yet. Report back?

posted by mumkin at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2007

For history: Hardcore History
For literature: The Writers' Block
For skepticism: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe
For science: NPR's Science Friday
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:43 AM on November 20, 2007

Le Show
posted by rhizome at 9:44 AM on November 20, 2007

Open Source with Christopher Lydon (just back from hiatus!)
posted by proj at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2007

I'd reccomend Oh-la-la Franco a-go-go if you want to learn a little bit about old french pop music, it's very hard to connect dots, but the woman definitely knows what she is talking about.
posted by Large Marge at 10:09 AM on November 20, 2007

Background Briefing
Live from the Left Coast
Democracy Now
American Radioworks documentaries
Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, and MIT and other universities podcast some of their courses through iTunes
posted by HotPatatta at 10:20 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Leonard Lopate on WNYC does a great two hour talk show M-F, parts of which are put in podcast form. His underreported series and please explain are particularly good.

Left, Right and Center on KCRW is also good.

I second the recommendation of On The Media.

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me from NPR is funny and newsy.
posted by brookeb at 10:23 AM on November 20, 2007

I signed up for an account just to post this comment so you know it must be good:

Physics for Future Presidents by UC-Berkeley professor Richard Muller.

Funny. Entertaining. Interesting. Informative. He talks about basic physics and relates it to current events such as Alternative Energy and Global Warming. Every American citizen should be forced to listen to this.

For some reason the volume on it is really low so you have to turn your speakers up pretty much all the way but it's worth it.
posted by pallak7 at 10:23 AM on November 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

seconding (or thirding): On the Media, Intelligence Squared US Debates, and CBC's Ideas.

also, each of the following are fantastic programs as far as guests, hosts, and production value:
Studio 360 = "creativity, pop culture, and the arts"
All in the Mind = psychology
Sound Opinions = music
The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell = movies
The Sound of Young America = pop culture
posted by ncc1701d at 10:30 AM on November 20, 2007

Dr. John Leinhard does a podcast out of the University of Houston that I grew up listening to called "Engines of our Ingenuity." He's an engineering guy, but switched over into history and anthropology stuff and now pretty much just studies "the machines that make our civilization run." It's great. "Stardate" is also great, and at two minutes long, it is very easy to fit in.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:46 AM on November 20, 2007

Just to clarify, pallak7, are you recommending just the Physics for Future Presidents lecture? Would you suggest all of Prof. Muller's Physics 10: Descriptive Introduction to Physics lectures?
posted by mumkin at 11:01 AM on November 20, 2007

Well, I haven't listened to all of them but every one I have listened to has been good (probably 7 or 8). PFFT is a good opener though, from where the listener could expand if they so desired.

The class is tremendously popular at Berkeley and it's intended for Liberal Arts majors so anyone should be able to understand it.

He also usually has a Q&A session during the lectures where interesting questions like "Why are there holes in Swiss Cheese?" are answered.

So, yes, I guess I would recommend all of them.
posted by pallak7 at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2007

Science Talk: The Podcast of Scientific American. Steve Mirsky is funny and quirky and gets a lot of interesting interviews.
posted by tiburon at 11:15 AM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

i haven't listened to it yet, but i just subscribed to the essential knowledge podcast and that certainly sounds like it wants to make you smarter.
posted by pieliza at 11:26 AM on November 20, 2007

Seconding Physics 10 (Physics for Future Presidents) -- yes, every lecture -- and History According to Bob.

I listen to tons of podcasts and those two are my all-time faves.
posted by Camofrog at 12:01 PM on November 20, 2007

The Thomas Jefferson Hour features interviews with T.J. as portrayed by historian Clay Jenkinson. Remarkably well done and un-cringeworthy, as Jenkinson knows his stuff but doesn't ham it up.
posted by futility closet at 12:59 PM on November 20, 2007

posted by horseblind at 1:04 PM on November 20, 2007

Dan Carlin's Common Sense and Hardcore History podcasts, but haven't tried 'em yet. Report back?

I'll weigh in on this. I subscribed to History According to Bob for a while and Carlin's Hardcore History. Bob casts more frequently that Dan (weekly vs. monthly, I believe) and more deeply about his subjects; however Dan is far less dry and has more of a layman's appeal. Dan is for the casual history buff (I'd count myself here) while Bob is for the serious, reads-twenty-biographies-a-year, has-seen-every-Ken-Burns-documentary aficionado.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2007

Oooh, I second (x 1000) the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
posted by proj at 1:30 PM on November 20, 2007

I second TEDTalks. They've got an amazing variety of content, both in depth and breadth. The content is both interesting and very relevant, from technology and science to politics and current events. The talks are typically between 10 and 20 minutes and are recorded at the TED conference. Low investment with a very high payoff.

Here's a link you can feed straight to your podcast aggregator: http://feeds.feedburner.com/TEDTalks_audio
posted by aeighty at 1:39 PM on November 20, 2007

and there are more if you check under "podcast" or "podcasts" tags.

Philosophy Talk from Stanford is good.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:41 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

On a more particular topic, are there any decent podcasts covering the 2008 election in the US that aren't run by the mainstream media?

I'm particularly interested in anything that pays attention to technology, the Internet and how it is going to play a huge part in the election.
posted by jbiz at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2007

I just started listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and found it fairly interesting in terms of discussing pseudoscience, etc.

EconTalk is very good, if you want to listen to discussions on the economic way of thinking. I believe they've made the point a few times that, prior to podcasting, the primary way to listen in on this level of economic discussion was to sit in some corner of the faculty lounge. Note that the topics may not be what one may associate with economics: they range from baseball, recycling, parenting, ticket scalping, and so on. Basically, they're showing economics as the study of behavior and incentives. Good stuff.
posted by chengjih at 2:18 PM on November 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Depending on your interests, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Voices on Antisemitism podcast series--which has featured interviews with people as diverse as Cornel West, Errol Morris, and Shawn Green of the Mets--might be interesting. Even if it doesn't sound some something you would get into, I recommend giving it a shot.

(Full disclosure: I work at the Museum, but not in the division that develops the podcast series.)
posted by arco at 2:20 PM on November 20, 2007

oooh these are good: I also recommend TVO's Big Ideas, a different lecturer every week or so...
posted by stratastar at 2:37 PM on November 20, 2007

Bob casts more frequently that Dan (weekly vs. monthly, I believe) and more deeply about his subjects; however Dan is far less dry and has more of a layman's appeal. Dan is for the casual history buff (I'd count myself here) while Bob is for the serious, reads-twenty-biographies-a-year, has-seen-every-Ken-Burns-documentary aficionado.

Bob casts about six times a week, and I rarely find him "dry"; in fact, he's often kind of funny in a history-geek way. (He does a lot of shows about mistresses, so that says something.) I'm not a hardcore history guy and I like Bob better than Dan.
posted by Camofrog at 2:41 PM on November 20, 2007

I came in here to recommend Speaking of Faith, which, despite my lack of religion, I still find fascinating and On The Media
but, since they have been mentioned several times give yourself some pop culture smarts with Keith and The Girl.
posted by geekyguy at 3:53 PM on November 20, 2007

Over 6000 public libraries now offer free downloadable audiobooks . You can search for available titles here, or see if a library near you offers them. This is how I fill my commute hours now. (I just finished Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land", which I recommend). I go through 1-2 books a week. The biggest benefits over reading ink-on-paper are that the noise-suppression headphones overcome bus noise and people gabbing on cellphones, and I can continue "reading" as I walk the extra-healthful 3/4 mile to work.
posted by gregor-e at 4:01 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

For something more general/newsy, I recommend the BBC's Newspod, a compilation of stories and interviews from the Beeb's vast network of programs. Some of the stories focus on U.K. events, but their coverage of world affairs and culture is excellent. And I always feel like my I.Q. shoots up twenty points when I'm listening to someone with a British accent.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

How do I add the TED talks to my iTunes as a podcast feed?
posted by tksh at 4:17 PM on November 20, 2007

ABC Radio's The Ark and Encounter (I'm not at all religious, but they're often interesting), occasionally Late Night Live (very occasionally, 'cos I really can't stand Phillip Adams), All In The Mind (mentioned above) and Ockham's Razor.

All the above for brain food, and the Hack highlights for a light snack.
posted by Pinback at 4:19 PM on November 20, 2007

Futures in Biotech!
posted by corpse at 4:39 PM on November 20, 2007

Behind the News with Doug Henwood
posted by RogerB at 6:32 PM on November 20, 2007

I've been a fan of the Charlie Rose on PBS for a few years. Charlie interviews a broad spectrum of politicians, pundits, artists of all media, scientists, technology CEOs, etc.

Unfortunately, it's $5 to buy the audio of a program through iTunes or Audible. What I do: my Tivo records it every night, then I select interesting programs (1-2/week) & capture the audio into my old iMac using SpinDoctor (which came with Toast). I convert 'em to mp3 and dump 'em onto my iPod or burn a few episodes onto a disc for listening in the car. It sounds labor-intensive, but I really spend just a few seconds per episode to do this.
posted by neuron at 7:44 PM on November 20, 2007

The TED talks are good, and well-produced.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:47 PM on November 20, 2007

For those interested in technology, software and the Internet I highly recommend these:

IT Conversations (here's the feed) has great tech conference coverage like the recent Ruby on Rails Conference. There you can also find Phil Windley's podcast "Technometria" about technology and information. Also, my absolute favorite podcast, Jon Udell's "Interviews with Innovators" is hosted through ITC. Udell does these fantastic intereviews with people who are designing the future of the web, information technology and so much more.

The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has a podcast feed up for the
The 2007 Singularity Summit
which is an extremely stimulating conference about the future, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), life extension, superintelligence, robotics, and the coming singularity.

SALT - Seminars About Long Term Thinking is produced by The Long Now Foundation. It has great talks from big thinkers such as Kevin Kelly, Bruce Sterling, Ray Kurzweil, Jared Diamond, Jimmy Wales and Vernor Vinge to name just a few.
posted by jeffdaly at 10:50 PM on November 20, 2007

I'm surprised at how 99% of the podcasts mentioned here on metafilter are just NPR radio shoveled into a podcast format. I thought the internet was supposed to be an antidote to the sleepy elitism of NPR.

If you're ready to step out of the NPR blandosphere, I recommend wisewomanhealingways (dotcom.) Just to remind everybody that there's a lot more interesting stuff on the internet than NPR.
posted by snakey at 11:17 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Let's try that again:


I misread your post and thought that John Lydon was doing a podcast. Let's hope he starts one!
posted by lukemeister at 12:39 AM on November 21, 2007

Austrailian radio has a great downloadable podcast series called PHILOSOPHER'S ZONE and also ALL IN THE MIND. The latter is about neuroscience and is very novice-friendly. I reccomend both very highly.
posted by mateuslee at 1:11 AM on November 21, 2007

Seconding the CBC's Ideas podcast. Hands down!
posted by furtive at 5:43 AM on November 21, 2007

The BBC's Material World, all about latest developments in science with a focus on researchers in various fields. The BBC has tons of great content like this but mostly locked up behind RealAudio.. Material World is one of the few shows that's in podcast form.
posted by wackybrit at 6:20 AM on November 21, 2007

tksh, go to Advanced/Subscribe to Podcast and paste this into the box:

posted by futility closet at 6:16 PM on November 21, 2007

I enjoy the weekly podcast of the CBC's Tapestry. It's about world religion, and they get fascinating guests. I'm not super-keen on the host, but the content makes it worthwhile.
posted by dbarefoot at 2:00 PM on November 22, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks a lot everyone! My next AskMe will be "how can I add more hours to the day to listen to podcasts?" I might report back on which ones I like best if it doesn't seem too much like using the thread as a personal blog. "Best answers" will be awarded as I work my way through these podcasts - I have nearly a year before the thread closes!
posted by nowonmai at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2007

Seconding "The Skeptics Guide." I've been listening for a couple of months, and it's great.

Oh, and: Sidebar! Sidebar!
posted by sdodd at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2007

I've listened to many of the podcasts listed above, but by far and away my favorite is WYNC's Radio Lab. TED Talks comes in second, while APM's Marketplace comes in third.
posted by ericrolph at 11:44 AM on November 23, 2007

LSAT Logic in Everyday Life is seven minutes or so of analysis of some issue in the news, from the standpoint of dissecting the arguments presented. It's funny and thought-provoking and really pretty great.

Here's what I listen to every day:
BBC Global News
BBC Newspod
Classic Poetry Aloud (one poem, read well)
KCRW's Today's Top Tune (one song)

These come out once a week (or so):
LSAT Logic in Everyday Life
The Classic Tales Podcast (short stories)
PRI:Selected Shorts (short stories, mostly modern)
BBC From Our Own Correspondent (background reporting and slice of life stories from foreign correspondents)
BBC Instant Guide (FAQ on an issue or person in the news)

Indian Electronica makes me feel smarter, though it is music. Try the DJ Spooky 80 minute mix.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:13 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Few things are more intellectually stimulating than Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time' on BBC Radio 4.

Billed as the History of Ideas, it has excellent guests who will teach you everything you need to know about string theory, Platonic forms or Jean-Paul Sartre. I am listening to the latest episode on the Fibonacci Sequence right now.

This was one of the first BBC R4 programmes to get a regular podcast, but there are now many more. I would also particularly recommend From Our Own Correspondent.
posted by ksLimbs at 12:05 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

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