This post has been updated, and will probably be updated again, because that's how best-of lists should work.
I love podcasts, you love podcasts, your grandma probably loves podcasts. Looking for some science you can enjoy while your eyeballs do stuff that isn't reading? Perhaps hoping to regurgitate something that sounds smart while sitting around with family on a summer vacation? Great. Read on.
Half science, half fiction (which is why it also made our list of the best sci-fi podcasts): Every week, host Rose Eveleth picks a fictional future and has real experts explain how it might work. What if all drugs were made legal? What if antibiotics stopped working? What if the internet suddenly disappeared?
This is another Rose Eveleth creation, so if you like the work she's done with Flash Forward you're bound to enjoy it. But don't expect goofy futurism: this episode of ESPN's recent podcast tells the totally true, harrowing tale of the first all-female expedition to the North Pole. Answering an ad in the paper, 20 women from the U.K. with no expedition experience took off for one serious ski trip. This may not be a podcast that tells stories about doing science in a lab, but it's about pure exploration—which we'd argue captures the same spirit as your favorite science podcasts. Plus, the fact that such an on-foot trek is probably no longer possible due to melting ice gives the story an unfortunate climate angle as well.
What? A tech podcast in a list of science podcast recommendations? For shame, etc. Well, you can count on the tech editors of Popular Science to keep you up to date on tech news without devolving into Apple fanboy spirals. No matter how much you actually know or care about technology, this weekly update will keep you armed with digital knowledge.
Episode recs: It's a weekly news recap, so just dive right in
Radiolab is actually kind of a dinosaur in podcast years: It's been around in some capacity or another since 2002. But it's no wonder the show has stuck around. The hosts have a knack for drawing audiences in to deeply reported science stories. The banter can grow a little tiresome—it's feels pretty formulaic at this point—but Radiolab's stories are always smart and interesting, and often pretty touching to boot. The podcast has branched out to non-science-y subjects in recent years, but curiosity is always a key story element.
Episode recs: Colors, Shrink, Sight Unseen, Juicervose, Radiolab Live: Tell-Tale Heart Featuring Oliver Sacks
I'm a little biased, because I show up on SciFri's news roundup every once in a while, but when it comes to reviewing the week in science, there's no one like Ira Flatow. His genuine enthusiasm for all things science means his show is remarkably conversational and super informative. SciFri is particularly good to listen to on your way to family holiday gatherings, as it can get you up to date on recent science headlines while giving you a few intriguing evergreen stories with which to impress the in-laws.
Episode rec: 2015's Year in Review, in which I talk about poop
Here's another great holiday season recommendation (because food). Gastropod dives into the science and history behind the stuff we stuff our faces with. With a mix of long, in-depth pieces and bite-sized food facts, this scrumptious show will make you feel like one smart cookie at the dinner table.
Invisibilia is a must-listen: The show examines the hidden forces that influence human behavior. The hosts get into lots of fascinating psychology, but my favorite episodes are the ones that focus on profoundly weird brain quirks that can occur. People who can't feel fear? Check. Folks with empathy so strong they believe they physically experience the sensations they see others experience? Yup. A blind man who insists he can see? Absolutely.
Episode recs: How to Become Batman, The Secret History of Thoughts, Fearless
This one goes into the science and historical baggage of (duh) periods. If you get periods, you'll be fascinated. If you don't get periods, you'll also be fascinated. Go ahead and learn something. Periods aren't gross. It's all gonna be okay.
Episode recs: Just listen to all of it, tbh
This science show from Gimlet media (the network behind the popular internet culture show Reply All) puts various ideas (fracking, gun control, hypnosis) to the test. What's a fad, what's a fact, and what's somewhere in the mixed-up middle? Now you'll have an arsenal of knowledge to pull from when your cousin starts babbling about the importance of attachment parenting.
Scientists do interesting work, but they're often interesting people, too. The Science Collider is a story-slam type podcast not unlike The Moth, but it focuses on stories "about science". This is defined quite broadly for the purposes of the show: Sometimes you'll hear about things that happened inside a lab, sometimes a scientific expert will tell an emotional tale that they're able to relate back to their line of work in some powerful, poetic way, and sometimes someone will just have a lot of scientific or medical facts to share about something really random that happened to them. If you like science and you like stories, it's a no-brainer.
The best way to learn about science is to dive in with childlike enthusiasm. This podcast lets you highjack actual children's enthusiasm to learn new stuff. Real (adorable) kids ask real (adorable) questions. The podcast is made to be accessible for any young'un, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it if you're not listening with kids. Don't pretend you don't want to hear kids talk to scientists about farts.
Bodies are weird, and historically we've done a lot of even weirder things to them. Sawbones is a show about medical history hosted by Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin, and it gets as gross and funny as it gets educational. Bonus: it's been on the internet airwaves since 2013, so there's plenty of backlog for you to catch up on during your next car trip. It's not like the science of trepanation has changed much in the past four years.
Yeah, most of our favorite science podcasts are at least a little bit goofy. We're goofy people here at PopSci. But sometimes you just need a reliable and impeccably produced review of the week in science news. That's when you listen to this podcast from Nature.
Episode recs: It's weekly news, just dive right into the latest release.
ELT is Flora Lichtman's spin on the "whoa I did not think that was such an interesting topic, mind=blown" genre. Not episode is science-centric, strictly speaking, but don't worry—you'll learn plenty.
Science Friday's first not-Science-Friday offering is one you do not want to miss. The show explores the untold stories of science. That might sound like a tired premise—how many podcasts claim to tell untold stories, amiright—but trust us, Annie Minoff and Elah Feder actually take their listeners to some weird and wonderful places.
Ever wondered what it's like to pretend you're on Mars? Gimlet's newest science-y offering chronicles a year in the lives of six ersatz astronauts. The team's audio diaries offer "the true story of a fake planet"—and some hints at what an actual sojourn into space might look like.
Episode recs: It's a short series, just marathon it.
What? We're biased. PopSci has a new podcast, and it's about all things weird. Each week, three editors come prepared with the most bizarre facts we could find. Recent subjects include smoke enemas, the first celebrity diet, and Thomas Jefferson's obsession with giant sloths.