Normally, I rarely listen to podcasts.  It would only be based on recommendations when I want to hear opinions on specific topics or if I need entertainment on solo road trips. My podcasts knowledge is not broad, but here I am writing a post on my podcast recommendations…

I am taking this as an opportunity to try some RSES podcast recommendations. My typical commute to RSES is about 30mins long. Usually, I would either call family back home (very convenient with the time change), listen to music or just enjoy my walk. The point here is that I have about an hour every day during the week to discover podcasts. We (on the Circulation Team) asked RSES students for recommendations, now I have a list of over 20 podcasts. They vary from planetary science, botany, paleoclimates, volcanics, antarctic expeditions and statistics.

I started with various podcast series by economist Tim Harford. I selected random episodes from each series, and almost every time, I ended up bingeing them without even noticing. I must warn you; they can be very addictive.

50 things that made the modern economy 

Described as “fact-filled micro-documentaries”, these podcasts are ~10 min long and narrates how things came to be and their impact on the modern economy. Topics can range from paper, pencils, batteries, air conditioners or GPS. There’s also episodes on chess algorithms, auctions, insurance, public-key cryptography… I could keep going. They are very informative, with random facts and interesting details that will often take you by surprise. At the end of every podcast, they will cite all the information (book recommendations!)

More or less: behind the stats

The concept of these brief, 10min episodes is very interesting. Pretty much, if you see a statistic anywhere, for instance: “After the fire, Koalas are now functionally extinct“. But they don’t provide any data to corroborate it, you can send the statistics to the producers, and they will make an episode out of it. They give background information as to how the statistic came to be, and they reference all their sources. They also discuss how accurate or reliable the statistic is and prove or disprove it. Beyond just statistics, they give a proper explanation.

Cautionary Tales

This podcast is lengthier, between 30-40min. The podcast goes over the 1980’s book “World’s Greatest Mistakes”, a catalogue of unfortunate events by Nigel Blundell. The idea is to learn from other people’s mistakes rather than your own. As he relates each tale, he analyses why the misfortune happened, what could have been the train of thought. He intersperses the narrative by comparing where those mistakes have been repeated throughout history and, if we are not cautious, where we might repeat them in our daily lives. Why did mistakes happen? Is it human to make mistakes? Do we need better systems? For now, we can learn from history.

If you enjoy Harford’s podcasts just as I do, there is also How to Vaccinate the World and Pop Up Ideas. And if you have any podcast recommendations, please send them our way!

Read more about Tim Harford and its work here.