Podcasts of note

Podcasts are a thing. Since being an academic has destroyed all joy from reading the written word, audio is my remaining narrative pleasure. (C&C audiobooks).

Podcasts are a vexing artform, for which I hypothesise the reason to be:

  1. Because it takes a while to build up an audience, and then target and profile that audience there is an incentive to produce never-ending content torrents, because that is the easiest format to financialise. As a result they overflow the banks of their concept, or at least dilute it until the flavour is weak.
  2. Podcasts set the level for for shallow engagement with science, history and current affairs. “I heard in a podcast that…” denotes that I hear something interesting but failed to treat it as important enough to follow up.

On the plus side, podcasts for now open the door to some odd and interesting voices who entertain and occasionally inform me cheaply, and in a way that seems somehow less pathological and/or sleep disrupting than prestige TV shows.

A challenge in recommending podcasts is their volatility. The more a podcast apes the radio and commits to a regular schedule, or commits to advertisers and needs to make up volume, the more likely that it is that any given episode is unexciting filler. Alternative explanation for this phenomenon:

  • some of them are not laser focussed on my interests alone, which is allowed I suppose.
  • interviewing is hard and people who are not good at it do not notice

Either way, podcasts have highly variable killer-to-filler ratios, and recommending some of them is fraught because the unschooled might start on a waste-of-time or off-message episode. Accordingly I rate podcasts by how frequently they seem to me to be killer, as a hint as to how many episodes you might wish to audition before giving up and deciding my recommendation is not for you.

These concerns aside, there is entertaining stuff being produced, and educational stuff, and titillating stuff, and stuff that gives a strong but baseless sense that it is educational by making you sound erudite at parties without requiring substantive effort or transformative understanding. It is hard to search for that last quality, but here, try a podcast search engine, Listen notes. Open Culture’s podcast list also has some excellent recommendations. It skews a little virtuous and improving for my smutty lowbrow tastes, but I got some good ideas from there.

For now I am dumping some names which I will link to and expound at some hypothetical time in the future when I have leisure, but for now I can at least remember that I need to reference them.


  • Switched on Pop lovingly breaks down pop songs and phenomena and reads deep into the zeitgeist through them. 70% killer.
  • Twenty Thousand Hertz. 90% killer.
  • Ways of Hearing. “Each episode looks at a different way that the switch from analog to digital audio is influencing our perceptions, changing our ideas of Time, Space, Love, Money, Power and Noise.” 100% killer. This short form podcast was exquisite and perfect and did not continue until it became tedious.
  • Interdependence


  • Talking machines, by Neil Lawrence and Katherine Gorman, which has a mix of high-grade science journalism about machine learning, useful insights for practitioners and social and philosophical concerns. 90% killer.
  • Data skeptic founded by Kyle Polich but now with a large crew, does socratic-method introductions to useful concepts in machine learning. 80% killer.

There are some other podcasts that I have auditioned, but none with so high an ROI for my own purposes as those two. All the others I have tried so far skew shop talk and industry trends rather than research, or lack in science journalism skills, or editing, or production values, and have not survived in my podcast reader in these highly competitive podcast times (which is not to say that those other ones will not appeal to you dear reader, just that they did not appeal to me so much that I diverted work time into linking to them.)


Or, as I prefer to think of it, “snob gossip”. “Oh dahhhhling, did you hear which significant cultural movement was photographed honeymooning in Ibiza with a certain technological trend?”

  • Decoder Ring. 100% killer
  • Caliphate. 100% killer.
  • Reply All. 75% killer.
  • Sean Carroll’s Mindscape. 50% killer. Although no-one seems to agree about which 50%, which I suppose is a recommendation.
  • Endless Thread. 50% Killer. Reddit-supported podcast about things that happen on Reddit, which is genuinely interesting because Reddit is interesting, in parts, just in a 1% filler-99%-killer kind of way. As such, this is kind of a weapons-grade enriched content program.
  • The Dream. 80% killer.
  • Decrypted. 60% killer.
  • Das geheime Kabinett.


  • Tides of History is a great economic history podcast. Presenter Patrick Wyman also has an entertaining CV with a rare cocktail of working proficiency in dead languages and MMA. 90% killer on the normal episodes, 50% killer on the interview episodes.
  • Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years. 100% Killer. A fan’s history of telecommunication, which sounds terrible but is exquisite, unless you are the kind of person who likes to imagine that the current miracles of modern information technology are unremarkable, in which case what are you even doing on this corner of the internet?di
  • History of China
  • History of Byzantium
  • Cautionary Tales
  • Chinese History Podcast
  • Nice Try!
  • Damn Interesting

Smut and dick jokes

  • The bubble
  • Answer Me This
  • Dying for Sex
  • Risk!
  • Sexing history
  • Be the Serpent


When I lived in South east Asia the podcast scene was not massive. But now it is.

I would like some more podcasts from Indonesia and about Indonesia.

  • Indonesia dll

Podcasts everyone I know likes but I didn’t get into

Benjamin Walker’s theory of everything Unable to listen without contemplating how much more fun this should would be for me to record than to listen to.

Night vale. Enjoy the merch but did not enjoy the listening required to earn the moral claim to the merch.

Joe Rogan experience. I like the idea, but I do not have the time for this kind of marathon entertainment, for the same reason I do not have time for Netflix binges. Would possibly listen to Joe Rogan edited highlights? But who has time to edit a 3 hour interview? And I think that part of the attraction is supposed to be entering a fugue state of interviewness.

Make your own podcast why not

Some tools I have seen about the place.

  • anchor.fm
  • Audioburst offers transcription as part of their podcast service. The price is a mystery.
  • descript aims to integrate editing with transcription and in particular seems to allow editing audio via editing the transcription via voice fake technology.