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Podthoughts: Little Atoms

Vital stats:
Format: interviews about ideas, science, rationality, and senses of place
Episode duration: 25m-1h30m
Frequency: sometimes weekly, sometimes biweekly

Little Atoms [RSS] [iTunes] used to describe itself as a conversation about “conspiracy theories, cosmology, religion, the new age, human rights, and the state of the left.” Surely you can sense where that list hits a sour note. Conspiracy theories, cosmology, religion, and the new age fall into the wheelhouse of any show about truth and falsity. Podcasting, the medium that brought us the slightly wearying procession of SkeptoidSkepticalitySkeptiko, and so on (you ultimately end up atSkepchick), has more than welcomed this sort of thing. Human rights, as a subject, can receive interesting or uninteresting treatment depending upon the context. But the very last thing I hope to hear when I hit play on my iPod is an earnest discussion of the state of the left. And I have no particular love for the right, so perhaps this illustrates the left’s whole problem. Implying that the left has a natural place in the grand separation of fact and delusion brings back to my mouth the bitter disappointment I tasted after momentarily believing the hype about leftism as the politics of the thinking man. We realize later in life that, alas, no -ism truly permits the thinking man.

Hence, I imagine, Little Atoms’ modified current opener, which more broadly but much more appealingly promises a show “about ideas and culture, with an emphasis on ideas of the Enlightenment.” You could describe this as a program about science and rationality, if you concentrate on certain episodes: Ben Goldacre on evidence-based medicine [MP3], Christopher Hitchens on atheism [MP3], Lisa Randall on cosmology [MP3], James Randi on pseudoscience [MP3], Mark Henderson on “why science matters” [MP3]. But in my experience, podcasts exclusively concerned with that can turn oddly pious; you can only listen to so much veneration of the scientific enterprise before beginning to feel you’ve lost its context. The pursuit of the truth, though one of the more robust single justifications one can muster for one’s work, strikes me as not quite a wide enough slice of the human experience. I would gladly take the side of logic, reason, and reality, but man, some of the guys on that team dress like real schlubs.

Read the whole thing at Maximum Fun.

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