Ra(Tan) Lines

The Story Collider is a podcast featuring personal stories about science. These do not always revolve around laboratory work and writing theses. A few weeks ago, there was an episode which included a comedian getting over his fear of flying. Like most recent episodes, it was a twofer: the second speaker talked about performing surgery on a soldier during the invasion of Iraq.

That is not the only episode with a major mood whiplash. The one-word (or one-phrase) themes in the title of each episode are broad enough to accept a wide range of stories. The episode “Predators” features a story about sharks and a story about the psychology of sex offenders. “Research” (yes, this science podcast had an episode with the theme of research) features both eating disorders and the possibility of nuclear winter. These are mentioned right near the start of the episode.

Speaking of the start of the episode, that is one of the few moments where the organizers actually say anything. The guest speakers on the podcast dominate the limelight: no interaction with the Story Collider team is audible to the audience. This is not an “interview podcast” or a “two (or more) guys talking” podcast: this is a series of anecdotes and monologues from the science community, and sometimes the wider intelligentsia.

It might surprise you that random scientists would even be capable of making engaging narratives. This is another sign of the team’s influence, as explained on episode 146 of TALK NERDY with Cara Santa Maria (another good podcast). The speakers aren’t improvising: the Story Collider team coaches them on speaking and ensures that their emotions aren’t drowned in a sea of technical jargon. They also offer communication workshops for scientists as a service separate from the podcast.

This brings us to the fundamental purpose of The Story Collider: science communication. The ultimate point is to increase laypeople’s engagement with science, using anecdotes depicting scientists as ordinary people with human emotions is a means to that end. This is all well and good for holding people’s interest, but also means that science facts are few and far in between.

The Story Collider updates weekly and the recent episodes (with 2 stories) are 30 minutes each. Older episodes (with just 1 story each) are all between 10 and 20 minutes long. This is extremely short. Consider that the Freakonomics podcast recently spent 30 minutes talking about the effects of price theory on Chuck E Cheese’s. Are the scientists themselves not too talkative, or does the inaudible voice of The Story Collider team really appreciate brevity?

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