It doesn’t always have to be Facebook

Having a hard time convincing co-workers that those 20 minutes you spend on Facebook is “for work”? Luckily, there are alternative ways to provide yourself with some scientifically relevant entertainment. Perfect for those quiet months of summer.

The Infinite Monkey Cage is scientifically relevant entertainment

The Infinite Monkey Cage is scientifically relevant entertainment

I’m talking about a number of radio shows, cartoons, blogs or videos that each have one thing in common: they have a high entertainment value but are also scientifically interesting.

These media won’t teach you how to create the most compelling presentations, but they will show how we can tell a scientific story in an interesting way, how we can ask the right questions, or how to present scientific topics in an entertaining and relevant manner.

These four are some of my favorite pastimes:

1. The Infinite Monkey Cage

TV-physicist Brian Fox and comedian Robert Ince are the hosts of this science show on live BBC 4 Radio. You’re in luck: all episodes are available for free download on the BBC website.

The show proves that humor and science are not mutually exclusive, and that format and content can perfectly complement one another.

Besides the hosts, each show features two scientists and one comedian (people like Stephen Fry or Eric Idle of Monty Python). Topics range from cosmology to math, and has made me laugh out loud with quotes like:

  • ‘If science is so good, why do they keep changing it?’
  • Physics: they explain everything they don’t understand by putting the word ‘dark’ in front of it.

Perfect listening material for your commute. This stuff will make you forget all about that traffic jam or train delay!

It always strikes me how they manage to discuss complex matters in a casual and easy to understand manner. I emailed the producers to ask them how they prepare for the show.

Their response surprised me: they do not prepare the scientists at all. All they focus on is their mission statement, which I can only respect:

The Infinite Monkey Cage Mission Statement (2009)

“Back off man, I’m a scientist” (courtesy of Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters, the movie).

  • An unashamedly rational and opinionated look at the world through scientists eyes.
  • To champion science, scientific reasoning and rationality.
  • To bring the scientists perspective to topics and events we encounter in our everyday lives, from the news agenda to culture to politics.
  • To bring science out of the ghetto and back into mainstream, popular culture.
  • To allow the presenters and the contributors to share their passions, and their view of the world from their scientific/rational perspective. Or in fact to challenge/debate these views if they go against perceived wisdom.

Or as Robin Ince puts it: To make people excited by science, build their own telescopes and discover life on other planets.

2. PhD Comics

PhD Comics pokes fun at academia and all its protagonists: doctoral students, stuffy professors, symposiums and boring presentations.

Fun to read, and always a great candidate for those moments when you need an excuse to put off working on that new article. As a scientific journalist, this one is my all time favorite:

The science news cycle – PhD Comics

The science news cycle – PhD Comics

But they are all very entertaining.

Another worthwhile channel here is “PhDtv”, where illustrator Jorge Cham and some of his friends visually explain all kinds of research.

By combining illustrations with scientific explanations, you get to see interesting research from all kinds of different fields in a new light. Yet another way to present science! And a great new way to learn.

Some examples:

Where did you come from:

a discussion with two biologists and their research

The website contains tons of these short, clear videos. Definitely worth checking out!

3. The life of psi

This relatively new blog by Belgian chemist Pieter Thyssen (of the KULeuven, if I’m not mistaken), focuses on complex concepts like time travel, philosophy, chemistry and theoretical physics.

He doesn’t post new articles very often, but the stuff he has published are easy to read gems. Flemish scientists who write compelling blogs… they are few and far between. Do you know of any? Please let us know!


Love him or hate him, Lieven Scheire deserves a round of applause for the way he has brought science and engineering to mainstream tv. highlights a lot of his (and his staff’s) musings about science. Fun and harmless experimenting that will teach you a thing or two as well. (The site is only available in Dutch – our apologies for those of you who don’t speak Dutch. For a similar site in English, check out Brian Cox’ website)

In summary, these four examples are great alternatives for wasting your precious time on Facebook. They show you how to make science interesting and fun. And you may get away with calling it “work”.

4 extra tips & tricks for researchers

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