Strong recommendations are in bold, and should be seriously considered. Non-bold recommendations are good enough to cause me to download and listen to every episode they release, but maybe do not quite stand out enough for me to give a full recommendation. All podcasts recommended on this page are rated five stars by me on itunes; the distinction between bold and non-bold recommendations is slight at best.
Note that I am a man of very specific tastes. I adore philosophy and I have a strong tendency toward rationalism, skepticism, and mathematical rigor. This certainly affects what I consider to be a worthwhile podcast to subscribe to. YMMV.
The Best Philosophy Podcasts
Short-form philosophy podcasts:
- Philosophy Bites (itunes, blog): 15-20 minute weekly interviews of philosophers on philosophical topics by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.
- The 10-Minute Puzzle (itunes, site): 10 minute sporadic introductory discussions on philosophical puzzles by Federico Luzzi and Aidan McGlynn.
- Ethics Bites (itunes, site): 15-20 minute sporadic interviews of philosophers on ethical dilemmas by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.
- Morality in the Real World (itunes, site): 20 minute sporadic episodes on desirism by Alonzo Fyfe and Luke Muehlhauser. Shows the thinking process of specifically explicating a theory over time, making changes along the way. (Note that desirism is not a theory I subscribe to.)
- The Big Ideas (itunes): 10 minute sporadic mini-introductions on the main ideas in philosophy.
Medium-form philosophy podcasts:
- The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (itunes, blog): 20-30 minute weekly discussions on the history of philosophy by Peter Adamson.
- Elucidations (itunes, site): 25-45 minute weekly interviews of philosophers on philosophical topics by Matt Teichman and Mark Hopwood.
- The Moral Maze (itunes, site): 45 minute weekly heated debates on practical moral issues by non-philosophers.
- The Philosopher's Zone (itunes, site): 25 minute weekly discussions on philosophical topics by the late Alan Saunders. (A replacement host has not yet been chosen; episodes resume in 2013.)
- The Public Philosopher (itunes, site): 45 minute sporadic talks by Michael Sandel. Includes a lot of audience participation.
- Minerva (itunes, site): 30 minute monthly episodes on major philosophical topics.
Long-form philosophy podcasts:
- The Partially Examined Life (itunes, blog/forum): 2 hour weekly discussions on philosophical readings aimed at a moderately informed audience. Their forum includes reading groups where listeners can discuss topics more in-depth, which is perhaps the most awesome thing ever.
- Why? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life (itunes, site): 1 hour bi-weekly interviews on philosophical topics with Jack Russell Weinstein. The host is very good at asking great questions of guests that cut to the heart of philosophical positions.
- Philosophy Talk (site/forum): 1 hour weekly discussion on philosophical topics with a call-in audience. Their podcast feed goes through iAmplify, which is terribly confusing and irritating, but each week's episodes are free to download if you can figure it out. Be aware that past episodes are not freely available, making this show impossible to use with philosophy discussion groups.
- New Books in Philosophy (itunes): 1 hour biweekly interviews with authors about their newly published books on philosophy. These are easily the most dense of all podcasts listed here, as they go fairly in-depth on specific topics — but every episode is accessible to a moderately well-informed philosophical audience. Unfortunately, the audio quality is not ideal.
- Philosophy Now (itunes, site): 1 hour sporadic interviews on philosophical topics.
- Such That Cast (itunes, site): 1 hour monthly interviews with philosophers. Does not focus on specific philosophical problems, but just consists of a freeform conversation between the interviewer and interviewee. This sounds terrible, but is actually really good.
The Best News Podcasts
I don't always agree with the viewpoints expressed on the following programs, but I listen to all of them regularly. I feel it's important to expose oneself to alternate viewpoints on a regular basis as a method of keeping one's political bias in check.
- Democracy Now! (itunes video or audio, site/blog): 1 hour daily news program that gives proper air time to voices on the far left. Amy Goodman often raises issues most news sources do not.
- NPR News Summary (itunes): 5 minute daily morning news summary. This is easily the best source of headlines each day.
- NPR Story of the Day (itunes): 3-10 minute daily stories on various topics. The best story of the day is usually interesting, though you never know what it will be about in advance.
- C-SPAN Podcast of the Week (itunes): 1 hour broadcast of the best event that week on C-SPAN. Topics vary widely but are always worth the download.
- C-SPAN Newsmakers (itunes): 30 minute interviews with people currently in mainstream political news stories.
- Frontline (itunes): This is perhaps the best in-depth news reporting available today. They consistently put out great investigative news stories.
(I should also mention The Daily Show and The Colbert Report here, although neither is available as a podcast. Links are to rss EZTV feeds. See my follow-up post on my favorite television shows for more information.)
- Planet Money (itunes, blog): 15-30 minute biweekly financial stories. Episodes can be funny, insightful, alarming, or all of the above. Worth a listen even if you don't like financial news in general.
- Marketplace (itunes, blog): 30 minutes daily financial news. Fairly in-depth information for those interested in financial topics. Not worth a listen if you aren't into financial news.
- Marketplace Morning Report (itunes): 7 minute daily morning financial news summary.
- Motley Fool Money (itunes): 45 minutes weekly discussion of stocks.
Sunday Morning Talk Shows:
- This Week (itunes): 45 minutes weekly political discussion with George Stephanopoulos. They're consistently late on putting these out, but the content is worth it.
- Fox News Sunday (itunes): 45 minutes weekly political discussion with Chris Wallace. Despite Fox's deserved reputation for lying, Wallace does an almost respectable job of asking tough questions to those on the right.
- Meet the Press (itunes): 45 minutes weekly political discussion with David Gregory. They're consistently late on publishing each episode, and past episodes are not available for download.
- State of the Union (itunes): 45 minutes weekly political discussion with Candy Crowley.
Note that I do not approve of the Face the Nation podcast and cannot recommend that anyone subscribe to it. Each episode is one hour long, with a full third of it being nothing but commercials. Of the 40 minutes of content, some 5-10 minutes is wasted on sports commentary rather than political discussion. Listening to this show might be worthwhile if you watch it live on tv, but in podcast form, it is completely unbearable.
The Best Science Podcasts
I adore science. If you do, too, then you'll enjoy these excellent podcasts.
- Freakonomics (itunes): 30-45 minute weekly episodes on unusual economic topics. Some 5-minute weekly mini-segments are also in this feed.
- Radiolab (itunes): 1 hour weekly episodes on science and culture.
- Science Friday Video (itunes): 5 minute weekly videos on a science topic. While I don't make time to listen to the hour long radio show regularly, their five minute videos are well worth watching.
- Nova scienceNOW (itunes): 5 minute sporadic videos on a science topic.
- StarTalk (itunes): 1 hour sporadic episodes on comedic takes of science topics with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Uses a lot of comedy.
- Social Science Bites (itunes): 15-20 minute weekly interviews of social scientists on topics by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton.
- 60 Second Earth (itunes): 1 minute weekly mini-episodes on earth science topics by Scientific American.
- Minute Physics (itunes): 1-5 minute weekly mini-episodes on physics topics.
- Brain Science Podcast (itunes): 1 hour monthly interviews on recent discoveries in neuroscience and how they relate to our philosophy of mind. These can get pretty technical at times.
The Best Skepticism Podcasts
The skeptic community has a lot of podcasts out there, but unfortunately the quality is a bit lacking in many of them.
- You Are Not So Smart (itunes): 1 hour monthly interviews on rationality. This is one of the best skeptic podcasts currently being made. Far too many skeptic podcasts are aimed at dealing with absolutely ridiculous claims like bigfoot, ghosts, or homeopathy; but the YANSS podcast deals with dubious claims that even established skeptics may still fall for.
- Consequence (itunes): 30-45 minutes biweekly interviews with people harmed by pseudoscientific claims. These are first-hand accounts of the harm caused by belief in false things.
- For Good Reason (itunes): 45 minutes sporadic interviews on skeptical issues.
- Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (itunes): 1 hour weekly episodes on skeptical issues.
- Reasonable Doubt (itunes): 1.5 hour bi-weekly episodes on roundtable discussion of atheism and skepticism.
- Rationally Speaking (itunes): 1 hour bi-weekly episodes on rationality.
- Reality Check (itunes): 1 hour weekly roundtable discussion on skeptical issues.
- Point of Inquiry (itunes): 45 minute weekly interviews with scientists on skeptical issues.
- The Randi Show (itunes): 5-10 short conversations with James Randi.
- Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot (itunes): 1 hour sporadic interviews with Christians and atheists on the divide between the two.
In any list of the "best" skeptic podcasts, there must be at least some mention of Skeptoid and Skepticality, due to their wide popularity among skeptics. Neither has made my list.
Skeptoid focuses on stories about false claims. It feels like a podcast that tells ghost stories and little more. Meanwhile, Skepticality has some great segments at the beginning of each episode, but the main part of the podcast is just terrible. I really dislike the main host. His voice is not appropriate for radio, and his interview style is more hurtful than helpful in learning about guests' positions. Not as important (but notable enough to mention) is the very, very, very bad theme song. Seriously, Skepticality has perhaps the worst theme song of any popular podcast I've ever heard.
The Best History Podcasts
I wasn't very interested in history as a child; I was more of a science and math person. That's why these podcasts are so very exciting to me — my prior lack of knowledge in the field means I always learn something new in every episode. Your experience might be different if you're already well versed in these topics.
- The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (itunes, blog): 20-30 minute weekly discussions on the history of philosophy by Peter Adamson. Perhaps it's unfair that I've listed this podcast twice in two different categories, but it's just that good.
- In Our Time (itunes, site): 20-30 minute weekly episodes on the history of ideas by Melvyn Bragg.
- The History of Rome (itunes): 30 minute episodes on the complete story of the Roman empire from beginning to end. This podcast series is complete, with no newly published episodes.
- The History of Byzantium (itunes): 30 minute weekly podcasts on the history of the Byzantine empire. This series starts where the History of Rome podcasts ends; I strongly recommend listening to the History of Rome series first.
- A Brief History of Mathematics (itunes): 15 minute short introductions on the history of mathematics. Series is complete with no new episodes.
Other Podcasts I Enjoy
Not everything I listen to is easily categorized, but I still recommend them just as strongly.
- This American Life (itunes): 1 hour weekly episodes on various topics. If you only subscribe to one podcast recommended on this page, let it be this one.
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (itunes): 25 minute weekly audiobook episodes of Eliezer Yudkowski's fanfiction epic. I know the idea of fanfiction may sound silly at first, but this will blow your mind.
- The Dice Tower (itunes): Hour long weekly episodes on board game reviews.
- Ludology (itunes): Hour long weekly episodes on board game design.
- Smiley and West (itunes): 1 hour weekly episodes on political and other issues with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Gives a far left viewpoint.
- State of the Game (itunes): 2.5-3 hour sporadic episodes on issues in the StarCraft 2 professional gaming community.
- This Week in Tech (itunes): 1.5-2 hour weekly episodes on technology news with Leo Laporte.
- Oyez Project Arguments (itunes): 1-4 hour sporadic recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments. Link is to 2012 term; Oyez creates a new podcast feed for every year for some reason.
- Facing the Singularity (itunes): 5-10 minute episodic lecture on what taking the singularity seriously means. Podcast series is complete with no new episodes.
- Reith Lectures (itunes): 5 single hour long yearly lectures by significant cultural figures.
- Flack Check (youtube): 1 minute daily episodes showcasing the lies politicians tell with an element of humor. Link is to youtube because their itunes feed is not out yet.
Obviously, I consume a lot of content. When you add to this list the other media I regularly consume like television shows and movies, it becomes obvious that I spend a LOT of time on consumption in general. While this may make me good as a judge of comparing different media types for others to better know what they should spend their scarce time upon, it does highlight the sheer percentage of time I dedicate to items that most people think is (mostly) a waste of time.
Honestly, I do not mind others making this judgment. It's a judgment I sometimes think I agree with. But, overall, I'm fairly happy with my current level of consumption. While I might change these habits in the future, I would require an equal level of intellectual stimulation on a broad range of topics to really make up for the content I now consume everyday. I might be committed to the cause of optimal philanthropy, but focusing on only one area is just not something that I ever think I could do while maintaining my current levels of happiness. That's why I fully expect to continue to consume such a large amount of content like this on a regular basis.
Edit: Commenters have brought two additional philosophy podcasts to my attention: Public Ethics Radio and The Thirst. I've yet to listen to them, but they appear interesting.