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Vol. 1, No. 1

Coronapod

Coronapod (Nature), hosted by Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker, and Amy Maxmen, releases a new 20-minute episode every week. Based in Britain, Nature is a premier source of primary science articles by scientists as well as science news written by journalists. The journal, Nature, has been published since the mid-nineteenth century and is currently regarded as one of the top journals in science. The organization also published many specialized science journals and has been innovative in online communication, beginning a podcast in 2018. Starting in mid-March 2020, many of these podcasts have focused on the pandemic and, while it’s not possible to subscribe only to those podcasts, they are clearly labeled with the title “Coronapod.” These segments combine personable chat among the hosts that seems unscripted but is informative and brisk as well as more traditional science journalism covering topics such as what we can learn from South Korea and China, what’s happening with drug trials, diagnostic developments, and whether masks are recommended or not, all with a focus on the science.

Unlike some of the podcasts that present science for a non-specialist audience, Coronapod is rather like the journalism featured in the journal, written for an audience of scientists who want to keep up with fields beyond their own, yet accessible to non-scientists with an interested in science. There’s no “let me explain this scientific concept in terms you’ll understand” feel to it. It’s smart, well-produced, informative and, as a bonus, features some lovely British accents. As one might expect from a premier science journal, it’s an excellent source of solid scientific information that is lively and interesting.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. It’s honest about what science can and cannot yet tell us, but keeps the focus on the science.

Host: 5 of 5. The three hosts seem very comfortable with one another and provide a human face to preface more journalistic segments. 

Production: 5 of 5. The hosts are broadcasting from a basement in London, a home in Sussex where a pile of duvets and cushions are used to improvise a sound booth, and an apartment in Berkeley, California—but it sounds like it comes from a well-equipped studio.

Storytelling: 5 of 5. Both the chat among the hosts and the news segments are well done and keep the pace lively and informative.

Perspective: 5 of 5. Don’t look here for political analysis or cultural critique, but if what you want is quality science journalism, this is your podcast. 

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. This is news reporting, not advocacy, and it steers away from “news you can use” features to focus on “here’s what’s happening in the world of science.” 

Overall Rating: 5 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Population Healthy Special Editions: Coronavirus Pandemic

Population Healthy Special Editions: Coronavirus Pandemic (University of Michigan School of Public Health) originally covered a variety of public health topics, but is now focused on the pandemic in an ambitious “special edition.” Currently three new 5–10-minute episodes are produced every week to unpack public health issues from multiple perspectives, including the scientific (what goes into creating a COVIDd-19 vaccine? How are infections traced?) and the social (why is the disease hurting the most vulnerable? How did Detroit become a hotspot, and what are its citizens doing to respond?). The podcast does not delve into political or economic aspects of the pandemic, but rather stays focused on population health issues.

Drawing on the University of Michigan’s “community of experts” within the School of Public Health, the podcast aims to provide information to help people respond to the challenges of the pandemic with solid information. From the first episode, the tone established is one of reassurance. Listeners will not only learn about the current pandemic, but will come away with a basic understanding of public health issues: applying epidemiology to local healthcare practices or the basic science of health at the community level. There is a special focus on Michigan, as may be expected from a land grant university, but the information provided is widely applicable. 

Overall the production is nicely done, integrating introductory background knowledge into interviews. There’s a good variety of expertise on display to illustrate the contours of public health as a discipline. While the podcast may lack the drama and urgency of shows more engaged with the unfolding political response to the crisis, it offers good information and encouragement to listeners to respond in ways that will keep us informed and healthy.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. Though the “community of experts” is limited to the university’s faculty, each brings their knowledge to bear on the subject without being overwhelming.

Host: 4 of 5. There is no intrusive “star” hosting the show, but the host does a good job of weaving together background information with interviews. 

Production: 4 of 5. In a few cases the sound quality is not excellent, but not in a way that detracts from the information provided. The editing is tight and keeps the flow going nicely.

Storytelling: 3 of 5. To be fair, the material isn’t really presented in the form of stories—but the explanation of ideas is handled well, rather like a good university lecture boiled down to interesting and informative key points. 

Perspective: 4 of 5. The contribution this podcast makes is the focus on public health concepts applied to the crisis, which makes it informative but also reassuring.

Action-Oriented: 4 of 5. As a form of outreach to the community, the experts who contribute to this podcast do a good job of relating their knowledge to what individuals should know and can do to get through the crisis. 

Overall Rating: 4 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Epidemic

Epidemic (Just Human Productions) releases a new 25-30-minute episode every week. The show’s hosts are Dr. Celine Gounder, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine who is an expert at infectious disease and epidemiologist, and Ron Klain, who has long worked in government and coordinated the United States response to Ebola during President Obama’s administration. Just Human Productions is a non-profit organization that strives “to change the way people think about health and social justice” with storytelling that pairs evidence-based, solutions-oriented journalism with human stories. Previous podcasts tackled subjects like youth and mental health and gun violence in America.

The focus in this podcast is on how the United States is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, covering policy decisions (should WHO have moved faster to declare a pandemic?), medical science (what does “airborne” really mean?), and social justice issues (how does a history of racism influence who gets sick? How are the failures of our healthcare system affecting the virus’s impact?) The podcast intends to help people understand what they can do to protect themselves and their communities and examine how the government is responding. 

The two hosts invite a good selection of guests who are well-qualified to speak to the thematic issues of each 25-30 minute episode. The production values are strong, and the variety of topics keeps it interesting. 

The podcast series began in late February. Each episode has a transcription available at the podcast’s website, which is helpful—but they do not include a broadcast date, which is a drawback given how quickly events unfold and what we know changes.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. The range of subjects covered is wide, but recruiting interesting experts as guests gives the podcast a valuably wide perspective on the crisis.

Host: 5 of 5. Both hosts have an engaging vocal presence and do a good job of introducting and discussing topics with their guests. 

Production: 5 of 5. Good sound quality, editing, and pacing.

Storytelling: 5 of 5. Though the Q & A format could become dull, the choice of guests and the well-paced, well-chosen questions keep it engaging.

Perspective: 4 of 5. It may be hard to find new things to tell an audience inundated by COVID-19 news, but this podcast does a good job of exploring a wide variety of angles, finding depth and nuance. 

Action-Oriented: 4 of 5. Though the focus is on the bigger picture – how is the government responding, and what does that mean for the public? the episodes conclude with questions phoned in by listeners that address what individuals should do to protect themselves and their families. 

Overall Rating: 4.75 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Coronavirus Daily

Kelly McEvers is the host of Coronavirus Daily from NPR. This podcast offers short daily episodes that round up news reports, feature stories, and conversations about the latest information on the spread and impact of the pandemic. The focus is on current events, including public health recommendations, political developments, and ideas about how to cope, taking a journalistic approach to the emergency to provide information that is intended “to help you process it all.” 

As might be expected from a major radio network, the podcast is well-produced. At a time when listeners may feel bombarded by news, this podcast does a good job of reporting on the day’s events as a news digest with an emphasis on what’s happened in the past 24 hours. News junkies may not discover anything new here, but for those who are holding back from news overload, it can provide a one-stop summary of all things Coronavirus.

Fact-based: 4 of 5. Because the focus is so much on news (with some lighter material mixed in) this podcast works with what we know at the moment—it’s the first draft of history, so the “facts” may require revision or more context at times. 

Host: 5 of 5.

Production: 5 of 5.

Storytelling: 5 of 5.

Perspective: 3 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. There are parts of this podcast aimed at individuals and how they can cope, but much of the purpose of the podcast is to inform the public about the latest news. 

Overall Rating: 4 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Columbia Public Health Now

Columbia Public Health Now is a podcast from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health which is currently focused on providing trustworthy scientific information about COVID-19. The host, Maria Andriella O’Brien, received both her MBA and MPH in Epidemiology from Columbia University and is now the deputy chief of staff at the School of Public Health. In each episode, she chooses an issue related to the virus—where did it come from? How are scientists studying it? What have we learned from past epidemics?—and interviews a faculty expert who can provide solid information for the general public. 

The production quality is good, though the scripted Q & A format makes for a dry listening experience. The emphasis is on providing accurate scientific information without spin in the belief that the public will be safer if well-informed.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. This podcast is very much about the facts, seeking experts on the Columbia faculty to speak to the crisis from a scientific perspective.

Host: 2 of 5. Unfortunately the podcast sounds overly scripted, as if the host is reading the questions for guests without much animation or warmth, and that detracts from its listenability. 

Production: 4 of 5.

Storytelling: 3 of 5. The Q & A format tends to make each episode sound very similar and a bit dry.

Perspective: 3 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. “Listen to the experts!” might be the action this podcast advocates. Respect science. Not a bad message, just not enormously inspiring.

Overall Rating: 3 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

America Dissected

America Dissected is a podcast from Crooked Media, a podcast network with a progressive, liberal orientation. The show is hosted by Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a physician who taught epidemiology at Columbia University, served as executive director of the Detroit Health Department and Health Officer for the City of Detroit, and in 2018 was a candidate in the democratic primary for governor of Michigan. 

The podcast was started in 2019 to address the intersection of health, science, and government. The second season, launched in March 2020, is entirely focused on the Coronavirus pandemic—its epidemiology, what scientists know about it, and how public policy can address it. It includes interviews with scientists, elected officials, public servants, and first responders. 

The podcast promises to deliver “what you need to know about Coronavirus,” including what led to the crisis and what public policy responses might work. It combines basic science and health information in an accessible form with analysis and commentary on how the government is responding, without mincing words about political perspectives the host finds wrong-headed. The production quality is high, with an animated host who combines his experience in health care policy and knowledge of the science of viruses in a compelling series that is not only informative but invites citizen engagement in tackling the crisis.

Fact-based: 4 of 5. The host is knowledgeable and shares scientific and epidemiological information, but in the political analysis tends to become more analytical and critical than strictly factual. (Not a bad thing, and the host has plenty of experience working in the public arena….) He brings in impressive guests to comment on the issues, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal to discuss the stimulus bill and Naomi Klein to discuss disaster capitalism. 

Host: 5 of 5. It’s easy to get caught up in this podcast because the host projects engagement and does a good job of bringing in guests. 

Production: 5 of 5.

Storytelling: 5 of 5.

Perspective 4 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 4 of 5. Some of the episodes are informative and thought-provoking, without necessarily suggesting action (though certainly inviting civic engagement); however, show notes indicate that Crooked Media has established a Coronavirus Relief Fund, which gives listeners an opportunity to act.

Overall Rating: 4.5 of 5.