Science gone too far

Kirsten Sanford, Ted Dunning and Greg Yen

With so much of talk radio a wasteland of dictator sycophants and other wingnuts these days, it’s encouraging to note that someone is not only talking about a topic other than a former president’s (usually) hidden appendage, but that they’re talking about science. Every Tuesday morning, for an hour starting at 8:30, Kirsten Sanford, Ted Dunning and Greg Yen give drive-time listeners an entertaining taste of what’s going on inside and outside the laboratory on their KDVS 90.3 show, This Week in Science. They’re reasonably funny, they’re definitely opinionated, and they fix a critical eye toward new-age hippies and, curiously, Australians.

The radio show was your idea?

[Kirsten Sanford] Ted and I used to just hang out and drink beer and talk science all the time in front of our apartment complex. And I had been working down at KDVS for a while, doing various things, and thought it would be really fun to get a science talk show going, and thought that Ted would be the perfect person to get started with.

Did you have any conscious ideas on format?

[KS] We wanted it to be current, entertaining and interesting. Basically, we wanted to break science down to a point where it can be easily understood by people who aren’t necessarily scientists. We wanted to make it something much more chatty and more involved, in that listeners could get involved if they wanted to. I make the comparison of our show with Car Talk, kind of like a Car Talk for science.

How well has the show been received?

[Ted Dunning] The response has been very positive. It’s not just our parents and our friends listening; we’ve had people call in and send us e-mails that were very flattering. We

had a call on the air once from Texas—someone was listening over the Internet.

You’re on during Tuesday-morning drive time. How do you compete with “morning zoo” shows?

[TD] We keep it like we’re just talking among ourselves, but we have three over-educated nerds who are really fired up about whatever obscure topic we’re talking about. We just happen to be on the air. We do have a few segments, though, that we get to. Yeah, we do Australia-bashing. We figure that it’s the one ethnic group that’s safe.


[TD] We always try and find some funny science story related to Australia. The way it happened was, we began to notice that every week we would have some story or other related to Australia, and it never seemed to be something that went exactly well. And we just began noticing this pattern, so we started calling it “This Week in Australia-bashing.” Greg lived over there a while.

Any other groups get special consideration?

[TD] I have some issues with some of the more lefty of the left ideas, and I kind of go off and bash the hippies and the leftists. It’s all from a scientific perspective, of course.

Are you a political conservative?

[TD] No. Politically, I’m from Mars. But, scientifically, we like to take the wind out of a lot of new-agey-type things—a lot of homeopathic remedy-type stuff. And any reportage we can do on that, we are quick to do.

What kind of guests come on the show?

[TD] We had Kim Stanley Robinson on, who’s the big Mars science-fiction author; we had wave-energy guys who are trying to make electric energy commercially available from ocean waves; we had a guy presenting his theory on fossil evolution related to birds. And we have some good people lined up: Ray Kurzweil, he’s out of MIT but he publishes popular books on his work; Paul Moller, the guy building the flying cars. And someone from NASA.

Who handles the show’s technical aspect?

[Greg Yen] I do most of the production work in the studio, as well as being one of the co-hosts. I’m the one that’s controlling the mikes and is doing the carts we have to play, the bumper music. Also, I like to think of myself as being the moderate of the three of us. And the devil’s advocate.

Why the moderate?

[GY] It seems that sometimes, with Ted being on one side and Kirsten being on the other side of an opinion, I’ll end up in the middle—not having strong feelings one way or the other, but taking that happy middle road. But also, I seem to play devil’s advocate a lot between the two opinions that they espouse.

Are they opinionated?

[GY] Yeah. Ted’s prone to flailing and wailing on the air. It gets quite humorous, a spectacle in the studio. And it sounds good on the radio. He brings a lot of the fire to it, and Kirsten brings a lot of the passion to it; she’s got some pretty strongly held convictions about what she believes and makes no bones about letting people know that.

What are your particular fields of interest?

[GY] Ted’s thing is Mars, and there’s really no way to hide that. Kirsten is more of our bio-, life-science type. I don’t really know where I fall; my educational background is that I study science from a scientific point of view. So I’m kind of critical of the methodology and some of the sociology behind science. But my main thing is the future; I’m just hyped on the future and what science can bring us.