Podcast of the Week: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?

BBC podcast exploring the science that does or does not exist behind products lives up to its name

‘The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?’: A podcast from the BBC

‘The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?’: A podcast from the BBC

 

Normally, I try to steer clear of podcasts produced by large institutional bodies or media companies. This isn’t to say that the quality of those podcasts isn’t as high, or that their content isn’t strong: rather, that I’m usually more interested in independent work. Podcasts are one of the few remaining mediums in which scrappy, indie efforts can really conquer – and often do. However, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? from the BBC ticks some big boxes. The angles and content are genuinely interesting. Each episode also clocks in at about 30 minutes, which is one of those rare lengths that gives enough space to deliver proper information (or story) but doesn’t leave room for tangents, or mean the podcast drags.

The more podcasts I listen to, the more aware I become of the importance of form and structure – and while the tone of the conversation within this podcast is quite casual, the 30-minute timeframe, hosting and structure mean it clips along nicely.

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? is dedicated to examining the big, life-changing promises made to us by products, and scientifically unpicking them. In each instalment, Greg Foot and a live panel of guests, who, in the first four proper episodes, vary from beauty gurus to dermatologists to poet and rapper Scroobius Pip, take a close look at a claim made by a product. For example, can vitamin C really cure a winter cold? Is hand sanitiser actually helpful? Does collagen in moisturiser make you look younger?

Foot has a seemingly limitless list of pointed, specific questions about the topic and is a very strong moderator for the discussion. I think there’s a real difference between the role of the host and the role of the moderator: Foot here is focused and determined, almost grilling his guests. I like this approach a lot – it is still light enough in tone and slightly playful at moments, but there is a genuine thesis at the heart of this show. I also hugely appreciate his inclusion of female doctors and professors as his scientific reference points: elevating women in STEM is truly necessary.

I listened to four episodes in a row – they were easy and engaging and quite surprising, especially the conversation focusing on the common cold. There is almost a drive to the episodes – a kind of velocity to them. As a listener I really got the feeling that the panels I was listening to were genuinely trying to find answers – most specifically in the collagen and activated charcoal episodes.

In a digital landscape where we are almost constantly being sold superfoods of the month and beauty products that promise impossible results, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? really could be just what its name promises.

Critical discussions about products, sales and the science that does or doesn’t exist behind marketing pitches are vital, and this podcast provides just that at a great pace, with an easy and cheerful tone. I’m subscribed, and will be keeping a keen eye out for their uploads in future. 

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