The Infinite Monkey Cage is a BBC Radio 4 comedy-science program that you can download on iTunes as a podcast. Hosted by comedian Robin Ince and physicist Professor Brian Cox, each week sees new panelists in various walks of science at varying levels. The tenth season of The Infinite Monkey Cage not only comes with a splashy new theme song by Eric Idle, but also tries to answer deep, complex questions like “Do genie-like aliens visit us in the form of helium?” and “Is Paul Foot a carrot?” Among these, more provincial topics like how dark energy makes the universe expand faster, how eternal inflation suggests alternate universes, and how the stigma of “Jewish science” led Heisenberg to find a way to agree with Einstein’s theories without appearing to support Einstein himself.
Professor Brian Cox is a particle physicist and science popularizer. He works at CERN and teaches at University of Manchester. He co-hosts The Infinite Monkey Cage and a series of TV documentaries. @profBrianCox
Guests this season include Dave Gorman, Dr. Vicky Neale, Alex Bellos, Keith Jensen, Katie Slocombe, Ross Noble, Katy Brand, Philip Ball, Kevin Fong, Stephen Fry, Dr. Lucie Green, Prof. Tony Ryan, Eric Idle, Carlos Frenk, Fay Dowker, Ben Miller, Richard Vranch, Stuart Ritchie, Josie Long, Paul Foot, and Richard Wiseman.
“Evolution stumbles upon things that work.”
In the episode Are Humans Uniquely Unique, we learn the behavior patterns of animals, such as mire cats who will mangle scorpions for their babies to eat until its old enough to kill a healthy one on its own, and bonobos who, according to Robin, wear dead things on their head like hats, suggesting they have a sense of fashion not far from coon-skin caps. The Golden Banana experiment, which Ross Noble passes despite his wacky beliefs in alien genies, teaches us that spite is unique to humankind.
“If it can’t bite you or shit on you, why study it?”
Here, think of a number between one and ten. Go on, think of one. Got it? Was it seven? Now think of a number between one and fifty. Let me guess, it was thirty-seven. Episode one, Numbers Numbers Everywhere, tells us why I knew you’d pick thirty-seven and why you’re more likely to buy WD40 than a product with an odd number in the name. A little tip for all you aspiring white collar criminals trying to win an election using chicanery, there’s some mathematical advice in this episode for you in the form of Benford’s Law.
Robin Ince is a standup comedian. He co-hosts The Infinite Monkey Cage, Book Shambles, and Vitriola Music podcasts. He founded the science app Cosmic Genome. He authored Robin Ince’s Bad Book Club and edited the Dead Funny books. @robinince
Does Science Need War gives us a little science in the context of history, as well as studies that show art majors were more outspoken against Nazis than science majors were. Disappointingly, though we learn that Katy Brand does not like Star Wars, we are not privy to the scientific explanation of why that is. (It’s okay, Katy, I don’t like Star Wars either.) We’re assured that scientists are not different species, that they can definitely breed with non-scientists, and given the gender split, physicists pretty much have to. And no series would be complete without a discussion of strawberries. This time–resurrection!
In Irrationality, after Josie Long stumbles through some maths problems and Paul Foot forgets that he studied maths or even that he went to university at all, we learn that people who move faster and have a stronger grip tend to have a higher IQ.
This season also concludes that there are an infinite number of infinities and therefore, the monkey cage poses a problem.