Podcast of the Week: Brain Science with Ginger Campbell, MD

Below is an interview between the host of Brain Science and Doximity, followed by a brief overview of the podcast.

After spending over 20 years practicing Emergency Medicine in rural Alabama, Virginia "Ginger" Campbell, MD went back to the University of Alabama to complete a fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Care. She now practices at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she enjoys teaching medical students, residents, and fellows.

How did Brain Science first get started and how has it grown since you launched it?

Ginger Campbell, MD: For a medical podcast, Brain Science isn’t that medical. In fact, when I first started the podcast in 2005, I just kind of wanted to do one since podcasting was becoming more popular. It took me about a year to come up with a good idea because I didn’t want to do a show that felt like work. At the time, I was working as an Emergency Medicine physician and I didn’t feel like doing a podcast about EM per se, but the thing that I was reading most in my free time was neuroscience and I was constantly exploring new territory.

I had gone through a period in the early 2000s when I was really exploring Western philosophy for the first time, which lead me to study philosophy of mind. I learned that it had really progressed since the last time that I had looked into it, which had been right before I started medical school. I had an interest in neuroscience when at the time consciousness couldn’t really be studied.

In the meantime, the philosophy of mind people had started to intersect with the neuroscience people. I was listening to a podcast about that at the time and thought that they weren’t really explaining it that well. There were so many great books even in 2006 on the topic. The host of the podcast asked me to make an episode that was five minutes long about one book, so I talked about On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins — a well known, popular book. I thought afterward that I could keep going and never run out of materials to talk about neuroscience.

I called it “Brain Science Podcast” for the first couple of years and then dropped the “podcast” as it was becoming more mainstream. The show officially launched in Dec. 2006. As far as how it’s grown, it’s been featured at the top of iTunes several times and just passed 10 million downloads last November, which is respectable for a science podcast.

What makes your show different from other neuroscience podcasts?

Campbell: It’s not an exaggeration to say that Brain Science is the no. 1 neuroscience podcast, which is not necessarily a huge category. But it surpassed Nature’s Neuropod podcast. Neuropod eventually ended since it mostly featured scientists and research within Nature and wasn’t too popular. The thing that makes my show different from all of the other shows is that it’s intended for non-scientists.

We live in an incredibly anti-science climate at the moment with a president that doesn’t believe in science. I think that we have to stand up for science. I don’t believe that we’re in a post-fact world and there is such a thing is fact. When something is said that isn’t real, we have to stand up and say that’s not true. My approach is to present the science and let it speak for itself. Anybody that is in science journalism, including me, is one of those voices. What I’m doing with Brain Science I don’t consider to be overtly political at all, but I am saying that whatever we can do to explain how science really works is like being a voice in the wilderness.

Who is the intended audience?

Campbell: While [appealing to non-scientists] is the intention, the actual audience is largely PhDs. There are a lot of people in neuroscience who listen to my show and the reason that works is — just like medicine — neuroscience is so specialized. When I interview someone in a certain area, for the people who aren’t in that area, they know as little about it as a non-scientist in some ways. That makes different areas of neuroscience accessible to those within and outside of it. I mostly focus on books because if they want to learn more, they can go read the book.

There is also a surprisingly large number of medical students listening to the podcast, which I never intended to be the target audience.

How are featured guests selected for the podcast?

Campbell: I usually select people who have written books since that’s how listeners can most easily find more information — I tell them to read the book! I won’t pick books without references; I get a lot of books from MIT, Oxford Press, and other big publishers.

Can you tell me about an episode that resonated with your listeners?

Campbell: What I try to do is vary the difficulty level of the content. Some episodes are very technical while others are not. The most recent episode about psychology assessments, for example, that one is aimed at a more broad audience.  

The most popular episode that I have ever done — and one that I have replayed, too — is with John J. Ratey, MD. It was about what happens to your brain when you exercise. That one actually convinced some listeners that they should exercise. People already know why we should exercise, but if you tell them that it’s important to their brain, they think, “oh, maybe I should do it!” So, it was the episode that I would say has the most impact on people’s behavior.

The other episode that I would say people were really connected to was about emotion and how it’s connected to the brain.

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This podcast is good for those who are interested in: Neurology, Neuroscience, Neuroradiology, Neurophysiology, Psychiatry, Emergency Medicine, philosophy, literature

Typical length of episodes: About one hour

How often a new episode comes out: About once a month

Episode topics: memory and perception, peripersonal neurons, brain rules for aging well, brain imaging, science of emotions, exercise science

Sample episode— "143 Creativity with Elkhonon Goldberg": an interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, author of Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation. They discuss whether the rapid rate of change may actually be decreasing the incidence of dementia by forcing older people to learn new skills.

Tidbit about the show: The podcast features the latest books about neuroscience as well as interviews with leading scientists from around the world. For those who prefer reading to listening, transcripts for all the episodes are on the website.

About the host: Virginia "Ginger" Campbell, MD is a physician in Birmingham, AL.

Listen via: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Libsyn, Spotify, Pandora Podcasts (mobile only)

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