University News

Radio host ‘plays’ with science, octopi, Saddam

Contributing Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011

What do Saddam Hussein and an octopus have in common? If you are stumped, Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich could give you a clue.

Radiolab, a popular radio program, explores a range of phenomena, from the mechanisms behind spousal spats and the common cold to reasons why people who lie are happier. “Saddam Hussein’s Octopus” is just one of many unconventional topics that Krulwich, co-host of the show, tackles regularly.

The Smith-Buonanno auditorium was packed full of students and professors yesterday, eager to hear Krulwich’s engaging stories.

Krulwich played a short clip of an octopus, known as the “master of disguise” due to its camouflage ability. If plastic surgeons knew how to mimic the octopus’s natural tendency to blend into its surroundings, Hussein’s life would have been a lot easier, Krulwich said.

“Play is important to us,” said Krulwich of Radiolab’s style. “We clearly don’t know what we are talking about,” he joked. The purpose of the show is to ask the questions that people want to ask of scientists but think are inappropriate or ignorant, he said.

“It’s really exciting to see stories put first in talking about science. Radiolab has been a great leader of that,” said Casey Dunn, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“I really like the topics they discuss on Radiolab. There is definitely a science component,” said Asya Rahlin ’12, a biology concentrator.

In Krulwich’s words, Radiolab is not afraid to “take these scientists off the pedestal, to a certain degree.” When asked how he gets scientists to “play,” Krulwich replied that he and his co-host Jad Abumrad “make a mood that would be impolite to resist.”

According to Krulwich, the best way to present a science story is to empower listeners to make discoveries on their own. “If people are feeling smarter than you are, that’s exactly where you want them,” he said.

“We do not target people who love science, but we target people who love stories,” Krulwich said of his intended audience. “We do this for everyone,” he added.

Brown is “a good school for people who are willfully curious,” Krulwich told The Herald, adding that Brown students are self-motivated and “able to search for things on their own.”