Binge Bytes: ‘The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’


Ashlyn Cary

“Cereal is no longer an unhealthy bowl of sugar and milk, but a delicious reward that I have earned by being alive.” (Design by Ashlyn Cary | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Alaikia Marielle


“The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” kicked off its first episode on May 4, 2005. The show, produced by SGU Productions, is self-described as a podcast “dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason and the public understanding of science through online and other media.” Four-time winner of the People’s Choice Podcast Award, “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” is one of the most popular science and skepticism podcasts on the internet.

This weekly podcast focuses heavily on current events related to science, pseudoscience and science fiction, with the name itself inspired by a science fiction mainstay, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” The current panel of skeptics on the show are the three Novella brothers, Bob, Jay and Steve, Evan Bernstein and Cara Santa Maria. These five regular hosts are sometimes joined by guest rogues or interviews with fellow skeptics or scientists. Aside from current events, the podcast discusses and tests your critical thinking through various recurring segments. Bits have come and gone over the last 14 years, but some, like “Science or Fiction,” have been highlights since the early days of the show. Segments like “Who’s That Noisy” grace every episode, while “Name That Logical Fallacy” makes more sporadic appearances. 

“The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” is wonderfully informative and thought-provoking. The hosts are all passionate and dedicated skeptics, each with their own specific areas of expertise and interest. In addition to searching for evidence-based answers to seemingly impossible questions, the group debunks conspiracy theories, reviews science fiction films, discusses the ins and outs of fallacies and challenges the listener to think critically.

The podcasts’ newly established Patreon marks a new era for the show. Support has grown to the point where Jay Novella can now work full-time for the podcast. In addition to weekly episodes, the members of “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” attend conferences like the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism (NCSS pronounced “nexus”), run a discord server for fans and have published a book, “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake,” in October 2018.


To Binge or Not to Binge?

I’ve been listening to “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” almost since the show began. When I was a kid, my parents would save up episodes for the exhausting drive from the Great Lakes to my grandparents’ house on Long Island. In the segment “Science or Fiction,” Steve Novella gives the other hosts three facts, two science and one fiction. The other hosts then take turns guessing which fact is actually fake news. On those long drives across New York, my parents would pause the episodes and ask me and my brother which fact we thought was the fiction and why. Starting up the episode once again, we’d eagerly discover who, if anyone, in the family was right. “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” is what instilled a love of science and critical thinking in me early on and I largely credit the podcast for guiding me towards a communications major. Rebecca Watson, who was on the show from 2006 until 2015, was the first woman I knew in science media. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be like her. Without Watson and this podcast, I probably wouldn’t even be in Utah right now, writing this article. I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, but I’ve come a long way and “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” helped get me here.

Episodes of the “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” are independent of each other, so you can easily jump in on the newest episode without the need for much context. An episode a week for 14 years means “The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe” has produced over 700 episodes, so binging the entire podcast is inadvisable, regardless of how admirable a feat. The current events nature of the show also means past episodes grow less relevant with time. A pure interest in a specific topic or year may justify going back through extensive archive episodes, but the average listener can happily stick to more recent episodes.


Best Episode

At over 700 episodes, it’s near impossible to choose a favorite episode. A favorite segment is easier to identify. “What’s the Word,” a segment added when Cara Santa Maria joined the show in 2015, explores the definition and etymology of words. The types of words chosen vary greatly. Some are inspired by current events, others are submitted by listeners. Words often have unexpected roots or alternative definitions so, for a wordsmith and lover of language, the result is always fascinating.


Similar Shows

“Talk Nerdy With Cara Santa Maria,” “Skeptoid,” “Science for the People” and “Geological Podcast”


Trigger Warnings

While the occasional profanity sometimes slips through, the podcast is relatively PG.

5 out of 5
“The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe”
Available to stream through the SGU website or wherever you get podcasts
714 episodes as of March 16, 2019, roughly 80 minutes per episode