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Insider: July 23, 2021 — A First-Look Deal, Doctors and Pods, And We’re Your Hosts… of Dope Labs

Quick correction: Nick here, butting in for a bit. In my piece yesterday on Substack’s deal with Booksmart, I noted that part of the brouhaha that sparked around the newsletter-publishing platform was rooted in them striking “Pro deals” with fairly controversial figures like Glenn Greenwald and Graham Linehan. Turns out, this was a misunderstanding on my part: Greenwald and Linehan were not recipients of Pro deals, and the brouhaha seemed more attached to their general usage of the platform.

Okay, back to Aria.

Queen Latifah joins Audible’s celebrity-studded ranks. The Amazon streaming service announced another first-look deal this week, this time with Latifah’s production company Flavor Unit. In the press release, Zola Mashariki, head of Audible Studios, said that the company looks forward to an upcoming show of Latifah’s that will focus on activism in her native New Jersey, specifically, Mashariki said, because “[t]he Newark community is at the core of Audible’s DNA.”

Audible’s world headquarters has been located in the city since 2007, though as the reach of the company only gets bigger, the local angle is an interesting one.

Study of clinicians’ podcast habits suggests distracted listening. The impetus for a recent study on the listening habits of medical professionals was this: “Podcasts are playing an increasing role in the post-publication discussion of medical research and as a source of asynchronous learning for clinicians, who use them to both facilitate and supplement learning.” (Previous studies on, for example, emergency-room residents’ choice of podcasts, are here, here, and here.) Armed with this existing knowledge, researchers wanted to know the more behavioral stuff — that is, in what contexts medical professionals listen to such podcasts, so they assigned a slate of medicine-related podcasts to listen to, as well as subsequent surveys.

The findings (released earlier this month, though the actual study was completed in 2018) were more or less that health professionals are like average people: Most listened at normal playback speed and while doing something like driving, not at 70x speed while performing surgery. But the more tailored and interesting takeaway is that, by documenting that medical professionals, for example, listen while multitasking and presumably while distracted (just as lots of other people do, to be fair) they may not retain the information that is both meant to disseminated through these shows and that the medical professionals themselves claim to be showing up to learn (check out the “reason for listening to podcasts” section). From the study:

This “multitasking” may result in only partial attention to the podcast, suggesting that clinicians’ listening habits may not be fully aligned with their stated goals of learning.

Multitasking and the lack of active learning behaviors (pausing, repeating, note-taking) are not in keeping with behaviors that foster a deep understanding of the material.

Called out. But it’s perhaps important to know if you’re creating such podcasts. The researchers recommend, for both listeners and producers, “pausing to enable connections between new material and existing knowledge, and repeating segments at spaced intervals,” based on the study, assuming the goal of this particular content intersection is “optimizing podcast use for learning and knowledge translation.”

Change in the Olympics audio experience. Only podcast adjacent, but thought this was interesting. The approach to a fan-free Olympics won’t follow the cues of other pandemic-era sports events in pumping in fake crowd sounds. According to this piece, Molly Solomon and a team of producers for NBC are on the same page about a different approach for silent stands:

“We’ve created sound-design plans with this in mind. We believe there’s an opportunity to bring viewers closer to the action than ever. And with sports like swimming, gymnastics, track, basketball, beach volleyball, you’re going to hear the sounds of the games like you’ve never heard them before — from the thrashing and splashing in the pool to those intimate conversations between competitors and coaches.”

Get ready for some heavy breathing (and potentially some interesting recordings turning up in associated podcast and radio coverage).

AND WE’RE YOUR HOSTS… Titi Shodiya and Zakiya Whatley

It’s a tried-and-true format: Radiolab takes a science-y, evergreen-ish story and either retroactively finds a way to relate that story to current events or banks on its loyal listenership not needing a news hook to want to listen. The podcast Dope Labs, on the other hand, does the opposite, taking the news at hand and showing you the science within it.

The concept of an explainer podcast, specifically for science, has been triumphed by other shows, but Dope Labs’ hosts Titi Shodiya and Zakiya Whatley spice up their analyses almost intrinsically, because, in real life, the two are best pals. The result is Science Friday meets Still Processing with a sprinkle of any chatcast you can think of where the hosts feel made for each other. And while Shodiya and Whatley’s history and rapport come through in the way they occasionally poke fun at each other, the way it really shines is in how it appears to lower their guards and persuade them to let loose, which results in laugh-out-loud quips and candid analogies. (The pop-up on the show’s site that prompts users to subscribe to a newsletter asks them what they’re “here for,” giving the options of not only live updates, merchandise, and science, but friendship.)

Shodiya and Whatley originally pitched the show to Spotify’s Sound Up program, confident that they had the rapport and the know-how of pop culture and current events to apply their science degrees to the news with agility. (Shodiya has a doctorate in mechanical engineering and materials science, Whatley in genetics/genomics and cellular/molecular biology.) Evidently, that confidence was justified, the show was picked up as a Spotify Original, and, more recently, you were just as likely to have heard Shodiya co-hosting Dissect’s recent seasonon Beyoncé’s Lemonade as you were to have heard her alongside Whatley on Dope Labs, exploring the science of handwriting back when the USPS was on everyone’s minds. This pair has stayed on my mind, and I’m always curious to know what’s on theirs. Read on to find out.


Hot Pod: What’s a question you always find yourself asking sources that feels unique to your approach to telling a story?

Titi Shodiya and Zakiya Whatley: We find ourselves asking if there’s another perspective that is often left out. Is there a sub-narrative that is usually buried or too messy for a nice soundbite? Who are the less-conventional but maybe more experiential experts?

HP: If someone asked you that same question, how would you answer it?

Shodiya and Whatley: We’ve found there is always another angle or additional context that was easy to miss without deeper consideration. Part of broadening access is reconsidering who we acknowledge as credible producers of knowledge and, as a result, which narratives are worth highlighting. We’re always looking for the unconventional angle to add more context and contribute to more rich, textured, and inclusive storytelling.

HP: Which story that you’ve reported have you been the most attached to?

Shodiya and Whatley: Last semester we covered an episode about friendship titled “What About Your Friends?” and it explored the science of friendship with psychologist Dr. Marisa G. Franco. We were really lucky to also feature one of podcasting’s favorite friend duos, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow of Call Your Girlfriend. This lab was special to us on so many levels: We’re best friends, we’re working together just like CYG, and navigating the ups and downs of life individually and collectively as we tried to make sense of a global pandemic and everything that came along with it.

HP: Who’s made you the most nervous to interview?

Shodiya and Whatley: We were most nervous to interview Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. When we talk about science-communication goals, she’s right there paving the way. We are big fans of her work and how she engages different groups of people around climate change, so there was the desire to really hit this interview out of the park and glean all the gems without fangirling TOO much!

HP: Ask yourself one question that you want to be asked. Then answer it.

Shodiya and Whatley: “What’s next for Dope Labs?” To keep growing and building even more spaces for folks to feel like they can show up as themselves.


Titi Shodiya is a scientist, engineer, speaker, host, writer, pop-culture expert, content creator, and storyteller. She has dedicated her career to using her skills as a materials scientist and mechanical engineer to influence scientific spaces, popular culture, and beyond.

Zakiya Whatley is a scientist, educator, and creative with a background in molecular biology and genetics. Her work focuses on broadening access to and persistence in STEM careers, especially in populations historically underrepresented in the sciences.