Hi-Phi featured on NPR One

Great news everyone, someone at NPR is giving some attention to Hi-Phi Nation. We are currently a featured show on their app, NPRone, right under one of our heroes and exemplars. I hope this gets us a spike in downloads, but more importantly, this is feedback telling me that I’m doing something right. Keep spreading the word folks, on the corners of the internet where people pay attention.


Problem with Episode 1 fixed

Dear listeners and de-facto publicity team for Hi-Phi Nation. A listener pointed out that there was a problem with Episode 1, which I have fixed and which is now updated. So hopefully now if you share it, the audio file will be complete. Thank you and keep spreading the news on the corners of the internet you like to visit!

Episode 7 Backstory

Hello subscribers, I have just released Hackademics II, which is essentially a report and analysis of the reproducibility/replication crisis in the social sciences. Hopefully you will learn some things even if you follow this topic closely, I know I did. There is a backstory to the creation of this piece that I wanted to share with the readers of this blog. In this first season, as you may know, I’ve covered a lot of topics, about war, death, God, music, and gender. Many of these, in my mind, were far more controversial than something as geeky as replication in science, which to my mind is really about the epistemology of the statistical sciences.

But I was wrong. Of all the stories I have done this season, including what is to come, this was the piece that has created the most turmoil, before I even finished collecting all of the interviews. As a result, I’ve tried to be really careful in the episode. But even given that, I know I am going to make mistakes in it, and if so, I will correct them and re-upload the new audio. I was really surprised by all this blowback. I didn’t expect it or understand it. I just wanted to say that if you listen to it, it is a good faith attempt at trying to uncover the epistemological issues I found most interesting about the current state of the statistical sciences. That was the only goal. I also came away from the story hopeful that, once the dust settles, the whole of the social and medical sciences will be a stronger.

Niche and Diversity

One of the things I’ve worried about is how much my choice of topics this first season may amplify the already existing challenge of recruiting and retaining listeners. The episode on pop music is already the fastest growing episode and I suspect it will be the most popular, but how many of those listeners will go back and listen to the ethics of war, or keep listening the rest of the season? Similarly for all the other niche topics. On the other hand, if this were a show where every topic was about consciousness, or existence, or knowledge, I would expect that I’d keep the attention of the philosophy junkies out there, but new people would never come to philosophy, which is the whole point of the show. This is just one of the 20 things that keeps me up at night.

Hackademics and ethics

There will not be a new episode this week as I try to play catch-up and produce the next few pieces, and so I wanted to write a blog post for those of you interesting in the difficulties in this kind of project.

There’s an ethical issue that I face in putting together journalism+philosophy that I do not have when I just do philosophy. If in philosophy, I do not believe something someone says or writes, all I need to do is write an argument giving my reasons as to why I am rejecting it, and why I think everyone else should also. Its part of the job of philosophy.

In storytelling for a philosophical purpose, your subjects may not have agreed to be a subject in a premise of a philosophical argument, where their life experiences or lifework is something that, if the argument you’re making is true, may be invalidated. Now it could be true that they wouldn’t care anyways, but there is a rule I heard a famous journalist say that I want to follow as I embark on story-driven philosophy: don’t do something that will make your subjects regret ever having spoken to you. I don’t think this needs to be a universal rule, but I do think that if I’m searching and asking someone to share their life experiences with me for public consumption, and I’m not trying to do hit pieces or ever take anyone in power down, that its a good rule to follow.

Its not a surprise that the next episode will follow researchers of parapsychology, a field that mainstream academia does not view upon very positively. But the subjects who do this work, and the people they study, are firm believers and stake a lot of their self-worth on this kind of research. And mostly the show is about the issues of knowledge and inquiry that emerge from comparing that kind of research to mainstream science. If this were an ordinary philosophical work, it would be natural to just write a refutation. But with story-driven philosophy, the issue is a lot more delicate.

This was supposed to be the easy one

Hello blog followers, Episode 5 is now up, once again a few hours earlier just for you. Just a quick announcement, I’m overwhelmed with the one-episode-a-week production schedule, and I can’t keep up, so I’m giving myself two weeks to put out the next one, Hackademics. While you wait, I hope you can continue to tell your friends, students, philosophy discussion groups, family, and so forth. We can take the time to help me publicize the show.

About Episode 5. The episodes I’ve done so far have all been heavy and serious, so I wanted to make sure that we have at least one fun and light episode in the first season, lest everyone thinks philosophy is just for the somber. I also wanted to do an episode about a philosophical topic that you could only do well in audio, hence philosophy of music! But talk about getting far outside your comfort zone. I’m trained as an analytic epistemologist, so this was a real stretch. I had to listen to a genre I knew very little about, learn a lot of musicology that turned out to be cut from the episode, and had to acquaint myself with a literature I never read. That said, I hope fans of popular music will find this episode enlightening. Philosophers, well, who can ever tell with them.

Hi-Phi Nation in 10 words or less

Eric Nuzum, formerly of NPR, and currently of Audible, has helped to create the most successful narrative documentary-style shows out there, including Invisibilia and the Ted Radio Hour. In a talk he gave at the Third Coast Festival last year, he says that the thing that separates successful shows from unsuccessful shows is that successful shows can describe their show in 10 words or less. The description must give the mission of the show in such a way that everyone can understand it in one sentence, the particular niche of listeners you’re after will recognize that the show is for them immediately, and you can use the statement as a guide to the stories and episodes you will produce for your show. For instance, Invisibilia’s is “a narrative journey through the invisible forces that affect our lives.” (okay that was 11 words).  Although there is some reason to be skeptical about this as a universal rule (have you seen This American Life’s tagline? Then again, they were rejected by NPR!), it gives me a really good guide as to how the kingmakers of digital audio think about shows and whether to pick them up.

It got me thinking about Hi-Phi Nation’s tagline “a show about philosophy that turns stories into ideas.” This tagline is very much how I constrained myself in my selection of topics and stories for the first season. But after listening to Eric’s talk, it makes me wonder whether it is the best description for these other purposes, which is to get people to know immediately what the show is like, differentiates it from other shows, and attract listeners of your niche immediately. “Philosophy through sound and stories” is another tagline I use, but again, are they too vague? Now that the show has a healthy number of listeners, I wanted to invite you to help me out. Can you do your best to give a one-line description of the show in about 10 words that you think describes it perfectly for all the purposes that Nuzum says? You can leave it here on the iTunes review page for the show. You can leave it as a review on our Facebook page. Or you can contact me here on the website.