Q-and-A with Dr. Brian Southwell

Q-and-A with Dr. Brian Southwell

RTI International's director of the Science in the Public Sphere Program brings social science to public radio with “The Measure of Everyday Life.”

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Dr. Brian Southwell.
Dr. Brian Southwell.

Tune in to WNCU 90.7 FM on a Sunday evening, and you can learn about anything from job searching to human trafficking to Netflix for the deaf.

Every week, new radio show “The Measure of Everyday Life” hosts a different expert to bring a social science perspective to a current issue, aiming to dig deeper than the headlines and examine “the human story.”

We asked host Dr. Brian Southwell about what it’s like to bring research and conversation to the airwaves.

Tell us about how the show got started.

Our first episode aired in January of this year. From an institutional perspective, the show offered an opportunity for a unique partnership between WNCU (90.7 FM) and RTI International, who is the primary underwriter for the show.

As a public radio station, WNCU historically has worked to preserve and promote jazz and blues music but was interested in developing a new public affairs show to serve their broadcast audience.

WNCU_Logo_12What was your motivation for getting involved?

I’ve always thought that too much social science research ends up collecting dust on shelves in academic journals when it could be informing popular discussion and policy.

I’ve also noticed over the years how many researchers do heroic work every day to ensure that our lived experiences inform academic literature but then that effort — to gather data on human trafficking or to develop a better tool for measuring patient satisfaction with their doctor — goes unnoticed when those same researchers talk with family and friends about their work.

The show gives us a chance to put a spotlight on social science as a contributor to society and as a fascinating arena in which to work.

What does “The Measure of Everyday Life” bring to the Triangle that other radio shows or podcasts don’t?

Although other shows have a long history of serving the area with topical discussion, talk about current events and timely reporting, we are trying to fill a unique opportunity to focus on stories from — and about the practice of — social science.

Social scientists, and the policymakers and practitioners who benefit from social science, are really the stars of our show.

What’s been your favorite episode to host so far?

Every episode offers something compelling to me. It might be the fact that we are working on an important topic, like campus sexual assault or public understanding of science, or the fact that we have managed to coax a somewhat shy guest out of their shell to share their story on air.

Given that I talk with researchers every day, though, it also has been a pleasure to connect with other types of guests on the show like Congressman David Price or Assistant Secretary Johan Uvin of the U.S. Department of Education or Vice Chancellor Barbara Entwisle from UNC-Chapel Hill, who we just interviewed recently.

What episode has gotten the biggest community response?

We know we are reaching a broadcast area audience each Sunday night, but something that has been fascinating to me has been the international reach that our podcasts have enjoyed.

We know that people in France, Thailand, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Israel, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Germany have been downloading our podcasts, for example, and we hope that list continues to grow.

Because of that global reach, it might not be surprising to learn that some of our shows on issues that involve large parts of the world, like our human trafficking episode, have gotten a good response.

Catch “The Measure of Everyday Life” Sundays at 6:30pm or subscribe to the iTunes feed, and reach out with to @MeasureRadio on Twitter with feedback or ideas.

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Rachel Herzog is an intern for Durham Magazine and Chapel Hill Magazine. She grew up in southern Maryland and is attending UNC-Chapel Hill as a journalism major. You can catch her running the trails and sidewalks of Chapel Hill or enjoying lunch at Mediterranean Deli.