July 30, 2012 10:07 pm

Have you heard the most argumentative StarTalk Radio podcast ever?

Contentious debates about science funding. Ideological political posturing. Partisan bickering. It may sound like Sunday morning news shows, or any time on Fox News or MSNBC, but in fact, it’s an episode of StarTalk Radio about how science gets made in Congress.

In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect when I listened to “When Science Crashes the Party” with politically turbocharged co-host Janeane Garofalo and guest Robert Walker, the former conservative House Republican who sat on the House Science Committee for 20 years. But what I didn’t expect was that the “Conservative” side of the conversation would be the least contentious, and that the “Liberal” side of the show would be filled with disagreement and dispute. Or that Neil would get verbally and ideologically attacked from the left by the strident Ms. Garofalo for standing his ground in the center and letting the facts speak for themselves.

Janeane Garafolo, co-host of When Science Crashes the Party on StarTalk Radio

Maybe I should have, though. After all, Janeane isn’t known for being shy about her opinions or backing down from a position, from the Tea Party to her claim that Fox is entirely about propaganda rather than facts to her disappointment in President Obama’s performance. Oh, and did I mention that she weighs in on climate change?

The show isn’t all controversy, however. Neil and former Representative Walker have some enlightening (though frustrating) discussions about how Congress works from the inside, how compromises happen, the processes of appropriation and authorizations, and the partisan forces at play in the funding of science and government policy about subjects like climate change and whether the government should be in the business of “picking winners and losers” in emerging technologies.

The episode is filled with things that reasonable people will disagree with, whichever side of the issues they are on. But whether you agree with Ms. Garofalo or not, her comments, which she herself describes as annoying and irritating, raise important issues. The episode is one of the most unusual and – spirited – podcasts Neil has ever done.