The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

The Science of D-Day

To mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings during WWII, we look at the surprisingly important role science played.

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The Disappearing Spoon is Distillations’ sister podcast, hosted by best-selling author Sam Kean. The show examines overlooked stories from our past, such as the dental superiority of hunter-gatherers, the sex lives of dinosaurs, and many more moments that never made the history books. When the footnote becomes the real story, small moments become surprisingly powerful.

Movie poster with a colorized still of a doctor and woman with bandages around her head and face
People & Politics

Can Plastic Surgery Keep You Out of Prison?

One doctor’s controversial crusade to keep people out of prison through nose jobs, eye lifts, and other plastic surgery.

Black and white photo of explorers on cross country skis
People & Politics

The Russian Roswell

In 1959, nine Russian hikers mysteriously died on a snowy trek known as the Dyatlov Pass incident. Has science finally cracked the case?

Man strapped to stretcher
People & Politics

When Tenure Means Life and Death

After a tenure dispute, engineer Valery Fabrikant murdered four colleagues. So why is he still allowed to publish scientific papers?

Illustrated depiction of 19th century lab
People & Politics

A Deadly Soup for Babies

World famous 19th-century chemist Justus von Liebig quickly became infamous for his role in the killing of four starving infants.

Drawing of nurse at bedside
People & Politics

How the ‘Worst Serial Killer in Holland’s History’ Went Free

Patient after patient died under the care of a single nurse. Why did so many statisticians think she was innocent?

Black and white photos of sun in eclipse
People & Politics

The Eclipse That Killed a King

Rama IV of Siam used an eclipse to save his kingdom from greedy colonial powers. But it cost him his life.

anatomical diagram of the human head and brain
Health & Medicine

When Generosity Turns Pathological 

One man’s brain damage transformed him into a selfless giver. What does his case say about the biological roots of generosity?

Photo of man holding car bomb
People & Politics

The Sex-Cult ‘Antichrist’ Who Rocketed Us to Space: Part 2

Sam Kean continues the wild story of rocket scientist/devil worshipper Jack Parsons in the second episode of this two-part series.

Photo of man standing near rocks and a canister
People & Politics

The Sex-Cult ‘Antichrist’ Who Rocketed Us to Space: Part 1

Jack Parsons practiced the occult and led a sex cult. He was also one of history’s most important rocket scientists.

portrait of Charles Darwin
People & Politics

Was Charles Darwin a Murderer?

Two men committed murder—and blamed the English naturalist. The aftermath solidified Darwin as the greatest scientist of his age.

illustration of Aji-No-Moto packaging
People & Politics

Mass Psychosis in Food Science

Americans happily ate monosodium glutamate for decades, but one (fake?) letter sparked mass hysteria and the bogus MSG scare was born.

Black and white photo portrait
People & Politics

Accounting for Taste

Scientists have confirmed five basic human tastes. But is that all? Debate rages about adding other tastes to the Big Five.

Colored clay model including figurines
People & Politics

If Indiana Jones Were a Swindler

James Mellaart discovered one of the most important archaeological sites ever. But his lust for treasure led him to lose it all.

sepia-toned engraving of four men around a tree
Inventions & Discoveries

The British Tobacco Empire

He was behind the rise of the British Empire, a public-health epidemic, and the lost colony of Roanoke Island. Thomas Harriot has a lot to answer for.

Cartoon rendering of Mary Hunt outside a market looking at fruit.
Health & Medicine

The Forgotten Mother of Penicillin 

How “Moldy Mary” helped produce the lifesaving drug and turned an insult into a triumph.

Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard inside a deep sea exploration vehicle.
Inventions & Discoveries

The Most Exclusive Club in the World

As recent tragedies reveal, it’s harder to reach extreme ocean depths than the Moon. Meet the people who got there first—and barely lived to tell to the tale.

illustration of two men in a balloon
Inventions & Discoveries

Death-Defying Science at 75,000 Feet

How balloon geek Auguste Piccard inspired Hollywood and became a worthy namesake for Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek fame.

Albert Einstein, Hendrik Lorentz and Arthur Eddington standing outdoors
Inventions & Discoveries

Proving Einstein Right

Meet Arthur Eddington, the weirdo scientist who made Albert Einstein the genius we know today.