The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

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.


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.

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.

Photo of Albert Einstein with Charlie Chaplin.
Health & Medicine

Einstein’s Golden Moment

It was the most powerful emotional moment of Albert Einstein’s life—the instant he knew he was a genius.

A portrait of Phineas Gage holding a piece of iron.
Health & Medicine

Everything You Know About Phineas Gage Is Wrong

What can a railroad construction foreman’s devastating skull injury teach us about the brain’s ability to heal?

Black and white photograph of Charles Darwin.
Health & Medicine

Why Do We Obsess Over Charles Darwin’s Health?

People love to retro-diagnose historical figures, even when it’s nearly impossible.

Mugshot of Nikolai Vavilov imprisoned.

The Seeds of Starvation

A scientific mystery straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

Two scientists in lab coats work in lab.
Health & Medicine

When Scientific Brilliance Isn’t Enough

In medicine, going rogue is never a good idea.

Newspaper clipping of Paul Stoutenburgh being carried out by a medical examiner.
People & Politics

The Curse of Knowing Too Much

How paranoia doomed a nuclear patent lawyer.

Black and white grid of brain scans. Computer tomography of human brain, from base of the skull to top.
Health & Medicine

The Enigmas of Foreign Accent Syndrome

Can you really collapse and wake up speaking a totally new language?

A man wearing a helmet and flashlight points to a natural nuclear reactor inside a cave in Gabon, Africa.

The World’s Only Natural Nuclear Reactor

French authorities thought uranium had been stolen for rogue atomic bombs. The truth was much more incredible.

Overhead view of DNA evidence kit on white background.
Inventions & Discoveries

How New DNA Sleuthing Can Expose Dangerous Killers—and You

The downside of using genetic genealogy to fight crime.

portrait of Robert Oppenheimer sitting down smoking
People & Politics

The Real Tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer

Sam Kean examines the dark, restless side of the father of the atomic bomb.