The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

Health & Medicine

Bodies, minds, and the things that help and harm them

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

Health & Medicine

Death by Nutrition

How an antarctic scientific expedition turned deadly thanks to an unlikely source: dog liver.

men in a lab
Health & Medicine

The Lifesaving Rat Poison

Follow blood thinner warfarin’s unlikely journey from moldy clover and cow killer to lifesaving drug.

Health & Medicine

When the Brain Deceives Itself

Learn what two famous neurological traumas—one involving a U.S. president, the other a Supreme Court justice—can teach us about how our own brains perceive reality.

Health & Medicine

Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code

An interview with Sam Kean about his book ‘The Violinist’s Thumb.’

Health & Medicine

The Murderous Origins of the American Medical Association

How a bloody gun duel between two doctors in Transylvania sparked a frenzy of outrage—and helped create the American Medical Association.

Health & Medicine

The Harvard Medical School Janitor Who Solved a Murder

In a building full of dead bodies, how can you tell a murder victim from an unlucky stiff?

Health & Medicine

Real-Life Zombies

What a bizarre psychological disorder can teach us about memory, human nature, and our sense of who we are.

Health & Medicine

The ‘Mary Poppins’ Cancer

The life of chimney sweeps was nasty, poor, brutish, filthy dirty, and usually short, thanks to a rare cancer of the genitals.

Health & Medicine

The Anatomy Riots

How early anatomists provoked some of the strangest riots in history by stealing the dead bodies of the poor.