The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

People & Politics

Science in a world of rules, regulations, and war

Photo for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day
People & Politics

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

People & Politics

Death Squared

Explore scientist John Calhoun’s mouse utopia and what it can tell us about the ways we impose lessons for society onto lab experiments.

illustration of Johnny Appleseed
People & Politics

The Debaucherous Legacy of Johnny Appleseed

Sam Kean explores how the legendary gardener’s reputation as the patron saint of the American wilderness ignores his boozy origins.

workers in a sugar cane field
People & Politics

Sugar: The Most Evil Molecule

Trace how such a sweet treat has caused so much harm—from slavery to the Nazi death machine.