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.

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.

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.

People & Politics

The Making of a Lobotomist

The story behind notorious surgeon Walter Freeman’s contempt for his father, failures with his sons, and obsession with lobotomies.

Arts & Culture

The Murderer Who Made Movies Possible

When horses gallop, do all four hooves ever leave the ground at once? This episode recounts the saga that led to the answer.

Environment

Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and the Irish Giant

Learn how the daring heist of an anatomical wonder forever sullied the reputation of a great scientist.

Environment

The Screwiest—and Perhaps Most Original—Idea of the 20th Century

An entomologist from Texas supposedly came up with ‘the single most original idea’ to eradicate screwworms.

Illustration of a white-throated sparrow.
Environment

The Bird with Four Sexes

Find out what a strange little sparrow can teach us about love, sex, and human biology.

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.

People & Politics

Stephen Hawking and the Mistake That Made His Career

The third episode in a three-part series on legendary physicists and their dumbest mistakes.

People & Politics

Albert Einstein and the Worst Prediction in the History of Science

Learn about the physicist’s biggest-blunder-turned-greatest success.

Early Science & Alchemy

How To Be Smarter Than Isaac Newton

Discover why the iconic physicist made an unbelievable error while hunting down criminals, and how you can avoid the same dumb mistake.

Color abstract landscape painting
Arts & Culture

Claude Monet and Bee Purple

How cataracts nearly ruined the impressionist painter’s career—and then revived it by giving him an insect-like superpower.

People & Politics

The Unsung Heroes of Darwin’s Evolution

Learn how an obsession with crustaceans guided the naturalist toward his most consequential insights.

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.’

Arts & Culture

The Sinister Angel Singers of Rome

How a simple operation—castrating little boys—produced the greatest singers the world has ever known.

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.

Inventions & Discoveries

The Big ‘What If’ of Cancer

How a feisty, suicidal Nobel laureate infuriated both Hitler and Stalin, and stalled cancer research for 50 years along the way.

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?