The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

The Real Tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer

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

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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.

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.
Environment

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.
Environment

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.

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a man inside a circle with outstretched arms and legs
Early Science & Alchemy

The Brilliant, Groundbreaking, and Wildly Overrated Leonardo da Vinci

Revisit the reputation of the renowned Renaissance man with host Sam Kean.

People & Politics

死亡的平方

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

Health & Medicine

Death by Nutrition

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

Environment

The Roadside Apocalypse

We all know how much the automobile changed the world for people. This episode explores how drastically it changed—and harmed—wildlife.

The front page of a newspaper from 1928 proposing a 13-month calendar
Arts & Culture

The Blind Visionary

The story of Thomas Schall, a U.S. Congressman dedicated to reforming our messy, lopsided, archaic, and maddingly inconsistent monthly calendar.

An image of Korea's DMZ, both the natural landscape and the fence surrounding it
Environment

The Scariest Paradise on Earth

Explore the contradictions of Korea’s biggest natural wildlife refuge: the war-ravaged border between the North and South known as the DMZ.

Arts & Culture

The Naked Shibboleth

Naked mole-rats are blind, yet they can still recognize—and kill—outsiders. How? And what does it have to do with the Old Testament?

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.

men in a lab
Health & Medicine

The Life-Saving Rat Poison

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