The Disappearing Spoon podcast

Topsy-Turvy Tales from Our Scientific Past

Health & Medicine

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

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 Life-Saving 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.

Health & Medicine

When Mosquitoes Cured Insanity

How an early 20th-century doctor pitted one scourge (malaria) against another (syphilis).

Health & Medicine

Chewing It Over—and Over and Over and Over

How a weird “scientific” diet fad conquered America in the early 1900s.

Health & Medicine

Why Don’t We Have a Male Birth Control Pill Yet?

Scientists created an effective male birth control pill in the 1950s, but it had one undesirable side effect.