Episodes

  • The Other Latif

    Radiolab’s Latif Nasser always believed his name was unique, singular, completely his own. Until one day when he makes a bizarre and shocking discovery. He shares his name with another man: Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government paints a terrifying picture of The Other Latif as Al-Qaeda’s top explosives expert, and one of the most important advisors to Osama bin Laden. Nasser’s lawyer claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was never even in Al-Qaeda. This clash leads Radiolab’s Latif into a years-long investigation, picking apart evidence, attempting to separate fact from fiction, and trying to uncover what this man actually did or didn’t do. Along the way, Radiolab’s Latif reflects on American values and his own religious past, and wonders how his namesake, a fellow nerdy, suburban Muslim kid, may have gone down such a strikingly different path.

    Episode 3: Sudan

    Latif turns his focus to Sudan, where his namesake spent time working on a sunflower farm. What could be suspicious about that? Latif scrutinizes the evidence to try to discover whether - as Abdul Latif’s lawyer insists - it was just an innocent clerical job, or - as the government alleges - it was where he decided to become an extremist fighter.

    This episode was produced by Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Qari, and Latif Nasser. With help from Niza Nondo and Maaki Monem. Fact checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Alex Overington, Jeremy Bloom, and Amino Belyamani.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • The Other Latif

    Radiolab’s Latif Nasser always believed his name was unique, singular, completely his own. Until one day when he makes a bizarre and shocking discovery. He shares his name with another man: Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government paints a terrifying picture of The Other Latif as Al-Qaeda’s top explosives expert, and one of the most important advisors to Osama bin Laden. Nasser’s lawyer claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was never even in Al-Qaeda. This clash leads Radiolab’s Latif into a years-long investigation, picking apart evidence, attempting to separate fact from fiction, and trying to uncover what this man actually did or didn’t do. Along the way, Radiolab’s Latif reflects on American values and his own religious past, and wonders how his namesake, a fellow nerdy, suburban Muslim kid, may have gone down such a strikingly different path.

    Episode 2: Morocco

    Latif travels to Abdul Latif’s hometown of Casablanca, Morocco, to try and find out: was he radicalized? And if so, how? Latif begins by visiting the man’s family, but the family’s reaction to him gets complicated as Latif digs for the truth. He finds out surprising information on a political group Abdul Latif joined in his youth, his alleged onramp to extremism. Tensions escalate when Latif realizes he’s being tailed.

    Read more about Abdul Latif Nasser at the New York Times’ Guantanamo Docket.

    This episode was produced by Sarah Qari, Suzie Lechtenberg, and Latif Nasser. With help from Tarik El Barakah and Amira Karaoud. Fact checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Alex Overington, and Amino Belyamani.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

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  • The Other Latif

    Radiolab’s Latif Nasser always believed his name was unique, singular, completely his own. Until one day when he makes a bizarre and shocking discovery. He shares his name with another man: Abdul Latif Nasser, detainee 244 at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. government paints a terrifying picture of The Other Latif as Al-Qaeda’s top explosives expert, and one of the most important advisors to Osama bin Laden. Nasser’s lawyer claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and that he was never even in Al-Qaeda. This clash leads Radiolab’s Latif into a years-long investigation, picking apart evidence, attempting to separate fact from fiction, and trying to uncover what this man actually did or didn’t do. Along the way, Radiolab’s Latif reflects on American values and his own religious past, and wonders how his namesake, a fellow nerdy, suburban Muslim kid, may have gone down such a strikingly different path.

    Episode 1: My Namesake

    We hear the evidence against Abdul Latif Nasser -- at least the evidence that has been leaked or declassified -- and we meet Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, his attorney, who contests more or less every government claim against him. Sullivan-Bennis walks us through the excruciating process that came close to releasing Abdul Latif Nasser in the waning days of the Obama administration, but fell apart at the last minute. He is now technically a free man -- he was cleared for transfer home in 2016 -- yet he remains stuck at Guantanamo Bay, thanks in part to a Presidential Tweet.

    A photo of Abdul Latif Nasser

    Read more about Abdul Latif Nasser at the New York Times’ Guantanamo Docket.

    This episode was produced by Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Sarah Qari, and Suzie Lechtenberg. Fact checking by Diane Kelly and Margot Williams. Editing by Jad Abumrad and Soren Wheeler. Original music by Jad Abumrad, Alex Overington, Annie McEwen, and Amino Belyamani.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • On the occasion of his retirement as cohost of Radiolab, Robert sat down with Jad to reflect on his long and storied career in radio and television, and their work together over the past decade and a half. And we pay tribute to Robert, inspired by a peculiar tradition of his.

    This episode was produced by Matt Kielty. Sound design & mix by Jeremy Bloom.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Right now, at this very moment, all across the planet, there are 7.6 billion human beings eating, breathing, sleeping, brushing their teeth, walking their dogs, drinking coffee, walking down the street or running onto the subway or hopping in their car, maybe reading a summary of a podcast they’re about to hit play on … and the number is only going up. Everyday 386,000 babies are born (16,000 an hour). We’re adding a billion new people every 12 years.

    So here’s a question you’ve probably never thought about: Are there more people alive right now than have ever lived on the planet in history? Do the living outnumber the dead? Robert got obsessed with this odd question, and in this episode we bring you the answer. Or, well, answers.

    This episode was reported by Robert Krulwich and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters, with help from Neel Dhanesha. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Music and mixing by Jeremy Bloom. Special thanks to Jeffrey Dobereiner.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • This hour we pull apart one sentence, written in the hours after September 11th, 2001, that has led to the longest war in U.S. history. We examine how just 60 words of legal language have blurred the line between war and peace.

    Last weekend President Trump authorized a strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. The news had us thinking about an episode we produced in 2014. We pulled apart one sentence, written in the hours after September 11th, 2001, that has led to the longest war in U.S. history. We examine how just 60 words of legal language have blurred the line between war and peace.

    In the hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a lawyer sat down in front of a computer and started writing a legal justification for taking action against those responsible. The language that he drafted and that President George W. Bush signed into law - called the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) - has at its heart one single sentence, 60 words long. Over the last decade, those 60 words have become the legal foundation for the "war on terror."

    In this collaboration with BuzzFeed, reporter Gregory Johnsen tells us the story of how this has come to be one of the most important, confusing, troubling sentences of the last two decades. We go into the meetings that took place in the chaotic days just after 9/11, speak with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and former Congressman Ron Dellums about the vote on the AUMF. We hear from former White House and State Department lawyers John Bellinger & Harold Koh. We learn how this legal language unleashed Guantanamo, Navy Seal raids and drone strikes. And we speak with journalist Daniel Klaidman, legal expert Benjamin Wittes and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine about how these words came to be interpreted, and what they mean for the future of war and peace.

    Finally, we check back in with Wittes, to see how the AUMF has trickled into the 2020s.

    Produced by Matt Kielty and Kelsey Padgett with original music by Dylan Keefe.

    Watch Congresswomen Barbara Lee's speech here.

  • This is a story about your butt. It’s a story about how you got your butt, why you have your butt, and how your butt might be one of the most important and essential things for you being you, for being human.

    Today, reporters Heather Radke and Matt Kielty talk to two researchers who followed the butt from our ancient beginnings, through millions of years of evolution, and all the way to today, out to a valley in Arizona, where our butts are put to the ultimate test.

    This episode was reported by Heather Radke and Matt Kielty and was produced by Matt Kielty, Rachael Cusick and Simon Adler. Sound design and mixing by Jeremy Bloom. Fact-checking by Dorie Chevlen.

    Special thanks to Michelle Legro.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Here's a simple question: When an animal disappears in the winter, where does it go? Oddly enough, this question completely stumped European scientists for thousands of years. And even today, the more we learn about the comings and goings of the animals, the deeper the mystery seems to get. We visit a Bavarian farm with an 11 year old, follow warblers and wildebeests around the world, and get a totally new kind of view of the pulsing flow of animals across the globe.

    This episode was reported by Robert Krulwich and Jackson Roach and produced by Pat Walters, Matt Kielty, and Jackson Roach. Mix & original music by Jeremy Bloom.

    Special thanks to Allison Shaw, David Barrie, Auriel Fournier, and Moritz Matschke.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    And check out:

    The Truth about Animals by Lucy Cooke

    No Way Home: The Decline of the Great Animal Migrations by David Wilcove

    The migration video Jad and Robert watch in this episode!

  • From a piece of the Wright brother's plane to a child’s sugar egg, today: Things! Important things, little things, personal things, things you can hold and things that can take hold of you. This hour, we investigate the objects around us, their power to move us, and whether it's better to look back or move on, hold on tight or just let go.

  • Deep fake videos have the potential to make it impossible to sort fact from fiction. And some have argued that this blackhole of doubt will eventually send truth itself into a death spiral. But a series of recent events in the small African nation of Gabon suggest it's already happening.

    Today, we follow a ragtag group of freedom fighters as they troll Gabon’s president - Ali Bongo - from afar. Using tweets, videos and the uncertainty they can carry, these insurgents test the limits of using truth to create political change and, confusingly, force us to ask: Can fake news be used for good?

    This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Today, we're re-releasing an old episode about how hard it is getting to decipher fact from fiction. Because next week, we’ll be putting out a story showing what happens when certain reality-altering tools get released into the wild.

    Simon Adler takes us down a technological rabbit hole of strangely contorted faces and words made out of thin air. And a wonderland full of computer scientists, journalists, and digital detectives forces us to rethink even the things we see with our very own eyes.

    Oh, and by the way, we decided to put the dark secrets we learned into action, and unleash this on the internet.

    Reported by Simon Adler. Produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen.

    Special thanks to everyone on the University of Southern California team who helped out with the facial manipulation: Kyle Olszewski, Koki Nagano, Ronald Yu, Yi Zhou, Jaewoo Seo, Shunsuke Saito, and Hao Li. Check out more of their work pinscreen.com

    Special thanks also to Matthew Aylett, Supasorn Suwajanakorn, Rachel Axler, Angus Kneale, David Carroll, Amy Pearl and Nick Bilton. You can check out Nick’s latest book, American Kingpin, here.

    Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly’s actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad’s first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Coming off our adventures with Square Dancing, and Jad's dive into the world of Dolly Parton, we look back at one our favorites. About a decade ago, we found out that American country music is surprising popular in places like Zimbabwe, Thailand, and South Africa. Aaron Fox, an anthropologist of music at Columbia University, tells us that quite simply, country music tells a story that a lot of us get. Then, intrepid international reporter Gregory Warner takes us along on one of his very first forays into another country, where he discovers an unexpected taste of home.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    Aaron Foxes book: Real Country: Music And Language In Working-Class Culture

    Gregory Warner's podcast Rough Translation

  • People have been doing the square dance since before the Declaration of Independence. But does that mean it should be THE American folk dance? That question took us on a journey from Appalachian front porches, to dance classes across our nation, to the halls of Congress, and finally a Kansas City convention center. And along the way, we uncovered a secret history of square dancing that made us see how much of our national identity we could stuff into that square, and what it means for a dance to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    Special thanks to Jim Mayo, Claude Fowler, Paul Gifford, Jim Maczko, Jim Davis, Paul Moore, Jack Pladdys, Mary Jane Wegener, Kinsey Brooke and Connie Keener.

    This episode was reported by Tracie Hunte and produced by Annie McEwen, Tracie Hunte, and Matt Kielty. Mix by Jeremy Bloom.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    Check out Phil Jamison's book, “Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance

    Watch this 1948 Lucky Strike Cigarette Square Dancing Commercial

    A rare image of Black Square Dancers in 1948

    The Square Dance History Project

    Read “America’s Wholesome Square Dancing Tradition is a Tool of White Supremacy,” by Robyn Pennachia for Quartz

    And Pennachia’s original Twitter thread

    Read “The State Folk Dance Conspiracy: Fabricating a National Folk Dance,” by Julianne Mangin

  • Radiolab creator and host Jad Abumrad spent the last two years following around music legend Dolly Parton, and we're here to say you should tune in! In this episode of Radiolab, we showcase the first of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons.

    We begin with a simple question: How did the queen of the boob joke become a feminist icon? Helen Morales, author of “Pilgrimage to Dollywood,” gave us a stern directive – look at the lyrics! So we dive into Dolly’s discography, starting with the early period of what Dolly calls “sad ass songs” to find remarkably prescient words of female pain, slut-shaming, domestic violence, and women being locked away in asylums by cheating husbands. We explore how Dolly took the centuries-old tradition of the Appalachian “murder ballad”—an oral tradition of men singing songs about brutally killing women—and flipped the script, singing from the woman’s point of view. And as her career progresses, the songs expand beyond the pain to tell tales of leaving abuse behind.

    How can such pro-woman lyrics come from someone who despises the word feminism? Dolly explains.

    Check out Dolly Parton's America here at: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/dolly-partons-america

  • We eat eels in sushi, stews, and pasta. Eels eat anything. Also they can survive outside of water for hours and live for up to 80 years. But this slippery snake of the sea harbors an even deeper mystery, one that has tormented the minds of Aristotle and Sigmund Freud and apparently the entire country of Italy: Where do they come from? We travel from the estuaries of New York to the darkest part of the ocean in search of the limits of human knowledge.

    This episode was produced by Matt Kielty and Becca Bressler.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    Further reading:

    Lucy Cooke's book The Truth about Animals!

    Chris Bowser's Eel Research Project

  • In the early 60s, Robert Axelrod was a math major messing around with refrigerator-sized computers. Then a dramatic global crisis made him wonder about the space between a rock and a hard place, and whether being good may be a good strategy. With help from Andrew Zolli and Steve Strogatz, we tackle the prisoner’s dilemma, a classic thought experiment, and learn about a simple strategy to navigate the waters of cooperation and betrayal. Then Axelrod, along with Stanley Weintraub, takes us back to the trenches of World War I, to the winter of 1914, and an unlikely Christmas party along the Western Front.

  • More often than not, a fight is just a fight... Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.

    Special thanks to Mark Dresser for the use of his music.

  • Nate DiMeo was preoccupied with the past, and how we relate to it, from a very young age. For the last decade or so he's been scratching this itch with The Memory Palace, a podcast he created. He does things very differently than we do, but his show has captured the hearts of Radiolab staffers, past and present, time and time again.

    So we decided to get Nate into the studio to share a few of his episodes with us and talk to us about how and why he does what he does. He brought us stories about the Morse Code, the draft lottery, and then he hit us with a brand new episode about a bull on trial, that bounces off a story we did pretty recently.

    More history on scrub bulls.

    Follow @thememorypalace on Twitter.

    This episode was produced with help from Bethel Habte.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    Other staff favorites:

    Zulu Charlie Romeo

    Notes on an Imagined Plaque

    Snakes!

    Outliers

  • In an online world, that story about you lives forever. The tipsy photograph of you at the college football game? It’s up there. That news article about the political rally you were marching at? It’s up there. A DUI? That’s there, too. But what if ... it wasn’t.

    In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of journalists are trying out an experiment that has the potential to turn things upside down: they are unpublishing content they’ve already published. Photographs, names, entire articles. Every month or so, they get together to decide what content stays, and what content goes. On today’s episode, reporter Molly Webster goes inside the room where the decisions are being made, listening case-by-case as editors decide who, or what, gets to be deleted. It’s a story about time and memory; mistakes and second chances; and society as we know it.

    This episode was reported by Molly Webster, and produced by Molly Webster and Bethel Habte.

    Special thanks to Kathy English, David Erdos, Ed Haber, Brewster Kahle, Imani Leonard, Ruth Samuel, James Bennett II, Alice Wilder, Alex Overington, Jane Kamensky and all the people who helped shape this story.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    To learn more about Cleveland.com’s “right to be forgotten experiment,” check out the very first column Molly read about the project.