Episodes

  • When a law student named Mark Bold came across a Supreme Court decision from the 1920s that allowed for the forced sterilization of people deemed “unfit,” he was shocked to discover that it had never been overturned. His law professors told him the case, Buck v Bell, was nothing to worry about, that the ruling was in a kind of legal limbo and could never be used against people. But he didn’t buy it. In this episode we follow Mark on a journey to one of the darkest consequences of humanity’s attempts to measure the human mind and put people in boxes, following him through history, science fiction and a version of eugenics that’s still very much alive today, and watch as he crusades to restore a dash of moral order to the universe.

    This episode was produced by Matt Kielty, Lulu Miller and Pat Walters.

    You can pre-order Lulu Miller’s new book Why Fish Don’t Exist here.

    Special thanks to Sara Luterman, Lynn Rainville, Alex Minna Stern, Steve Silberman and Lydia X.Z. Brown.

    Radiolab’s “G” is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

  • Albert Einstein asked that when he died, his body be cremated and his ashes be scattered in a secret location. He didn’t want his grave, or his body, becoming a shrine to his genius. When he passed away in the early morning hours of April, 18, 1955, his family knew his wishes. There was only one problem: the pathologist who did the autopsy had different plans.

    In the third episode of “G”, Radiolab’s miniseries on intelligence, we go on one of the strangest scavenger hunts for genius the world has ever seen. We follow Einstein’s stolen brain from that Princeton autopsy table, to a cider box in Wichita, Kansas, to labs all across the country. And eventually, beyond the brain itself entirely. All the while wondering, where exactly is the genius of a man who changed the way we view the world?

    This episode was reported by Rachael Cusick and Pat Walters, and produced by Bethel Habte, Rachael Cusick, and Pat Walters. Music by Alex Overington and Jad Abumrad.

    Special thanks to: Elanor Taylor, Claudia Kalb, Dustin O’Halloran, Tim Huson, The Einstein Papers Project, and all the physics for (us) dummies Youtube videos that accomplished the near-impossible feat of helping us understand relativity.

    Radiolab’s “G” is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

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  • In the first episode of G, Radiolab’s miniseries on intelligence, we went back to the 1970s to meet a group of Black parents who put the IQ test on trial. The lawsuit, Larry P v Riles, ended with a ban on IQ tests for all Black students in the state of California, a ban that’s still in place today.

    This week, we meet the families in California dealing with that ban forty years later. Families the ban was designed to protect, but who now say it discriminates against their children. How much have IQ tests changed since the 70s? And can they be used for good? We talk to the people responsible for designing the most widely used modern IQ test, and along the way, we find out that at the very same moment the IQ test was being put on trial in California, on the other side of the country, it was being used to solve one of the biggest public health problems of the 20th century.

    This episode was reported and produced by Pat Walters, Rachael Cusick and Jad Abumrad, with production help from Bethel Habte.

    Music by Alex Overington. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly.

    Special thanks to Lee Romney, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Moira Gunn and Tech Nation, and Lee Rosevere for his song All the Answers.

    Radiolab’s “G” is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

  • Are some ideas so dangerous we shouldn’t even talk about them? That question brought Radiolab’s senior editor, Pat Walters, to a subject that at first he thought was long gone: the measuring of human intelligence with IQ tests. Turns out, the tests are all around us. In the workplace. The criminal justice system. Even the NFL. And they’re massive in schools. More than a million US children are IQ tested every year.

    We begin Radiolab Presents: “G” with a sentence that stopped us all in our tracks: In the state of California, it is off-limits to administer an IQ test to a child if he or she is Black. That’s because of a little-known case called Larry P v Riles that in the 1970s … put the IQ test itself on trial. With the help of reporter Lee Romney, we investigate how that lawsuit came to be, where IQ tests came from, and what happened to one little boy who got caught in the crossfire.

    This episode was reported and produced by Lee Romney, Rachael Cusick and Pat Walters.

    Music by Alex Overington. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly.

    Special thanks to Elie Mistal, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Amanda Stern, Nora Lyons, Ki Sung, Public Advocates, Michelle Wilson, Peter Fernandez, John Schaefer. Lee Romney’s reporting was supported in part by USC’s Center for Health Journalism.

    Radiolab’s “G” is supported in part by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • How a sunken nuclear submarine, a crazy billionaire, and a mechanical claw gave birth to a phrase that has hounded journalists and lawyers for 40 years and embodies the tension between the public’s desire for transparency and the government’s need to keep secrets.

    Whether it comes from government spokespeople or celebrity publicists, the phrase “can neither confirm nor deny” is the perfect non-denial denial. It’s such a perfect deflection that it seems like it’s been around forever, but reporter Julia Barton takes us back to the 1970s and the surprising origin story of what’s now known as a “Glomar Response.” With help from David Sharp and Walt Logan, we tell the story of a clandestine CIA operation to lift a sunken Soviet submarine from the ocean floor and the dilemma they faced when the world found out about it.

    In the 40 years since that operation, the Glomar Response has become boilerplate language from an array of government agencies. With help from ProPublica editor Jeff Larson and NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, we explore the implications of this ultimate information dodge. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer explains how it stymies oversight, and we learn that, even 40 years later, governmental secrecy can be emotionally painful.

    After listening to the story ...

    After 40 years, many of the details of Project Azorian are only now coming to light. The US government’s default position has been to keep as much of it classified as possible. It took three years for retired CIA employee David Sharp to get permission to publish his account of Project Azorian. And FOIA played an indirect role in that, as Cold War historians got the CIA to release, in redacted form, an internal history of the mission. After that and a threat of legal action, Sharp was finally able to publish his manuscript in 2012.

    We mentioned conspiracy theories that have swirled around Project Azorian filling the void where official silence has reigned. One of them is promulgated in the 2005 book “Red Star Rogue” by Kenneth Sewell and Clint Richmond. They posit that the K-129 was taken over by rogue Stalinist KGB agents in order to start a nuclear conflict. But the conflict was to be between the US and China, as, according to the authors, the sub had powers to disguise its sonic signature as a Chinese Navy vessel.

    This book is the basis of the 2013 drama “Phantom,” which features Ed Harris and David Duchovny as Soviet military officers who sip vodka in a very un-Russian way.

    Russian Naval historians, like Nikolai Cherkashin, are not only insulted by this take on the cause of the K-129’s demise, they say the true cause is much easier to pinpoint: They say an American vessel, possibly the USS Swordfish, collided with the Soviet submarine.

    Despite the fact that the US government has turned over many documents about Project Azorian and what it found to the Russian government, many in the Russian Navy stand by their theory that it was far too easy for the US to locate the K-129 on the bottom of the Pacific, given the technology of the time. According to these theories, Project Azorian was nothing more than an elaborate cover-up disguised as... an elaborate cover-up. We can neither confirm nor deny that we exactly understand how that would have worked in practice or execution.

    But for our money, there’s probably no stranger and more telling document from this time than a video of the funeral at sea for Soviet sailors ostensibly recovered by the US during Project Azorian. Audio of the service starts at 1:25 in this post. Eulogies and rites are performed in both English and Russian (albeit with an American accent).

    It’s one of the more solemn moments of the Cold War, and one that the Glomar Response helped keep a secret for a very long time.

  • On a Tuesday afternoon back in the summer of 2017, Scotty Hatton and Scottie Wightman both made a decision to help someone in need. They both paid a price for their actions that day, which have led to a legal, moral, and scientific puzzle about how we balance accountability and forgiveness.

    In this episode, we go to Bath County, Kentucky, where, as one health official put it, opioids have created “a hole the size of Kentucky.” We talk to the people on all sides of this story about stemming the tide of overdoses, we wrestle with the science of poison and fear, and we try to figure out when the drive to protect and help those around us should rise above the law.

    This story was reported by Peter Andrey Smith with Matt Kielty, and produced by Matt Kielty.

    Special thanks to Earl Willis, Bobby Ratliff, Ronnie Goldie, Megan Fisher, Alan Caudill, Nick Jones, Dan Wermerling, Terry Bunn, Robin Thompson and the staff at KIPRC, Charles Landon, Charles P Gore, Jim McCarthy, Ann Marie Farina, Dr. Jeremy Faust and Dr. Ed Boyer, Justin Brower, Kathy Robinson, Zoe Renfro, John Bucknell, Chris Moraff, Jeremiah Laster, Tommy Kane, Jim McCarthy, Sarah Wakeman, and Al Tompkins.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    CDC recommendations on helping people who overdose: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/patients/Preventing-an-Opioid-Overdose-Tip-Card-a.pdf

    Find out where to get naloxone: https://prevent-protect.org/

  • Back in 2003, Belgium was holding a national election. One of their first where the votes would be cast and counted on computers. Thousands of hours of preparation went into making it unhackable. And when the day of the vote came, everything seemed to have gone well. That was, until a cosmic chain of events caused a single bit to flip and called the outcome into question.

    Today on Radiolab, we travel from a voting booth in Brussels to the driver's seat of a runaway car in the Carolinas, exploring the massive effects tiny bits of stardust can have on us unwitting humans.

    This episode was reported and produced by Simon Adler and Annie McEwen.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    Check out our accompanying short video Bit Flip: the tale of a Belgian election and a cosmic ray that got in the way.

    This video was produced by Simon Adler with animation from Kelly Gallagher.

  • Using high-powered ballistics experiments, fancy computer algorithms, and good old-fashioned ancient geology, scientists have woven together a theory about the extinction of the dinosaurs that is so precise, so hot, so instantaneous, as to seem unimaginable. Today, we bring you this story, first published on Radiolab in 2013, plus an update: a spot on planet Earth, newly discovered, that - if it holds true - has the potential to tell us about the first three hours after the dinos died.

    This update was reported by Molly Webster and was produced with help from Audrey Quinn.

    We teamed up with some amazing collaborators for Apocalyptical, the Radiolab live show that this episode is based on. Find out more about these wildly talented folks: comedians Reggie Watts, Patton Oswalt, Simon Amstell, Ophira Eisenberg and Kurt Braunohler; musicians On Fillmore and Noveller, and Erth Visual & Physical Inc.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    To learn more about the North Dakota site - known as Tanis, for all you Indiana Jones fans - check out the recent paper. Make sure you spend time digging into those supplemental materials, it contains all the juice !

    And, go watch Apocalyptical; to dinosaurs and beyond!

  • This week we’re going back to a favorite episode from 2015.

    During World War II, something happened that nobody ever talks about. This is a tale of mysterious balloons, cowboy sheriffs, and young children caught up in the winds of war. And silence, the terror of silence.

    Reporters Peter Lang-Stanton and Nick Farago tell us the story of a seemingly ridiculous, almost whimsical series of attacks on the US between November of 1944 and May of 1945. With the help of writer Ross Coen, geologist Elisa Bergslien, and professor Mike Sweeney, we uncover a national secret that led to tragedy in a sleepy logging town in south central Oregon.

    Check out pictures of the ghostly balloons here.

    Special thanks to Annie Patzke, Leda and Wayne Hunter, and Ilana Sol. Special thanks also for the use of their music to Jeff Taylor, David Wingo for the use of "Opening" and "Doghouse" - from the Take Shelter soundtrack, Justin Walter's "Mind Shapes" from his album Lullabies and Nightmares, and Michael Manning for the use of "Save".

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • In 1903 the US Supreme Court refused to say that Isabel González was a citizen of the United States. Then again, they said, she wasn’t a exactly an immigrant either. And they said that the US territory of Puerto Rico, Isabel’s home, was “foreign to the United States in a domestic sense.” Since then, the US has cleared up at least some of the confusion about US territories and the status of people born in them.

    But, more than a hundred years later, there is still a US territory that has been left in limbo: American Samoa. It is the only place on earth that is US soil, but people who are born there are not automatically US citizens. When we visit American Samoa, we discover that there are some pretty surprising reasons why many American Samoans prefer it that way.

    This episode was reported and produced by Julia Longoria.

    Special thanks to John Wasko.

    Check out Sam Erman's book Almost Citizens and Doug Mack's book The Not Quite States of America.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • When Nancy Holten was 8 years old her mom put her in a moving van. She fell asleep, woke up in Switzerland, and she's been there ever since. Nancy is big into animal rights, crystals, and various forms of natural and holistic healing. She’s also a viral sensation: the Dutch woman apparently so annoying, her Swiss town denied her citizenship. In this episode we go to the little village of Gipf-Oberfrick to meet Nancy, talk with the town, and ask the question: what does it mean and what does it take to belong to a place?

    This episode was reported by Kelly Prime and was produced by Kelly Prime and Annie McEwen.

    Special thanks to reporter Anna Mayumi Kerber, the tireless fixer and translator for this story. Thanks also to Dominik Hangartner and to the very talented yodelers Ai Dineen and Gregory Corbino.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

    A tasty note from Latif: Towards the end of the story, I casually mentioned a place called Greg's Poutine in Toronto. Turns out, it's actually called Smoke's Poutinerie. (Confused it with Greg's Ice Cream.) Go. It's delicious.
  • This week Jad and Radiolab alum Tim Howard revisit a favorite episode from 2012.

    Because moments of total, world-shaking bliss are not easy to come by. Maybe that's what makes them feel so life-altering when they strike. And so worth chasing. This hour: stories of striving, grasping, tripping, and falling for happiness, perfection, and ideals.

    With Alexander Gamme, Arika Okrent, Richard Sproat, and Ken Libbrecht.

    This update was produced with help from Audrey Quinn.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Part 2: Last year, we ran a pair of episodes that explored the greatest mysteries in our listeners’ lives - the big ones, little ones, and the ones in between. This year, we’re back on the hunt, tracking down answers to the big little questions swirling around our own heads.

    Today, we take a look at a strange human emotion, and investigate the mysteries lurking behind the trees, sounds, and furry friends in our lives.

    This episode was reported by Tracie Hunte, Pat Walters, Molly Webster, Arianne Wack, Carter Hodge, Sarah Qari and Annie McEwen, and was produced by Matt Kielty, Tracie Hunte, Pat Walters, Molly Webster, Arianne Wack, Sarah Qari, Annie McEwen, and Simon Adler.

    Special thanks to Yiyun Huang, lab manager at Yale's Canine Cognition Center. Check out Code Switch's "Dog Show!"

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Last year, we ran a pair of episodes that explored the greatest mysteries in our listeners’ lives - the big ones, little ones, and the ones in between. This year, we’re back on the hunt, tracking down answers to the big little questions swirling around our own heads.

    We reached out to some of our favorite people and asked them to come along with us as we journeyed back in time, to outer space, and inside our very own bodies.

    This episode was reported by Rachael Cusick, Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, and Annie McEwen and was produced by Rachael Cusick, Simon Adler, Matt Kielty, Becca Bressler, and Annie McEwen.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • Our lives are filled with loops that hurt us, heal us, make us laugh, and, sometimes, leave us wanting more. This hour, Radiolab revisits the strange things that emerge when something happens, then happens again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… well, again.

    In this episode of Radiolab, Jad and Robert try to explain an inexplicable comedy act, listen to a loop that literally dies in your ear, and they learn about a loop that sent a shudder up the collective spine of mathematicians everywhere. Finally, they talk to a woman who got to watch herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that she was watching herself think the thought that ... you get the point.

    With Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler, Alex Bellos, Steven Strogatz, Janna Levin, and Melanie Thernstrom. Plus mind-bending musical accompaniment from Laguardia Arts High School singers Nathaniel Sabat, Julian Soto, Eli Greenhoe, Kelly Efthimiu, Julia Egan, and Ruby Froom.

    You can find the video Christine Campbell made of her mom Mary Sue here.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • When a female animal is checking out her prospects, natural selection would dictate that she pay attention to how healthy, or strong, or fit he is. But when it comes to finding a mate, some animals seem to be engaged in a very different game. What if a female were looking for something else - something that has nothing to do with fitness? Something...beautiful? Today we explore a different way of looking at evolution and what it may mean for the course of science.

    This episode was reported by Robert Krulwich and Bethel Habte and was produced by Bethel Habte.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • With Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the news and on the big screen recently, we decided to play the More Perfect show about her from back in November of 2017. This is the story of how Ginsburg, as a young lawyer at the ACLU, convinced an all-male Supreme Court to take discrimination against women seriously - using a case on discrimination against men.

    This episode was reported by Julia Longoria.

    Special thanks to Stephen Wiesenfeld, Alison Keith, and Bob Darcy.

    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • John Scott was the professional hockey player that every fan loved to hate. A tough guy. A brawler. A goon. But when an impish pundit named Puck Daddy called on fans to vote for Scott to play alongside the world’s greatest players in the NHL All-Star Game, Scott found himself facing off against fans, commentators, and the powers that be. Was this the realization of Scott’s childhood dreams? Or a nightmarish prank gone too far? Today on Radiolab, a goof on a goon turns into a parable of the agony and the ecstasy of the internet, and democracy in the age of Boaty McBoatface.

    This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and was produced by Matt Kielty.

    Special thanks to Larry Lynch and Morgan Springer. Check out John Scott's "Dropping the Gloves" podcast and his book "A Guy Like Me".

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

  • The question we get more than any other here at Radiolab is “Where do all those stories come from?” Today, for the first time ever, we divulge our secret recipe for story-finding. Veteran Radiolab story scout Latif Nasser takes our newest producer Rachael Cusick along for what he calls “the world’s biggest scavenger hunt.” Together, they’ll make you want to bake some cookies and find some true stories. But we can’t find, much less tell, true stories without you. Find it in yourself to donate and help us make another year of this possible. It's a choice only you can make. Radiolab.org/support

    Here are story-finding resources mentioned in this episode:

    The World's Biggest Scavenger Hunt: Latif's Transom post on story scouting

    Google Alerts: Set up your own!

    Wikipedia Random Article: Play wiki roulette by clicking "random article" in the far-left column

    WorldCat: to find where a book exists in a library near you

    ArchiveGrid: to search libraries' special collections and oral histories

    Trade Publications: Search for trade magazines by industry

    Cusick Cookies: Rachael's cookie recipe...you're welcome.

  • As legend goes, in 1562, King Philip II needed a miracle. So he commissioned one from a highly-skilled clockmaker. In this short, a king's deal with God leads to an intricate mechanical creation, and Jad heads to the Smithsonian to investigate.

    When the 17-year-old crown prince of Spain, Don Carlos, fell down a set of stairs in 1562, he threw his whole country into a state of uncertainty about the future. Especially his father, King Philip II, who despite being the most powerful man in the world, was helpless in the face of his heir's terrible head wound. When none of the leading remedies of the day--bleeding, blistering, purging, or drilling--helped, the king enlisted the help of a relic...the corpse of a local holy man who had died 100 years earlier. Then, Philip II promised that if God saved his son, he'd repay him with a miracle of his own.

    Elizabeth King, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, describes how--according to legend--Philip II held up his end of the bargain with the help of a renowned clockmaker and an intricate invention. Jad and Latif head to the Smithsonian to meet curator Carlene E. Stephens, who shows them the inner workings of a nearly 450-year-old monkbot.

    This episode was reported by Latif Nasser.

    In the time since this episode was first produced, Elizabeth King has written a book about the clockwork monk. More details can be found at automatonmonk.com.

    Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.