Episode 96: Infamous Science

Mary Mallon

Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

Innovation can be messy work, and sometimes outright disastrous. This week on Distillations we’re looking at some of the 20th century’s most infamous scientific missteps. First: thalidomide. It was used as a sedative as well as a treatment for morning sickness, and caused thousands of birth defects before it was pulled from the market. Next up, we have an interview with Dr. Judith Walzer Leavitt, about Mary Mallon. Typhoid Mary, as history has dubbed her, was a symptomless carrier who infected over 50 people through her work as a chef. Finally, closing the show is the pipe dream of cold fusion and the discredited science that brought it into the public imagination. Chemical Agent: Thalidomide.

Show Clock

00:00 Opening Credits
00:31 Introduction
01:12 Chemical Agent: Thalidomide
03:35 Conversation with Professor Judith Walzer Leavitt
08:18 Cold Fusion
11:10 Closing Credits


This show was written and researched by Jennifer Dionisio and Michal Meyer.

Our theme music is composed by Dave Kaufman. Additional music from Music Alley and Magnatune. Additional music includes “6 Moments Musicaux Op. 16 Presto,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, performed by Elizabeth Wolff, “Burnt Optimism,” by Podcast Troubadour, and “Robot De Baba,” by FrogTrippers.

Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.



Posted In: History | Medicine | Society

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