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The Bad Show

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The Bad Show (Adam Cole/WNYC)

Cruelty, violence, badness... This episode of Radiolab, we wrestle with the dark side of human nature, and ask whether it's something we can ever really understand, or fully escape.


We begin with a chilling statistic: 91% of men, and 84% of women, have fantasized about killing someone. We take a look at one particular fantasy lurking behind these numbers, and wonder what this shadow world might tell us about ourselves and our neighbors. Then, we reconsider what Stanley Milgram's famous experiment really revealed about human nature (it's both better and worse than we thought). Next, we meet a man who scrambles our notions of good and evil: chemist Fritz Haber, who won a Nobel Prize in 1918...around the same time officials in the US were calling him a war criminal. And we end with the story of a man who chased one of the most prolific serial killers in US history, then got a chance to ask him the question that had haunted him for years: why?


Dr. David Buss, Dan Charles, Alex Haslam, Jeff Jensen, Frederick Kaufman, Sam Kean, Latif Nasser, James Shapiro, Fritz Stern and Benjamen Walker

Who's Bad?

What would it take to make you do something truly awful?

Comments [18]

How do you solve a problem like Fritz Haber?

How do you square the idea of a bad person who does great good? Or a good person who does terrible harm? Sam Kean introduces us to the confusing life story of Fritz Haber. Around 1900, Haber was a young chemist in Germany, intent on solving the biggest problem facing ...

Comments [87]

Why are bad guys bad?

When we talk about badness and human nature, we keep smacking into a persistent problem: how do you explain cruelty? James Shapiro, professor of English at Columbia University, zeroes in on the drama of this question with a maddening insight from Shakespeare, by way of the villainous Iago.

And that ...

Comments [20]

Comments [152]

Ben Johnson from Utah

This was an interesting podcast episode, truly I really enjoyed it. I remembered this episode in conversation with someone and went to iTunes podcast app to try to find it. For some reason it was not there. I wondered whether I was going crazy, as I was most certain that I had listened to this episode. I had to go to your website in order to find it . This has me worried that there are many other episodes that I do not have access to, without realizing it. Thank you for all the Podcasts that you put out. Listening to Radio Lab opened up the world of podcasts for me.

Oct. 13 2017 02:34 PM
Joe from Chicago

"What we want out of the why is meaning. Meaning to life to reveal itself in a way that restores order and gives us hope that all of this isn't meaningless chaos." I mean I don't think he came to the wrong conclusion, it's just such an obvious conclusion I'm surprised you ended the show with it. Life is constant chaos and human ego would rather delude itself than to accept the truth that we aren't important. Duh.

Jul. 24 2017 10:20 PM
Becky from Glen MIlls PA

Absolutely LOVED this episode. I was driving home from MD and literally drove with my jaw dropped the whole episode. OMG, it was great on so many levels. Thanks for such a thrilling show!!!!

Jul. 24 2017 10:03 AM
S from Il

I find this program very unpleasant. I've been a supporter of public radio for 30 years. My parents met both working in the early days of public radio. I like public radio and I don't mind RadioLab topics. I love the prigram's name, but I cannot make it through a whole episode of this program because of the style, the continually finishing or even just insterting words into each other's sentences. It has the sound and tempo of interruption. It sounds rude as if no one had the patience to let another person to finish even one sentence. Bad manners showed up on TV in the early '80s when interrupting became the style of shows such as "Crossfire" and it got worse and worse. I kept waiting for it to end and for grown ups to become civil again. Now I believe that Millennials have heard nothing else and are deathly afraid of silence for even as little as one second. I'm sad because I believe people need to have the patience to listen to another complete a full sentence in order to communicate complex thoughts and RadioLab is planting the seeds of the opposite. I wish RadioLab producers could take another look at their program style. I don't find it cute, funny, inventive, admirable, or creative. I find it nearly as annoying as a room full of people arguing.

Jul. 23 2017 02:05 PM

Of course if Fritz Haber hadn't invented a way to synthesize nitrogen, all of us would be farming our own poop (after we exhausted the guano and slaves who dug it). Or long since starved to death. It's easy to complain about the processes that make our lives the way they are today, a lot harder to implement a different method...

Oct. 26 2015 03:23 PM

Great show, gripping and gut wrenching. However I must disagree with the idea that Fritz had essentially done more good. Not only has he created an artificial, over populated world that gets more disgusting by the day, he created chemical weapons.
If only time travel were possible to go back and remove him from the gene pool.

Oct. 26 2015 09:28 AM

The subject is an intriguing one, but the hosts seem at times to be making light of the subject or treating it with a kind of superficial levity or making downright foolish remarks that undermine the message of a segment. I found it particularly aggravating, in the context of this discussion of "bad" impulses or people, that Jad makes a case for Haber being essentially good and even discounting the use of chlorine gas as being more than balanced by his development of nitrogen fertilizer. When a man can watch hundreds of others die an excruciating death from the gas he unleashes, and relish his "success" with this abominable weapon, he is nauseatingly sick and apparently amoral. Jad says "he didn't intend this to happen" regarding the use of a pesticide applied as an agent in WWII, but it's entirely consistent with his previous development of chlorine gas. And then, agreeing with a remark by Robert, Jad says lamely, "Yes, I guess it's all about doubt" regarding the approach of a scientist. I thought, Huh?!, what is this guy talking about?! No, it's about so much more than "doubt"! We can agree that some people who do mostly good or well-intentioned acts in their lives are also capable of doing some bad as well. We can even allow for various traumas or chemical imbalances in a person being a source of terrible behavior. But let's not excuse a man who is consumed more with his own ego gratification and ambitions while seeming to have no real moral compass.

Oct. 26 2015 03:40 AM
Ashley from Wisconsin

excellent episode as always. Not particularly uplifting - I was physically nauseous at one point - and the discontent i felt at the end could be cut with a knife. But this is why i like Radiolab. Theorizing and philosophizing, discussing things that polite people don't, and sometimes making the listener uncomfortable: without these things none of us would ever grow. Thanks for continually getting me out of my comfort zone, Jad and Robert.

Oct. 24 2015 06:26 PM
M. Hammer from Canada

The stated opinion that Fritz Haber is good because he helped more people than he killed neglects to consider that technological advances by humanity can just as easily be completed, in time, by non-psychopathic mass murderers.

If you really wanted to do the math, you'd have to know who else had the wherewithal to invent the process of creating chemical fertilizer, and then calculate the number of people who would have died of starvation and other reasons related to scarcity of natural fertilizers between Dr. Haber's discovery and that other inevitable person's invention.

Then you'd have to know how long it would have taken some other psychopath to figure out chlorine (or mustard, or other) gas, and calculate how many people would not have died from the gas created by Dr. Haber and its offshoots.

Finally, you'd compare those two figures, and find out whether his net effect of avoiding starvation vs. causing mass murder would have been positive or negative.

But then, in the end, you don't want to do the math at all, do you? Isn't it always better for people like him not to have existed, and for the world to live with natural tragedies rather than monstrous calamities? Does our collective technological advancement really supply any kind of redemption to the monstrous acts of an individual?

Oct. 22 2015 05:43 PM
Ted Michelini from PDX

A retread from a past show, the oft heard Silverton Mayor Transvestite and the Siberian Fox experiment?? This is just lazy, do these guys have 2 other jobs? Can MacArthur rescind award?

Oct. 21 2015 02:11 PM
Em Annet from California

It really angered me to hear it suggested that the world is better off because of the guy who enjoyed killing people in WWI with gas-as an incest survivor you could easily be talking about my Dad. A sociopath is sick and twisted, and, just as in the case of Bill Cosby, it befuddles people that such evil people can also have good in them or do good things. To say 'The world is better off' begs the point, and truly is enraging. Whether they did good things or bad, the horror of the evil done is real, the suffering was real, and they are sick individuals. I guess you guys haven't actually run into such sadism in real life, but I have and researched it a great deal. Generally people do sadistic things etc. because they have damaged brains due to having been abused, neglected etc. Your 'they think they are doing the right thing' argument is so WEAK! I guess you haven't had to face evil the way that I have, but appreciate which ever one of you was able to be in touch with the horror and pain enough to recognize cruelty and sociopathic behavior for what it truly is. No amount of 'good deeds' can change the nature of the sadist.

Apr. 26 2015 07:03 PM
Catniss J. Moore

This is a very interesting episode. I feel like everyone sort of had a dark side. It was extremely shocking to read about the percentage about how many women or men envision killing someone! Kind of scary actually!

Apr. 13 2015 04:27 PM
Shimon Haber from United States

By inventing the Haber-Bosch process, Shimon Haber started a process that is maybe the most important invention in human history. That was a process, thank to which some 2 or 3 billion people are alive today. It was a process that transformed the way food is produced.
But Shimon Haber changed and the way we fight wars, as he is also know by the name “the father of chemical warfare”.
Shimon’s legacy is filled with contradictions just like his personality was. He was the saver of humanity and a war criminal in the same time. Led by his ambition to become an acknowledged member of the German society, Shimon Haber supported the Nazi cause. He was the Jew that became German patriot.

Jan. 14 2015 08:44 AM

Anyone else thinking that Haber's wife and son were more likely early victims of the procedure more recently labeled "suicide-ed"...

Dec. 08 2014 04:34 PM
Chris Valentine from Staten island new york

the most intersting article i feel was when the professor said he had his students circle yes or no to the question Have they ever thought about killing someone. A large portion of the class said yes. a even larger portion were woman which was even more surprising. the example he gave about the woman who wanted to kill her ex boyfriend was interesting as well. The boyfriend threatened to post the sex tapes they made all over her campus if she ever got with a new man he said. the woman actually invited him over to attempt to kill him but did not. she went on to say she was 60 percent close to ending his life.
You would be surprised at the amount of crazy issues that people go through everyday. although that would be extreme to kill him she had reasons that she felt may be justified and some people would not consider her a "bad" person!

Oct. 30 2014 02:47 PM
Stan from Charlotte, NC

Please correct the above spelling of Stanley Milgram's last name. I was made a fool of while arguing with my undergraduate sociology professor after she pulled up this website during lecture and pointed out the misspelling. Thank you RadioLab.

Dec. 21 2013 05:22 PM
Diane from Catskill Mts., New York

Following orders or not is a whole different ballgame depending on consequences. Thank god I've never had to find out how "cruel" I might be if my life, or my children's was at stake. Would I hide my neighbors from the Nazis? Would you?

Dec. 17 2013 06:03 PM

I really appreciate getting the nuances of famous Milgram experiment.

Most of the comments are thoughtful. One comment said that the difference between the Milgram experiment and what happened in Nazi Germany, is that the people administering the shocks understood that the subject were there voluntarily and could leave at any time, whereas in Germany it was clear that the concentration camp inmates were prisoners.

But another difference is that the people administering the shocks in the Milgram experiment were also under no compulsion or material threat. But the "good Germans" in Nazi Germany understood that if they did not salute Hitler and conform to what the Nazi's expected of them, then they and their families could be destroyed.

Dec. 15 2013 08:41 PM
falk burger from tucson, az

Meaning is not inherent. It occurs in the mind when we perceive data the brain is programmed to receive with a kind of pleasure we call "Meaning." Meaning is the high; disillusionment, which should more properly be called "dismeaningment", is the crash. This is the truth, but it can only set you free if you are willing to accept it. It goes against the grain, but so does quantum theory. Meaning, however, is very difficult to let go of because it is personal and emotional - the connective tissue of sanity - while quantum theory seems abstract, but only if you don't think about it too hard.

Dec. 15 2013 04:20 PM
don from new york state

The show never told what happened to David's friend, the law professor. It seems odd to me that only half his story would be told -- no resolution, no explanation for his behavior provided. If there remains no explanation, that's one thing. But did the friend see a psychiatrist or seek any other help? And if so, did he benefit? Did his murderous feelings dissipate and, so far, never return? Was he ever able to achieve a normal frame of mind about the events which at the time put him in a crazy state of mind? David's friend, or his wife, are you out there, and can/will you provide us some closure?

Dec. 15 2013 01:40 PM
Karen from New York

I think Fritz Haber is most certainly bad. There is nothing inherently good about more human beings on the earth. His nitrogen technology enabled us to produce more food than we could possibly ever eat and yet people still starve, arguably in greater number now that we have more people in total. It is lack of societal dedication to caring for the poor that now causes poverty and hunger, not inadequate production. His personal conduct reveals him clearly as a villain both personally and in the greater context of history.

Dec. 15 2013 11:49 AM
Helena from New Jersey

Agnus Dei from Bach's Mass in B Minor, but which performance?

Dec. 14 2013 12:39 PM

My school made all of the english department listen to this radio lab. I am now following the entire series, this is a great program.

Nov. 11 2013 10:54 AM

does anyone know the name of that organ song behind the haber segment?


Oct. 13 2013 10:31 PM
Kate from Seattle

In case anyone was curious about the music around 32:00 -- sounds like the Agnus Dei from JS Bach's Mass in B Minor.

Oct. 01 2013 05:22 PM
Bill ernay from Bala Cynwyd, PA

Love your always engrossing and enlightening productions.
The recent one on "Bad" was AMAAAAZING!
As a courtroom artist for over forty-five years, I've drawn many unsavory characters. Some incredibly evil (Thomas Cappano, murderer)psychotic (John duPont) Greedy (tons of politicians) and simply stupid (a street person pounding on the Liberty Bell with a hammer). After this program I immediately went to a Barnes and Noble to get a copy of the "The Green River Killer" graphic novel, which I finished in one sitting.
Keep up the good work.

Aug. 14 2013 10:18 AM
Balazo from Dallas

Great episode, and perfectly timed to coincide with the new Breaking Bad 1/2 season!

Aug. 12 2013 03:23 PM

Perhaps an application of Occam's razor is in order. Women create life, men destroy it. I eagerly await your show exploring this topic.

Aug. 11 2013 10:10 PM
Jim from Lakeside from San Diego area

I was driving yesterday when the "Bad Show" came on. When I arrived at my destination, I stayed in the car to hear it all. It was that interesting. Thanks. I had heard of the Milgram experiment, but not all the info you shared. And I didn't know about Fritz Haber. Thanks again.
I do wonder why you didn't include something on that famous Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971, and funded by the US Office of Naval Research. That was a pip.

Aug. 11 2013 06:15 PM

tldr version: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Aug. 11 2013 03:42 PM
Ruika from San

Admittedly the darkest & most terrifying episode I've listened to.

Aug. 11 2013 01:07 AM
Avery Townes from Seattle

Essentially people are cowards. 1% controls 40% of the wealth. Sex/pregnancy is generally random. Orwell had it right. Some animals are more equal than others. Alligators have been around for almost 200 million years. Humans think we're so important. Have fun. F*ck as much as possible. Die happy.

Aug. 10 2013 04:20 PM
Skip Watson from New Hampshire

Everyone seems focused on the order and whether people continued to shock the other person. An important difference between this experiment and what happened in Germany is the voluntariness of those who were being mal-treated. The Germans working in prisons and camps knew the people there were not allowed to leave and had not choice about whether to submit to bad treatment up to death. Those administering shocks could reasonably believe that those being shocked agreed and understood the consequences of their actions.

Aug. 10 2013 02:46 PM

I love your show and the fact that you consistently embrace ambiguity but your remark about separating the man from his deeds as a way of measuring a 'calculus of morality' is just wrong. Everyone is responsible for their actions and intention is fundamental to evaluating the moral compass of a person, which is, if I'm not mistaken, what your segment was aiming to do. It's ironic that you slid into the questionable moral framework of your first segment about Milgram's experiment, which is to cop to the rationale of 'a greater good.' Thanks, though for a great show.

Aug. 10 2013 12:54 PM

I think that everyone has the capacity to do evil on varying levels, wrong enough to end another's life, given the type of circumstance and along with that, different people have varying degrees of instances where they would be prompted to take a life.

Aug. 10 2013 12:39 PM
Steven Rudin from Massapequa Park

I just want to say that I find your show to be the most interesting broadcast on public radio. I usually listen to it on 93.9 as I am driving home from working. Tonight I got home just as you were concluding your broadcast, and I just couldn't get out of my car until I heard the very last word. Thanks for such a wonderful show!

Aug. 08 2013 11:03 PM
Laura from Portland, OR

I just listened to The Good Show and the Bad Show back to back and it's interesting that both the heros and the serial killer could not explain why they did the things they did. Comparing that to the story of Job is very appropriate.

Jun. 25 2013 08:03 PM
Christian Rollino from Los Angeles

I came back to The Bad Show, after watching Craig Zobel's film "Compliance" and researching the news coverage and legal cases of the original strip-search-prank-call events. It is startling and disturbing how many different workplaces complied with a stranger over the phone, who, using the guise of authority, extended severe control over people and manipulated them to a horrific degree.

Apr. 03 2013 07:54 PM
Jackie Acho from Captiva island

Great show. i love them all but this one the best yet. Empathy or lack thereof explains all of this. Nature via nurture building empathy in individuals or not. Check out simon baron cohens science of evil. I write @ empathy in organizations here

Jackie Acho
@jackieacho on twitter

Apr. 03 2013 11:12 AM
Steve from Cary, NC

I didn't like the interpretation that "people ignore orders" based on people refusing to continue after the 4th prod (Milgram experiment). Alternatively, people who refused consistently (reaching prod 4) were just going to keep refusing. OR, 'you have no choice' is clearly false, (not really an order - it's a statement of fact) and when people hear something that is clearly false, they disengage from the process.

Mar. 25 2013 04:04 PM

What a great episode! One general question posed was what if you could talk directly with a bad/evil person to find out why it is they do the bad things that they do? There is one book that can give insight to this inquiry. Final Truth : The Autobiography of a Serial Killer: Donald H. Gaskins. This book chilled me to the bone. Written in Gaskin's first person perspective on the condition that the book be published after his death, Gaskins talks about his crimes in great detail in an obvious unapologetic tone. I felt that this book gave me an insight to this killer's mind and scared me to death. (No pun intended!)

Mar. 24 2013 02:38 PM
Henry Muse from Cleveland, OH

Radiolab is by far my favorite program to listen to while doing homework. Thank you for bringing these topics to us in an amusing way.

Mar. 20 2013 12:32 PM

This is my first time go to see at here and i am truly pleassant to read all at one

Mar. 07 2013 04:30 AM
Kani from Denver

If you are interested in exploring this topic further then I would recommend reading the Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo.

Jan. 10 2013 05:56 PM
Candice from Vancouver BC Canada

The music/opera at 32:00 I must know..!

Oct. 17 2012 06:04 PM
Shye from Vancovuer BC Canada

I have to agree with Ryan- what's the song at 26:56!?!

Oct. 17 2012 05:35 PM

Not sure if I completely agree with the conclusions made about the Milgram experiment. I would agree that some element of "it was for the greater good" does come into play, but I don't think you can completely disregard the role of obedience to commands. The podcaster asserted that only the 4th prompt was a true command, and that the previous 3 were not commands. I would instead argue that there is no clear distinction between command and not-command here, but that each prompt is progressively more forceful.
The major bias in saying that not one person gave the shock after being commanded to do so (ie after being given the 4th prompt) is that the ONLY people who ever received the 4th prompt were people who had already disobeyed 3 strongly worded prompts asking them to give the shock.
So it seems to me that the only people who were ever given the 4th prompt were the participants who were most assertive in their moral stance. The people who were liable to follow commands against their better moral judgement had already caved at one of the earlier prompts, such as "the experiment requires that you continue."

Sep. 19 2012 10:07 PM

cruelity is not something we are born with, it is something we develop over time and something we learn. I think that from experiencing a bad deed it drives us to want to do the same. We are driven to do bad things by the people who have done them to us before. Cruelity is not hardwired into our brains it is something we have picked up on as we have grown and learned.

Sep. 11 2012 12:41 AM

Josh Bandy
Bend, Oregon
Cruelity is not something we are born with, or something hardwired to our brains. Cruelity is most definitely something humans gain through experiences. From my understanding of the Milgram experiment the volunteer was not shocking the person out of cruelity, but for the greater good science will bring. Given that a person would do something cruel with good intentions and for the benefit of others I believe isnt commiting a wrong. Everyone makes sacrafices for something that will end up doing a greater good.

Sep. 05 2012 11:08 PM
HannahHuntsman from Bend, OR

I am on the fence about this one. I believe that we are driven by human nature to do cruel things only after we have experienced a cruel deed. We often see this in relationships and break-ups. For example, after a man leaves a woman for a different woman, Woman #1 doesn't think "Oh, I'm so glad he's happy with Woman #2." She wants to make his life miserable for making her life miserable. It's her human nature driving her to do so because she was the victim of a cruel experience.

Sep. 04 2012 04:13 PM
Shannon Patterson from Bend, Oregon

Cruelty is a choice, there is no doubt that it's something learned in our culture. One is not born cruel because one is only born with the idea of survival. Granted, surviving could call for cruel actions but a creature cannot do something cruel with out learning of it first. We see this cruelty come out in people through experiences they had, just as we do when it comes to experiencing through kindness. One has many reasons do be cruel. It could be through feeling hurt, and wanting someone to feel the same way the one does but it is all done by choice. We, as creatures are not hardwired with cruelty.

Sep. 04 2012 01:21 PM
Henry Mensing 2 from Bend, Oregon

Cruelty is something we learn. There is no doubt about this. When we are born we have nothing but survival hardwired into our brains but as we grow we learn that we want to do more than survive, we want to thrive. Now some people go about thriving in a positive way by helping others or organizing others to do as such, but not everyone is this kind. Many people in the corporate world have lied and stolen and cheated their way to the top. They believe that cruelty is the only way to be the best. But they only learned this cruelty earlier in life. Maybe it manifested itself inside them as the crawled up the corporate ladder, or maybe they just had daddy issues, but one thing is for sure and that is that they were not born cruel.

Aug. 27 2012 05:31 PM
Rachel Estopare 2 from Bend Oregon

Cruelty is defined as a cruel remark or act to show pain or suffering. I believe cruelty is an action by choice. You can't choose to loathe something because it's only a natural feeling. To physically harm something or someone is a personal conscious choice. Anyone can subconsciously dislike someone or something but have no feeling to take action. Humans are cruel for various reasons such as power, fear, ect. but why? Cruelty is mainly brought upon humans from past experiences, life styles, and relationships and make some feel a need to do what has been done to them. Yes you may have those few psychopaths (Hitler) whom no one will understand how they come to that state of cruelty but in my opinion cruelty is the outcome of experiences.

Aug. 25 2012 02:57 PM

What's with the theatrics? One person reading off a line, then another a different line, then repeating the same words, and to top it off the music during the Fritz segment. Why try to induce a feeling instead of just presenting information? Music and atmosphere are a key factor on the emotions of others, so you're trying, in essence, to make someone feel a certain way when reading off a story. Give me a break.

Aug. 25 2012 02:29 PM
Ian Tobiason 2 from Bend

Cruelty, in most cases, is a response based on circumstance and experience. People will respond in ways to help/better themselves or what they think they should do. If that means being cruel they will be cruel. like Haber, he made the gas, which was cruel, but he did it not because he was evil, but because he thought it he should do it to save Germany and further his career. He also did kind things (the Nitrogen food thing) for the same reasons. In the good show the one guy saved the kids from the car wreak because he thought it was the right thing to do and therefore he had to do it. Although some people are born evil and cruel it is based on the environment on whether someone can be cruel, and everyone is capable of being cruel.

Aug. 14 2012 01:11 AM
j breinholt from Los Angeles, California

Say, what is the music that plays at the end of the Bad Show, at around 48:11?

Aug. 07 2012 12:30 PM
Lucy from LA, Ca

As far as the German guy goes, I have to argue that he was bad the whole time, all the way. Call me cruel, but isn't our burgeoning population what is to be our total end? He allowed for natural selection to be thwarted, and over population to have a leg up. Bad guy...

Jul. 17 2012 09:55 PM
Ryan from Worcester, MA

Re: criticism of atom-bomb double-standard

You are missing an integral part of what made Haber "bad" enough to warrant examination, but not the atom bomb pioneers: so far as the story presented, Haber enjoyed, even *relished* his invented mass killing. As far as I know, Oppenheimer said "I am become death," but not giddily.

Moreover, the segment was not geared simply to the question "when is an act bad?" Rather, the question is, "when is a person, all considered, bad?" Haber invented both human-exterminating gas and famine-crushing crop treatment. Does the good overcome the bad, vice versa, or is there no answer?

Jul. 09 2012 05:48 PM
Pete from Australia

Great show.

Jun. 27 2012 05:51 AM
Mason Herson-Hord from Canby, Oregon

In the words of Albert Pennyworth, "Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Jun. 21 2012 01:56 AM
Eric Freudenthal from el paso and new york

I'd love to read articles on Milgram's other experiments - those that examine the conditions that enable people to reflect on the ethical implications of their actions. Please send me links.

Jun. 13 2012 05:54 AM
William Charlwood from La Palma, Canaries

Re Iago in Act V, scene II line 303: "Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:"

I would have liked to this line like this:
The 2nd "you know" is as in "you know, Radio Lab is great" or "A teased dog may bite,
you know".
But that won't fly.

The first "you know" might be "what you know deep down".
Then the whole thing would be "what you really know deep down (why I did it; that
you also have an evil/mean streak), you know,
and if you haven't seen or won't acknowledge your own inner devil that I can't
tell you about it, so don't bother me.

Jun. 09 2012 05:34 PM
Miriam from New York City

I listened carefully to your discussion of Fritz Haber. Apart from his appalling personal callousness, how was he different from the gentlemen who created the Atomic Bomb (knowing full well how it would be used.) The damage done by this latter invention has been greater and with wider repercussions and led to ever-evolving consequences. Yet you never mentioned it. In the name of proportional assessments of individuals and their willingness to go in certain directions, I think the comparison should be made.

Jun. 08 2012 03:58 PM
Jon from Detroit

I see as a glaring double standard expressed on "The Bad Show," in particular the story of Fritz Haber, the German chemist who unleashed chlorine gas on enemy soldiers in World War I.

It disturbs me that in examining "evil," RadioLab goes back a century to another continent to critique with near incredulity a man who killed thousands of soldiers on a battlefield -- while completely ignoring the fact that, decades more recently, our own country dropped the atomic bomb on two Japanese cities, indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. (And the U.S. is the only nation on earth to use that ultimate bomb.)

I really question this omission. It strikes me as a blatant and hypocritical double standard. It implies that if we, the good guys, do something far more evil, it's above reproach (or even mention) -- but if some old far-off German does it on a much smaller scale, it's worth careful attention to every detail as an epitome of "bad."

I'd like to see RadioLab follow up with a show on double standards: how people give themselves carte blanche on actions for which they would passionately condemn others.

Jun. 08 2012 09:53 AM
Sam Droege from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, USA

In the show there was a point where Fritz Haber's good and bad contributions were played against one another and the question asked, or implied, if it would have been better if none of the contributions were ever to have been made. In particular, the promotion of gas is a weapon in contrast to the cracking of nitrogen for agricultural uses. In the end, the people killed by gas would only have been killed by Fritz Haber's efforts as no one else promoted it. However, in contrast, the benefits of ammonia-based fertilizers would have been realized at some point, perhaps rather quickly, by someone else and the number of people benefiting would have been about the same, if Haber had existed, or not.

I think we lose track sometimes of what are long-lasting contributions in science and what are simply the first contributions in science. Essentially all the Nobel prizes are awarded not to people who are the sole owners of the solution to a problem but simply the first, being more aggressive, and in the right place at the right time. What I think are the long-lasting contributions are those made by the describers, naturalists who write up a fauna of a particular place in a particular time, surveyors who divine the thoughts and impressions of a group of people in one moment in one place, photographers who portray a region and a landscape; in later years these cannot be re-created you cannot go back in time and re-collect this information ...these are the real long-term contributions to science not the egos we read about in our textbooks.

Jun. 03 2012 07:12 PM
Lauren from New Orleans

At the end of the day, I think that if we examine the origin and understanding of good and evil in human beings from the perspective that matters most, which is how this knowledge can help us to better understand our own self for the purpose of leading us to the actions and deeds that will help us to lead better lives, then I think it is easier to accept the fact that we really do know all that we need to know. In Tolstoy's book, A Calendar of Wisdom, he quotes Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, in saying: "Someone told me once that every person has an element of good and an element of bad within him, and that either the good or the bad can be manifested according to the person's mood. We possess within us two different ways of understanding this world. One of the feeling of being divided, distanced, and alienated from each other; in this state, all things seem gloomy to us. We feel nothing except jealousy, indifference, and hatred. I would like to call the opposite way of understanding the understanding of universal unification. In this state, all people seem very close to us, and all are equal among themselves. This state, therefore, arouses compassion and love in us." So in the case of Gary Ridgway or in the case of Titus, I can speak for myself in saying that I do not think that knowing what specifically led them to the state of being so divided, distanced, and alienated to the point where they felt enough hatred to kill will help to guide me or my actions to a state of increased compassion and love. Because ultimately, within my own conscience, I have the experience of knowing and understanding what feels good and truthful and what feels bad or evil. I also know that when I live my life in a way that feels more good and truthful, I have greater peace, compassion, and love for others, and that in this state, I feel nothing but the desire to wish and act towards others with good will. The point being that the instinct to want to know and understand the motivation of human behavior and how it could lead people to do certain things that may seem absurd, horrific, puzzling, etc., the more that we look outside of ourselves to understand this and to find the answers, the further away we become from the truth within ourselves that is the most important one governing our lives. There will always be people that will do things that seem evil and bad and there will always be people that do good, and we know within ourselves what leads us to good and what leads us to bad and should do all we can to try to let this knowledge guide us in our daily actions and thoughts towards others.

May. 26 2012 12:51 PM
Dan from Ohio from Kettering, Ohio

Not sure if this was mentioned already, but one additional fact to the Fritz Haber legacy - the number one source of pollution in the oceans today is from reactive nitrogen directly created by the Haber-Bosch process. I don't believe that this was mentioned in the podcast.

May. 13 2012 05:17 PM

I disagree with the conclusion that the 4th prod gets refused because it is an order. I think it has more to do with the explicit statement that the tester "doesn't have a choice". Humans do follow orders very well, but they do so as long as they believe they have a choice in doing so or not. Once it is stated explicitly that participants have not a choice in the matter, they more readily defy that assertion by refusing to participate.

Apr. 06 2012 01:21 PM
Garrett from New Orleans

Have there been any cross-cultural replications of the Milgram experiment? How much did US cultural values regarding research and authority impact the outcome of the experiment? I wonder if the results would have been similar in Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, China, etc.

Apr. 02 2012 12:08 PM
Sarah Siddell from Berkeley CA

You passed over it in the segment about the Milgrim experiment, and I REALLY want to know the answer to the question you didn't ask. It appears from what was said that one or more of the experiments featured women doing the shocking. How did they compare with the men??? Please, someone, tell me!
Thanks! Your shows are fantastic!

Mar. 21 2012 07:46 PM
Marcel Katz

"Marco Polo
What is the name of the song that starts in the background at 32:10?"

It's from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater.

Mar. 09 2012 01:59 AM

Great show......anyone know the music playing at 49mins on the podcast. Would love to get a copy.

Mar. 02 2012 03:41 AM
Marco Polo

What is the name of the song that starts in the background at 32:10?

Feb. 17 2012 10:42 AM
Dan from Denver,CO

Regarding the Milgram experiment, how much harder is it to resist following orders in a military setting? Can civilians, who may feel more sure in their freedom of choice, fairly be compared to soldiers, who's existence and livelihood are based on a system where obeying orders are taken as a matter of course?

Feb. 13 2012 11:58 PM
James Muir from Alberta, Canada

More on the fourth prod: As presented it appear that the prods are progressive. That is, if I refuse in one instance I get prod one, then two and so on until I shock. If I shock on prod two the first time I refuse, it sounds as if the second time I refuse, I get prod one again, and so on. The prods, however, do not appear to be random. So: the only people who get prod four ("You have no other choice...") have already just refused to go on having received the third prod ("It is essential..."). It doesn't seem then that the conclusion that they don't do it when ordered if unsupported. The people who are refusing the order have already refused, and so instead of showing us that orders get in the way of doing bad things, it shows that people who refuse to _continue_ to do bad things they have been instructed to do are not swayed in their refusal by a (passive aggressive) order.

Feb. 13 2012 04:27 PM

Since no one has pointed it out yet, pince-nez (Fr) is pronounced roughly "Pans-ney"

Feb. 13 2012 11:21 AM

In Milgrim's experiment, I wonder if there was an assumption (by the Teacher) that the Learner was a voluntary participant. There seems to be an implication that this was the case. I'll bet it is a lot easier to shock someone if you believe that person is a knowing participant.

How would the results be different if the Teacher thouhgt the Learner went into the experiment without knowing that they would be shocked? What if the Learner was assumed to be a convicted criminal? Unfortunately I have not read the whole report on the experiment, but I wonder if there was more going on in the Teachers head than whether or not to be obedient.

Feb. 04 2012 03:45 PM
jason abbadon

Regarding Fritz Haber, could it be that our definition of "evil" hinges on as much on the man' indifference- even glee!- at taking other people's lives?
Consider J. Robert Oppenheimer- certainly the Manhattan Project resulted the tens of thousands of Japanese deaths, but it may have saved thousands of US soldier's lives.
The man himself was a decent and moral person, and worked in vain to halt further atomic warfare development….but his actions, like Haber’s can not restore lives lost.
Though I would not call Oppenheimer a "bad" or "evil" man, and would consider Haber to be evil, others would disagree.

Is it that history (and our view of it's key players) truly is written by the victors?

A thought provoking show as always- and the Miami performance was great fun! Thanks!

Feb. 03 2012 10:28 AM
Sascha from Santo Domingo, Heredia, Costa Rica

A few weeks after listening to the Good Show I came across a fascinating book called "The Science of Evil" by Simon Baron-Cohen which I found intriguing. In turn, I always meant to shoot a suggestion to Radio Labs folks to do a show on Evil. Well, to my delight - here it was! While I enjoyed the 3 spectrum approach on the topic, after reading that book I was really hoping they would go deeper into what is "evil" and left feeling a bit disappointed.

The 3rd segment with the officer interviewing the serial killer was leading to the right direction - the "why", but as you heard in the segment there was no real answer.

The "Science of Evil" basic assertion is that evil can be defined as a lack of empathy. Something he demonstrates quickly all of us fall into with some frequency and to differing degrees. He moves to people who he'd define as completely lacking in empathy - that in many cases can be easily defined as definitely evil people but in other cases a complete lack of empathy does not necessarily mean the person is evil at all (e.g. people with autism or asperger's).

In any case, I would love to see... errr, hear... the Radio Labs staff take this topic up a notch and go in deeper. I think it could be mind opening.

Feb. 02 2012 03:03 PM
Alejandro from New York

I don't care what people think of how right or wrong the conclusions are or about of the disagreements about if this or that. You guys are creating great art. Amazing pieces of audio that make us think, feel and talk about it and that is what art is about. Thank you, Thank you for your hard work. I am always looking forward to the next show. And yes I am monthly sustainer not by much because I am poor but hey! is the intention what it counts.

Jan. 31 2012 01:17 PM
Sully from DFW

Jad and Rob, great episode! Just wanted to let you know that if i have to listen to your "quick message" inviting me to "the coolest thing you've ever done" again, i'll never listen to the danged show again. MAKE IT STOP, please!

Jan. 31 2012 11:02 AM
Alan from CA

To answer Jad's question, The world was clearly better *without* Haber. I think Jad failed to take into consideration the long-term effects that Haber had on the world. Because of the process that he developed is arguably why we have overpopulation today. Millions of people are still starving, the environment is being destroyed simply by the sheer number of people (over 9 billion); while on the other side of the spectrum, millions of other people are over indulging and over weight. In turn, resources continue to grow thin, which leads to more wars over resources such as oil. This could be much more detailed, but the idea is that it's a huge domino effect.

Jan. 29 2012 09:38 PM
bob bobbdey

lies! in the bible job didn't lose his wife!!!

Jan. 27 2012 07:18 PM

great show!

about the iago/confessions story: i think that we want to hear confessions of the condemned, not because they are making peace with "god", but because it makes us feel justified in doling out punishment.

about the green river killer: it doesn't surprise me that someone who kills women because of "the rage" cannot adequately express why he does it. if he could explain his emotions, feelings, urges, then perhaps he could deal with them in a way that wouldn't require such brutality.

Jan. 25 2012 05:15 PM
barefootdesigns from CT

"Haber believed the use of GAS would actually save German lives and bring a quicker end to the war. His moral compass may have been skewed but it wasn't necessarily Evil as you stated. Otherwise you would need to include Truman and the A-Bomb as part of your comparison of evil."

Ken, an astute comment on Haber. Now consider Truman and the A bomb in a similar light: while visiting Hiroshima in '81, my family crossed paths with three older Japanese men who were all drunk enough, just as they left a bar. One veered up to me and stopped, swaying a little. He stared at the ground, spoke slowly, telling me that he lost his entire family in that flash, the first atom bomb to hit Japan, all gone but for him, a soldier, away...and now old and totally alone, I thought. He cried in two big streaks running down his cheeks.

As I stood there shaking. basted with guilt and grief, he thanked me!! He explained that if the Allies had landed in Japan it would have been a fight to the last person standing--every Japanese man, woman and child--and he explained how that bomb saved the Japanese race from almost certain extinction.

I did not know that man, his lost family, even his name, but he has influenced the way I look at most things ever since.

Jan. 23 2012 06:43 PM
Chris Davis from Colorado Springs, Colorado

I don't know where the proper place would be to leave this, but your show has got to come to Denver, Colorado. Your show has been with me since I discovered it in college; it's been my companion through great summer afternoons, terrible graveyard shifts, and solitary nights in the wilderness. I would love to see the show live, and to further support it anyway possible. Thanks.

Jan. 23 2012 04:57 PM
Siobhan Ring from Seattle

I just listened to the podcast of the bad show. Thank you for an incredible piece of art/philosophy/storytelling/documentary.

I think it's an important show.



Jan. 23 2012 10:50 AM

I think I am going back a year to listen to "the Good show" to cleanse.

Jan. 23 2012 08:07 AM

this show has haunted me since I listened yesterday.

Jan. 23 2012 08:03 AM
Matt Pellar from Toronto Ontario, Canada

Hey Guys,

Sorry I have to swear here, but without doing so I wouldn't be able to fully convey how much I f****** love your show. Now that that unpleasantness is behind us; I would like to say that I finally donated to the show, and feel much better for doing so, and if you are a listener and reading this and have not done so.... well, don't be a dick, it's $10.

Jan. 23 2012 12:28 AM
Michael Heilemann from New York

There was an aria, I think around the Fritz Haber piece; where was that from? It was amazing.

Jan. 22 2012 10:09 PM
Jason from Indiana

None of these podcasts will download or stream for me. Tried chrome, firefox and IE.
Been this way for weeks on multiple computers.
Anyone else having this problem?

Jan. 22 2012 03:59 PM

Regarding Fritz Haber, your assessment of him as "evil" was not a fair evaluation. While the use of Gas is reprehensible it is no more so than simply killing people. What you failed to mention is that Haber believed the use of GAS would actually save German lives and bring a quicker end to the war. His moral compass may have been skewed but it wasn't necessarily Evil as you stated. Otherwise you would need to include Truman and the A-Bomb as part of your comparison of evil.

Jan. 22 2012 02:47 PM
rich from Brooklyn, NY

For further investigation on the Milgram Experiment, check out the new feature film by Craig Zobel "COMPLIANCE".
Now playing at The Sundance Film Festival:

Jan. 22 2012 12:24 PM
Pat McCreery from Portland

As a high school social studies teacher who likes to focus on the intersection of history and science, you guys have an incredible knack for addressing topics that are completely relevant to what we've been learning! We just completed a study of the impacts of both WW1 and the Holocaust, and the nature of "badness" in both. I should just pay you two to come teach for me! Thanks for the affirmation!

Jan. 21 2012 01:06 PM

I missed a memo on the upside of synthetic fertilizer. The very thing that has allowed our population to grow beyond the Earth's carrying capacity is the same thing that will inevitably be our undoing.

Jan. 20 2012 03:36 PM
Ellen from Mexico

Great show. Does anyone know what song plays before the last segment after the Fritz segment? thank you in advance.

May the best of times of 2011 be the worst of times in 2012

Jan. 20 2012 12:04 AM
petra from West Virginia

"...when we ask the 'why' in the face of profound evil I kind-of wonder if what we're doing is that we're daring god to show himself and I think what we want out of the why is meaning, meaning to life to reveal itself in a way that restores order and gives us hope that all of this isn't just meaningless chaos."

Wait. What???

Personally, when I ask "why" in the face of profound evil, I'm asking "Am I like that? Am I capable of committing such an act? Does such cruelty hide in my heart?"

Questions about good and evil don't have to involve god. (and isn't this supposed to be a science show? come on! questions about higher moral authority belong on Krista Tippett's show, not this one.)

Jan. 19 2012 03:01 PM
William Litsch from Fairfax, VA

I am PhD student at George Mason University in Computational Social Science and already very familiar with Milgrim's experiments. The show left out another, far more likely, interpretation of the fourth prod. The fourth prod nearly always contained a supplementary "but we may have to end the experiment." It is that that the teachers were most likely responding to. The teachers were in effect given a way out, a rip-chord that they could pull to end their discomfort. Even rat's can pull levers to end their discomfort. It is no surprise to any psychologist or sociologist that you would get people rebelling at that point. The show also fails to point out that teachers were told that a certain voltage might kill the learners, and that 65% in America did reach that voltage. When Milgrim did the exact same experiment around the world the percentage only varied by + or - 5%. the US was one of the highest percentages. Middle East countries were consistently the lowest. Think on that one.

Jan. 19 2012 02:57 PM
Heather from Guelph, Ontario

In regards to the Haber story, I was disappointed you didn't mention any of the negative side effects tied to the application of synthetic fertilizers. For instance, nitrogen fertilizer is directly linked to hypoxic 'dead zones' in places like the Gulf of Mexico:

Jan. 19 2012 12:41 PM
Jack from Chicago

Hands down the creepiest, most enlightening hour of anything I've ever listened to. Maybe ever even lived!

You kept on saying that you wanted to take a shower after hearing the brutality of "evil", but I thought the show was just the opposite: a cold shower empowering action ... hopefully good action.

Jan. 18 2012 10:18 PM

Guys, love the show but Jad...what's up with you and the profane language lately? In earlier shows, you experimented with it furtively. Now, you're beginning to rely on it. Why, because Jon Stewart does it? It's unworthy of your otherwise great show.

Jan. 18 2012 01:47 PM
Mike from Chico

It is ugly business creating a utopia. People will justify great bads in pursuit of great goods.

Jan. 18 2012 12:06 PM
Sean from New York

Terrific show. For people who liked the Fritz Haber segment of the story, Jonathan Glover has a great book (ironically) titled Humanity that details many of the atrocities of the 20th century. It shows the motivation of the policy makers and how people were able psychologically contort themselves in order to carry out the acts.

Jan. 18 2012 11:04 AM
David from South Florida

As others have pointed out, there were a lot of errors in the chemistry discussed in the Haber section. This was my first time listening to this podcast, and I rather enjoyed it. However, after hearing so many errors in one section how can I trust the other information of which I am not knowledgeable about? I'll give this podcast a few more tries, but it is on a short leash. Which is disappointing, every other aspect of this podcast I thoroughly enjoyed (topics, production, etc).

Jan. 18 2012 10:21 AM
John from Indiana

Besides the fact that nitrogen atoms bond in pairs, not triples, another minor technical glitch in this episode is that ammonia (at least when at room temperature and standard atmospheric pressure) is a gas, not a liquid.

The "ammonia" sold (in liquid form) in supermarkets for household cleaning is ammonia gas dissolved into water.

Jan. 18 2012 06:59 AM
Dylan Crewell from Beacon NY

The Milgram experiment seems to have a fault. When the Nazi War crimes defense was used he was a military man. If done right, he has been mentally broken down and reconstructed as a cog in a machine.

Jan. 17 2012 05:19 PM
Kevin Lauterjung from Oakland, CA

Many here have commented on the absurdity of considering Haber as "good" simply because of the positive impacts of his scientific work, overruling the horrible acts of war that he helped to commit. However, though Haber may not have posed as the best example, I think it raises a very fundamental question about morality, and Jad and Robert broached the subject well. The question is: does one's moral merit depend on the motives behind an action, or in the utility or consequence of the action? Furthermore, is there- or are there categorical utilities that might supersede any beneficent intentions, i.e. saving a life while acting under "selfish" motives? Overall, I've found this to be one of the most effective--and affecting--shows that Radiolab has done. Kudos guys and gals, way to transcend the material.

Jan. 16 2012 04:47 PM
Sonja T. from Williamstown, MA

Regarding Fritz Haber, I have serious qualms with your implication that the Haber-Bosch Process (a nitrogen fixing process) is necessary to sustain the current numbers of people alive on earth. While synthetic fertilizers, created through this scientific discovery, have certainly allowed massive jumps in immediate productivity of land, through the so-called "green" revolution, these jumps were only immediate, and brought with them a number of future consequences and implications. As Eileen Ecklund thoughtfully argues in her recent piece in the Breakthroughs Magazine of U.C. Berkeley (, the inputs needed in conventional, industrial agriculture are only needed because of the monocultures and poor farming techniques currently in practices. Were we to diversify our farms significantly, and think more about the relationships among crops, among crops and pollinators, etc. we would be able to produce enough food to feed the world, without the intensely negative consequences associated with industrial farming. Furthermore, there is already more than enough food being produced to feed everyone in the world; hunger is not a problem of production, but of distribution and inequity. Please consider these sorts of ideas when making claims about the "good"ness of a given discovery of invention.

All that being said, I love, love, love Radiolab. Thank you for producing such a beautiful and thought-provoking show!

Jan. 16 2012 09:52 AM
randall from St. Paul, MN

I loved the show. Especially the insight into the Milgram experiment.

The Green River killer portion didn't add much. Why would the necrophilia aspect have such significance other than shock value? Why would we expect someone like Ridgeway to have such keen insight into his behavior that he could give an honest answer about his motivations? I don't think we can quantify and explain everything in the human experience. And even if we could sometimes it just doesn't add anything.

Jan. 16 2012 03:37 AM
jed from salt lake city

There is a difference between a fantasy and an action. But why? Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What happens in a brain that can imagine and then create? The expression expressess that it always leads to evil. Why? What happens to compassion if a person feels like they have ultimate control? Is it good that we can't create our thoughts from idea to reality? Money is a similar power.

Jan. 16 2012 02:52 AM
Marilyn Mae from vashon

You did not explore the difference between male and female in regard to murder, rape, torture, actions from anger, and evil or darkness. Why? I am so curious about this omission. You as presenters are all male, every one, even the scientists. You do relate the suicide of one woman but no serial killer women, no women willing to torture to death. Why? Is it because no man can understand that the difference in genes may mean that the darkness in males simply prevent them from understanding that most females cannot perform those dark acts? I love Radiolab ---add a woman.

Jan. 15 2012 04:52 PM
Alan from Austin

Having recently read H. G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds," I was struck by how similar the chlorine gas was to a weapon used by the Martians.

"Each of the Martians, standing in the great crescent I have described, had discharged, by means of the gunlike tube he carried, a huge canister...These canisters smashed on striking the ground--they did not explode--and incontinently disengaged an enormous volume of heavy, inky vapour, coiling and pouring upward in a huge and ebony cumulus cloud, a gaseous hill that sank and spread itself slowly over the surrounding country. And the touch of that vapour, the inhaling of its pungent wisps, was death to all that breathes."

Wells wrote this some 17 years prior to the Chlorine gas attack at Ypres.

Jan. 14 2012 10:56 PM

The music at the end of the Haber segment is a traditional Russian Gypsy folk song, usually called simply "Two Guitars."

Jan. 14 2012 05:38 PM
capn Jake from Monterey, California

Yeeeeeah, the Eastern-European sounding music after the Fritz Haber piece was so haunting and beautiful. Great show, and I would also absolutely love to know where in the world that music is from...?

Jan. 14 2012 04:17 PM
realativelypainless from Seattle


Jan. 14 2012 03:07 PM
David Conrad from Austin, TX

What I really want to know is why the episode didn't discuss the notion that there was something tangibly, scientifically wrong with the serial killer's brain. The episode posed the question why, but did not even gesture toward what I think is the most probable answer. I thought it was a great episode, but it left me frustrated because of that.

Jan. 14 2012 02:12 AM

In my view, the great lesson from this podcast is that everyone is both good and bad.

The people in Milgram's experiment are good for wanting to be part of the cause of science by our standards, but they're bad for having harmed others.
Fitz is good for having given humanity the ability to feed 7 billion people, and was bad for killing thousands of others.
The green river killer was good at one point, because he was once an abused, neglected child who was scorned and belittled by everyone who should have loved and care for him. He was bad because he gave in to his anger at the early age of 16 and evaded repercussions for decades as he continued to indulge his outlet of anger and remuneration beyond all hope of recovering the lost goodness.

Jan. 14 2012 12:21 AM
Miles Wimbrow from Baltimore, MD

The classical piece is a movement from JSB's Mass in b minor and called...

..."Agnus Dei." I think. Chilling and powerful music much like everything Bach wrote.

Jan. 13 2012 08:11 PM

the last section on evil characters in shakespeare reminded me of jane taylor's work relating aaron the moore of titus andronicus to testimony from the south african truth and reconciliation commission. (she even cites the same speech of aaron as professor shapiro.) her primary focus in this lecture -- -- is sincerity, but i find her exploration of how the ways we attempt to prove contrition, through tangible evidence in behaviors (such as blushing, weeping, quivering voice or speaking without embellishment), might be socially constructed and racially biased to dovetail nicely with the radiolab discussion of wherein evil lies and whether it can be judged at the scale of the individual or at the scale of fate/the historical/the societal. thank you as always for a compelling show.

Jan. 13 2012 04:59 PM
Quixion from Sandiago

I second that! What is the music at the end of the "first section" about experiments concerning murder and life

Jan. 13 2012 04:43 PM
alex from boston,ma

What was the interlude music after the first segment? Classical piece....

Jan. 13 2012 10:53 AM
Robert Hirsch from Troy, NY

Wow, this was one of you best shows. Someone above pointed out that you said three nitrogen "atoms" but you meant "bonds". Otherwise great show.

Haber good/evil? Easy. evil. I'm not a psychologist, but I listened to your sociopath show. He seems to fit right in.

Its irrelevent what scientific breakthrough he brought to mankind. It only matters what he did with it. He got recognized, enjoyed the fame and then when left to his own devices, came up with great ways to kill people.

You see, the Haber process. This was science. His ablity to provide the haber process required hundreds of years of progress, understanding what the heck elements even are and how they work together, understanging what the air is composed of, creating equipment that can generate huge pressures and temperatures, understand ing the process of condensation and evaporation, I could go forever.

The point is that this accumulation of knowledge is what allowed him to make ammonia. If he was killed at birth, someone else would have come up with the Haber process, that person may not have wiped out entire towns when left to his or her own devices.

Jan. 13 2012 09:26 AM
Demis from Goleta, California. USA

The Fritz Haber story was so sad!

I must say I think Jad's question of "Is the world better with him or without him?" is totally different from the preceeding questions of "Is he Good/Bad?".

Good/Bad: definitely not "good" in the moral sense, at least from your story. This concerns a man's intentions - whether or not they made an impact. Was his intention to solve world hunger?
World better with/without: to ignore all morality and do a sum as you suggest, would not concern Haber's value, but rather the value of something he invented. Would other scientists of the time have come up with the same solution (as has happened for a number scientific discoveries)?
Wouldn't the world have been better if a man who did in fact have morals and compassion had invented this procedure?

Either way, your question seems more to try and skip the "good/bad" question and instead ask "was he valuable" - kind of a stretch on "The Bad Show"!

Anyway, excellent show (although certainly the most disturbing to date)!

Jan. 13 2012 02:53 AM
Kerry from Florida

An interesting episode. The Fritz Haber story gave me shivers.

And the second time that you have used Shakespeare. Once to show the intelligence of Beast on the Mutant rights podcast. And here to show Iago as a truly evil character. Funny how Shakespeare transends time.

Jan. 12 2012 07:20 PM


Jan. 12 2012 06:35 PM

Anyone know the name of the piece playing after the Haber piece? (The one that sort of sounds like a mix of tango and Ukrainian music.)

Jan. 12 2012 05:47 PM

Still listening to this at the moment, but wanted to take a moment to tell you when "Zyclon-A" was mentioned, I knew *exactly* where this story was going. My own "dorsal hairs" stood up and I started crying even before Zyclon-B.

Thank you for a truly amazing hour of radio. Always thought-provoking.

Regarding better off with/without Haber. I am firmly on the WITHOUT side of things. We may have "solved" world hunger with the Haber process, but we've escaped the natural limit of the nitrogen cycle and allowed an explosion of humanity that, whether overfed or starving, are on the whole undernourished by the predominance of corn and soy in the modern diet.

Jan. 12 2012 05:10 PM

Regarding Fritz Haber, i think he was a brilliant scientist and that was all he was. He did what he did was either because his singular devotion to science was so pure that it overwrote all other objections that would appear so overtly morally reprehensible for many of us, or because he simply didn't operate thinking about the line of right and wrong like the rest of us do. He's like Sherlock Holmes in the latest BBC drama series -- he was driven by one thing and one thing only, to solve intriguing problems. In Fritz case, scientific ones. He simply didn't concern himself with right or wrong. Morality, empathetic understanding of fellow men, right/wrong escape him entirely. To talk about scientific solutions in the terms of right or wrong to Fritz is like try to give a flashlight to bats to help them navigate in the dark. Since bats use ultrasound so a flashlight is superfluous. so is morality to Fritz.

Fritz invented the method to synthesize ammonia because it was a scientific problem that requires solving. He didn't invent it because he wanted to increase agricultural yield to prevent starving. On the same line, he didn't invent explosives or chemical weapons because he thought it was morally right to kill french/british soldiers. He was trying to find a scientific solution to give his country an edge and win battles. Plus, all is fair in love and war, many scientists did what was asked of them. compared to other war criminals (japanese) who performed excruciating, horrific scientific experiments on POWs, Fritz was almost a saint.

Then of course, Fritz would appear to the rest of us strange, cold blooded, conflicted. He was brilliant as a scientist but his mind was not wired to tackle the moral consequences of his actions. And when his wife confronted him for his contribution to german war efforts, he just didn't know how to respond. I suspect that he was probably very troubled and traumatized by her death even though he went to the front line immediately after her suicide. Personally, i think he was misunderstood, and to echo jad's words, his existence has been a net gain, a positive to society. And I'd caution that before we rush to judge people like Fritz, we must be mindful of the fundamental difference in wiring that is within us. It's our assumption that people who look and sound so similar to us should also act similarly leads to surprises and puzzlement when we find out that often times they don't. Our discussion regarding Fritz's lack of empathy reflects this fundamental assumption and our own, ironic, lack of understanding in fellow men (Fritz). Ultimately, this is what makes life interesting and intriguing, leaving to questions and discussions encapsulated in these podcasts.

I love your show, keep up the good work!

Jan. 12 2012 10:07 AM

Regarding Fritz Haber, i think he was a brilliant scientist and that was all he was. He did what he did was either because his singular devotion to science was so pure that it overwrote all other objections that would appear so overtly morally reprehensible for many of us, or because he simply didn't operate thinking about the line of right and wrong like the rest of us do. He's like Sherlock Holmes in the latest BBC drama series -- he was driven by one thing and one thing only, to solve intriguing problems. In Fritz case, scientific ones. He simply didn't concern himself with right or wrong. Morality, empathetic understanding of fellow men, right/wrong escape him entirely. To talk about scientific solutions in the terms of right or wrong to Fritz is like try to give a flashlight to bats to help them navigate in the dark. Since bats use ultrasound so a flashlight is superfluous. so is morality to Fritz.

Fritz invented the method to synthesize ammonia because it was a scientific problem that requires solving. He didn't invent it because he wanted to increase agricultural yield to prevent starving. On the same line, he didn't invent explosives or chemical weapons because he thought it was morally right to kill french/british soldiers. He was trying to find a scientific solution to give his country an edge and win battles. Plus, all is fair in love and war, many scientists did what was asked of them. compared to other war criminals (japanese) who performed excruciating, horrific scientific experiments on POWs, Fritz was almost a saint.

Then of course, Fritz would appear to the rest of us strange, cold blooded, conflicted. He was brilliant as a scientific but his mind was not wired to tackle the moral consequences of his actions. And when his wife confronted him for his contribution to german war efforts. He was probably very troubled and traumatized by her death even though he went to the front line immediately after her suicide. Personally, i think he was misunderstood, and to echo jad's words, his existence has been a net gain, a positive to society. And I'd caution that before we rush to judge people like Fritz, we must be mindful of the fundamental difference in wiring that is within us. It's our assumption that people who look and sound so similar to us should also act similarly leads to surprises and puzzlement when we find out that often times they don't. Our discussion regarding Fritz's lack of empathy reflects this fundamental assumption and our own, ironic, lack of understanding in fellow men (Fritz). Ultimately, this is what makes life interesting and intriguing, leaving to questions and discussions encapsulated in these podcasts.

Jan. 12 2012 10:00 AM
David Gershater from Austin Texas

Another great show and many thought provoking comments.

The message I take from this show, and from a few decades of living, is that morality is what any given society says it is. If the society fails, then there might be a rethink, or not.

If your society says that killing the French and British is fine, then you invent a better way to exterminate them on the battle field or wherever.

If society says that killing the Jews is fine, then you kill Jews if it bennefits you. If you are a Jew it is no longer your society and you get all up in arms about killing with chemicals, as I do when thinking of my Austrian grandparents.

Here is my proof: There are seven billion people on earth. One billion live well, though nonetheless are often unhappy. Six billion live in what the other billion would call horrible poverty. I have seen a few of these people but I cannot judge how happy or misserable they are.

Has anyone ever seen that statistic proposed anywhere else? I have my share of degrees and have seen a bit of the world and I have never seen that ration writen anywhere. This means that we are all indiferent to the suffering of others. Saving our necks from social punishment keeps us saying the morally correct thing. That's fine, works like that in all species.

One of my ongoing careers is that of CPA. I'm mostly retired now, but that education (and those decades I have mentioned) taught me that no one values what is abundant. Bring the human population back down and the value of life will increase and people will be less cruel. As things stand the ratio of resources to humans is desperate. This not an allocation problem, unless you live in a place where the government will inprison or kill you for saying so.

Jan. 12 2012 08:05 AM
Miles Wimbrow from Bodymore, Murdaland

@ Rebecca's comment:

Interesting that you would immediately jump at a "reasonable explanation" for why one individual would commit such atrocity. This demonstrates Jad and Robert's "final thought" perfectly, methinks. Iago is just a fictional character, right?

I don't know if you're right or wrong about the serial killer and if there was something wrong with his brain, just saying :)

Jan. 12 2012 12:50 AM
Bettina from Chicago

" why not look into what might be going on neurochemically in the mind of someone who seems so clearly to be mentally ill? The evil that humans sometimes do as a results from things going wrong in our brains is another important piece of the story." << this is exactly what I want addressed in a future Bad Show if it ever comes up. the incredible ease w/ which people label those who do bad or even "evil" things as crazy. sociopaths/psychopaths, whatever people want to call them, are "sane" (able to tell right from wrong but do not care or bend the rules enough so they can live w/ their choices) and they're a part of a wide spectrum of human beings and NOT inexplicable monsters or necessarily insane.
I also agree w/ another comment here that the operative word w/ the disobedience in Milgram's test is the word "Choice" and not the order itself.

Jan. 12 2012 12:49 AM
Jared from Boston

I wonder how much charisma has to do with the Milgram test effect. If we apply the data presented in the show and factor that Hitler was a fantastic speaker and someone of great charisma, where does that leave the analysis? In simple daily life charisma can drastically affect your day. How far can that be stretched until it hits the breaking point?

Great show. A couple of fantastic chilling moments.

Jan. 11 2012 07:08 PM
Chris Bovitz from Lakeville, MN

I'm not a chemist (nor do I play one on TV), but I have had enough schooling and interest in the sciences to have discovered an error in your segment on nitrogen in the recent "Bad" podcast. It's stated by that segment's guest that nitrogen is "trivalent," whereupon Jad says (or strongly implies) that that trivalence causes three nitrogen molecules to cling very tightly to each other. But that's not quite right. In the electron shell conceptual model, nitrogen has three "holes" where electrons are missing; that is, if nitrogen could acquire three more electrons from somewhere else, it would have a complete outer shell of electrons. (It would match what neon, an inert element, has, ignoring the difference in number of protons in the nucleus for the moment.) When elemental nitrogen (N) is free floating, it does not form a molecule with *two* other nitrogen atoms, making N/3 (imagine the "3" is a subscript, and the "/" indicates a "pushing down" of the number), but it combines with only *one* other nitrogen atom, making N\2. (This is the form of nitrogen in the lower atmosphere, where most life - including agriculture - takes place.) To form this molecule, the atoms "share" electrons, so that each atom appears to have a "full set" of electrons (again, ignoring the protons in the nucleus for now). The trivalence of nitrogen comes into play when there is a sharing of three electrons, which is what forms a triple bond between the atoms, and this is a very stable condition. For comparison, water has single bonds between the oxygen atom and the hydrogen atoms, and it's relatively easy to disassociate the water molecule into oxygen and hydrogen. Molecular nitrogen's triple bond, as was stated in the podcast, is very strong and is the reason why one needs a large amount of energy to break molecular nitrogen into elemental nitrogen (and why it combines so readily with three hydrogen atoms and forms ammonia, NH\3). The triple bond also helps molecular nitrogen to be very stable, since it prevents an easy disassociation or an easy combination with of the component atoms with other molecules or atoms.

Jan. 11 2012 05:32 PM
Jeff from Rochester NY

I really appreciate the way this goes beyond the common-knowledge-anecdotal-surface-scratching of the Milgram experiments, especially in light of the way these experiments seem to come up every few years since entering my consciousness in 1986 with P. Gabriel's "Milgram's 37" from the album So. So, imagine my early annoyance at the beginning of this story morphing into glee when "Milgram's 37" kicked in toward the end. Good comes from bad. Who'da thunk? Moments like this are why I love this show. Now I'm heading to the donate page to kick in some shekels. Keep it up, guys.

Jan. 11 2012 02:38 PM

Thanks for another riveting show about a difficult but fascinating topic. Obviously, all the questions you took on here are complex and without simple answers, but I was disappointed by the last segment - for a show that generally has such a scientific bent, why not look into what might be going on neurochemically in the mind of someone who seems so clearly to be mentally ill? The evil that humans sometimes do as a results from things going wrong in our brains is another important piece of the story.

Jan. 11 2012 02:26 PM
Jared from Chicago

Anyone know what music is playing at 48:30?

Jan. 11 2012 02:11 PM

Classical piece with saxophone played at minute 26: Michael Torke's saxophone concerto: third movement.

Jan. 11 2012 01:17 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Still listening to the podcast, but I'm not very satisfied with the Millgram section. The evidence of the recordings doesn't show (IMO) that it's the "order" that provokes successful disobedience, but rather the word "choice". The prod is "You have no choice". This inevitably makes the "Teacher" think about that matter and realize that he does in fact have a choice. When the actions are specifically made to relate to the Teacher, he sees his responsibility for his bad behavior.

Jan. 11 2012 12:27 PM
Steve O'Rourke from Mamaroneck, NY

The Milgram studies were ostensibly about obedience to authority and how simple it was to maintain behavioral obedience with minimal prodding. But there are tons of things that come from this that are informative and even heartening. Here are a couple:

1) One of my former professors correctly argued that it wasn't about happy obedience but unsuccessful disobedience. Those who did press the final button on the board had tried to argue with the experimenter that they should check in on the "learner" in the other room. They tried to defy, but failed.

2) As the psychological distance between the teacher and the learner dropped, obedience dropped substantially as well. We can more easily hurt when we can be somewhat insulated from its effects. Humanizing others, seeing their pain, and feeling responsible for that pain makes it harder to go along with orders.

3) Most importantly, seeing examples of effective disobedience of evil orders frees others to disobey in kind. The positive message in Milgram's work is that we can inspire others by standing up to authority. It only took one person to break the spell of conformity for all.

Jan. 11 2012 11:46 AM
Michael sirjue from coconut creek, Fl

I find Jeff Jenson kinda frustrating

I cought the tail end on one of his lectures for his book, A Woman asked him if there was any clue into the motivations of The Green River killer, Jeff's respons was "We can never really know what goes on in the minds of these kinds of people, The Green River killer had a successful carrior as a comercial truck painter, interviews with his neighbours most of them sid he was a quiet but nice guy, loved his wife and kept his yard clean"

Him saying that still kinda bothers me, cause it assumes a serial killer is not by any means normal, and not like the rest of us, there false self that the world sees is more so false than those of normal people.

There are lots of weird reasons why I would think normal people can hate and want to kill peopel under the cover of a moral high, such as the verdict of caseie underson, are 9/11 and such things. The idea of serial killer killing just to kill seems more honest, exposed with out cover.

Jan. 11 2012 05:36 AM
gman from San Francisco

I love your show but I was somewhat disappointed buy the limited point of views expressed. Maybe you have more information to form your opinions that was left on the editing room floor but given the information from the program it is not at all clear that Fritz Haber was evil.

Assume he truly loved in country. Assume that he felt he needed to do the things he did to save it. That means one take on it is that, like some deity stories, he was willing to sacrifice his wife and his son to save his country. That would make him a saint. He just happened to be on the wrong side of history. I'm not saying that's the correct interpretation but nothing presented in the show makes that interpretation invalid as far as I can recall.

Also, at the start of the program you had this great story that most people have murder fantasies. But then you dropped that on floor. None of the following stories had anything to do with the first. I hope you'll consider doing a follow up on why people have murder fantasies, how many act on them, how many murders have the same or similar fantasies. Stuff like that.

Jan. 11 2012 01:29 AM
b goldstein

This was so riviting that My ear hurts from pushing on my earbud.

Jan. 10 2012 11:05 PM

I'd also like to know what the piece was at 26:56, as I'm a saxophone player and I might be interested in playing it. Also, loved the Agnus Dei from B Minor Mass at 33:32 of the podcast, so much that I had to go back and listen to it again to pay attention to the show.

Jan. 10 2012 10:54 PM
Yangie from NY

The ending of this is truly questionable.. Were there actually research done to see if those participants are willing to hurt themselves for science? I mean are people really THAT noble when it comes to experiencing what it takes THEMSELVES to actually be noble with what they believe is good for all? After hearing the feed backs of those participants post shocking (or believe they were doing harm to)another beings, I believe they are doing more of a justification of their actions, trying to be noble and positive might be something resulting from guilt and shame as well; saying they are doing this for the better of something greater is a scape goat reason for why they still choose to continue proceeding with cruelty.

I have a thought that if human nature is cruel to begin with, then this experiment only shows that people have no problem harming others as long as they find a good justification for their actions, a "good" reason for them to do so because our society do not allow "bad" things as such roaming around.

This is indeed a very deep and mysterious topic. There are so many dimensions of arguments, of course I am only raising one of many concerns. Thanks to RadioLab to propose this interesting discussion! :)

Jan. 10 2012 04:02 PM
Bettina from Chicago

Uhm, how about investigations into the reality of psycho/sociopaths and how humans 'play' via their imaginations with what society calls evil deeds? Will there be more "Bad Shows" in the future because the topic is quite... fertile for philosophical and scientific discussion. Great job on investigating or addressing the idea of the "banality of evil" and how morally even the most "obvious" wrongs can be turned on its ear and the willingness to engage in the act or hurting someone else or themselves as heroic... following up Milgram's experiment w/ Haber's story was quite good. :)

Jan. 10 2012 03:21 PM
Jim Marks from Houston, TX

The ending must be unsatisfying. The "problem of evil" has been haunting humanity since before the time the scroll of Job was first written down. Thousands of years. To this day we have radically divergent answers to this problem. More and more people insist that the problem of evil proves there is no god. No "good" god could allow evil to exist. Others continue to insist that for a god to step in and constantly right the wrongs would negate the very goodness of that god because this interference would be tantamount to the admission of a mistake -- giving human beings free will was a mistake that must be constantly corrected. Thus, god is not the cause of evil, we are. Our refusal to live as this god taught us to live, not because he will smite us with punishment if we disobey, but because the very nature of his laws are intended to keep us safe and secure, is what causes evil to endlessly reverberate throughout the world infecting not only humanity, but all of nature. To blame god is to deny our own culpability -- not just collectively but individually. But then this begs the question -- if we are so stubbornly refusing to be good and prefer to be evil, _is_ that not proof that if a good god created us, he made a mistake? And so, the debate rages ever onward.

I think the common misapplication of the Milgrim experiments (that people are not culpable because we are psychologically inclined to follow orders) demonstrates how desperate we are to insist that we, individually, are not bad people. We will go so far as to implicate all of humanity into a moral quagmire so long as it gets us off the hook, personally. The problem of evil must be _someone else's problem_ not ours. Too few are willing to stand up and say "I have faults and flaws, I get it wrong far more often than I get it right. I know better, I want to do good, but somehow I rarely do." We blame god, we blame psychology, human nature, "the really bad people" like serial killers and Nazis, but we want to insist that compared to all that, our own foibles are hardly worth examination.

That is the problem of evil.

Jan. 10 2012 02:43 PM
Ben from Chicago

World better without him, this guy was a superhuman monster. I have the belief that someone else, perhaps pioneer Carl Bosch which you don't mention, would have discovered the method of fusing Amonia, if anything because the need was that great. That's just the way my faith/optimism plays out.

Jan. 10 2012 01:24 PM
Zac from Kentucky

I'm not sure I agree with your conclusion of the Milgram test. Remember that we know that people on each side of an argument will become more galvanized in their opinion as they argue. What made the subjects disobedient was, in fact, the prodding. The raising of the stakes make the subject more sure the shocks were wrong, when just instants before they were unsure or neutral. I think the interpretation assumes a static mindset which is actually dynamic.

Jan. 10 2012 10:35 AM

What is the classical piece that start playing at 26:56?

Jan. 10 2012 09:59 AM
Ryan Phillips

Wow. The ending of that show was both perfectly orchestrated and highly unsatisfying. Not in a bad way though - I totally get what you are going for. The question lingers.... echoing in our collective consciousness, but the answer remains just out of reach.

Thanks for another brilliant/masterful investigation into the troubling complexities of human nature.

Jan. 10 2012 07:20 AM

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