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Once a kid is born, their genetic fate is pretty much sealed. Or is it? This hour, we put nature and nurture on a collision course and discover how outside forces can find a way inside us, shaping not just our hearts and minds, but the basic biological blueprint that we pass on to future generations.


Lars Olov Bygren, Frances Champagne, Barbara Harris, Destiny Harris, Sam Kean, Michael Meaney and Carl Zimmer

Leaving Your Lamarck

Jad starts us off with some wishful parental thinking: that no matter how many billions of lines of genetic code, or how many millions of years of evolution came before you, your struggles, your efforts, matter -- not just in a touchy feely kind of way, but in ways that ...

Comments [23]

You Are What Your Grandpa Eats

Bizarre ripples through time can shed light on your DNA.

Comments [30]

What If There Was No Destiny?

When Barbara Harris was 37, she started wishing she could have a daughter. It was 1989, and by that time only two of her six sons were still at home. So she filled out all the paperwork, and later that summer got a call about an 8-month-old ...

Comments [106]

Comments [121]

Terry from Pa

I loved this episode, as I do all the lab episodes. In fact, I have gone back to the oldest available episodes and am marching back through them all. I just want to say that the way this ended, was troubling to me. Not because of the story, or the people in it, but because of the way a fact was presented at the end: that only one of the 8 children born of the same mother had turned out “not okay.” While that is wonderful, for the other 7, it felt as if it was being presented as a statistic, or some kind of inclusive or expansive sampling of a similar situation. It’s not. It seems petty, but I feel like that should been mentioned there. That while it’s interesting how those 8 children turned out in life, it is by no means a survey, a sampling, or a study on all children born of drug-addicted parents.

Anyway, another wonderful podcast.

Dec. 06 2017 04:46 PM
Rick Exner from Iowa

The piece was very interesting, but the reporter was really editorializing by introducing this "What would the little babies waiting to be born think?" narrative. He was even taking it further than most of the right-to-lifers, since the topic was pre-conception birth control. So what are those little babies - sperm and egg cells? The subsequent discussion, which is usually incisive on Radiolab, didn't examine the underlying message or assumptions at all. What's going on here?

Feb. 27 2017 10:53 AM
Trish from USA

Comments from Destiny, now a young, single mother herself, put the story in perspective after the long period of agenda-driven comments, by a male no less. Destiny's life and her baby's would be unimaginably harder were they not living with the benefit of Destiny's parents' generosity--a true home, childcare while she attends college, etc. Though happy for this woman, I know her story to be divorced from the harsh reality of the average teen mother who keeps her baby. You could have also presented stories of typical women who accidentally became pregnant in their teens. Very few are pretty. And where are reality-based references to the lives of most children of drug-addicted birth mothers?

Feb. 25 2017 06:28 PM
Tom nesbitt from York, Pa

Enjoyed this just as much the second time. Epi-genetics is simply amazing.

Feb. 25 2017 06:01 PM
Deirdre McAdams from Oklahoma

I love this show. It is always so thought-provoking. Top marks on this one!

Feb. 25 2017 01:02 PM

Really enjoyed this one! Great topics, I like how you asked Destiny about if she would want to be born or not if she couldn't have chosen her familial outcome. Great introspect on both sides of the argument of if a eugenic sort of thinking Barbara has, is doing is morally correct or not. Is it ok to take away the right of a woman to procreate when they are on drugs? An offer of money may be very tantalizing to a drug addict but at the same time Barbara is not forcing anything on anyone. It is a choice. I like how you left it up to the listener to decide and didn't have to much bias in there against Barbara's view.

Dec. 23 2016 05:16 PM
Graydon Crawford from CCAC Boyce Campus, Monroeville, PA

Very interesting episode. My only question is this: Were some of the rat babies seperated from their mothers at birth? That way you would have these pups whose birth mother would lick her pups but were raised by a mother who did not and then could observe whether or not these pups, once they grow up and have pups of their own, would lick their own pups.
Or maybe rats won't take care of foster rat pups. I'm not really sure about that.

Nov. 09 2016 10:11 AM
Puzzled from Bay Area

The first two segments were VERY interesting. But I, like many others in the comment section, was very frustrated by the Barbara's segment. I think Smartfire from Florida articulates my sentiment well.

Nov. 05 2015 02:40 PM
Anna A. Dickinson from Oviedo, FL

Glad to see the big controversies of psychology (and science in the general) taking NPR by storm! Nature versus nurture is arguably the most iconic issue modern psychologists ponder daily. As mentioned in the podcast, some traits are simply locked in by genetics. With effort, some can be refigured- but it isn't always easy. For example- to a certain extent, intelligence is inherited. Yet, if someone puts in the work to study and concentrate, odds are their grades will improve and they'll find they've learned a lot!

Apr. 11 2015 08:19 PM
Nolan Perreira from United States

There appears to be some proof that domesticated ANIMALS are less able (intelligence,etc) than their wild relatives. Domestication involves selection of features such as reduced agression, cooperative behavior, ability to accept crowded living conditions. If you look at CIVILIZATIONS, you will see that these same kind of behaviors are preferred in larger towns and cities, This suggests to me that Civilized humans are also domesticated humans. Carrying the analogy further, it also suggests that over time the CITIFIED populations become less intelligent than less urban populations. Could this be a major reason to the fall of civilizations to the Barbarians at the gates? Can programs which discourage women professionals from having children and encourage less educated women to have more have a similar effect?

Dec. 13 2014 09:30 AM
Mardeen Gordon from Ben Lomond CA

Why hasn't this episode shown up on the podcast feed yet?
My friends tell me they heard it on the radio last Saturday, and heard my voice doing the credits at the end. I listened to this episode, but the credits got cut off. What's up with that?

Dec. 12 2014 05:03 PM
Tiffiny Wine from Denver, Colorado

I get tired of human beings putting human life above all else, without any thought to nature or even the ecosystems in which they belong. The only reason why Barbara's solution seems harsh is because of because of our narcissism - how we believe human life is so much more important than anything else.

We have done everything in our power to promote and preserve the existence of humans above all else. Human death rates matter more to us than those of whales. The ability to continue our own lives, at all costs, matters more to us than the destruction of countless species.

And the possibility of drug-addicted children being born and having a good life for some reason means we should make sure that these children are born?

Even in the wild a mother animal will leave a runt or deformed baby in the cold to die. Everything isn't always perfect, kind, or sunny. There is a dark side to life, there is pain and there is death. It's ridiculous of us to continue to pretend the darker things don't or shouldn't exist. And it's especially ridiculous to believe that giving drug addicted women the opportunity to avoid getting pregnant is in any way, shape, or form a crime.

Nov. 03 2014 08:58 PM
Lindsay from Ohio

(cont'd from previous comment)

Yes, I'm sure the odds are not actually as positive as all the children Barbara Harris adopted, but that doesn't mean therefore her solution is best. It is surprising how everyone is saying the program is good just because most children will not reach the kind of success Destiny and her siblings did--way to just assume the world as it is is static and unchangeable. How about instead of putting $ into this project maybe funneling it into programs that contribute toward rehab programs for addicts, or programs that more generally work to alleviate poverty, which is so often correlated with drug-use? People who said "this isn't a race thing" may perhaps be right that it's not only about race, but it is absolutely about a disgusting classism that underlies Barbara's attempts to "help" all of these babies. It's pretty telling, I think, that Barbara Harris's first response to this one woman having so many babies was to want to pay to have her sterilized, not to want to pay to help her through a rehab program.

BM Blink from Boston had a rather off-hand comment that suggested this is a minor concern, when it's actually the central problem here: "If you want to be ultra PC, perhaps I would take sterilization off the table..." and later, "If there is concern about potentially singling-out drug-addicts' vulnerabilities, why not just extend the offer to all women?" Only it is not ultra PC to take sterilization off the table, and these changes are not mere afterthoughts. This would be a great program if, first, sterilization were at least de-emphasized and if, more importantly, the focus on just drug-addicted women was eliminated. Give all women access to free birth control (and sure, sterilization if that's what they want, but only if the program is for everyone). Then it would look just a lot like what the ACA has tried to do (only sadly still doesn't achieve for women who don't have access to health insurance). I am ALL for free birth control for all. Just not targeted birth control or sterilization for a select few women deemed to be "unfit" to procreate in our society. Honestly, what a disgusting attitude.

Point being: You don't have to be remotely pro-life to find Barbara Harris's program eugenicist and a poor cover for classist attitudes about those "unfit" to procreate.

May. 25 2014 11:31 AM

I find it fascinating that I came to the comments to see if other people were as disturbed by the Barbara Harris segment as I was, and I soon found that they were--but for completely different reasons from the problems I had with it.

I actually liked at first that the show moved to critique Barbara Harris's program, but Jad and Robert went about that critique in ALL of the wrong ways. As everyone noted, those questions had a really a pro-life inflection to them, so even by the end I found myself disappointed that the show did not really follow up on the most important potential critique of Project Prevention. That is the critique we heard from Linda, who quoted Barbara Harris comparing these women to breeding dogs.

The problem with Barbara Harris's program isn't what the interviewers suggested, that babies that could have been born won't be born--it's that she has singled out a specific, often poverty-entrenched group of people to offer birth control or sterilization to. To say this doesn't reek of eugenics is simply wrong. These women, as someone noted above, are often in vulnerable positions--economically and socially, as well as quite possibly potential or past victims of sexual assault. To offer a "choice" of sterilization or birth control is not really to offer a choice at all, especially if, for instance, the $ Harris offers is a one-time fee that will either cover one permanent sterilization or only be enough for one 5-7 year IUD. Think about it, if you can only have $300 once, and your desire is not to have children and not to have to worry about them indefinitely (but you don't really know you want to be sterilized), this program effectively encourages the sterilization option. In other words, a choice is not exactly a choice when you are in an economic, social, and personal situation that essentially removes most options. Even worse, though, is the targeting of this specific group of women. Her attitude with this program reeks of classism; as Julie Anderson from UNC Chapel Hill said above, "How dare Barbara compare ANY human being to a dog. Reproductive rights should not be dictated by the perceived value of the birth mother." Indeed, how dare she, and who is she to determine whether other women should or should not be reproducing?

(cont'd in next post)

May. 25 2014 11:29 AM
Mark from S.F. Bay Area

I love your radio show, but this one concluded on a sour note for me. Your 'conclusion' or way of thinking at the end of this piece about Barbara Harris and Destiny was severely wrong-headed. It is not rational to base your opinion of the right or wrong of offering money for sterilization based on the contemplatoin of what if Destiny didn't exist. You cannot miss a person who never existed. Furthermore... as a person who fosters dogs, I can't imagine ever thinking along the lines of "we should not be spaying and neutering dogs, because think of all the wonderful dogs we've been privileged to foster and adopt to loving homes that wouldn't have been born. Get a grip. On the other hand, I DO have a problem with offering money as incentive to be sterilized. That does make it a class issue.

Mar. 07 2014 07:12 AM

I liked this one. But most importantly... the segment on Barbara Harris and what she started.

I'm not for or against it. I think it's a great idea in that she's offering these women a way that they CHOOSE to take: Become sterilized to prevent the birth of unwanted children. They can't afford to get contraception with their addiction, they can't afford to care for the child or don't want them, and often times these children end up stuck in the foster system because they have developmental problems. Not every mother and/or father want to take a chance on a child who starts off crippled from the start. But at the same time... She's perpetuating a stereotype. These women who are responsible enough to take the money and the operations they could have eventually sobered up and actually wanted a child but now can't have one. Though there's the option of the temporary sterilization...

This is one of those issues where I say... I think more women would take contraception if it were made free. Heck, Clinics hand out condoms for free to men. Why isn't there free birth control?

But the biggest problem in all of these ideas? Humans. Some women just.. they don't care. Evne if you pay them to get sterilized, if you give them free options to avoid giving birth, they just do not care enough to take those options or look for them. They'd rather suffer childbirth every year than compromise every once in a while or once for money. And this isn't an issue that... well I don't think it can be fixed.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

Feb. 19 2014 02:00 PM
nate from maine

Cool article about inheritance. I am not scamming or trying to bump google stats, this genuinely relates. If you found this listen interesting check it out.

Dec. 03 2013 08:04 PM
Greg from Denver

Does anyone know the name of the song between segments two and three? I have heard this piece before but different versions. What is the name of the original composition of this piece and what is the information on this “Radiolab” version of the composition.

Oct. 30 2013 07:21 AM
Leila from Austin, TX

I'm actually surprised that this show generated so many negative comments--I found every segment really thought-provoking and well-balanced. Keep up the good work, RadioLab.

Aug. 09 2013 03:37 PM
Otis P from Minnesota

I was frustrated by the piece about Barbara Harris. I felt that the story went beyond simply talking about whether or not drug addicted women should not have children to whether or not any woman should choose to stop having or not have any children. Am I myself denying the chance at life to dozens of children by using contraception, even though I am married and have a stable home life? I'm sure that these unborn children would turn out fine as well, or least 7 out of 8 of them probably would, which, as this show suggests, are pretty good odds. I think that in order for this story to have been complete, a study would have needed to be done on children who were born to drug addicted parents and, rather than being put up for adoption from the moment of their birth as all of these children were in this story, spent years living with their birth families or bouncing around in foster care while their birth parents were in and out of jail for drug offences. Then calculate the odds. Barbara Harris is not rounding up women and forcing them to stop having children. They are all choosing to accept her help. And they can choose non-permanent forms of contraception, so they are not being forcibly sterilized. There are other organizations that offer drug counseling and treatment, and Mrs. Harris' program offers prevention at the ground level.

Jul. 31 2013 11:18 AM
rene from Washington, DC

i am a foster parent of three kids from a family of 7 sibs that have been in care. drama, trauma, pain... bouncing around, violence aggression.

check out the STATISTICS on what happens to kids who are taken, who become wards of the state. 2% graduate from college. teen parents, incarceration, homelessness, unemployment - the adult outcomes are not so rosy. your fantasy that destiny's family (6 of 7 in college) is representative of what happens in high poverty, drug involved, cps involve families is absurd.

if $250 can prevent the birth of a child who has a high chance of ending up in the system, its a bargain for mom and the baby. the women who take the money are not being forced to use birth control, they have human agency to have a baby or to use birth control. the women who use birth control can have a baby later, once they have gotten stable. you should offer the money to the daddies as well, cause it takes two to procreate.

i love my kids, i hope they all get it together, we are working to make that happen, but let me assure you, this has been a tough road to walk for all of us, and my kids are lucky to end up with a person like me. Many kids in foster care struggle. foster parenting is not easy peazy. check out the numbers, my dear radio lab friends. foster care is great evidence for the importance of both nurture. kids need stable, loving families to thrive in adulthood.

Jul. 16 2013 07:02 AM
Bart D from Washington, DC

The segment on Barbara Harris was well done and nuanced. Certainly, there are morally ambiguous aspects to Barbara's campaign for listeners wherever they fall on the spectrum of the Life debate. But If there's a slippery slope to Barbara's arguments, to keep with the metaphor, why not think about the moral plunge and rocks below as as full access to abortion at any trimester. It makes the debate over a private citizen or organization paying drug-addicted women to use birth control or even become sterilized seem incredibly trite.

Let's get back to science-themed shows and stop poking around in moral territory where your compass is wildly spinning.

Jul. 13 2013 12:49 AM
Joe from Poland

Hi, does anybody know where can I find transcript for this?

May. 28 2013 06:10 PM
Gillian O'Brien from Denver

First of all, I loved the story about Barbara Harris, but I think you may have missed a opportunity to question if she was taking a choice away from women or giving them a choice. In a population, where women are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault and prostitution the option to have sustained birth control might be a dream come true. Working on mother baby units, it is very easy to see that it is not only the babies that are scared by drug addiction and separation, but also the mothers. They will carry those wounds and guilt with them for the rest of their lives. This could be the very reason you could not find anyone who regretted their decision.

Apr. 24 2013 03:47 PM
Adam B from Denver, CO

I haven't been able to listen to Radiolab in a while, so I am just now catching up. When did you guys become so overly sensitive and spineless? I can't imagine how Barbara's project could be interpreted negatively. She is not forcibly sterilizing women. She is paying women in terrible situations to voluntarily choose to be responsible. How dare she ask addicts to stop producing crack babies? Are you kidding? Luckily there are great people willing to take care of these kids, but that doesn't mean these women ought to keep up the supply of abused and abandoned children.

Mar. 21 2013 03:07 PM
Duc du Ryer from New York

After the Project Prevention segment, I wondered whether any women were involved with this story in its several stages: men reporting and editing a story about women's access to contraceptives.

Did none of the male staff remember last year's awful debates about the mandated coverage of contraceptives in connection with the Affordable Care Act and the accusation of Planned Parenthood's misuse of federal funding? (Perhaps the sound proofing of your studios shut out these debates...) As regards the question of whether access to contraceptives is the first step towards the full implementation of eugenics, how about a bit more awareness of recent US history? This issue is of course discussed in scholarship on Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. But see also the reaction of African American activists to the Roe v Wade decision, when some in the black community pointed out that after the legalization of abortion federal social services tried to talk poor black women into abortions as a matter of social policy (in terms of an artistic response, see the 1970s movie "Bush Mama").

Mar. 05 2013 02:49 PM
tommy from jacksonville florida

After 18 years sobriety I have seen many more failures than the success in todays story. Addiction is genetic and often is accompanied by mental illness of some degree, functional or not. The young womans " ooops" child is a predictable result of her addictive pre disposition to questionable behaviour. Ive watched them come in the rooms and go out- many of these people wreak havoc in sobriety. Statisticaly most addicts die drunk, you have the ocassionable success story. Addiction is passed on geneticaly and your show saw only afew positive examples- the majority are not positive. Im not Dr Goerblles(sp) but if payment worked, keep it up- Ill send her some money

Mar. 05 2013 02:21 PM
Ni Crowe from Pigeon forge, tn.

When i was a young man playing fur elise i felt in my heart that the speed i was given was very very slow. The story and the tempo i was taught never fit.
on one side there was a deep reflection on what he felt in that moment.. but on the other side.. i felt like he actually tried to capture the fury and rapid retreat of that moment.

Mar. 05 2013 02:58 AM
Laurie from NJ

Just heard the Barbara Harris segment today (3/3). I was disappointed that the hosts accept the emotionally-charged view that Harris's $200 grants are in any way similar to eugenics, and accept the comparison of her to Hitler. There is nothing compulsory about Barbara's promotion of birth control; nobody is forcing the women to pay any attention to her. Having children is not always the right choice for everybody at every time. The fact that her feedback is entirely positive and grateful shows that the women who do choose to accept her help are glad it was available, and I think they should be respected. Comparing Harris to Hitler because she supports birth control is inaccurate, illogical, and inappropriate; a "scientific" show like yours should have pointed this out rather than accepting that point of view.

I have been trying to like Radiolab for a long time, but in too many cases I find that sound effects and heavy production take the place of solid information and reflection. Please stop and take a look at what you're doing.

Mar. 03 2013 10:14 PM
Maggie from Michigan

I love this series. However, you didn't prove that licking was a changed behavior. It could simply be that some rats had a gene and the others did not. The only way to convincingly show that the environment affected the young is to take an infant from the rats known not to be lickers and put it in the nest with 'lickers' and see if it picks up the behavior.
Thanks for all your work

Mar. 03 2013 09:37 PM
Shawn from Seattle

I liked this episode so much that I listened to it the second time as a podcast since I was distracted during the broadcast. As usual, excellent work by Radio Lab team who delivered turned an otherwise boring content into a thought provoking insightful discussion. In one hour, you delivered what otherwise would be three or four thick and hard to read books.

Destiny's story is a bright spot but such outcomes are exceptions, i.e. outliers statisitcally speaking. How many of us want us, our kids and our grandkids to pay for the social, medical, and criminal costs of the unwanted births.

Barbara Harris deserves a noble peac prize as her initiative is saving so many from a miserable quality of life and also saving our kids from bearing their burdon in an already overcrowded world. Let's take this iniative to India, China, and other developing countries where population has over-run the natural resources.

Mar. 02 2013 06:53 PM
Andrea CK from West Hartford

The people who are against the work of Barbara Harris should all adopt or foster harmed/neglected children. Their theories will fly out the window when they are confronted with the cold hard truth of pre-natal and neonatal chemical and emotional harms. The impact of rotten brain wiring of neglected and drug addicted babies is long lasting and intergenerational. Barbara Harris knows what she is talking about because of her courageous personal efforts. Everyone else is opining.

Mar. 02 2013 04:00 PM
Priscilla M

Love the content of this show - today listening to evolution discussion and it's fascinating. However, I find it highly irritating that the voice shifts from one person to another constantly. Do we not have enough focus to allow a single person to say a whole sentence at a time? Maybe it would be better for me to read a transcript.

Mar. 02 2013 03:26 PM
Jennie from Atlanta

(Long time listener, first time caller...)

I left the show unsettled by the coverage of Project Prevention. Obviously people are very passionate about this extremely complex issue ....

but it seemed like Jad and Robert were so terrified of being labeled "anti-life" or racist, they went way overboard on the "slippery slopping into Hitlerville" anxiety and emotional handwringing.

It's not about a "class of people" not be allowed to procreate. Class implies economic bracket and its not about poverty. No one is rounding up people under certain annual incomes and marching them into sterilization camps. It's not about race. As, the hosts pointed out, more caucasians have used the program. It's about offering people another option.

To those who say its not fair because their judgement is impaired by drugs, this is the same judgement they would be using to raise the children. It's the same judgement they used to conceive unwanted children again and again. If you respect their judgement to do both those things, why not do this?

Why do women have the "right" to keep dropping off injured infants at the hospital every year, without facing criminal abuse charges? Personally, I think after the 1st time they should be given IUD until they complete rehab program. BUT Project Prevention isn't advocating that. They are just offering the option, for which many of the women have expressed gratitude.

It's fine to discuss this topic, but Radiolab, lay off the preaching. I feel like I just listened to Pat Robertson.
No one thinks your racists. It's ok. It's ok dudes.

Mar. 02 2013 02:11 PM
Uncle Bob from New York

Its ironic that the same program that argues the pervasive influence of genetics and how its remains the leaning indicator of future circumstances, get all sentimental and judgmental when the story shifts to a woman who is doing the best she can (that we as a society can do) to prevent children from being victims of genetic doom. Referencing Hitler in the process, a cheap shot! It’s our romanticism that will ultimately lead to our extinction as a species.

Mar. 02 2013 01:11 PM
KateC from MA

I must add my voice to the chorus of discontent with the Barbara Harris piece.

The one thing I could not get over, listening to four New Yorkers agonize over the "ethical dilemma" of Barbara's charity is this:

You think that Barbara isn't showing women with drug problems enough respect as human beings because she is offering them $200 and birth control? What is it that makes our reporters and our counter-point so very uncomfortable with this situation? Is it that women with drug problems are being empowered (yes, with money) to make this choice for themselves? Sounds to me that despite all this self-proclaimed agony over respecting drug addicts as human beings, all four voices of discomfort really just think that drug-addicted women are not capable of making good choices about their own bodies and their own families. It comes off as extremely insulting and hypocritical.

Despite the clear biased reporting, dear Barbara Harris shines through as being pragmatically helpful and the most compassionate, respectful person in the story -- for both babies AND women in tough situations. I plan to donate to her cause.

Feb. 22 2013 08:51 AM

As a pediatrican at a community health center, I was disgusted by poorly done story about Barbara and her foster children. Like many others this is my first time commenting. I admonish Jad and Robert to keep a scientific perspective and to not simplify a truly complex issue. It would have been better for this story not to have run. I would like them to retract the story or at least to a follow up to amend it.

Feb. 20 2013 12:04 AM

I agree with other listeners that Jad and Robert came off as anti-birth control during the piece on Barbara Harris. If Jad and Robert are anti-birth control, I think they should have stated that during this piece. In addition, do Jad and Robert use birth control? (From the number of children they have, I would guess so.) If so, are they having existential crises about the children they didn't have? That would have been an interesting question for this show, seeing the questions they asked Destiny.

Feb. 08 2013 12:58 PM
Barbara Lundberg from Utah

You would love to learn about the study of epigenetics. It is a relatively new science (maybe under 20 years), but addresses everything you were talking about in this show.

Love the show!!!

Feb. 07 2013 04:08 PM
S. Lane from Montana

So upset with the handling of the Barbara Harris interview. I was having my doubts on Radiolab after the Yellow Rain episode, and now I'm really doubting the quality of this show and the integrity of its producers/interviewers. This show has so much potential, yet poor interview questions and biased reporting is really bringing it down. Maybe time for new hosts/young blood?

Jan. 27 2013 07:00 PM
Amy from Missouri, USA

On the toads, rats, etc. A few years ago there was an in-depth program regarding human development from conception through old age. Do not remember the name of the program or what channel. However there was evidence that, besides the touch and breastfeeding exchanges that boost bonding and help determine whether a child thrives, there is an unseen biological exchange occurring. When a mother holds her infant there is an exchange of molecules that not only provides immunity cells but also helps both mother and infant "know" one another. Like a honing device. It is worth looking into. I just half-heartedly gave it a try, but I could not locate the study or the television program. It would be very interesting to somehow develop a study that took advantage of the data from both the rat study and the bonding study.

Jan. 27 2013 06:22 PM
M Gear

I'm surprised to see so many negative comments here about the story on Barbara Harris. What bothers me is that so many people who have commented have suggested that Robert, Jad, and/or the producer of the story took "a side." I'll have to go back and listen to the segment again, but I didn't feel that way. I get the feeling that many of those leaving comments are overreaching after hearing some viewpoints that differ, even implicitly, from their own.

I'll admit that I think that that "six out of seven" bit should have been "balanced" by some more discussion of the typical lives of children born into addiction, but still...

Anyway, I actually jumped on here to comment about an erroneous date that was given in the story on (non) Lamarckian evolution. At 11:24, the interviewee says that Paul Kammerer went to England and promoted his work in 1923. Problem is, the same story says that this happened before World War I. I don't know how the actual timing worked out, but this really confused me!

Also, according to at least one story I found (, "Eventually, a naturally occurring specimen with nuptial pads was found, demonstrating that midwife toads do have the potential to develop them."

Lastly, just because Jad and Robert don't mention every single aspect of a scientific study, it doesn't mean that the scientist(s) who did the study didn't have a control group, etc. Radiolab does quite a good job avoiding "junk science," and we should give them at least a little slack.

Jan. 27 2013 02:14 PM
pittsburgh entertainment news

If you ever have the chance to visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I would recommend that you stay in one of the hotels on the south bank of the Monongahela River located in a place called "Station Square". The views of the incredible Pittsburgh skyline rising up above the brown Monongahela River with its bridges and barges is amazing to say the least. There are all kinds of shops, stores and restaurants in Station Square and a clean, convenient subway / trolley (known locally as the "T") that provides easy access to the bustling downtown area known as the Golden triangle.

Jan. 20 2013 01:59 PM

I am a huge fan of Radiolab and commenting here for the first time.

I was quite shocked by the producer's thoughts at the end of the piece on Barbara Harris: he asks whether it is better to be born in bad condition rather than not born at all. This simply is one the main arguments of pro-life lobbies against abortion and even against contraception. You can't ask this kind of question unless you think that women have no right to choose whether they want (and are in the conditions they judge to be right) to have a child.

(Sorry if redundant, I haven't had time to read all comments.)

Jan. 10 2013 04:32 AM
Stan from Endwell new york

Your work is amazing, so cleverly constructed, the perfect platform for critical thinking.

Jan. 05 2013 09:58 AM
Peter M. Gayed from New Haven / Chicago

By the way, way to stimulate some excellent discussion! Mission accomplished, I say!

Jan. 02 2013 08:54 PM
Peter M. Gayed from New Haven / Chicago

Dear Jad -- please stop using the phrase "evolved for." It's insultingly teleological ;--)


Jan. 02 2013 08:50 PM

It seems like a positive feedback mechanism between people who want a lot of children and people who want 1 or none is coming if not in this generation, then in the next. So far as people who's lifestyles are not socially acceptable being paid to not procreate so much, it just seems to be common sense to encourage this. Technology even exists now so that if a person were to get their life into a better more socially acceptable relationship then they could still have a child by saving their eggs or sperm. We need to develop a broad workable definitions to lifestyle. The problem is the social judgements people make about different lifestyles and their goodness or badness. It's something we all need to talk about more.

Jan. 01 2013 09:26 PM

As much as I've enjoyed Radiolab in the past, this was the first episode that prompted me to sign up here and leave a comment. I was shocked that the heart-wrenching story about Barbara Harris's work was turned into a ridiculous attempt at "balance" by essentially aligning birth control with abortion. Under this logic, the world would be a much better place if I'd started having kids as soon as I was able. As a 32-year old female, I'd have been able to have birthed possibly more than 15 kids out into the world by now, considering what must be the overwhelming abundance of saintly adoptive parents out there to embrace them. My grandmother had her last child at 45, and if I stopped there that's at least another 10 babies that my body could potentially put out there. From the perspective of this show, approximately 7/8ths of these would achieve the college experience to some degree, assuming that all of them wound up with parents like Destiny did, which seems incredibly unlikely. I imagine that the increased exposure will do more good than harm to Ms. Harris's cause, but to purposefully play the provocateur with such misplaced pseudo-reasoning is doing your listeners and those Ms. Harris can help all a serious disservice.
Additionally, as someone who counsels mothers and mothers-to-be about nutrition, I think the show would have benefited greatly from skipping over a lot of the fluff that amounted to nothing regarding epigenetics. The incredible truth is that the genes you can turn off and on, thanks greatly to nutrition, will massively influence how your child is constructed. After one generation of consuming processed food, human bone structure almost literally caves in. Why not focus on how the study of epigenetics over the last decade has helped us realize that we actually CAN do so much, in merely one generation, for how our kids develop (or don't), and potentially influence your large audience in such a way as to vastly improve their quality of life?

Dec. 26 2012 03:47 PM
Andrew from Tulsa

you guys need to up your game. the gap between hour long shows is way too long.

Dec. 18 2012 10:56 AM
Elena from Seattle

Like so many others, I decided to comment for the first time, based on my reaction to the Barbara Harris story. Because so many others have already described why Barbara's work is valuable to the community, I'll skip that part. (I WILL quickly say that I promptly made a donation to her organization, Project Prevention, and you should too, if you feel like me!) The reason I feel disgruntled by Radiolab's coverage of this story is because it was wildly remiss of facts. The guys obviously do a lot of research for each story. They couldn't throw in a single national fact about the outcome of crack babies? How many become involved with crime in later years? How many don't make it to the foster care system and end up in the poverty cycle with their mother? Radiolab took a case study of one drug-addicted mother's children, in one foster care system, in one city, and that was supposed to be enough information for the listener. My thought is that the real facts would have shown why Barbara's work is invaluable. It just seemed like shoddy reporting, and it changed my opinion on the quality of this program. It felt like expressing personal bias was more important to Radiolab than conveying facts.

Dec. 17 2012 12:41 PM

I found the comments on the "Barbara" episode to be much more interesting than the episode itself. Planned Parenthood offers waivers to men to get vasectomies... maybe Radiolab can air an episode accusing Planned Parenthood of eugenics and comparing them to Hitler for this. "Hitler thought Jews had given up their rights to be parents," must be about the most sickening line I've heard in awhile. A small difference here: Hitler killed six million people in an ethnic cleansing campaign; Barbara paid 4000 women with severe and chronic drug issues to voluntarily get an IUD or tubal ligation to prevent their having kids they couldn't deal with. I know the subtleties of such differences are beyond the grasp of most so-called pro-lifers, but I would hope people supposedly devoted to science and reason might think twice before uncritically airing such drivel.

Dec. 16 2012 08:23 PM
JM from San Francisco

Don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting epigenetics and the relevance to inheritance. I've studied a little bit of biology in my day. In fact I think the genome is still light years more complicated than people are giving it credit for. My guess is we've just scratched the surface. I was just pontificating on whether the explanation of a starvation bottleneck could explain future generation sturdiness from a Darwinian standpoint.

Dec. 15 2012 02:44 PM

I enjoyed the episode until the "Every Sperm is Sacred" ending.

Dec. 15 2012 01:16 PM
Kat from Seattle

@jmcastelli and ktarter Check out epigenetics:

Great show, guys, as always.

Dec. 13 2012 01:08 AM

New to the comments, but I see ktartar echoing my thoughts about the genetics. I was wondering what evidence there is that this was imprinting and not just that the toughest, most genetically robust males didn't die during famine and therefore reproduced, Darwinian style. There would be ways to study this I think (like is the same true for girls who survived the famine and their offspring? If not, it's better evidence for the imprinting because eggs are present from birth) but I would have liked this obvious counter argument addressed in the show. That said, once again, great show.

Dec. 11 2012 10:44 PM
ally reeves from Mumbai, India

Almost every time I look up one of your episodes I see people asking about the music. Would you consider by default, posting the music that is played with your pieces? This also seems only fair to the artist who get sampled! What is the last bit of music that plays for this episode? Sounds likes xylophone. Is there a place where music credits are posted and I'm just missing it? Thanks!

Dec. 07 2012 09:49 AM

Interesting show, as always. I actually created a profile just to leave my first-ever comment.
Jad and Robert - where is the usual skepticism? Genes and DNA mutating by environmental variables. Really? Sounds to me more like survival of the fittest sperm cells in starving 9-12 years boys rather than dna transformation.
As for the licking rats, I will hold my ground that is a learned behavior. More data is needed to convince me that this is a genetic transformation. How about this: take the generation of pups who were licked and prevent them from licking their offspring. Then observe the behavior of the third generation.
C'mon guys, you can do better. Still, an interesting show and I remain a fan.

Dec. 06 2012 03:05 PM

I think it is very unfortunate that Barbara's family's story was the only one profiled. I have a lot of personal experience with the foster system, the mental health system, and the effects on families due to drug abuse. Most of these abandoned children grow up unloved and unwanted, with long-term psychological damage even if they are able to otherwise be productive members of society. I think the worst part of this story was how college was used as a measure of health, happiness, and development. Many absolutely miserable people go to college, just as many happy and healthy people do not. Destiny seems like a very exceptional young woman who should feel very proud of her accomplishments, and she should not be used as an example of the norm, by any means.

I think one important missing element was more information on the drug addicts who have sought Barbara's help. Many people who are dependant on drugs are that way because of low feelings of self worth and depression. Imagine how much worse that must be when you feel like you have no control over your own reproduction, whether that is due to inability to keep medical appointments, unavailable cash, the difficult laws of your state, or what-have-you. I think it's very unfortunate that the show didn't go to the effort to look more into the reasons why Barbara's clients might be signing up for her services, and if they found it "difficult to believe" that there have been no regretful clients, why didn't they try harder to find some?

Dec. 05 2012 10:39 PM
Rick from Prague

I am another avid fan who is driven to post for the first time. I'm midway through the last segment, so maybe I'll be upset about that later.

Second segment: My concern is the obvious error, noted elsewhere, that the 9-12-year old boys who survived would be stronger than average (starved grandpas), so comparing them with a cohort where all survived (stuffed grandpas) is plain wrong. The problem is that this error kind of destroys the whole segment. If it was just a little side thing, who cares, but it was your main point, and why it was supposedly creepy or disturbing.

Jad and Robert, did you not realize this, or was it for story effect? Usually you guys play a little fast and loose with science for the story effect, which is 100% OK with me, but this is a bit much.

Overall I love the show and would not post this if I didn't.

Dec. 05 2012 10:38 AM
james from Richmond, VA

What If There Was No Destiny?
Bad science, sloppy journalism. Too busy to get the data?

7 out of how many? (not 8).
7 turned out "OK", what is the criteria? "going to college"?
Why did they turn out "OK"? How often are those conditions replicated?
How do those 7 compare with the other thousands?

Then Krulwich can say, "Whatever the data, or the topic, I want everyone to know I'm Pro-Life."

Dec. 05 2012 01:32 AM
paul from Cambridge, ma

Guys, great show overall, but the segment on Sweden was far too uncritical. Survivorship bias and multiple testing could easily explain this result. If harsh years meant that some children died, then the ones who survived would on average have better genes. You would see the children then do better, but it wasn't because anything changed in the genes, it was because the weakest were removed from the population.

More importantly, any time a scattershot study turns up in a small subgroup of the population (e.g. boys 9-12 years old) you need to be cautious of multiple testing. Did they test the effect when boys were 6-9 years old? 12-15 years old? What about girls? When you perform multiple tests, it is a lot hard to interpret what you've found. Here's a comic example:

As an economist who works on household survey data, it is next to impossible that you could accurately identify a true effect of the size discussed on your podcast with a population of 99 individuals (which is the sample in the Swedish study). Great story, but the science holds no water.

Dec. 04 2012 09:01 AM

@Mari O. from CT
"Wondering why Barbara's project only offers money to drug addicted women not to have children but doesn't offer it to drug addicted men also?" -- presumably because men don't have babies.

I'd recommend that Jad, Robert, and producer Pat Walters check out the excellent website Logical Fallacies,, so that they can learn about the problems inherent in making judgments based on a sample size of one.

Dec. 03 2012 11:34 PM

I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me about the segment with Barbara and children of drug addicted women. Another commenter here identified it: the negative reaction to what she's doing has shades of pro-life thinking. In fact, the narrator, interviewer said things that sounded eerily like those who try to talk women out of having abortions.

The problem with that kind of thinking is those same folks are rarely around to help these desperate women raise their children into normal,healthy, functioning adults. They apparently think it's some kind of miracle that will happen on its own.

Meanwhile, the Barbaras of the world walk the walk. They see the whole thing for exactly what it is. They know the odds and the statistics of what happens to most children born into that situation.

And for the record, drug mom or not, the foster care system itself is rife with abuse. These children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and sadly there are predators out there who use the system to get to these kids. I have cousins who grew up in foster care. It's a crapshoot, believe me.

Dec. 03 2012 09:24 PM

In my mind having a child while on/or addicted to drugs is child abuse! If these women were beating the head of their child with a pillow instead (awful gut wrenching youtube video), there would be public outrage and groups would sweep in and take those children, no complaints. I can't figure out if people are most upset at the idea of sterilization, which non addicted adults have done all the time; or the fact that these people are being given money as an incentive?

There was an implication that if you gave a drug addict money she'd run out and use it on drugs, well if that's the type of cycle she's in then it just seems more reasonable that she should not be able to get pregnant "by accident." No one is forcing them and they have a choice on what type of birth control they would be utilizing, is it really feasible that a drug addict remembers to take her pills if they don't get her high? Not unless you can make them addictive.

Dec. 03 2012 07:25 PM

I was puzzled by the sweeping generalization that completed this episode. Going to college does not equal turning out ok. I mentor two foster youth, both of whom have been in college, and neither are ok. Getting access to higher education does not in any way make up for the pain these people have endured because of the poor decisions of their 'parents'. One of my kids comes from a mother who has had 14 children, all of them now in the foster care system. She was born with STD's and crack cocaine in her system. She has suffered her entire life with reactive detachment disorder, abusive foster care situations, and a complete lack of soft skills (things like knowing how to talk with others, read body language, be professional, etc). So yes, she may in fact be a college graduate, but that has almost nothing to do with her state of well being in this world.

Dec. 02 2012 12:58 PM

I'm so in agreement with the folks here who are pointing out the complete difference between eugenics and what the woman paying women to use birth control has done for these would-be-mothers who are also addicts. Women use birth control every day. To have such a heart-wrenching approach to this story is so odd to me. This woman is not providing abortions. That would be different. I am so glad others are on the same page about this. I felt the report was poorly handled in that there was all this talk of destined people who will never be. Perhaps they weren't destined to be. Perhaps there is no destiny. We can simply not be sad for every egg a woman produces that doesn't become fertilized. There are so many babies to love already. To be saddened that someone who is not taking care of themselves has not brought into the world a life that they will likely also not take care of is illogical.

Dec. 01 2012 07:22 PM
Will Cauthen from Charlotte, NC

I am so disappointed that the segment on birth control/sterilization for drug abusing mothers concluded with the concept that the example of Destiny is somehow proof that children do not suffer greatly from drug abuse while in the womb. This is not eugenics or racism. It is a simple if inelegant way of reducing a severe form of child abuse. I would much rather err on the side of innocent children.

Nov. 30 2012 05:00 PM

Hello blue42, I believe you'll find what you're looking for in this podcast short:

Nov. 30 2012 02:32 PM

This is directed to Jad: I have been catching up on old episodes of the show. There was a show about Morality, I think,in which you said that you would kill your child for the greater good. (ex. MASH episode where woman kills her baby to save everyone from the enemy) I am wondering, now that you have children, what is your answer?

Nov. 30 2012 12:16 PM
Zoe from Virginia

First, this is not in any way, shape or form eugenics. Women do not have to choose sterilization to participate in the program - they can get an IUD. Later, if they stop using drugs or even if they don't, they can have it removed and have a child.
Second, there is an assumption that the women are having the procedures only to get the money. That assumption is an insult. Presumably Barbara is also paying for the procedure - is there any other way for these women to obtain long-term, reliable birth control for free? Rather than assuming that these women are giving up their reproductive rights because they are so addled that they don't care about anything more than getting the $200 and getting high, isn't it also possible that they are making this choice in a moment of clarity? That the program allows them to make a choice that they would make if they could afford it, so that they would not to have to worry about pregnancy in terrible circumstance that is likely to harm their child?
Finally, it is terrific that seven of the eight known children in this story turned out so well; I would argue however, that the fact that their mom gave them all up immediately put them in a better position than most children born this way. Would Destinee be the wonderful person she is today if her birth mom had tried to keep her?

Nov. 30 2012 10:52 AM
Julie Anderson from UNC Chapel Hill

Project Prevention is disgusting; eugenics is alive and well in the United States. How dare Barbara compare ANY human being to a dog. Reproductive rights should not be dictated by the perceived value of the birth mother. Further, providing money to drug-addicted individuals, regardless of their reproductive potential, is never a solution.

Additionally, this segment demonstrates that children whose parents abuse drugs during pregnancy can grow up to be high-functioning and successful. Destiny proves that comprehensive healthcare treatment after birth and a loving and supportive family environment play vital roles in the development of these children. Her adoptive mother attempts to prevent these children like Destiny from being born in the first place.

Finally, I would like to know how Barbara can judge the decisions of these potential mothers who are addicted to drugs, and pressure these individuals to take birth control, when her own daughter has an "oops baby?" Maybe you should preach the values of safe sex and postponing parenthood with your own children, not with the members of society that you view as inferior.

Nov. 29 2012 12:55 PM
Mari O. from CT

Great podcast! Wondering why Barbara's project only offers money to drug addicted women not to have children but doesn't offer it to drug addicted men also?

Nov. 28 2012 10:27 PM
Blake from Portland, OR

The song at the 40 min mark is 'Primo' by Takagi Masakatsu.

Nov. 28 2012 10:13 PM
Smartfire from Florida

Looks like I'm another in the chorus of lovers of RadioLab who were equally fascinated and saddened by this episode. As usual, the topics were thought provoking, but the science was sketchy. And the last episode was better suited for This American Life than RadioLab.

I've never heard of Barbara's project, but I back her position 100%. I never understand the fascination with hypothetical lives--sure every chance meeting of sperm and egg could hold the salvation of humankind--or it's destruction; but is this the argument you were going for? The 7/8 conclusion based on the good fortune and genes that Destiny and her siblings had to overcame a drug-riddled beginning of life--was just bizzare. If you want to sell people that drug addicted babies born to addicted mothers turn out just fine in 87.5% of time, you'll need better evidence than this. I don't think you don't have a Fox News or CNBC audience here.

That said, I appreciate the disclosure of the relationship of one of Barbara's fiercest critics to Robert. Perhaps this influenced the puzzling conclusion Jad came to at the end.

One last thought..why would Jad be shocked that not one of the women who VOLUNTEERED for birth control while drug addicted regretted that decision? As a woman, and a mother, I'd theorize that may be because no sane mother would want to bring a child into the world that she can't care for. Raising a child is hard work--why would you want to take this on while high? I have incredible respect for Barbara's open heart--I don't think I could do what she has done in taking in fragile children. Bless her and all of her children!

Nov. 28 2012 03:54 PM
Tarun Gupta from Missoula, MT

A huge Coincidence? On Nov 19, I submitted a R01 grant application for my PhD comps on quasi-lamarckian transmission of event (PTSD) induced acquired traits through sperm epialleles to subsequent generations!!!

Nov. 28 2012 12:10 PM
Mike Taylor from Massachusetts

I too am a Radiolab fan. The Inheritance episode was generally in line with the quality of other RL podcasts, except the tone of much of the section on Barbara Harris's program to provide birth control options to drug addicted women. The suggestion was clear from many of the voices that she was somehow discriminating against these women, and the the children who were born in such disadvantaged circumstances, and it was indeed immoral to offer money as an incentive for changing their behavior. While not discussed, it was clear to me, that the same people taking this high ground against Barbara, would be the first in line to drive those same women to Planned Parenthood to obtain a free abortion and hold their hand through the procedure, and feel that they were incredibly supportive and moral in doing so. Remarkable lack of perspective.

Nov. 28 2012 11:01 AM

Another avid Radiolab fanatic and I'm tired of going through the comments voting up the problems with the last segment, so I'll just say it.

The issue at hand (success of children later in life born to drug addicted mothers) needs to be addressed statistically.

The only statistic intoned was the "7 out of 8" reference.

That's not science, folks. You argued against incredibly compelling large numbers with anecdote. I know you need to have human narrative to make the story compelling, but that human narrative should probably be in the direction of the evidence.

Would you consider giving the emotion pulpit to climate change deniers or creationists while ignoring science? As far as I can determine, that's what happened here.

Such a problem.

Nov. 28 2012 10:49 AM
Sloppy from Stockholm, Sweden

What troubles me listening to this is the "all or nothing Darwinisum". Has it not been proven substantially enough that, while all other things being "true", that evolution is not an act of randomness at all? When one considers the math in the probability of developing as we have out of random changes we would still be waiting on eyes let alone leaving the sea or walking at all.
The fact that we can't consciously change our own "genes" doesn't mean that they cannot change. Sure we can debate the semantics of what constitutes a genetic change but the fact is that there is little if anything random at work. If so has it been long enough for someone to give birth to a hot fudge sunday?

Nov. 28 2012 06:30 AM
Cathy from Golden, CO

I consider myself pro-life, but I am not opposed to the use of birth control. I was surprised by the final segment and agree with other comments about the inane question of Destiny's existence. By this argument we should all, including you, Jad, have as many children as possible. To say at two or three children that our family is complete means that there are eight or nine other people who won't exist. Is that really the argument you were trying to make?

Nov. 28 2012 12:54 AM

I agree with Alex; I'd love to find out about the music at about the 40 minute mark.

Nov. 27 2012 09:05 PM

Jad wishes he could change his children's genetic sequence, and worries they are held back by their genes. But in reality genetics only dictate so much, and environment plays a large role in development. The idea that someone is the sum of their genetic sequence is a bizarre and frankly old fashioned idea. Epigenetics is nothing new, and most hormones and many other cell signals work by modifying "genetics" in order to create more or less of a protein. Twins, with the same genetic sequence, are different people. In medicine, most diseases have absolutely no proven genetic cause. As someone who has received years of formal training in genetics, genomics, and systems biology it was interesting to hear these fields simplified and sensationalized.

Nov. 27 2012 04:40 PM

Does anyone know the song that is playing in the background @40m28s? I have been trying to find this song for sooooo long. It goes like this: "dee dah doe dah dee doe dew dah dah." Its a very beautiful song, sung by a female singer with a strong voice.

Nov. 27 2012 04:05 PM

I love RadioLab and am a contributor, but felt that the final segment of this episode was an astonishingly naive misstep on many levels. If the producers had spent an hour or two interviewing case workers from a state agency involved in child protective services and foster care, I believe they would have come away with quite a different view. Barbara's program offers women who's lives have spun out of control an incentive and opportunity to make the same decisions about family planning that women in more stable circumstances make.

Nov. 27 2012 01:55 PM
Bakur AlQaudi from Rochester, NY

Spectacualr episode. I blogged about the topic in three different languages already. What a great episode.

Nov. 27 2012 01:23 PM
Zach from Texas

It's great that 7 of those 8 kids did well in the end, but the foster system is an incredibly tough situation for any kid. This isn't because of the quality of foster families - while there are some abuses, most foster families are people trying their best to go above and beyond in helping our neediest. But it is tough, and it's hard enough for while, male, able-bodied children to find permanent homes. For children born with physical or mental problems from drug-addicted mothers, or special emotional needs from being raised by addicted parents, it's so much harder, not only to find a permanent home but to find qualified and able foster parents.

At first the idea that we should prevent more children harmed by drugs to be born sounds cruel - it sounds the same as exterminating them after birth. But it's not. No more than someone deciding they're not financially able to provide for a child who goes on birth control is similar to the extermination of children of the poor. Mourning the non-existence of hypothetical children is absurd. Following such a line of thought, all birth control would be banned. People would be morally obliged to have as many children as possible, as early as possible. This seems silly, like a slippery slope, but if one is seriously concerned about the plight of children never conceived by drug addicts, this seems to be the line to be drawn from it.

Nov. 27 2012 11:26 AM
Meg from Boston

Really unscientific pro-life drivel in that last story. I think between this ep and the way you treated the hmong family in that other one you've lost a devoted listener. Who HAS contributed and attended an event.

Go back to your roots of actually being about science

Nov. 27 2012 10:57 AM
Chris from Currie from Currie, MN

Another good show guys, and no complaints from me about the last segment. I thought it provided some thought provoking arguments from both sides - and for those complaining that there was emotion in it - well...of course there was. Good grief, this is life. But this wasn't the reason for my comments.

I really enjoyed the piece about the mid-wife toads, and the mystery about if it was indeed a hoax or not. I was curious if anyone ever tried to duplicate the experiment. It seems to me that if it was legit that similar results could be achieved a second time...also just a side note, but at one point in the story you said that a reptile expert was brought in to look at the specimen - all well and good, but toads are amphibians...

Love the show - I rarely can listen on the radio, but I download the podcasts and listen. Always interesting!

Nov. 27 2012 02:13 AM
Khaled Johari

This episode was amazing like all the other episodes. It gave me multiple mind orgasms. Thank you radio lab for makes us high on knowledge.

Nov. 27 2012 01:37 AM
Cuong Diep from Pittsburgh, PA

For the second story, they could have proposed "caloric restriction" as a possible mechanism of why starving grandparents might produce healthy grandchildren.

Nov. 26 2012 09:51 PM
raynete from las vegas

In regards to the last story about birth control to drug addicted mothers. There were so many sides to this story that were not touched upon. This was just one person who was able to afford children and adopted them. There are people who hav foster farms where they foster children just for money, there are addict mothers who keep their children and give them a terrible life by whoring them out to strangers or just neglecting and abusing them. There are also people who just need a bit of a chance to get clean and $200 and the chance to not get pregnant for awhile can change their lives. That story made it sound like she was giving out abortions. I worked in a homeless shelter and a womens shelter for many years and I have an addict in my family and have talked to her children and the horrors that I have heard would tear your heart apart. All that woman is doing is giving someone a choice that they may not have had.

Nov. 26 2012 02:12 PM

Yes, the music would be great! Especially the bell sond at 41:07. It's amazing, I would like to listen to the whole thing. It cuts off just when it starts to get good. :/

Nov. 25 2012 05:06 PM
Kevin from Atlanta, Georgia

Can you guys please give me the music credits for all the in between stories parts. I really enjoyed it. Thanks you.

Nov. 25 2012 01:29 PM


I liked the inheritance show. I see my immediate question has been raised already by Amy and Drew. Did you try swapping the offspring? That is, take the babies from mothers that lick a lot and swap them with the offspring from ones that do not lick?.... Do the offspring really follow their adopted mothers? Seems the obvious test, and without it the theory has not much merit.



Nov. 25 2012 08:26 AM
Thomas from Eugene, Or

I have listened to every episode of radio lab and I love the program, but I was really disappointed this time around. I felt that the entire episode threw science and logic out the window in favor of emotion. If the maternal nature of rats is genetic, then what is so surprising about children inheriting it from their Mothers? Why does any one think that the licking is the cause, rather than the effect of the DNA being passed down? I felt that the episode focused on the philosophical idea that nurture could change nature instead of scientific theory. I was also bothered by the handling of Barbra's story. The cast came to the conclusion that the majority of foster children come out of the system just fine by looking at just one family with a sample size of eight people. That is unacceptable and unprofessional in my opinion. I really hope this will not become the norm for the show!

Nov. 25 2012 07:02 AM
Sarah from PA


\I wanted to speak up, as an adoptive foster parent. My son was born drug addicted and as a result has cerebral palsy. He is a wonderful kid and can walk and talk, but he will always struggle mightily in life, and has cost the system hundreds of thousands in medical costs, therapies, etc. His birth mom has had many other children, some of whom have medical issues as a result of her drug use and some of whom are healthy. The overwhelming majority of children in foster care in the country are there for drug-associated reasons, and the costs, both emotionally and financially are astronomical. Hundreds of thousands of kids are abused, neglected, born drug addicted, or abandoned because of their parents' drug use. I too struggle with the program discussed on the show, and I am not sure where I come down on it. However I think it's a little bit simplistic to look at the success of Destiny and her sisters and say the odds are good. The odds for any child, even without drug addiction, who grows up in foster care are really bad. The attachment issues and resulting emotional damage can be overwhelming for the child.

Thanks for your show.

Nov. 24 2012 07:10 PM
Allan from Milwaukee, WI

I noticed a SERIOUS issue about your comments regarding chimerism.

The issue has to do with reproduction:
Despite the fact that a chimera has two sets of DNA, there is still only one set per cell. Therefore, when a chimeric organism reproduces, the offspring will only inherit one type of DNA from the chimeric parent.

In the "geep" example, if the ovaries (or part of the ovaries) that produces the initial ovum is sheep, than the offspring can only be a sheep. If the ovum has goat dna, it can only be a goat.

Chimeric mother...what about chimeric fathers?
Her situation may be uncommon, but it probably happens just as often in men as it does women.

^ This would make for some very interesting Jerry Springer episodes!

Nov. 24 2012 05:09 PM
Art Kennedy from Springfield, Oregon

You were talking as if there were lives that were "missed". That is goofy! They just never had a beginning. They never were. There are plenty of others. There is no shortage!

Nov. 24 2012 03:34 AM

Wow. I've listened to every single RadioLab podcast, and am an avid fan but have never felt the need to comment until now. I was totally shocked and disappointed to hear RadioLab take a definitive stance AGAINST Barbara's program to pay drug addicted moms to use birth control with the sentimental argument of "look, her kids came out great". Seriously guys? Barbara is obviously an exceptional human being that went above and beyond to take care of someone's ELSE'S kids. You barely talked about all of the challenges that she probably had raising those drug-affected kids. It wasn't her responsibility, but she took it on. The fact is, every crack-addicted sperm, egg, or embryo does NOT deserve a name. Not to mention, those women CHOOSE to do drugs and they CHOOSE to take the money to get sterilized or get on b.c. No one is forcing them! This has PRO-LIFE written all over it and I'm honestly appalled. Check yourself RadioLab!

Nov. 23 2012 08:50 PM
Linda Nilsen

thanks to radio-lab for your lastest pod cast on drug addicted women, luckly l have 3 grown kids who thk god are here.

Nov. 23 2012 03:24 PM
April G.

Re: paying women to stop having addicted children.

I fully support Barbara. Why? My mother was a wonderful person - when she was sober. That became rarer and rarer. Meanwhile, she had 4 -FOUR -additional children, and she couldn't remember who the fathers were because of blackouts. They were ALL given up for adoption. I personally saw my mother wake up every day, go out to the kitchen, light up a cigarette and crack open three beers, downing them in the time it took to smoke her first cigarette. By the end of the day, she was staggering, unable to walk a straight line or speak a complete sentence. Her routine never changed despite my lectures, pleading, begging, crying, yelling, bribing - all the while she was pregnant. All of those babies were sick and deformed.

What is the use of moral arguments against this kind of behavior? My mother had a statue of Jesus on that kitchen table, and she'd cry miserably staring at it from about 9:00 pm until she went to bed. My dad never kicked her out of the house -he had his own problems - but he had a full time job and health coverage. She could have gone to a rehabilitation center ANY time. After the 3rd one that was not my dad's, he finally learned of tubal ligation, and forced the procedure to be done. Later, we discovered the doctor cut a ligament. By then, she had one more.

She died at age 53, when I was 29. My dad died two years later. I was very sad, and grieved, but I also was deeply relieved. My brother and I received two letters from adoption agencies from two of these half-brothers wanting information. One was obviously disturbed and while we sent medical information, we did not want a meeting. The other seemed fine, married, two children, good job. We met, but there was nothing there to build a relationship. We've never heard from the others.

I wish life was simple and people were rigidly and easily definable as good or bad, but they are not. But if people want to be as morally responsible as possible, they should be thinking more of the suffering of the addicted babies and less of the addicted mother. The addicted baby shakes, and cries pathetically, and cannot be comforted. It cannot sleep or eat. It's in agony for a long time, with no ability to understand why from its first breath life HURTS for weeks. If its lucky, life will be great after, but we all know that being mentally challenged in school is hell, that being facially abnormal is hell, that having constant medical crisises is financially and emotionally debilitating. if you can prevent it in the first place, everyone would be in less pain.

Nov. 22 2012 11:35 PM
Tim from San Marcos, Guatemala

@1:03.06 - I was editing "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" by Taylor Swift for when Destiny's daughter takes the mic. Too weird.

Nov. 22 2012 04:49 PM

I really admire what Radiolab does - in particular the way it really engages the listener in stories whose subject matter is often treated in a very dry, matter of fact way elsewhere. However, I found this episode very frustrating and hard to listen to.

The earlier segments, reporting on research, all failed to explain how they eliminated the ideas of simple Darwinian heredity - even the Swedish data report didn't really cover the fact that in famine years, kids who survived could already have the genetic advantages that their offspring exhibit, and that those who didn't, simply died.

The segment about the drug-affected children was, to my mind, overly driven by sentimentality. If your goal in that was to provoke thought and discussion, then it has succeeded, but I think a more balanced piece could have achieved that just as well. As a journalist or scientist - as an outsider to the story - incredulity at the feelings and opinions of those who are deeply involved serves neither the story or the audience.

At least it was thought-provoking, though!

Nov. 22 2012 01:22 PM

I have also been moved to comment, mainly by Jad's remark about the 7 of 8.
I realise that Radiolab is an editorial style podcast, and I can cope with hearing opinions that differ from my own.
However, it is first and foremost a science podcast. I hope that Jad would recognise that a sample size of 8 is far too small to draw any conclusion whatsoever.
In a positive light it looks like a simple emotional response to an otherwise depressing situation (8 crack babies)
But in a negative light it comes across as thinly veiled special pleading that undermines Radiolab's scientific credibility and apartisan nature - which are its strengths.
Finally, even if we accept a sample size of 8 it only has a bearing on the efficacy of care, and says nothing about the number of drug addicted babies that never make it that far.

Nov. 22 2012 05:36 AM
Venita from NYC

Another vote for Team Barbara. RadioLab, this one left me so confused that I felt compelled to comment.

What was the issue against Barbara's program? Was it some of the language she slipped into during some of her more hostile interviews?

I have a friend who was born a crack baby, and who has a lot of painful medical problems because of it. He truly wishes that something (birth control, abstinence) had prevented his mother from getting pregnant with him. It's not about wishing that he didn't exist; just that she was able to WAIT until she was clean before bringing him into existence. He makes his life work, but the quality could be much better.

Like so many arguments against the anti-abortion movement, rallying against this birth control option/incentive is pro-BIRTH, not pro-life. Quality of life does matter.

Nov. 21 2012 09:18 PM
April from Manhattan

Please do a segment on overpopulation and climate change. The Chinese are right. Cruel as it seems, for life on earth, including humans, to survive we must cut our numbers at least in half. Cover species extinction with birders in Central Park. Watch Werner Herzog's film, Encounters at the End of the World. About scientists in Antarctica. They build a shrine in ice for aliens to see what was on earth before we destroyed it.

Nov. 21 2012 09:02 PM
BMBlink from Boston

Addicted to RadioLab. I also wanted to comment on the last topic:

I was a truly surprised by the interviewer's stance against Barbara's program. If you want to be ultra PC, perhaps I would take sterilization off the table... but offering an incentive to take birth control seems extremely compassionate to me - to the women, and to any potential children. The money seems more symbolic than anything ($200 does not go far) because it is placing these women in control over at least part of their future. There are most certainly drug-addicted who would like to be taking birth-control anyway, but can't afford the cost of pills with their habit. The program is ultimately empowering to anyone who has CHOOSEN to be in it.

If there is concern about potentially singling-out drug-addicts' vulnerabilities, why not just extend the offer to all women? (You know this would be a hit on campuses.) For women who know that they don't want to get pregnant in the immediate future anyway, it seems like a win-win, for the women and for society. There is so much debate in our society about the right to get an abortion - why make it difficult for women who just want to avoid getting pregnant in the first place...?

Nov. 21 2012 08:21 PM

1 of 8? These are peoples' lives. I'm sure none of her children are proud of their birth mother or really happy that they had to be put up for adoption. 7 out of 8 made their lives work but its still gambling the lives and livelihoods of newborns.

Nov. 21 2012 03:54 PM
mmaaaxx from Oakland, CA

Excellent show gentlemen (and ladies in the background...). This is one of the best yet: all the science, personal stories, and a touch of philosophizing.

And here's another vote in favor of Barbara's offer! even if the children are all healthy, the mother's cannot take care of them and thus the system of fostering and others must step in and there are risks there. It's a fair and open offer. She might get some of my money--

Nov. 21 2012 03:50 PM
Drew from Cleveland

I must echo Amy above. Did they take the rats from one mother and put them with the other? Without doing that and determining that the babies of non-licking mothers become licking mothers when moved to the other cage, there is no control. Maybe the details are omitted from the radio story, but if the experiment was exactly as described then the results are worthless.

Nov. 21 2012 02:04 PM

I'm glad that some of what I'm about to say is is being brought up here already, but I'd like to add another voice to the further discussion of the last segment.

Most important point - Barbara is not forcibly sterilizing all women who use drugs, and if she's said anything in the past that would make it seem like she'd like to, I don't think she can be blamed for being "pissed" about the situation she has seen very first hand. Barbara is offering these women an incentive to consider and access to control over their reproductive choices. This is ALWAYS a good thing. She is also offering them several options of birth control, including completely reversible, totally safe, no-maintenance methods. There is no eugenics in giving women greater access to that choice.

2nd Point - Asking if someone would choose not to be born because of the circumstances of their birth is a stupid and unanswerable hypothetical question. It happened, it's over, it wasn't your decision to begin with. It's corollary is asking a parent who had a child unexpectedly if they wish their child hadn't been born, except in this case, it IS their decision to begin with. Once you are a parent you could never look into your child's eyes and say you wish they never existed, but does that mean that we should fulfill the potential life of each of our egg and sperm cells because we'd love them if they turned into our child? No, we usually make choices to have that child at a time that we can be responsible for them. If we aren't making those choices we should be, and we should make those choices even more available to those who are most likely to not be able to be responsible. That's what Barbara's doing. At the end of the day, it should ultimately be the decision of each individual. It's way too personal and intrinsic to what we are for anyone else to make that decision for us, but the options should be as available as possible.

3rd Point - 7 out of 8? Those are the odds you're going to broadcast? I didn't do any exhaustive research, but I don't think you'll find that small sample size is representative of the larger population of kids in foster care, let alone those who are burdened with drug addiction problems at birth. You aren't telling the whole story at all, here. It's bad reporting, and it's bad science.

Jad, Robert, I love your show, but I think this particular piece was a miss. In an episode about the control we have over what we pass to our kids, it seems like you finished by presenting an emotionally driven and unreasoned argument that leans towards saying we shouldn't have control over when we have kids. I'm all for episodes that get me thinking and looking at different perspectives, this just made me mad at all the gaps in logic and fact.

Nov. 21 2012 01:56 PM
Snide from NYC

Great show! These last few episodes of Radiolab have been dope.

Nov. 21 2012 01:35 PM

Radiolab consistently blows my mind. So what happened here? The horror and disdain for Barbara Harris' programs sounded like a secular version of Monty Python's "every sperm is sacred" song, projecting on to Harris a number of liberal pseudoconcerns that had no real merit. Is she forcing women to do anything? No, they are entirely free to choose a birth control option that she offers or walk away. Harris may not provide the comprehensive prenatal care mentioned above for drug users, but she offers them something nonetheless that allows them some semblance of control over their reproductive systems.

The message and even tone of her critics (and even Jad and Robert) amounted to a near dismissal of all birth control to me, the sanctity of life trumping all other concerns.

Nov. 21 2012 11:58 AM
rafael matias from santos, São Paulo

Master piece of both Zimmer and radio lab ! congratulations

Nov. 21 2012 11:57 AM
Avi from NYC

Great episode, as usual. I just want to mention that you might want to preface the episode (or particular segments) when there's mention of sex in the discussion. I play the shows for my 8 year old nephew and the last thing I need is him asking me what it means for frogs to be having sex in the pond. This American Life does this whenever the subject is mentioned.

Nov. 21 2012 02:16 AM

This podcast is flawed in a way that surprises me. The studies you mention with rodents are useless unless you control for heredity. It is not enough to study the mice who are tenderly cared for by their mother as opposed to those not licked enough and announce the differences shows the advantage of a good environment. You must do the same study taking the offspring of the caring mouse and putting it with an uncaring mother and vice versa. Otherwise the caretaking genes are in effect in the offspring and you cannot say their lack of neuroticism is solely due to environment. This kind of error is rife in psychological studies. There are abundant twin studies as well as studies of adopted children which show that neuroticism is entirely heritable no matter the environment.

Nov. 20 2012 10:08 PM
Mark from Milwaukee

Excellent podcast, as always.

Please excuse me for bringing this up, but the last segment practically begs for it to be mentioned. I found it surprising that Radiolab seemed to give emotional weight to pro-life arguments in the segment "What if there was no Destiny?" Especially in the segments where Pat feels conflicted about the morality of preventing hypothetical children from being conceived, and how he finds it almost inconceivable to imagine that Destiny wouldn't change her stance when faced with the fact that she wouldn't have existed if her birth mother had stopped having children. Even Jad and Robert, at the end, seemed to give credibility to not preventing childbirth when they mused about the "seven out of eight" figure. Of course, it's up to the listener to decide what they think about the subject... but you don't often hear something that is this sympathetic to pro-life that isn't in the conservative religious right.

You might say that this last segment had nothing to do with abortion, but where do we draw the line between women choosing to not conceive children and women choosing to not carry their child to term? Most of the arguments for Barbara can be made for abortion rights, and most of the arguments against Barbara can be made against abortion.

Nov. 20 2012 08:27 PM

Another masterpiece. Radiolab just gets better and better.

Nov. 20 2012 07:47 PM
Richard from nebraska

Team Barbara! I don't think that eugenics argument holds water. Most slippery slope arguments don't.

Nov. 20 2012 12:31 PM
Sally from Buffalo, NY

Once again, a spectacualr and enlightening episode! I feel conflicted about Barbara's quest as well, but I also deeply respect the fact that she took action. However, I do think that the issue of "destiny" is sort of a slippery subject. - Cheers

Nov. 20 2012 11:30 AM
Aleksandra from Poland

I haven't listen yet, but I think it is FINALLY sciency podcast. Thanks. = )

Nov. 20 2012 10:43 AM

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