Return Home

In Defense of Cheats

Back to Episode

Carl Zimmer plays defense lawyer, trying to exonerate parasites for their wrongs, while Jad and Robert argue in defense of the victims. Our producer Lulu Miller comes in to moderate a lightning round of: "Parasites: are they evil, or are they awesome?" The parasites in question are the zombie wasp, the nematode, and the lovey-dovey blood fluke.

Comments [20]

Tom Moritz from Los Angeles

Charles Darwin to Asa Gray (Correspondence, May 22, 1860:
"With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other hand I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.— Let each man hope & believe what he can.";query=ichneumonidae;brand=default

Sep. 05 2016 06:55 PM
stefan from Montana

yes, there are a mumber of parasitic wasps with similar life strategies and even wierder ones. And there are fungi that attack insects, turning them into 'zombies' see Penn State News There are other fungi that cause their victims to crawl to the tops of vegetation and grasp plant stem with a death grip, before they die. The fungus then produces lots of spores, shooting them off onto surrounding area, hopefully contacting more hosts. When there is an outbreak, one can see hundreds of infected caterpillars, grasshoppers, all dead on the tops of plants. One reason I became a bugdoc -- insect pathologist

Sep. 03 2016 01:43 PM
Carl from vermont

Yep; one of the best episodes of RL so far.

Apr. 12 2016 06:57 PM
peeter from Pk

Allergy According to study, gut parasites could hold the key to increasingly common conditions such as eczema, asthma and hay fever. these parasitic worms

Mar. 17 2015 05:23 AM
Full Spectrum Mama from vermont

A few years ago i was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
A year after that I started having terrible diarrhea. They couldn't figure out what was causing the diarrhea and settled on IBS, another autoimmune inflammatory condition. At the same time, my RA seemed to miraculously go mostly into remission.
Last week, I pooped out an 8" skinny, dead helminth worm.
Last night I heard this program. The bit about parasites and autoimmune disorders BLEW MY MIND. My partner and I sat there with jaws GAPING.
Long story short I genuinely suspect my worms are keeping my RA at bay.

Oct. 16 2014 10:43 AM
Sonny Goldstein from Atlanta

Regarding toxoplasmosis: it is not uncommon for toxoplasma to infect the retina and cause some degree of focal blindness I.e. blindspot(s). I did not know that the infected population has more traffic accidents. This could be the cause.

Jul. 21 2013 09:40 PM
Michelle Akin from by the city, by the zoo

Ugh, just ugh. I went back and forth between trying to listen and almost having to shut it off. And then? That circus organ kicked in and my spine began to tingle. Esther? As if that song was not creepy enough already it is now linked with the horrific image of cockroaches and wasps and all of that jazz, thanks so much. Really, though, I love this show and this is why.

Jun. 07 2013 04:17 PM
Tom from Boston

To Amy from Florida:
The song is 'You Do Something to Me' by Dean Elliot And His Big Band

Used Shazam to Identify it, you should try it out

Jan. 05 2013 03:48 PM

Definitely helped me to think out of the box.

Aug. 19 2012 01:10 PM
Dale S. from New Orleans

I was really left hanging with the victim of the blood flukes. "OK, you've got blood flukes. You feel terrible. You picked them up 40 years ago in Africa." What then? Does the person die, is there a treatment, or are they doomed to feeling lousy for the rest of their miserable life?

Aug. 18 2012 03:40 PM
josh schaake

The "parasites" episode, was my first ! Now a veteran Radio Lab junkie. I have
officially"downloaded" every podcast and can not wait for my next fix ! - Shocky

Oct. 01 2010 08:10 PM
Steven Goldsmith from Portland, OR

My sympathies to Mr. Jasper Lawrence for the suffering he endured and kudos for his resourcefulness and courage in
inflicting upon himself his hookworm treatment. However by his methods he has unwittingly mimicked the limitations of conventional medicine, which cures few of us and instead replaces one disease with another disease or set of side effects. Parasitic infestation unfortunately is not health. Perhaps Mr. Jasper and listeners may be interested in learning more about alternative systems of healing which strengthen people so that they need not harbor either allergies or parasites.

Jul. 31 2010 07:12 PM
Amy from Florida

At the very end of this clip, but only in the full version, there is a goofy, big band song played - what is it? It sounds like something Spike Jones would do, with all the different sound effects. Please please please give the music credits???

Jul. 12 2010 09:35 PM
Alice from Minneapolis, MN

I am very interested in the link between Toxoplasma infection and schizophrenia being my mother has schizophrenia and my sister and I both have seizures. I think I will be looking into this further out of pure curiosity. Anyone with any information or comments along this topic, please feel free to post back. Love to hear 'em...

Feb. 24 2010 03:47 PM
Phil from Seattle

I did really enjoy this episode. But I wanted to see the pictures, and the links are all broken, except the ant one.

Jan. 19 2010 07:13 PM
Tara from Miami Beach

This show just blew my mind!! I just finished listening on my local NPR station, and I have to commend RL on one of the best shows I've ever listened to. I have been a severe asthmatic/allergic to pollen and season changes for about 23 years (since I was 2), and I found the piece on hookworms to be particularly intriguing, educational, fascinating, bizarre and amazing. Thanks for a great show... Now I have to track down Jasper to buy myself some parasites!

Jan. 17 2010 08:14 PM
Nancy from San Diego, CA

Great program. I was fascinated and have been telling everyone about the intelligent, brain surgeon wasp and the loving worm all week.

Jan. 02 2010 03:07 AM
Joel B from Atlantic Canada

Yep; one of the best episodes of RL so far.

Oct. 02 2009 03:32 PM
Cindy C

I caught this piece on my car radio during a bout of indecision about where to get lunch. I got so caught up in this very funny piece that I drove - slowly - to 4 or 5 different lunch spots, more from the desire to just listen to the piece than the desire to eat. The parasites are definitely smarter & more efficient.

Oct. 02 2009 01:44 PM
steve reeder

I read Parasite Rex, and I highly recommend it, to anyone who is interested in this topic.
That said, I would love to hear the entire interview with Carl Zimmer, he's always fascinating.

Sep. 16 2009 10:56 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.