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REBROADCAST: Detective Stories

Monday, July 11, 2011 - 07:00 PM

Man ducking into phone booth Man ducking into phone booth (Pure'n'Simple/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

We're celebrating summer with a classic episode of Radiolab--full of mystery, intrigue...and a goat standing on a cow. We haven't actually tried listening to it around a campfire, but we're betting it would totally work. See you in two weeks with a new short!

In the meantime, we go sleuthing to dig up the past in some very unusual places: an ancient trash dump in Egypt, the side of the highway in California, and in the blood of 16 million men in Central Asia. Read more (from guest names to listener comments) on the Detective Stories episode page.


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Comments [42]

evie from Boston

I'm going through episodes now as well. I have nothing new to say but I wanted to make sure that it keeps being said. Genghis Kahn raped women. Probably hundreds of them, maybe thousands? Then left them with his children while he left and raped more women. It doesn't matter how long ago it was because it still happens today. It was and is important to note this. He did not have sex with women, he raped them. By avoiding that one word you minimized its importance and as such are contributing to sexism.

Feb. 15 2018 10:10 AM

This is an all time great. Thanks.

Mar. 18 2015 10:54 AM

I discovered Radiolab fairly recently and have been listening back through old episodes. It's such a great show. You guys are incredibly talented. I have been listening at work and have found myself working late so I can listen to "just one more."

A part of this episode disturbed me, though. When I got here to leave my comment I saw that other listeners had the same reaction. Why minimize the fact that rape was used as a systematic tactic of war by Gengis Kahn? You could have briefly explained this, and then gone on to tell the rest of story and it would have been just as interesting. Of course, it would have made the giddiness people expressed when they thought they might be descendants of Gengis Khan seem a little sickening.

Though I still found this episode interesting, I feel that it is belittling to all rape victims and those who are at greatest risk for rape. It should be no surprise that most of the listeners who called you out for this are women, and most of your defenders are men. Just for a moment, try to put yourself in our shoes. Better yet, try to imagine your are one of the women Gengis Kahn raped. That is a story worth telling with honesty.

Mar. 06 2015 07:01 PM

@Geena, calling forced sexual intercourse "rape" isn't about judging the past, but rather accurately describing the past. I agree with other posts: the omission of the word "rape" in this story was notable, strange and disturbing.

Feb. 25 2013 08:17 PM

It's a real shame when clueless adult-children with skin thinner than paper get so upset over a word or a phrase, especially when they take it out of context and completely discard the way it is said, and the meaning behind it.

Then they still have the audacity to demand a public apology, an apology for their own narrow mindedness, intolerance and just downright stupidity. And to those who so called 'threaten' to cease listening to Radiolab? Two words; Good riddance.

Jul. 19 2012 01:27 AM

As both a woman and a human of Asian descent (meaning it's quite possible my dad could be one of these modern descendants), I don't find myself agreeing with the offended commentators here. Isn't this diction-based argument incredibly moot?

First of all, I never expect Radiolab to be a bulwark of being politically correct. Although the show is editorial in nature, I have to highlight ecorocket's comment: this show is about detecting the story, not judging. That's why I like it so much. Secondly, the perspective of this episode was largely scientific and anthropologic. Science is generally not concerned with empathy, bottom line. Excuse me for saying it this way, but keeping that in mind when listening to Radiolab will keep you from being butthurt. I see comments like this on every episode, without fail. If you don't project your own emotional or political agenda or stance on the show and take the show for what it is, instead of picking apart the things you don't like about it, you will find yourself enjoying it much more.

Jul. 02 2012 04:17 PM
hari from bangalore

All the guys who have problem with "having sex" reference should be ashamed for distorting the message of entire episode and You owe Radiolab an apology.Its not exactly an eye opener that back when kingdoms were invaded they killed men and took women.

Jun. 01 2012 12:38 PM

I agree with the comments: it's important to call rape rape, and not refer to it as 'having sex'. Really disappointing.

Feb. 21 2012 01:54 PM
Eleonore from Minneapolis, MN

I just heard this and was really shocked that Radiolab didn't call a "duck" a "duck:" that Genghis Khan was successful due to rape. If it looks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it's probably RAPE, guys. Come on. There are so many uncomfortable moments here where they just skip over the facts: "keep the pretty ones," being able to "command" harems of hundreds of women, etc. Rape is not a "judgment call" in these cases, and to call it such exposes the politics of people who don't want to see facts. It's a show about science, folks, and the real world is sometimes dark and scary, but science still seeks to tell the truth, the reality, the facts. It's people who are uncomfortable with facing those truths that seek to squelch it. I'm not sure that Jad & Robert actively repressed the accurate terminology, but it's clear that many commenters here would choose to do so.

Just to contrast: there have been many, many other episodes on other topics where the uncomfortable, dark side of humanity and reality is at the very least acknowledged. I mean, they just did a whole "Bad" episode, but even outside of that, they've been able to at least nod to the ugly reality of life while still celebrating and geeking out over the magic of it. I'm really disappointed that they chose not to do that in this case.

Feb. 05 2012 11:23 PM
Nate F

I too was a bit surprised that no one on the show acknowledged Kahn's "success" as rape, but then again, just about everyone who listened to the program understood it for what it was. Is it really asking too much that the listener make a few personal know, think for themselves a little bit and draw their own conclusions?

Every story has multiple ways of looking at it. In this episode, the guys decided to look at the wonder and fascination of one man being the ancestor of such a huge percentage of the modern population.

Another view could certainly look at the horrors of the Conquer and Rape strategy of Ghengis Kahn, and shine a light on the uncomfortable fact that what has made people evolutionary successful (and thus, the traits that have flooded our own genetic makeup) was not always so pleasant.

You could look at any story from the past and find elements of racism, sexism, torture, infanticide, mutilation, or any number of horrible Human Maladies that were much more commonplace in the past than in the present. But you don't have to throw out the wonder and mystery of the past, just because much of it is written in blood.

Sep. 03 2011 08:48 AM
David Henderson from Columbia, Missouri

There may be more truth in the trash then on the bookshelves. I know that I for one, would rather read the pages and chapters from the autobiography that was thrown away than the one that was published.

Sep. 01 2011 12:28 PM
ecorocket from chicago

I agree with the semantics statement. Look at the topic of the show and I believe you will find that they stuck to the subject well. Science and anthropology is often offensive for people to hear and talk about but that is not the case here. This show is about detecting not judging the past.

Aug. 28 2011 01:55 AM

I too became fascinated with old papers when I inherited a leather bound book written in cursive by my relatives in the 1850's "The Family Gazette". I had to transcribe it into the computer to read it. Many words are now archaic but the spell check recognized them! They had nick names that I had to decipher but eventually I had enough information to do a genealogy search and found their graves in NY. Also I found a letter in the Lincoln library referring to the grandmother in my book and spelling out each family member's name. I had most of them right. When the youngest went off to serve in the Civil War, I began to cry. My son asked why and I replied, "Because he's probably going to die," to which he replied, "Mom, they're all dead." I could totally relate to getting caught up in someone's life through reading their papers. I am sure to write down our opinions and life events now for a relative 150 years from now!

Aug. 24 2011 03:03 PM

@Erik The Khanster? Seriously? That is nothing less than a linguistic pat on the back.

How long ago does rape have to have occurred in order for us to laugh about it? A few hundred years? A hundred? Fifty?

There are plenty of people laughing about more recent rapes- just ask the survivors that have to deal with their assaults being trivialized. I expect more from you, Radiolab.

Aug. 07 2011 02:56 AM
Erik from Michigan

Had to chime in about the Khanster - Excellent chunk of audio, that segment. It's the absurdity of you two that kept me coming back to this website (only to run out of shows months ago), and the Ghengis Khan rape business is no different. It's ancient history, it happened, there's nothing we can do about it now but laugh. Lighten up folks, it happened lifetimes ago.

Now, had the story been about someone alive, well and conducting such acts, that's a different story.

Aug. 03 2011 09:47 AM

Dear Radio Lab:
I completely agree with the disturbed comments regarding Genghis Kahn's rape tactics. When the mystery began to reveal itself, coinciding with the eerily swelling music, I assumed my goose bumps were the reaction the show intended; I thought I was being primed to be horrified by the extent of the atrocities carried out by a single human. When the show went on with an absurdly lighthearted tone, almost an admiring one, it seriously gave me the creeps. How did you guys over look this? Maybe you need a few more women in the editing room because your listeners are feeling a little alienated. Please address this!

Aug. 03 2011 12:44 AM
Ken from St. Louis

Can anyone identify (and share) the name of the song and artist that played between segments (acoustic guitar with a mantra style to it)?

Jul. 31 2011 12:29 AM

I'm a little behind the times on this one, but I just caught up with my podcasts recently and had to weigh in on the Genghis Khan story. I agree with the earlier comment that the Y chromosome defect seems much likely to have spread so far if it was common among all (or many) of the invading Mongols, not just Genghis Khan. It's often said that winners right the history books, but in the case of the Mongol conquest, the opposite was true. Until Genghis Khan's era, the Mongols had no written language, so most of the tales of their conquest came from the (understandably) resentful peoples they conquered. If the "The Secret History of the Mongols," the Mongol account of their conquests written after Genghis Khan's death, is to be believed, all of his wars because of the love he had for his wife. His wife, Borte was been kidnapped by a rival tribe. When he was finally able to rescue some months later, she had been forcibly married to another man and was pregnant with a son. Genghis Khan never questioned the paternity of her son, and raised him as his own. A slightly different story than the one usually told about him.

Jul. 29 2011 08:33 PM

What a great episode! So glad they dug it up to share again. I'm completely fascinated by the Egyptian dump. I also chuckled at "goats like to stand on cows" because it is SO TRUE! My experience is more with goats on cars and lambs on sheep, but it didn't strike me funny (I kept thinking to myself, "of course they think this is really bizarre. They're from NYC.)

It was also a reminder of how wonderful it is that RL has moved away from overuse of echo effects! (I say it with love, guys!) When my husband first started listening, I couldn't even make it through a podcast because of the production style, but they've toned it down and kept it fun, so hooray for both awesome old topics from the past and more mature and experienced styling of the present.

Jul. 29 2011 01:33 PM
Dani from Houston, TX

FYI - Oxford is now making the papyrus fragments available online to help speed the process of decoding them! Even though I don't know Aramaic or Greek it's an interesting website to poke around.

Jul. 28 2011 03:08 PM
Big Daddy

Listening to the story about the scholars piecingtogether the papyrus fragments to tediously, I thought of DNA sequencing where the dna is chopped up ( to be multiplied) and then stitched back together mathmatically. Perhaps a similar process could be used.

Jul. 27 2011 12:30 PM
J. J. from Louisville, KY

What was the video referred to in the podcast?

Jul. 26 2011 11:22 PM

It's sad to see such nitpicking about semantics. There is no value judgment in "had sex," at least, in my dictionary. If they said "impregnated," would it make a difference? I believe some people are seeing offenses where there are none. Perhaps those people should apologize to Radiolab for jumping to conclusions--after all, there is no more enlightened program on the air.

Jul. 22 2011 03:03 PM
Paul M

I saw this in the news, it reminded me of the people finding the letters strewn by the highway:

Jul. 22 2011 08:23 AM
Ely from Austin, TX

By the way, I enjoyed it too but ghenghis certainly does seem a questionable character. He probably had a theory about raising an army for his empire and spreading his seed. This combined with the opportunistic nature of a dictator often times leads to shady character development. He was super shady.

Jul. 21 2011 08:20 PM
Ely from Austin, TX

By the way, I enjoyed it too but ghenghis certainly does seem a questionable character. He probably had a theory about raising an army for his empire and spreading his seed. This combined with the opportunistic nature of a dictator often times leads to shady character development. He was super shady.

Jul. 21 2011 06:46 PM
Ely from Austin, TX

Donald, we should always be cautious of things we don't see for ourselves. Even things we do see for ourselves. The universe plays accidental tricks with all this energy and matter floating around.

Jul. 21 2011 06:34 PM

I loved Radiolab up until listening to the story about Genghis Khan and how he "had sex" with so many women, not to mention calling him successful for doing so. I am appalled and disgusted at the language used here. The lack of acknowledgement that what he was doing was rape makes it seem sanctioned and as if the forcing women into sex is a right afforded to anyone who "conquers" them.

I am glad to see others have taken issue with this as well. Radiolab, please apologize and address this, or you will be losing a listener.

Jul. 20 2011 02:03 PM
Donald McGee from Fishers, IN

STikFAS.. I agree with what you say there. But my worldview doesn't matter. I am talking history and archaeology... not theology, and the truth is, this is one small piece of information stacked up against mounds of information, and it must be weighed accordingly. I am just looking for science... not tabloid speculation. I love this program and I expect more.

Too bad your dog ate your Bible... you should really look at where that book comes from and how you got it. KJV or not. (I use the NASB anyway)

Jul. 19 2011 04:01 PM

Actually you must also consider that my dog ate my King James Bible and therefore it is ALSO in a trash heap somewhere. Most want to discard ideas especially about Jesus our what Jesus said because it doesn't fit into their world view. Perhaps it was thrown away for a reason and not because the writing was garbage but that the object it was written on or in WAS for some reason.

Jul. 18 2011 09:38 PM
Donald McGee from Fishers, IN

You must consider, that the fragments of the "Jesus Papers" were found in a garbage heap... not in some library or collection. There were numerous writings that were forgeries, and thus discarded. There is more to consider than the age of the paper. There is the completeness of the copies, the number of the copies and the consistency of the copies. In church history, the Byzantine scribes are considered to be more careful than the Alexandrian scribes. So, even though the Alexandrian manuscripts may be older, they may be less trustworthy. You can't change history with a few scraps or paper from a garbage heap.

Jul. 18 2011 03:52 PM
Donald McGee from Fishers, IN


Yes, that part is in Revelation 13. The Mark of the Beats IS in the New Testament. The part about summoning or repelling the Beast with the number is nowhere in the New Testament.

Jul. 18 2011 03:46 PM
Sara from Pennsylvania

The portion of this podcast about finding the letters along the side of the highway reminded me of something that happened to my friends a couple of years ago. While walking through a graveyard, they discovered a half-burned exercise book. Inside, there were dozens of entries that looked like letters written from a boy to a girl. It was a sad, amusing tail of unrequited love. With a little bit of sleuth work, we even found the people in the notebook online! It was a fun way to spend a cold winter afternoon, but it ended there!

Jul. 18 2011 08:24 AM
Greg Jackson from North Platte, NE

Versions of 666. "the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." It's simple. The earlier text translated the number as 616. Later texts translated the number as 666.
6.16 - 6.66 ; as the perception of the "beast" progressed, so has the version. PS- I haven't slept for a while (sorry).

Jul. 15 2011 09:24 PM

I second Jen--I just listened to the Ghenghis Khan podcast. Fascinating, but please call rape what it is.

Jul. 15 2011 03:03 AM
Diane from Boise, Idaho, USA

I love your podcast, and this is a great one. I wonder if the Genghis Khan researchers have considered studying any known descendents of his. The rulers of the Ottoman empire, which existed well into the 20th century, were descendents of his, and I would think getting DNA from one of them, while not conclusive, would certainly corroborate their theory.

Jul. 15 2011 12:08 AM

Genghis's kin, even distant ones, probably carried the same Y chromosome. They fought along side him and fathered along side him; so, the mutation only proves descent from the Mongel raiders and their common ancestor.

Jul. 13 2011 10:31 PM
Jen from Vancouver, BC

One thing stuck out, alarmingly, as i listened: the claim that Genghis Khan "had sex" with these supposedly hundreds of women. I seriously doubt that the women (and young girls, no doubt) he "slept with" were all willing participants who chose of their own free will to be in those brothels. Call it what it is, he was a rapist. Kind of a disgusting whitewash, guys, far below what I've come to expect of you. I guess no one wants to be thought of as a descendent of a rapist, though.....better to think of him as a virile conqueror.

Otherwise, I adore the show, you guys do great work - more episodes please!

Jul. 13 2011 06:21 PM
Suzzie Derkins from TX

Donald - Isn't the 666 reference in Revelation? Wiki says 13:17–18. "And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."

Jul. 12 2011 02:31 PM
Michelle from NYC, NY

The nonchalant cow has just finished, wherein I was on the edge of my earphones throughout, and moved to tears twice - and there is more to come! Oh, frabjous day caloo calay she chortled in her joy (but could not recall the correct spelling). You are just the best ever radio experience always! Thanks.

Jul. 12 2011 08:37 AM
Donald McGee from Indianapolis, Indiana

Let me start by saying "I love Radio Lab," and I get excited every time I look down at my Zune and see a new podcast! Having said that, can I please ask for a little care and accuracy in statements you make. I wias listenning to the Dectective Stories podcast on my way to work, and when Jad mentioned the "sign of the Beast (666 or 616 as you state)", Jad stated that you used the number to summon or to repel the Beast. Then he stated, "it's all in the New Testament." That is nowhere in the New Testament. It may be in some obscure writing somewhere else, but it is nowhere in the canonical books of the New Testament. Please be careful when you make these statements. I hope all of the other things I have learned on Radio Lab are more carefully documented. I would hate to feel the doubt that these reckless claims arouse about everything I hear on the broadcast.

Jul. 12 2011 08:24 AM
Michelle from NYC, NY

The nonchalant cow has just finished, wherein I was on the edge of my earphones throughout, and moved to tears twice - and there is more to come! Oh, frabjous day caloo calay she chortled in her joy (but could not recall the correct spelling). You are just the best ever radio experience always! Thanks.

Jul. 12 2011 12:57 AM

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