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Sleepless in South Sudan

Monday, October 31, 2011 - 07:00 PM

Carl Zimmer Carl Zimmer (The Story Collider)

Carl Zimmer is one of our go-to guys when we need help untangling a complicated scientific idea. But in this short, he unravels something much more personal.

One night 14 years ago, Carl Zimmer woke up in the middle of the night in a panic. He was in South Sudan to research a collection of terrible, deadly diseases--like sleeping sickness and a particularly virulent strain of malaria--that plagued the region. As he looked up at the moon, he noticed several holes in his mosquito netting, and his brain began to spin through the grim possibilities.

Without giving too much away, Carl goes on to tell the story of how he found himself in that tent with the torn netting in the first place. And he explains how what happened that night changed his life.

Carl's story was recorded in a basement in Brooklyn for The Story Collider, a live event series, podcast, and soon-to-be magazine focusing on stories of how people from all backgrounds experience science in their personal lives.

Read more from Carl Zimmer (or check out a full list of his many books on his web site):

Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures

Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed


Carl Zimmer


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Comments [22]

Will from NYC

I listened to all that, but after all 23 minutes I still do not understand if there was a point anywhere in there. Something relating to life, death, perspective, and travel? But lots of rambling....


Jan. 01 2015 02:44 AM

Correct summary?: It seems to me that through his loss, he became a hypochondriac. Then he seems to realize it's all in his head, but he can't stop it. It then becomes sort of a struggle of life and death for him everyday, and finally he reaches some sort of epiphany through his studies and life experience that THIS is the point of life on this planet. Evolution forces us to fight death to the bitter end because there is reason and beauty in it.

Jul. 15 2012 03:05 PM
Aurora Murphy from Adelaide, SA

Thank you Radio Lab! I am a new listener (recommended through This Amercian Life) and this episode has embelished on my brain in a beautiful way. I like realising how my life is connected to science - only months ago (pre-Radio Lab!) I would have derided or merely ignored anything seemingly 'scientific'. Your show, and particularly this one, brings humanity and pizazz to seemingly dull subject matters.

Feb. 19 2012 12:24 AM

I just discovered Carl Zimmer's book Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed. My respect for him just doubled...

Jan. 24 2012 03:19 AM
Rachel from Washington

Zimmer's story of how he became a writer inspired me to sit down and figure out how my experience in Africa and other parts of my life, both the difficult and the wonderful, resulted in me becoming a scientist. This is truly one of the most inspiring personal narratives I have ever heard and it helped me gain some insight into how a current path in life can result from many different events. Thank you for this.

Jan. 10 2012 02:21 PM
Troy Body from South Sudan

I listened because I am currently in South Sudan. It is interesting to hear other people's past situations. Yes, the story rambled - I guess he tried to humanize it - but, not a bad listen on public radio.

Nov. 25 2011 05:32 AM
Nicole from Vancouver

I thought this was a wonderful story. Being a young cancer widow myself, it was interesting to hear insight on how someone came full circle to coming to terms with the loss and self realization of our own mortality.

Thanks as always Radiolab for the good shows!

Nov. 23 2011 01:05 PM
Chelsea from Portland, OR

Oh, so good! Came back from East Africa about a year ago so really anything about it gets me, but this one really made me smile. Perfect mix of heart wrenching/warming and humor per usual.. They admit in the beginning of the short that it's a bit different than their usual, and I like how personal and emotional he gets, it's a nice change up.

It's only a short commenting-people, don't get your panties in a bunch, there will be next week if it didn't appeal to you.

Nov. 15 2011 03:59 PM

So I just started listening to Radiolab... This episode brought it all back for me...

Exactly 14 years ago this January, I was staying in a hut in the UN camp in Lokichoggio, Kenya on the Sudan border (where the airstrip described in the story is). I was trying to get into the country (whole other story, that) and my second night, a mosquito found a hole in my net and got me on the foot. I contracted malaria and made it back to Nairobi in bad shape. I hadn't been taking my pills for long and they hadn't kicked in, I guess. It was an adventure... Thanks for the reminder. :)

Nov. 14 2011 12:51 PM

that was interesting. these commenters listen to Radiolab regularly and found this utterly confusing and pointless? wow. sad

Nov. 11 2011 04:08 PM
Vince from Dana Point, CA

I couldn't listen to the whole program, which is unheard of when it comes to RadioLab. (Usually I park, then sit in my car until the program is over before exiting.) Seems like the program hosts were just on holiday for this one.

Nov. 08 2011 10:59 PM
C from Boston, MA

While this is not a bad episode, when is radiolab going to stick to it's roots and do more scientifically exploratory episodes like Animal Minds, Numbers, or Time? I love radiolab, but sometimes its a bit too anecdotal for my tastes.

Nov. 08 2011 02:02 AM

I've always liked Carl Zimmer's writing, so it was wonderful to see the background of how he got to this point and what inspired him along the way.
No, it wasn't written exactly like a standardized test essay with an introduction, middle, and concluding paragraph, but it was easy to follow. When you reflect on your own life, some things bubble up with more detail and importance than others. I thought it was well done.

Nov. 06 2011 01:01 PM
Helen from Philadelphia

I thought this was an incredibly crafted story. Not linear, but not without point or structure. I appreciated his unconventional approach to topics on which it can be hard to find an original spin - life, death, love, loss and the human condition of always needing to move forward.

Well done, RadioLab. As always.

Nov. 05 2011 09:36 PM
ListeninginNJ from usa

Wow, very interesting but told in a very random way. The endings of some sentences had nothing to do with their beginnings. Reminded me of how my mother-in-law talks. Very hard to follow. He should have thought in what order he's going to talk about things prior to just saying whatever comes to mind.

Nov. 05 2011 09:22 PM

People, it's a story about life and death, and Karl's experiences with science and writing, and how they all came together to affect his view of life. If you didn't like it, there's always next week, but no need to get bent out of shape.

Nov. 04 2011 06:56 PM

And the point is ?

I am actually really sad by his sterotypcal view about places like south sudan. I am from Ethiopia and people live in full health and some get sick So do people in other parts of the World including USA

Didn't like it AT all

Nov. 04 2011 05:35 PM
Dan from Brooklyn

I just listened to another podcast on your podcast.

I'm a huge fan and I really felt Carl's story, so thanks for sharing. It just doesn't feel like RadioLab without, at the very least, some reflection from our hosts.

Whatever, how often do you get it wrong? Much love.

Nov. 04 2011 11:55 AM

Thumbs up to Carl because of his connections and contributions to Radiolab.

I find this piece valuable in terms of it giving a closer look into the Radiolab family.

On the other hand it's not classic Radiolab stuff. No cool production of audio editing and layering and no interesting science based information, just a personal discussion.

Nov. 04 2011 11:50 AM

This guy rambles. What IS his point??

Nov. 02 2011 04:49 PM

This guy rambles. What IS his point??

Nov. 02 2011 04:47 PM

I didn't get the point of the talk. I'll read comments and then listen again and see if it becomes clear.

Nov. 02 2011 01:56 PM

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