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Science Communication

Deborah Blum talks about her new book with Stereo Chemistry

The renowned science writer joined our podcast to discuss the chemist and experiment behind the ‘The Poison Squad.’

by Lisa M. Jarvis
September 21, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 39

The following is a transcript of the episode. Be sure to subscribe to Stereo Chemistry on iTunes, Google Play, or TuneIn.

An image of the cover of Deborah Blum's new book, "The Poison Squad."
Credit: Penguin Press
Deborah Blum's new book, "The Poison Squad," will be available Sept. 25.

Deborah Blum: If you look at food in the 19th century, especially commercially produced industrially manufactured food, it was insanely bad. Milk was watered down. It was then recolored with chalk or plaster of Paris. Sometimes people would do fake cream by pureeing calf brains and floating them on top of the milk, which is just like really disgusting. And then because it was both watered and not produced in sterile circumstances, people would dump preservatives in it. And that’s where you really see formaldehyde come into play, because formaldehyde is a great milk preservative. It actually disguises the breakdown of some of the proteins. And it’s sweet. So it would restore some of the fresh taste of milk. They had epidemics of children who died in orphanages from the use of formaldehyde in milk before we took it out of the food supply.

Lisa (in studio): At the turn of the 20th century, the state of America’s food supply was atrocious. One chemist–employing some questionable methods–set out to fix it. That’s the subject of this podcast and the new book, “The Poison Squad,” written by science journalist extraordinaire Deborah Blum.

I’m C&EN senior correspondent and Stereo Chemistry book club founder Lisa Jarvis. Last month, I got to sit down with Deborah in her office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to talk about “The Poison Squad,” which hits your local bookstores on Sept. 25.

If Deborah’s name sounds familiar, it should. She’s the current director of MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program, and publisher of the nonprofit digital magazine Undark. Full disclosure, she’s also a member of C&EN’s advisory board.

Deborah’s written several great books, including “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” which is a thriller about the birth of forensic science, and “The Monkey Wars,” which explores the use of primates in research. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for reporting on that topic for The Sacramento Bee.

Now, with the “The Poison Squad,” Deborah gives us a meticulously researched look at how Harvey Wiley, despite significant opposition from industry and from inside the government, managed to get that Pure Food and Drug Act passed in 1906. Not only did it ban adulterated or mislabeled products, it eventually led to the creation of the U.S. FDA. Without Wiley, we might still be drinking our milk with a side of formaldehyde or dipping our fries in ketchup laced with rotting meat.

Deborah graciously hosted me at her office in Cambridge to talk about why she got so caught up in this one crusading chemist’s story and how her ideas about Wiley changed over the course of researching the book. And in the interview you’re about to hear, we also spent some time discussing how this story fits into the modern cultural and political climate. What would Wiley, who devoted his life to ensuring the safety of our food and drug supply, think of this administration’s efforts to limit the regulatory reach of the government?

We’ve edited the discussion for length and clarity.

Lisa (in Cambridge): I wanted to talk to you about your fascinating new book, “The Poison Squad.” I wonder if you could just start by telling us a little bit about Harvey Wiley and how you decided to choose him as the main character. How did you stumble upon—and maybe stumble upon isn’t the right word—but how did you find his story?

Deborah Blum: I mean, stumble is close. So I’m very interested in poison and I was looking up some of the early 20th century reports on different poisonings and I stumbled to, actually sort of backed into him because I had found this experiment he worked on that was nicknamed “the poison squad,” in which he was testing food additives on innocent government employees which you could not do today and I was so intrigued by that. Why would you do it? And how could you talk anyone into it? And who was this guy? So I went backward from there to try to figure it out. And in the course of going backwards I eventually realized that I had stumbled on something that’s a kind of forgotten story about America’s first great food safety chemist.

Lisa: So I wanted to ask if there was any part of your research where you started diving into this story and you thought, “This is a book.” Like, I got it.

Deborah Blum: My idea of what the book was changed as I did the research which happens all the time. I actually had an editor who said to me, I said, “Well, it’s nothing like my proposal.” And she goes, “Oh Deborah, that was only a proposal.”

So this particular book is the third book that I had done with my editor at Penguin Press. And for better or for worse, when I sold this book, I didn’t know the whole story. So I just wrote her a kind of letter. It was maybe five or six pages in which I said I think this could be a really cool story and here’s some of the issues that strike me as fascinating on the surface and then when I got into the book I was like, “Whoa, I completely did not know what that story was.” Mostly because I think I hadn’t appreciated the depths of the politics.

I am a science journalist, right. I was really thinking about the science of food and the chemistry of food and how we explore that. And afterwards, if you could picture me smacking myself in the head which I’m doing right now, I was like, “What was I thinking? This guy was a federal scientist. He was involved in the creation of our first great food and drug safety law. This is politics and American history.” And so I had to really go back and say well you know the chemistry of ketchup is a really fascinating thing—and it is actually—but it’s not my story. My story is this paradigm shifting idea of how we recognize what good food is, how we test for it, and how, if we’re lucky, we listen to the scientists and the science itself in figuring out how to set policy and protect everyone else who lives in the country.

Lisa: Had he not been successful, you know, let’s talk about some of the just truly almost stomach-turning things that people were adding to food. And I have to say that this book reinforced my belief that ketchup is a suspect condiment.

Deborah Blum: Yes! Early ketchup was really disgusting. And they had to pour all kinds of chemicals in it because they used a lot of rotting materials in it. It was super cheap.

There were other enormously—sometimes you can almost laugh at them—but enormous cheats. So one of the things they used to do to kind of extend brown sugar is they would grind up insects. And this is back in the day when grocers would have like barrels of sugar that they would scoop out for you. So there is then a condition called grocer’s itch because not all of the insects were fully ground and grocers would get like lice infestations and they would get other bug bites.

They got so proficient at faking coffee, which was often like dyed sawdust and stuff, but then they learned how to fake the coffee beans because people would go, “Oh, I’ll just get the beans. They can’t be fake.” So you can actually find fliers to grocers for fake coffee beans which could be made out of like wax and dirt. And then they would basically thin the coffee with these guys.

And they would put ground stone into flour. They would fake spices, like cinnamon or I’m thinking of red spices here, cayenne, they were almost always brick dust with a little bit of pepper flavoring or spice added to them. And they would grind up shells, seashells, coconut shells, burnt rope, you name it and it went into food. You know, honey was often just corn syrup dyed. But they had special molds to make fake honeycomb to float in it. So it wasn’t just that they were faking these things but they were like ingeniously faking these things.

And all of this was legal. From the poisoning of children with formaldehyde, to the complete fakery of you know maple syrup. There was no laws at all to regulate that. And every time someone tried to do it, the industry would beat it back. So it was really a crazy time.

In Europe, in Canada, they had some of these regulations, but the American “don’t tell me what to do…” There were actually chemists, there was a chemist in New York who wrote, “It’s the big problem for America.” The American independence. You can’t tell me what to do. It’s my right to poison food.


Lisa: I wanted to hear you, since you named it “The Poison Squad,” first, tell our listeners what the poison squad is.

Deborah Blum: From our perspective in the 20th Century, the Poison Squad experiment seems so entirely insane. Wiley actually called this experiment “hygienic table trials.” But the Washington Post, which was at that point really an enterprising newspaper, very creative, nicknamed it “the Poison Squad.”

And what he had decided, just to back up for a minute, he was the chief of the Bureau of Chemistry at the Department of Agriculture. There was no FDA. The Bureau of Chemistry is the forerunner of the FDA. But at that time Agriculture was responsible for food safety entirely. And his tiny little bureau, which was at least he started in the basement at USDA, was responsible for the food safety of the entire country. So he had been tracking problems with unregulated food because food was entirely unregulated by the federal government in the 19th century. And he started doing reports on this horrible quality of food. And he was tracking fraud and fakery.

But he also started worrying in the late 19th [century] as we see the use of more industrial chemistry in food, that we were throwing these things into food we had no idea what they were or how they affected people. And there was no safety testing. There was no requirement because there was no regulation and people were just like, “Oh well. No one’s dropping dead on the street.” Although some children were dying from the use of formaldehyde in food.

So he finally said how do I get people to take this seriously and how do I figure out what’s going on. And so he decided the way he would do it is he would just skip the animal testing and test human beings.

That today you could never do that. And so he actually persuaded a lot of young government workers to, I usually say flippantly, dine dangerously. But basically he offered them three free meals a day, if they would come and eat in a Department of Agriculture kitchen. And eat very healthy food and swallow capsules full of preservatives. And that was the poison squad experiment.

He actually did formaldehyde and had to call that off early. But he looked at borax. He looked at copper sulfate. He looked at sodium benzoate, which is still in the food supply today. So he’s really waiting for people to get sick in these experiments, which, in fact they did. And that experiment caught national attention and played a role in how we began to try to address the issues of unregulated food.

Lisa: When you went into the research, did you have any thoughts about who you expected Wiley was going to be? And did he turn out to be the person you thought he was going to be?

Deborah Blum: My idea of Wiley changed hugely in the course of the research. When I saw that experiment, I thought that’s such an incredible, risky experiment. And so the mental picture that I first had of this was of this incredibly inventive, risk-taking, out-there kind of chemist who you know was just almost like a free spirit of chemistry. Someone who would just gamble on people’s lives in this crazy way. And I expected him kind of to be like I said this kind of really out-there, unpredictable guy. He was not that. And I found myself disagreeing with him in ways that I hadn’t expected.

So he was born in the mid-19th century. He actually served briefly as a Union soldier in the Civil War. He got a chemistry degree from Harvard, which involved less than a year of study because this is the 19th century. And he had become very early on interested in issues of food fraud and safety when he was the first chemistry professor at Purdue University, which at that point had a faculty of six. So, you know, it was a very different time. But the other thing about him was that he was raised by a father who was deeply religious, was a lay preacher, was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and expected his children to crusade for a better world. So you see Wiley bringing both this incredibly new science of chemistry because—he described it as a wilderness, right—but we’re just getting started building a periodic table and figuring out what things are and how to synthesize them and he loved that part of it.

But he also felt that he had to use chemistry in this kind of higher more moral calling way. So you see him bringing, even to his job at USDA, this kind of religiously moral intensity. And he’s very inflexible about that. And he believes, I don’t think he was wrong about this, he believes that the government’s job is to protect the American citizen and consumer. That’s it. And everything else falls away and he takes that. I just I find this both admirable and frustrating. He takes that as the higher calling and he crusades and crusades and crusades and eventually wins, at least the first food safety law.

But he also, he just won’t compromise. And because he won’t compromise, some of the power that he could have had for good, I think gets taken away from him. So you see this almost like a Greek tragedy kind of thing with him in which he’s pushing for purer and better and safer food for all Americans. He’s completely right about what he wants, but he is always in the pulpit. I think. So you find people trying to rein him in and where as if he was a little more boringly pragmatic, he might have actually been more effective. And so I try to go without being judgmental in the book, you’re hearing may be a lot more judgmental than I am in the book. But I try to really describe this very precisely so that people can also say, “Well, here’s where I think he succeeded and here’s where I think he could have been stronger at what he did.” I mean, I want people to see him as the whole complicated person who only wants to do good. I mean it’s an interesting point. I only want to do good and I’m so unforgiving in my need to do good that I don’t do as much good as I wish.

Lisa: We’ll continue our interview with Deborah in a moment and get into how she thinks Wiley would view the state of food safety and regulation today. But first, a quick plug for another awesome project we have in the works for you at C&EN.

Carmen Drahl: Hi there! Carmen Drahl here. If you’re like me, you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the annual announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, coming up on Oct. 3. You can warm up for the big day with us on Sept. 27 as C&EN teams up with ACS Webinars to bring you our annual Nobel Prize predictions webinar. C&EN Executive Editor Lauren Wolf and I will be joined by panel of special guests as we discuss our picks for the prize, along with this year’s big chemistry ideas and a healthy dose of Nobel trivia.

The panel will include Nicole Gaudelli and Joseph Moran—both members of this year’s class of Talented 12 chemists—as well as UCLA’s Neil Garg, an organic chemist and award-winning chemistry instructor. You’ll be able to ask the panelist questions and even cast your own virtual vote.

Again, that webinar is on Sept. 27, at 2 PM Eastern. You can register for free on the ACS Webinars website; we’ll post a link in this episode’s description. And while you’re there, be sure to check out the full schedule of ACS webinars.

Now, back to the show.

Lisa (in studio): Coming back to my chat with Deborah, I couldn’t resist asking her to compare the lack of food safety in the 19th century with today’s infatuation with quote unquote, chemical-free food.

Lisa (in Cambridge): Your book obviously arrives at a time when consumers have or are being sold a preoccupation with natural and organic and chemical free as much as we..

Deborah Blum: So you can’t hear me rolling me eyes, but I’m rolling my eyes. Yes.

Lisa: And so, I think just a general mistrust of any sort of chemical additive. And I wonder if we could think about the context now of comparing the perception of adulteration then with how maybe people think about food now?

Deborah Blum: That’s a really smart point. I mean, one of the things that is going on here, and we’re talking about the rise of industrial chemistry, everyone is going, “Wow. We are we are smarter than nature. We can create all these things in the laboratory, we can mimic natural products.” We no longer have to use these low-level vegetable dyes because we make aniline coal tar dyes, which in fact we still use. And then they’re brighter and more beautiful. And so I think a lot of the zeitgeist then was sort of the wonder of science in a way that I think we’re a little bit more cautious about, how brilliant we are and how much smarter than nature we are today. And so I think people were much more excited about some of these synthetic things then and more trusting that it just was evidence of man’s incredible intelligence and ability to transform the world.

And this also comes up as a back story of the book. The American public is just like “Whatever.” So what that they’re pouring these compounds in the food? My milk lasts longer. My meat looks pinker. It took awhile right for people to start going–and some of it was Wiley’s Poison Squad experiments, but some of it was people dying. And some of it was this push by what they called pure food advocates to make people think differently. But for a while it was just like, “Wow. All of these things that nature can do we can do better.” We’re not like that now.

Lisa: So I think even though the details and circumstances are different, this book drops at a time, a political time when many of the themes feel familiar. And in your epilogue you talk about that a little bit and I wondered if you could just talk about how this book is positioned in today’s context and if Wiley were alive today, where he would be focusing his energy.

Deborah Blum: Yeah, I mean that was something I really increasingly thought about because as I said when I started the book I was just really thinking about crazy chemistry. And it was only as I was there spending hours and hours in the Library of Congress, which was wonderful to me actually, that I started thinking well you know really what I’m talking about is where we lay a foundation. This is one of the first consumer protection laws. We’re laying the foundation for the way we do consumer protection in this country. We’re regulating industries that don’t want to be regulated. We are politically compromising and working out the details of this, so you start seeing the creation of the way you do consumer protection policy in the United States. And the way the politics interferes with that and the way that money and power interferes with the way we do consumer protection. And I started realizing that my story was not only this sort of deepening understanding of how chemists can make us understand what makes food safe and not and how to apply that, but also sort of American consumer protection policy.

And that’s hugely relevant today because first, we’re in a point where we have an administration that is responding to what I always think is the myth of overregulation in the United States. You know we’ve been telling ourself this fairytale that we’re hugely overregulated. When, in fact, if you go and look at you know neighboring countries or the way that they do consumer protection policy in Europe, it’s much stricter in many cases and there’s many things that we allow in this country that are banned in Europe now. Because we don’t regulate the consumer-first degree that they do. We do this exact balance from my book which really looks at the insistence of the federal government that we accommodate industry as we do regulations. And our regulations have always been very industry accommodating.

So I wanted to really look at how we set that mindset and establish the way we do consumer protection. And then I wanted also to say something that I think we have to now really sort of almost take to the streets today, which is that maybe “regulation” is the wrong word for what we’re talking about because we’ve demonized that word. Maybe the word really is “consumer protection.” These are not regulations. These are consumer protective rules and that we have not done that well enough that to roll back the rules that we have which have saved countless lives, countless lives with food, with environmental policy, with pharmaceutical policies, the rules that we have put in place to protect the consumers who are at the receiving end of this industrial pipeline have saved hundreds and thousands if not millions of lives. And the fact that we don’t remember how dangerous food was doesn’t excuse us. And so I see my book as doing a couple of things. It’s a reminder of what the world was like and what the United States was like when we were just “whatever” with any what any corporation did. And it’s a reminder that we need to fight to preserve what we have.

Lisa: Kind of along those lines, one thing that I thought about when I was reading the book, you kind of saw when Wiley started to get some traction. Like the first little bit of traction came with this meat that had gone bad. People were getting sick. Soldiers were getting sick. It made me think about today, what is the group you know, what are these catalysts right, that sort of make people accept, I guess, regulation?

Deborah Blum: That’s a good point and I should say that when you just heard me do that big rant, that was Harvey Wiley rant. He would totally be out in the streets, pushing to save–and he fought to save regulations from the moment they came into place.

So the event you’re talking about was a famous scandal that we’ve all forgotten, which involved meat that was purchased by the army from the American meatpacking industry mostly in Chicago and shipped down Cuba where we were fighting the Spanish American War. And afterward there was a scandal that actually came from military officers who said that the meat that was served to the soldiers there was of such poor quality that it had poisoned them. And they felt that it was formaldehyde and they coined the phrase “embalmed beef” because formaldehyde was a popular body preservative especially after the Civil War. And later milk became known as a “embalmed milk.” Same kind of thing.

And there was one particular general who made such an enormous fuss about the serving of embalmed beef, supported by all kinds of different people—including Teddy Roosevelt who later testified publicly that he would rather eat this hat than have eaten these supplies—who went in and they caused such a fuss. And there were so many accusations the Army actually had to have two hearings. And their final hearing concluded that—and this will tell you a lot about what it was like—that the meat that was served to the Army was no worse than the meat that was sold in American grocery stores. All the meat contained these horrible preservatives, was poorly made, and basically sucked. And that was one of the things I think we see as kind of a tipping point because this was front page news all across the country.

The Chicago Tribune which was very friendly with the meat packing industry, put it on the front page and called it the “Beef Court.” And so people started writing in and saying, “Man, I don’t know about this.” And it was a coalition of groups on the issue of food. I don’t think we have quite that kind of coalition. We had all kinds of—and Wiley gave them a huge thanks—but all of the women’s groups. And this is a period before women can vote. So their political influence was in organizing and calling attention to things and educating other women. So you see women’s groups really taking on this issue and getting it out.

Even the people who are fighting for prohibition and the Carry Nations, they are taking on the issue of unsafe food and they’re writing letters and they’re pressuring congressmen. And one of the things, speaking of American history, that I didn’t appreciate was that back then, there were much more progressive states in the Midwest and the West and the South. Isn’t that fascinating? So you see like the states of North and South Dakota driving this discussion. You have state food commissioners from Utah and Wyoming saying, “This is completely unacceptable.” The legislators who were pushing food laws were quite often from Montana and some of these states that now seem to swing politically a different way. And the western states were the first states to allow women to vote. The old established East Coast states fought it. The South, never. But you see women really organizing around these things and getting information out and crusading for it and supporting Wiley when he’s trying to pressure legislature.

It really was an amazing time where you also start seeing the birth of consumer protection. Consumer Reports and the Consumer Protection League grows out of this exact time. And so I actually love, it’s the second book I’ve done in the kind of fizz of the early 20th century. I love the fizz of the early 20th century. There were so many things wrong with it and the way we treated people. I mean, I’m not defending that but it was like this really free-spirited, say-what-you-think kind of time in American history that brought all kinds of interesting people together.

Lisa: That coalition you talked about, I’m glad you brought up the role that women’s groups played in getting this kind of momentum going behind this issue. Because that was fascinating to me. I knew nothing about that.

Deborah Blum: I don’t think we give enough credit to all the work that women who had no voice in government because they couldn’t vote did in trying to shape the future of the country. And of course many of them are also fighting for a woman’s right to vote and Wiley’s wife, Anna, was actually arrested protesting the Woodrow Wilson White House and went to jail for it. So you see women really fighting and organizing and it pulled women together in really interesting ways.

And you see women deeply involved in education issues and social justice issues. Some of the—speaking of one of the issues we look at today is immigrants, which is you see women like Jane Addams setting up settlement houses to help these new immigrants get educated. And so there are so many things that remind me of today.

Lisa: Yeah. I think another theme that I’ll just touch on briefly because I can’t quite wrap my head around and I’d love your thoughts on this–whether it’s like today or diverges from today–which is the role that the media played. Because obviously one of the things you talk about and I thought this was fascinating, but kind of understanding the role that the media played in catalyzing some of those changes.

Deborah Blum: So everything we’re talking about is newspapers. Radio is not really there. So there’s millions of print publications at this point. I kind of love that and being a longtime journalist I am also kind of like, “Sniff, there used to be like 53 newspapers in New York or whatever, right.” And so you get a lot of different approaches.

There was a lot of sensationalistic media at the time. The Washington Post, in fact, when they were covering the poison squad trials, you just invented things. It drove Wiley crazy in the coverage of those trials. So you do see a lot of the sort of front page, stereotypical, flamboyant journalism of the time. Certainly that was famous during the Spanish American War. And you see newspapers taking one side or the other. So you’ll have a super crusading newspaper, you’ll have a super conservative newspaper.

I want to back up and say one more point. We’re all talking about newspapers. And at that time journalism was a deeply blue collar profession. We think of it now as more of a white collar, you go to college you get your journalism degree or your graduate degree. It tends to be a little bit more of a white collar profession, but at that time you know journalists are really down in the trenches, they don’t make any money, with the people they covered. And so a lot of newspaper coverage then, unless it was The Wall Street Journal or one of these business publications, was very sympathetic to the people who were at the receiving end of these bad policies.

And you really see this reflected in the way Wiley is covered, for instance. So that when he’s out crusading and when you see people actively, as both businesses and people in government trying to destroy his career, the newspaper coverage is almost 100% sympathetic to Wiley. And that was actually one of the weapons he was able to use. Everyone gets that he’s on the side of the poor schmuck who’s drinking poisoned milk because they can’t afford farm fresh milk.

Newspapers really saw him as this unique protective voice and I hadn’t actually thought about it till you mentioned it, but when I’m going through all of the newspaper clippings covering these different confrontations he has with people in government who are trying to shut him down, there are 99.9% almost sympathetic to Wiley because the people who are writing them are exactly the people were getting screwed over by the fact that food is dangerous.

And so you see a very sympathetic press to Wiley and you see this really, actually a political awareness of this by Teddy Roosevelt, by William Howard Taft, by Wiley’s superiors at Agriculture. The one thing that he has as things start working against him is an American press who tells the story in a way that is sympathetic to what he’s trying to do. And you’ll see both Taft and Roosevelt in different times saying, “I did not want to mess with him because this will make me look bad in the media.” And when he gets really under threat by his supervisors for some of his actions, the first thing he does is leak it to reporters, right. So he also recognizes what a powerful tool this is.

I mean, the coverage was incredible. You almost couldn’t find a newspaper—and I’m going through pages and pages and pages of newspaper files and it’s like little tiny newspapers and great big newspapers. So it’s also a portrait of a different America. I mean one of the things I think we have not figured out how to replace is your local newspaper. Where the people who work for it are just like you. And you see them all the time. And you trust them because you know them. And so you saw that playing. Who do you trust? People really trusted their hometown newspaper.

Lisa (in studio): A great reminder as we near the end of this episode: Support local journalism. Okay, we have one last question left for Deborah, but I first want to thank everyone for listening to our chat about Poison Squad. As a reminder, the book drops on Sept. 25, so you should grab your copy and then tweet at me with all your insightful thoughts on Harvey Wiley. I’m @lisamjarvis on Twitter. And I’d also love your ideas for our next book to review. Now, back to a final word from Deborah..

Lisa (in Cambridge): I don’t know if you are ready to talk about what you might be working on next, but I gotta ask.

Deborah Blum: I’m in R and R. I mean, I’ve thought about things because I’m a writer and so there’s going to be a point that I haven’t quite reached, where the fact that I’m not writing will made me twitch. And so I have a few ideas but they’re not going to be this kind of book. So what I will tell you is I’ve done four narrative science histories. I love doing them. I don’t think I’m at a stage of my life where I’m positioned to do another partly because I’m director of this program at MIT in which I can’t say to the people in my program “well, see you in six months, I’m going off to an archive.” And so whatever I tell I think it’s probably going to end up being more personal.

Lisa: Oh, that’s exciting.

Deborah Blum: The idea that I’m kind of kicking around that I think everyone in my family dreads me doing this, is to do a story, my father was an entomologist and a chemical ecologist. His focus of study was he actually wrote a textbook called “Chemical Defenses of Arthropods.” But he was also uniquely—and my mother would acknowledge this—a uniquely crazy kind of guy. And so I’ve messed around in my head with could I write a story that was partly about insect chemistry and partly about growing up with a really crazy, yes another chemist, a scientist who was fascinated by these sort of hidden stories that chemistry is and that defines who we are. And so, if I do another one, I want to mess around with that. I just have to figure out how much I want to tell.

Lisa: Well, we will be excited to read it no matter what it is. I really appreciate you taking the time today, Deborah. We are so, so excited and everyone should read the book. I know our audience is going to love it. So thank you.

Deborah Blum: Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure, Lisa. And I should say I’m such a fan of Chemical & Engineering News, so I’m super excited to be here.

Matt (studio): Huge thanks to Deborah and to Lisa for reporting this episode for us here at Stereo Chemistry. Remember to hit her up on Twitter if you have books you want her to talk about on the podcast. She’s @lisamjarvis.

The music you’re hearing right now is “Drive Til Dawn” by Rockit Maxx and the music you heard during that Nobel Webinar ad was “The Confrontation” by Podington Bear. And the song that started out the episode was “Glass Bells Dancing with a Synthesizer” by Daniel Birch.

Stereo Chemistry will return the last week of October with another spooky good episode. In the meantime, be sure to subscribe and check out any episodes you may have missed on iTunes, Google Play, or TuneIn.

Thanks for listening.


Glass Bells Dancing With A Synthesizer” by Daniel Birch is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

The Confrontation” by Podington Bear is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0.

Drive Til Dawn” by Rockit Maxx is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.


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