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121-Starving for Science

By Greg and Sharon Ross

  During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, a heroic group of Russian botanists fought cold, hunger, and German attacks to keep alive a storehouse of crops that held the future of Soviet agriculture. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Vavilov Institute, whose scientists literally starved to death protecting tons of treasured food. We'll also follow a wayward sailor and puzzle over how to improve the safety of tanks. Intro: Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, shared her home with a 400-pound lion. In 2009, a California consumer sued PepsiCo for implying that crunchberries are a fruit. Sources for our feature on Nikolai Vavilov: S.M. Alexanyan and V.I. Krivchenko, "Vavilov Institute Scientists Heroically Preserve World Plant Genetic Resources Collections During World War II Siege of Leningrad," Diversity 7:4 (1991), 10-13. James F. Crow, “N. I. Vavilov, Martyr to Genetic Truth,” Genetics 134:4 (May 1993). Olga Elina, Susanne Heim, and Nils Roll-Hansen, "Plant Breeding on the Front: Imperialism, War, and Exploitation," Osiris 20 (2005), 161-179. Peter Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov, 2008. Boyce Rensberger, "Soviet Botanists Starved, Saving Seeds for Future," Washington Post, May 12, 1992. Michael Woods, “Soviet Union's Fall Threatens 'Gene Bank' for Food Crops,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 26, 1993. Joel I. Cohen and Igor G. Loskutov, “Exploring the Nature of Science Through Courage and Purpose,” SpringerPlus 5:1159 (2016). Listener mail: Peter Nichols, A Voyage for Madmen, 2001. Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, 1970. Ed Caesar, "Drama on the Waves: The Life and Death of Donald Crowhurst," Independent, Oct. 27, 2006. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who cites this source (warning: this link spoils the puzzle). You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet -- on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we've set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

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