In the first half, science writer Steve Silberman discussed the history of autism, and his work challenging some of the presumptions about the condition. Today, estimates are that 1 in 68 American kids have some form of autism, which suggests that we're in the midst of a kind of epidemic. But Silberman points out that the diagnosis may have been under-reported or narrowly defined in previous decades, and wasn't as rare as psychiatrists thought at the time. In the 1970s, parents were actually blamed for the problem, and were advised to permanently place their children in institutions and psychiatric facilities, he recounted.
No two autistic people are alike but they often share certain traits such as being extremely interested in very specific topics or activities, lack of eye contact, chronic anxiety, and clapping their hands as a way to regulate their energy, he detailed. Silberman revealed that Dr. Hans Asperger was the first to describe the autism spectrum, a decade before child psychiatrist Leo Kanner, who is sometimes credited with creating the diagnosis in the 1940s. Silberman is not convinced that vaccines play a role in the rise of autism, and suggested that the cause may be an interplay of genetics and environmental factors in the womb-- such as an overabundance of the hormone testosterone. He also noted that a contributing factor in autism might be that older fathers carry more mutations in their sperm, and parents are now having kids later in life.
One of America's leading connoisseurs of the bizarre, Marc Hartzman, was heavily influenced at an early age by Ripley's Believe It Or Not and the annual Guinness World Record books. In addition to discussing weird things on eBay, and sideshow performers, Hartzman covered his latest work researching the extremely strange history of Oliver Cromwell's embalmed head, which for centuries enjoyed a series of unexpected adventures. Cromwell, who instigated the beheading of King Charles in 1649, died of natural causes in 1658, but was exhumed by King Charles II three years later, and beheaded posthumously. In his book (view musical trailer), Hartzman writes from the point of view of Cromwell's disembodied head, imagining various meetings with real historical figures such as the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, before he was finally buried in 1960 at Cambridge.
Citing some of the most remarkable sideshow performers, Hartzman named Laloo, who had an unborn parasitic twin jutting out from his chest area. One of the promoters dressed the twin as a girl, to present the two as a brother and sister. Another favorite, Johnny Eck, a living half-man with no legs, had a normal twin brother, and the two were used to great effect in a magician's saw-a-person-in-half trick. Hartzman shared that one of the strangest and funniest things he discovered for sale on Ebay was a paperweight made out of moose poop.