Science is usually seen as a progressive enterprise, with one discovery leading on to the next and then the next. However, this progress isn't always as smooth as it's sometimes assumed to be. Take for example the case of thalidomide, that infamous drug from the 1950s. For those not old enough to remember the story, thalidomide was marketed as a sedative and treatment for morning sickness. While it was never approved for sale in the United States, it was considered so safe in Germany that it was sold as an over-the-counter medication. Then obstetricians began to see an increase in babies born with phocomelia or "seal limb," where the long bones of one or both pairs of limbs fail to develop correctly. These children had limbs that looked like seal flippers: hands or feet attached to the trunk.

Phocomelia can be...

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