Ben Zimmer (the "On Language" columnist for The New York Times Magazine) sets the wheels in motion with some cautionary newsroom tales: attempts to avoid human error lead to editorial absurdities no one saw coming. Then, a Harvard psychologist eager to safeguard Cold War troops from brainwashing creates an experiment (described as "stressful interrogation") to weed out unfit candidates. But the experiment takes a toll on a shy undergrad…who goes on to become a notorious terrorist. Professor Ruben Gur and writer Alston Chaseshed some light on the story. Next, we're off to Wheeler Peak, Nevada--the home of the Bristlecone Pine. Nature writer Michael Cohen and reporter Pat Walters tell the story of Don Currey, a scientist whose tool malfunction unwittingly led to the death of the world’s oldest tree.Ron Lanner, a retired forest service scientist helps describe the scene, and Robert and Pat debate the value of such an old tree.
Producer Lulu Miller drives to Michigan to track down the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. Efforts to protect the bird have lead to the killing of cowbirds (a species that commandeers warbler nests), and a prescribed burn aimed at creating a new habitat. Tragically, this burn led to the death of a 29-year-old wildlife technician who was dedicated to warbler restoration. Forest Service employee Rita Halbeisen, local Michiganders skeptical of the resources put toward protecting the warbler, and the family of James Swiderski (the man killed in the fire), weigh in on how far we should go to protect one species.
Soren Wheeler takes us to Butte Montana--where an open pit copper mine’s demise leads to a toxic lake filled with corrosive runoff. Reporter Barret Golding goes to visit the pit lake, and writer Edwin Dobb tells Soren the story of a pile of dead snow geese who made an ill-fated landing on the water. Soren also talks to husband-and-wife chemists Andrea Stierle and Don Stierle, whose startling discovery reveals the secret life inside a death trap.