Aug 19, 2010

Be Careful What You Plan For

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 Chase shed 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.

Update/Spoiler Alert - Please don't read if you haven't yet listened!: 

Good news people! In this story, we talk about Don Curry, the man unwittingly responsible for killing the world's oldest tree. "Prometheus", as the tree came to be known, was 4,844 years old--the oldest living individual organism on the planet. Needless to say, Curry was pretty grief-stricken. But in 2013, says Dr. Peter Brown of the Rocky Mountain Tree Ring Research Group, a new, oldest living tree was found! Our new elderly record-breaker is right around 5,060 years of age, making it roughly 200 years older than Prometheus when it was cut down. Phew! It was found in the same forest in California and is the same species--a bristlecone pine--as Prometheus. (Though the exact location won't be released in order to protect the from the public.) Don Curry, you can now Rest In Peace.

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