The Experiment

The Experiment

Each week, we tell the story of what happens when individual people confront deeply held American ideals in their own lives. We're interested in the cultural and political contradictions that reveal who we are.

Episodes

June 2, 2022 14 min

The Experiment is coming to an end. For our final episode, we contemplate our strange, sometimes beautiful, often frustrating country. We go back to some of the people we met and fell in love with while making the show, and ask them how their version of the American experiment is going.

A transcript of this episode is available. 

Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@...

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In The Atlantic’s new series How To Start Over, Olga Khazan takes listeners on a journey of reinvention. How To Start Over is your guide to navigating life’s gray areas, whether knowing it’s time to make a career switch, repairing strained family ties, or forging new connections in a post-pandemic world.  

Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment@theatlantic.com.

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Deep in Yellowstone National Park, there’s a glitch in the U.S. Constitution where, technically, you could get away with murder. Lawmakers didn’t seem interested in fixing the problem until Mike Belderrain stumbled into the “Zone of Death” while hunting the biggest elk of his life. In a world with so many preventable deaths, The Experiment documents one attempt to avert disaster.

This episode of The Experiment originally ran on Feb...

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In June 1964, at the height of the civil-rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan burned a Black Methodist church to the ground in the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and murdered three civil-rights workers in cold blood. This crime became one of the most notorious of its era, shocking the nation on the eve of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and later inspiring a Hollywood blockbuster: Mississippi Burning.

But when the reporter Ko ...

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May 12, 2022 47 min

At 19 years old, Aséna Tahir Izgil feels wise beyond her years. She is Uyghur, an ethnic minority persecuted in China, and few of her people have escaped to bear witness. After narrowly securing refuge in the United States, Aséna’s now tasked with adjusting to life in a new country and fitting in with her teenage peers. 

This week on The Experiment, Aséna shares her family’s story of fleeing to the U.S., navigating newfound freedom...

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May 5, 2022 47 min

Almost 30 years ago, a fed-up Manhattan-family-court judge named Judith Sheindlin was sitting in her chambers when she got a call from a couple of television producers. They pitched her the idea for a TV show with Judy at its center. 

The result was Judge Judy, one of the most popular and influential television series ever made. Over its decades-long run, it beat out The Oprah Winfrey Show in ratings, led to the explosion of court ...

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The Experiment introduces WNYC colleague Nancy Solomon's new podcast: Dead End: A New Jersey Political Murder Mystery

New Jersey politics is not for the faint of heart. But the brutal killing of John and Joyce Sheridan, a prominent couple with personal ties to three governors, shocks even the most cynical operatives. The mystery surrounding the crime sends their son on a quest for truth. Dead End is a story of crime and corrupt...

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There’s a common story about abortion in this country, that people have only two options to intentionally end a pregnancy: the clinic or the coat hanger. They can choose the safe route that’s protected by Roe v. Wade—a doctor in a legal clinic—or, if Roe is overturned, endure a dangerous back-alley abortion, symbolized by the coat hanger. But a close look at the history of abortion in this country shows that there’s much more to th...

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The national-park system has been touted as “America’s best idea.” David Treuer, an Ojibwe historian and the author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present, says we can make that idea even better—by giving national parks back to Native Americans.

This episode of The Experiment originally ran on April 15, 2021.

A transcript of this episode is available. 

Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #...

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April 7, 2022 38 min

From the time she was a little girl, Marilyn Vann knew she was Black and she was Cherokee. But when she applied for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation as an adult, she was denied. What followed was a journey into a dark part of Cherokee history that not many people know about and even fewer understand: Vann and her family are descended from people who were enslaved by the Cherokee Nation. They were freed after the Civil War, but th...

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March 24, 2022 64 min

The fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson has been haunted by Helen Keller for nearly her entire life. Elsa is Deafblind, and growing up, she couldn’t escape the constant comparisons. Then, a year ago, an online conspiracy theory claiming that Keller was a fraud exploded on TikTok, and suddenly, Sjunneson found herself drawing her sword and jumping to Keller’s defense, setting off a chain of events that would bring her closer to the disabi...

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James Sulzer has always loved building things. As a rehabilitation engineer, he spent years creating devices that he hoped would help patients recover from serious brain trauma such as strokes. And he believed strongly in the potential of rehab technology—that with the right robot, he could relieve a whole array of brain injuries. 

But then, one spring day in 2020, there was a horrible accident. And suddenly James had to apply ever...

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As Putin invaded Ukraine last month, the Atlantic writer Franklin Foer found the Russian leader’s justification for violence uncanny. Putin referred to the “Nazification” of Ukraine—a distortion of history at best. But Franklin was told a similar story his whole life from his grandmother. This week, The Experiment tells the story of the Holocaust survivor Ethel Kaplan, and traces Franklin Foer’s own journey—how he once came to beli...

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February 24, 2022 27 min

The Experiment host Julia Longoria has always had a special relationship with Vicks Vaporub—the scent transports her right back to childhood, to days in bed with the flu at her grandmother’s house in South Florida. Julia and her cousins all knew not to tell grandma when they were sick, or they’d risk being slathered with “Vickicito.”

Julia never had a reason to wonder why grandma loved Vicks so much, but this week’s episode reveals...

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February 17, 2022 47 min

Who are the people who make modern-day SPAM possible? You can find clues on the streets of downtown Austin, Minnesota. On weekend nights, across the street from the SPAM Museum, a Latin dance club fills with Spanish-speaking patrons. A taco truck is parked outside the Austin Labor Center. There’s a Sudanese market and an Asian food store. A new generation of workers has flooded the town for the chance to package some of America’s m...

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February 10, 2022 45 min

SPAM is at the center of one of the longest and most contentious labor battles in U.S. history. In 1985, workers at the Hormel Foods plant in Austin, Minnesota, went on strike, demanding better working conditions and stable wages. Generations of meatpackers had worked at the plant, some for most of their lives—and that gruesome, difficult work afforded them a sustainable, middle-class life. So when that way of life was threatened, ...

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February 3, 2022 26 min

During World War II, wherever American troops spread democracy, they left the canned meat known as SPAM in its wake. When American GIs landed overseas, they often tossed cans of SPAM out of trucks to the hungry people they sought to liberate. That’s how producer Gabrielle Berbey’s grandfather first came to know and love SPAM as a kid in the Philippines. But 80 years later, SPAM no longer feels American. It is now a staple Filipino ...

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January 27, 2022 2 min

America, shall I compare thee to a can of SPAM? Thou art more decadent, salty and sweet, container of even greater mystery. In this three-part series, some of the meatiest questions the United States faces about how we work for the food we eat play out in the story of special processed American meat. The Experiment embarks on a remarkable journey to the heart of SPAM—from remote Philippine provinces, where American GIs disseminated...

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December 16, 2021 37 min

Rebecca Shrader had always thought that abortion was morally wrong. As a devout Baptist Christian, she volunteered at a clinic designed to discourage women from getting abortions. And when she got pregnant for the first time, she knew she would carry the baby to term, no matter what. 

But when Rebecca’s pregnancy didn’t go as planned, she started to question everything she had always believed about abortions, and about the people w...

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On January 6, 2021, William J. Walker was head of the D.C. National Guard. He had buses full of guardsmen in riot gear ready to deploy in case Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally turned dangerous. But when rioters violently stormed the Capitol building, the Guard was nowhere to be found. Walker says he was forced to wait for three hours before his superiors allowed him to send in his troops. “My soldiers were asking me, ‘Sir, wha...

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