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“Based on a True Story” and Conspiracy Theories Podcast | Waubonsee Community College

“Based on a True Story” and Conspiracy Theories Podcast | Waubonsee Community College


[MUSIC] My name is Steven Miller, and I’m the Communications Manager
at Waubonsee Community College. We launched this podcast so that people
can learn more about the experiences and expertise of the employees,
students and partners of Waubonsee. We want you to hear firsthand from these
people and learn from their experience and expertise. John Nichols is an instructor of English. I sat down and talked about what it means
for something to be based on a true story. This tied to a discussion about
conspiracy theories which led us to talk about things like the impact of
social media on the spreading and sharing of information and
the debunking of false information. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. [MUSIC] And today we’re talking to John Nichols, Instructor of English here at
Waubonsee Community College. And so we’re going to have an interesting
conversation I think about a variety of topics. John, just start off with
a couple of questions. Introduce yourself. Tell us how long you’ve been at Waubonsee,
and maybe what you did before coming here?>>Sure. I am in my second full year at Waubonsee
in teaching as English faculty. Before that I adjunct it here for
one year and then before that several years at St.
Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. Where I taught English and in the humanities there, that college
closed actually in May of 2017. And thankfully I found myself here.>>There you go. So you are you from this area. Would you have connections here
before you came before you?>>I’d been living here. Yeah, for a while it was actually a setup
where I would commute down there during the week and work and come back and
be at my wife and family on the weekends. All right, good, so I think today we’re
gonna talk about a couple of things that I find interesting, the idea of
this statement based on a true story.>>Yes.
>>Kinda what that means, and then conspiracy theories and what they are and
how they gain traction. So tell us, where did your interest
in these topics begin, and what is your experience
in looking at them?>>Sure. The nonfiction end of things actually
started for me in my first time around in grad school at DePaul University
where I was introduced to the idea of literary nonfiction, meaning I’d
never really heard of it before. And it was this idea of taking
the tools that a fiction writer uses and applying then to
the telling of real stories. And one of the quick sort of
best way I have of explaining just what that means is take
a big event like say 911 And I could tell you when the first
planes hit in New York, when the plane hit in Washington DC,
how many people were injured, how many were killed, the actual timeline
of events, but that doesn’t really give you an idea of what it was like
to be in New York City that day. It doesn’t make you appreciate what it’s
like to breathe in pulverized glass or something like that. To do that to really put somebody
there with a story such as that. You need the techniques of fiction writer, you need to have the ability
to do description in a vivid way with the details you
need to be able to portray people. That’s the whole real characters
that we actually are and have it unfold in a way that makes
narrative sense to the reader or the viewer or the listener or
what have you. And it just really grabbed my attention. I had never had much experience with
that form of narrative before and Once I completed that degree in
composition and rhetoric I went on to get an MFA in nonfiction writing
because it really took hold me. I didn’t think it would but
it certainly did. The conspiracy end of things is a little
more involved and I tell you what we’re gonna have to go all the way back to
when I was about a five year old boy.>>[LAUGH]
>>And like many people my age, a transformative experience of seeing
Star Wars the very first one with my dad. And I was ravenous after that for absolutely anything that was
even remotely like Star Wars. And eventually, a couple years later in
first grade we would take trips to our local public library in small town,
Indiana. And as I’m going through the shelves,
I pull off this book and it has what look like spaceships on it. And I started flipping through and
I see these are actual photographs and these are diagrams of aliens and saucer
shapes, and I read the front said UFOs. And I took it to my first grade
teacher and I said, is this real? And she immediately got dismissive and
said, no, it’s garbage. Do not waste your time with this at all,
put it back on the shelf. Well, and actually, what I do,
I found every book I could. [LAUGH]
>>Of course.>>At that point, I read it, and
it was UFOs, and the cover-ups, supposedly, about it. Engrossed me for a quite a while. But then, you get older, and
you get an education in science. And the reasoning, you find that
there are reasonable explanations for almost all of these things. And after that though my questioning changed where I was thinking
more in terms of narrative in my academic background thinking how
did these stories get started? Why do people, despite all evidence to
the contrary, hold on to these crazy. Well, maybe and
I don’t mean to call them crazy there. It’s just maybe I can’t
see the evidence for them would be a better way to say that but
just sort of out their stories that despite any evidence to the contrary,
they still hold on to them. And so I really started
looking at what that means and I got involved with one particularly far
out there claim involving a tiny town called Dulce, New Mexico,
with a Mesa there Archuleta Mesa. And I’d read about it first in 1994
where there was this claim and that inside that mesa is an actual
military facility jointly run by the United States and aliens and people
who are kidnapped, they end up there. They’re experimented upon, and
at one point, the deal went sour, and our special ops teams went
in to take the mesa back. And it read like pulp science fiction,
and that’s what really engrossed me. Yet, despite it being pulpy, despite it
sounding like something I would have seen while here in Chicago area, this. [LAUGH] Seeing something like that but there were people claiming it
was the God’s honest truth. And so, I really started, I went out
there actually visited the town, it’s on the hickory
Apache Reservation and. It’s one of these things and
maybe we’ll get into it later on that. These wild outlandish conspiracy theories
do start small elements of truth. It’s just it’s cases often
where people add to 2 and 2 and they come up with 6 and.>>Sure.
Okay, well, this the interesting, interesting how this all came about for
you.>>Sure.
>>So, as you were talking about a minute
ago about imaginary literary fiction. Reminded me of something
I’d read a few years, several years ago now about
this idea of taking an event with a fact that is very fact-based and
sequential, and applying narrative to it. I read this story, it was about,
I forget what the jurisdiction was. But someplace where a court
had an appointed narrator. Narrative writer, who,
if you have a murder case, they lay out all the facts of the matter. Such and such happened,
the forensic evidence is this. They have someone assigned to
write the story of that person. They would do the research
of the person accused. And not to provide matters of defense or
mitigation, but simply to provide, you mentioned it, we’re all people. We are all characters with depth, and this
person Josh was we were talking about, the 9/11, what is a light
to breathe Polarized glass.>>Sure.
>>What is it like to have grown up in a certain environment that may
have lead to fascinating stuff?>>Right.
>>So based on a true story, what does that mean to you?>>Well, it means a few things. When I see that I immediately
think there’s a few things that are going to be going on. If it’s a book,
then I’m going to go in with this sort of implicit contract with the writer,
knowing that he or she has enhanced things in order to
make it come alive for me as the reader. I’ll give you an example. If I’m in a work I’m doing right now,
an actual professor that I once knew, a former colleague,
to make him come alive as a person and really portray him on the page,
I know he’s a runner. He’s a jogger. And so I have this descriptive
paragraph of him jogging. And it is on a spring day, it’s going
past Lake Banet in Rensselaer Indiana. The ducks are moving in this
sort of V formation and the wind brings back his hair. He can smell the pine. And when my wife read that,
she said, wow, he told you all that? And I said no, honestly, no. I know that’s his jogging route. But that particular moment that it
happened exactly that way, maybe not. But I have to take what I know and
present it to the reader so they can be there with me on the page. To get invested in the story and
know a little bit about that person. This particular colleague
that I’m writing about. One of his vocations jogging and kind of
portraying him enjoying the landscape and on the property of the college. That helps make that come alive and understand a little bit more for
the reader. Other things that may go
on in a nonfiction story would be the compression of time. For example, back to something I’m working on,
I take a look at the whole month of March. I have to shrink that down a little
bit for a number of reasons. One, the interest of the reader. I don’t think that the reader would
especially appreciate a day-by-day, blow-by-blow, although it would
be accurate if I could do that, but it would be tedious. So we want to take a look and filter out what’s gonna be
especially pertinent for the story. What are the things the reader must know? What are the particularly interesting or
dramatic things? And so a month, conceivably, could come out to be two pages depending
upon the work, depending upon the subject. An example of that,
that was popular was a book called Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. And that is about a book club that met
in Iran and they met over two years. Well, naturally, [LAUGH] the book
can’t cover all two years. So this author is going to look
at who the people were and moments in those book clubs
that really told the reader interesting insights into their
thought process, the conflicts, maybe. And so it’s not gonna be blow-by-blow, but you’re going to see that there
are things that are compressed. And other times, when there’s
somebody involved in a big situation. We mention 9/11, for example, or
something that’s particularly dramatic. There are multiple points of view. So you’re getting things from
this writer’s point of view. And even if he or she is going
out to interview other people, even if they are doing their best,
good faith effort as possible. The fact that they are writing it
in a way alters the point of view.>>Yeah.>>Another example would be in what’s
very popular is the memoir genre. And in almost any event,
ask anybody who’s in law enforcement, you ask five people who are involved in
a traffic accident or something like that. You’re probably gonna get
five different stories.>>Yeah.
>>[LAUGH] One popular example I can give you from the memoir genre is the book,
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s about growing up in
a family that was at or below the poverty line often times,
an alcoholic father. And yet, she portrays them as
admirable people in several ways. But her brothers and sisters, when they
read the book would sometimes say, I don’t remember that happening. Or I remember that happening
completely differently.>>Yeah.
>>So that’s just human nature. If you read a book that says based on
a true story and somebody else comes out later on and says I don’t remember
that happening and I was there. Don’t be surprised. That’s just human nature.>>I’m reminded of a story
I heard in college about picture you’re 18, 19, 20 years old. And you go on a date with a person
you’ve wanted to go on a date with for a long time. Later on that day your mother
asked you how it went. The day after that your best
friend tells you how it went. That weekend you’re seeing your
grandmother and they ask you how it went. The story is probably different than your
pastor asked you about it, or minister, your neighbor. The facts are the same.>>Sure.>>But
the retelling of the story is different.>>Absolutely.
>>Based on the audience.>>Exactly.>>And other circumstances.>>Well, audience does influence
writing so very, very much. And part of that, let’s just be honest,
if you’re going through a publisher. Even if you’re not, even if you’re
independently published you want to get a little back for [LAUGH] so
you wanna sell books.>>You gotta sell books.>>Right.
>>You were talking about the compressed timeline and something else came to mind. It seems like we probably see a lot of
this not just in in print works, but movies as well. It came to mind the movie
Saving Private Ryan.>>There’s a whole lot that went into
that, and had to get it in three hours. That was a month’s long adventure, and
those examples are all over the place.>>Sure, all over the place.>>In the media and print things. So you mentioned the project you’re
working on where you’re writing something about a colleague, and
you know that person is a runner. But some of the other details,
but you know the running route. And so you fill in about details about
whether and ducks and whatever else. This idea of kinda using research or
maybe research or just license to kinda fill gaps,
is that a thing, is that a common thing?>>Very much, very much, especially if you’re on the journalist
side of literary journalism. The writer will often spend a very,
very long time just getting immersed in their subject and getting things down,
as many details as possible. Because one of the techniques you’ll
find in the written form is what’s called a digression. Example, well, there’s a couple. We were, just before the podcast here, we were talking about
The Devil in the White City. Big, big runaway hit. And what Erik Larson would do is when
a subject would come up, something about, say, cultural norms at the time
in Chicago, the 19th century. He would actually flag the reader. I remember saying this may get long,
but you’re gonna have to know it. And that gives him the ability to pivot
and go into the research that he has. And then guide the reader back into the
sort of the main line of the narrative. But that digression gives
you more information and it makes the experience fuller. It makes you have a greater understanding. Another example that I go back to a lot,
I’m a big fan of this book, is Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm.>>Yeah.>>And it’s this,
of course Massive hurricane that hit and he was inspired to write it by looking
at basically a paragraph story in the New York Times about
fishermen who were lost at sea. But he’s looking at this event
from all these multiple angles and one of them coast guard. Yep, and rescuing people at sea and
he will digress and the rescue seem to describe what standard
operation is for the Coast Guard. He’ll talk about the neoprene jumpsuits, he’ll get into these details that shows
he’s actually spent a good deal of time with the Coast Guard in the long,
long making of this book. So there are these digressions and that’s
where the writer gets to show off his or her research. And I think that also is one of
the areas you can look at for when you see based on a true story. They’re giving a sense of
authenticity to the reader said I did my homework,
let me show you what I know.>>Yeah, you we’re talking recently about
another book that I read just recently, Into the Wild.>>Mm-hm.>>And I mean it’s John wrote that, he
did not go into Alaska with a young man. And so he’s piecing together what
happened based on you know what, we do know and
he’s kind of connecting the dots and talking to people after the fact and
this is a, it’s an interesting.>>That happens a lot
in literary nonfiction with as I just mentioned
the perfect storm. We have no real record of
what happened on that boat. Other than a few radio transmissions. So what Younger ended up doing was
talking to the family members, getting a sense of who these guys were,
talking to fisherman, saying, what would you do in these situations?>>Circumstances.
>>Exactly, and trying to piece together as best as
possible what they probably went through. And another would be one of the more
famous examples of the genre, that kind of in its own way kicked it
off was In Cold Blood, Truman Capote. Where he describes the last hours
of the Clutter family in Kansas. Nobody knows because the victims
are dead in that book. So he has to just based on interviews with
people in the town who knew these people, what would they probably
been doing that night and describing it as best as possible.>>Okay, so we’ve been talking
about this idea of something being based on a true story and that seems
to give some permission, some license for something to be based on truth but
not entirely precisely true and all that. And that’s part of our culture. So, given that is there any wonder why,
moving out of conspiracy theories.>>Sure.
>>Is there any wonder why conspiracies are a thing why people believe things
that may or may not be true anyway? Talk to us about that a little bit.>>I can do that and in a little while
being an academic I will say sources. [LAUGH] [CROSSTALK] People that scholars
and people [CROSSTALK] okay thank you, thank you. There are a few reasons. One is that life doesn’t make any sense. Let’s just face that, that you can
be the victim of random things. And it’s tough to get your head around it. We like to have reasons,
we like we like narrative, we like the story to, we want like to have
a structure, we want like to have a story. And so when things just happen or
they feel beyond your control, the idea of believing in a conspiracy
in its odd sort of sense comforts us. That there was nothing we could have
done that they the nebula shadow we they are actually in control. And they have it out for
the little guy and so there wasn’t anything you could have done. To keep your job let’s say,
if you experienced a massive layoff. Or if somebody sadly gets cancer and
dies so well we’re all at the mercy of that
there’s there’s really a cure for it but the medical industry just makes so
much money. Offer treating the symptoms,
so that’s one way. It gives a sense of control when
there really isn’t any control. It alleviates a sense of, in a way, blame for yourself and
taking accountability that these Like I said, there’s these
forces that are out to get you. So and also we, as we talked about
in the nonfiction section that when big events are messy 911,
the JFK assassination, there are still aspects of those
that naturally there aren’t very good explanations for but
that’s just the nature of. Such things that they’re not neat,
they’re not tidy and anytime there is that sort
of vacuum of information, it that vacuum gets filled with
all kinds of speculation and. All conspiracy theory, a real life
situation I went through that I’m writing about now that I pointed to earlier was, the college that I worked at for so
many years and went to for undergrad, and my father spent 50 years of his life
teaching at, it closed in May of 2017. So That was a big, traumatic event for
many people involved. And there was a vacuum of
information in a lot of ways. And naturally the combination
of the traumatic event and the lack of information gave rise to many,
many conspiracy theories and so-called rabbit holes you could go
down as to why this is happening. And later on, with the Cooler
head is I did my research for the book I’m writing it I found many of
those conspiracies certainly weren’t true, but they made sense at the time. And a lot of ways when you’re trying to
make sense out of a sudden traumatic event that doesn’t make any sense. There’s a couple of other reasons why Conspiracy theories take on
is because there are secrets. We were talking your former Army and
things get kept secret for a reason for national defense and that. Automatically leads to speculation
when things can’t be talked about. And we have other occasions,
and instances, and accidents in history where maybe our government
wasn’t always acting on the up and up. There was Watergate, there were
all kinds of other little shadowy operations that either had to happen,
or happened As sort of put out much oversight maybe that weren’t the
best decisions at the time, so once there are secrets, a logical question becomes,
okay, what else aren’t you telling me? I have a student who keeps coming
up with a different reason why he can’t be in class. Eventually, I’m gonna start
saying what’s going on here? What Aren’t you telling me let’s
get to the heart of the problem. Another reason for it is frankly,
the conspiracies are kind of fun. They combined the the best
aspects of X Files and James Bond and all the other nerds and
we love a story. We love a good story and
what could be more exciting than a, a secret society that has all
kinds of The trappings of those sorts of fictions or in the case of UFOs,
I mean being visited from space. What could be more exciting than that?>>Or that was a few years ago, several
years ago there was that Nicolas Cage movies the national treasure of
that I mean, that’s, that’s fun.>>It’s it’s exactly.>>That’s a good time.
It’s, and we love a mystery. Sure you mentioned, we’ve talked a couple
times here about the kind of the big things I but it seemed like
the conspiracies can extend or the idea of a conspiracy can extend beyond
the actual event I remember you know, 911 is has been mentioned.>>Sure.
>>But think about every plane crash
has happened since then. The default thought is when report of
a plane crash Terrorists were involved. Well, more often than not,
it’s mechanical failure.>>It’s a mechanical failure.>>But everybody immediately calls in
there, all the pundits call in their defense experts and everything else,
how could this have happened again?>>Right.>>It feels to me and
I’m certainly not an expert in this. There’s something different about having
something terrible happen that you can blame someone for, rather than just
an engine blowing up, that just happens.>>Exactly.>>And so there’s a psychological
component to this that just doesn’t really change the outcome,
doesn’t change what happened. It just feels like it’s just
easier to blame someone than something that just happened,
>>Very much, very much. Like I said,
we want the world to be ordered. And I think that goes back to how much
narrative is central to our life. You and
I are engaging in narrative right now, you go into a job interview,
you’re essentially you’re telling them your narrative-
>>I’m telling a story.>>Your story, exactly, and we want,
with as much narrative as we consume, and produce in our lives,
we want real life to be that way. I heard a quote from Tom Clancy,
many years ago->>One of the greats.>>Yeah, it’s a great quote,
he said that the difference between fiction and nonfiction is
that fiction has to make sense. You have to have it ordered. So when we can, [LAUGH] after all the fiction we consume
we expect our lives to have order. Well, coincidence happens all the time. We tend to think the coincidence can’t
happen to us in our regular lives or in the world writ large. So, we try to look for patterns and it’s
just, as I said, that’s human tendency. We wanna see something and
make sense out of it.>>And what you’re describing
here certainly isn’t new, it’s not-
>>No.>>It’s easy to blame social media or
whatever else for spreading these things. But, I mean, several years ago
I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses.>>Sure.
>>It was the explaining of things that couldn’t be explained. How does this thing, the Sun, move around. So, yeah, it has to be some guy in a chariot who
let his kid go flying around the Sun.>>Absolutely.
>>So these are things that we’ve always as humans just tried to grab
hold of something to explain.>>You work with what you know.>>Yeah.
>>And Ovid was.>>That’s right, I mean, first century,
it’s what it’s what you had.>>Right.
>>So what are some other, not examples of conspiracies. But yeah, I mean, there’s got to be some, you mentioned military components
in government and things. There’s some things that are legit we
don’t need to know about for good reason.>>Sure.
>>So how does that play into, you mentioned the business of
what else aren’t you telling me?>>Well, I guess one of the more recent
ones would be, I wanna say probably November 2017 when a story broke that the
Navy, US Navy, had been encountering UFOs. And there was gun camera
footage from an F18. And you can hear the pilots. They’re screaming at each other,
saying what is this thing? Look at it move, and it’s moving faster, and maneuvering more
sharply than anything. It became known as the Tic Tac UFO because
in the gunsight that’s what it looks like, it’s a little black Tic Tac.>>I remember hearing about this.>>Yes, and what made it significant
was the Navy not too long ago actually confirmed it, said yes, this happened. We don’t know what it is, we don’t believe
it to be a threat to national security. And they used the phrase
unidentified aerial phenomenon. So what that may be is more than
likely before jumping to aliens or anything else, a new form of drone. Our government is relying more and
more on drone technology and more than a few UFO sightings were later
on found to be prototypes for drones>>Interesting.>>And so this could be a new
form of drone that we, or another reason they may not want
to talk about, a foreign power.>>Sure.
>>And it could also be if there is any kind of conspiracy in regard to, as they call it now
unidentified aerial phenomenon, it would be the only likely one I could
see is that they just plain don’t know. And you don’t want to admit, of course, if you’re charged with national security
that we don’t know what this is.>>You don’t have the answer, right.>>Maybe more more detrimental to getting
out then an actual secret in many cases, so that would be a more recent example. Another bit more frightening
example would be the pizzagate conspiracy that somehow got started in
the more shadowy corners of the Internet, that democratic leaders were
involved in a child slavery ring and it was being run out of a couple
different pizza places. One in particular, how this place I
don’t know right off hand it’s called Comet Ping Pong referred to in the area
of Washington DC just as Comet, regular pizza place. And on December 4th of 2016, a man
named Edgar Welch from North Carolina showed up carrying an AR-15 saying
that he was there to free the kids.>>Yeah.
>>That were being kept there in slavery. Of course there weren’t any and-
>>There were no kids, there was no slavery.>>Right, the man was arrested and in his
deposition to police he said I really want to help the kids and I thought I could be
a hero, 28-year-old man thinking this. And I thought after I saw that,
well, this here’s somebody who, whose heart is absolutely
in the right place. He wants to help people and
stop what would be an atrocity. However, his critical reasoning
is not in the right place. How could this happen to begin with? But if all you’re consuming is
something from these message boards or social media websites. I’m not talking about the mainstream
things like Facebook and Twitter, that sort of thing. But to believe that is true and
to bring yourself to take up arms and go into a place. Somebody could have seriously gotten
hurt and thank goodness no one was.>>Sure.
>>Now the pizza place to this day still has issues. They were subject to an arson attack
back in January of this year.>>Yeah.>>So that’s where I see conspiracy being
a legitimate issue where it could lead to somebody getting hurt. Also when it leads to the rejection of our
fact-based institutions that we rely on, such as good journalism, academics, and
our military intelligence officers. When those are being disregarded,
then our whole society has an issue.>>Sure, so I was gonna ask you about it. So we were just talking about few minutes
ago some of these things are fun, the National Treasure,
the fun, and the adventure.>>The Da Vinci Code.>>The Da Vinci Code,
exactly, all these things. But there seems to be some
real danger in some of this. So you mentioned a couple of them, but
those are kind of big scale kind of things would hear about in the news, someone
walking into a pizza place with an AR-15. But it seems like, and I could be wrong, but there could danger just
at the more local level. I mean, what is the impact,
is there an impact of blind, maybe irrational something just within smaller social circles that
may not even appear in the news.>>With information and while yes, it’s
good to be skeptical of what you see in the news, it’s good to be skeptical
of what you get in a press release or something else that you see,
you can take it too far. And too far means when you
are discounting expertise. When there are people who really
are quality investigative journalists, who are scientists who devoted their
whole lives to studying things. And again, if we are to be supportive of
our military certainly the officer corps. And they’re among the best educated
[LAUGH] in our country in a lot of ways, and the intelligence gathering apparatus
of the various services and the CIA. They’re people we entrust to keep us safe. So it’s when we begin to discount that and
reject that we might be willing to listen to other voices that
aren’t Either as well reasoned or they don’t have good motives. They want to lead you astray
because they know that they can.>>Sure.>>And I that,
that affects our public discourse. That affects how people vote. That affects how things
are conducted in our schools. And I think if we’re looking at things at
a local level, that’s really the danger. One example I mentioned to you, and
while this isn’t a danger per se, is something that really interests me,
is of these alien conspiracies. I had somebody tell me that our current
president is the first president in many decades who is not actually
a reptile alien in disguise.>>Nice.
>>[LAUGH] And he is actually an actual human who is
out to save us from the alien agenda. Because alien agenda is
working with the deep state. Now, when I’ve just described this to you,
your brain cannot help but form a picture.>>Sure.
>>Paint a picture of the person I talked about. And I tell this to my students,
what do you see when I describe that. One person said, it’s a goth girl
with a lot of rings in her ear, one through her nose, another guy said,
I see a total burned out dude. He’s got flannel, he’s been smoking
marijuana all day long and I said no, no. This is a 30 something woman who is
a mortgage broker, she drives a Mercedes. If you walk past her on the street,
you wouldn’t bat an eye. She looks as normal and
suburban as anybody could be, but believes this wholeheartedly.>>Interesting.>>So I had to ask, as I keep doing
with these conspiracy owners. What brings somebody who is otherwise
quite reasonable to find this as fact. When I conducted my research for the book,
I will eventually go back to on the dulcie incident that I mentioned when
I traveled to New Mexico. It was always unsettling to me when I
would interview somebody we would start off with sort of like just we’re doing we,
who are you tell me about your background. I went to school here, got a job at this
business, came to the area, 20 years. Okay, now tell me about
the incident you had. Well, first time I saw dead alien was and they would segue into it as if we
were talking about the weather. And it is one of those
situations where I don’t doubt that they believe in what they’re saying. But, what prompted him to have
that thought or that belief? I just don’t see the evidence for it, so I turned to wondering how did
this person come to that point? So again,
just bring it back to your question. I think the local level
danger is critical reasoning. And if we look at all
news as fake news and doubtless, I agree there
are fake stories out there. There are, [LAUGH] Obviously sites that
pass themselves off as being news sites that really aren’t or the quality of
their journalism isn’t all that good. But when we discount everything-
>>Sure, yeah.>>And we are critical to the point of,
none of it’s true, then we have an issue. Or you’re always sorta doing this sort
of mental gymnastics of one thing. Conspiracy theorists will fall back on is, well, that’s what just what
they want you to think.>>Sure.
>>If you do that for everything you could do that. [LAUGH] Explanations, I will, that’s
just what they want you to think but where does that stop and
where does truth lie?>>Yeah, as you were talking. He would talk about the military a lot and
journalism and all these kinda respected institutions. And we don’t hear about it so much
anymore, but there was a period of time a couple of years ago where
the police were getting maligned.>>Yes.
>>Local police departments getting maligned, in part, and you mentioned
it earlier on in the beginning, there’s usually a seed of truth. Get much of this. There’s no doubt. There are bad police officers and even maybe widespread bad police departments or
broad police departments with a problem. But when the society
cannot trust the police.>>That’s a great example.>>That’s that’s a problem.>>Yes.
>>There’s a problem because that is something you mentioned
voting that effects>>Local voting and then local voting affects other things and
so it’s this idea that the police are out to be wrong,
whatever it is, however it is presented. Though that does exist, and that’s the
source of the problem, it does exist, but how do you make it to where it’s not
seen as widespread and universal?>>Yes,
>>I certainly don’t have any solution to offering anything but
just just for your take.>>I think that it .yeah,
that’s an excellent example and having worked with a few police
officers just as a volunteer basis. That is something they would talk about, say they’re trying to
conduct an investigation. They’re trying to apprehend someone and
no one’s talking. That’s always been a problem, but
now it’s even more so your police. I’m not gonna have
anything to do with you. And you’re absolutely right. This does stem from some terrible
incidents that happened where unarmed people were murdered or incidents that
just probably could’ve been obviously [LAUGH] handled,
>>Sure.>>A little bit better. And, again, though that’s true for
any discipline of work that you look at. But that affects our critical
reasoning skills that we’re just gonna discount entire
people that we rely upon.>>So okay, so John, so we’ve talked a lot
about a lot of different things here. The fact that everybody most everybody
has some sort of cell phone a way to document something either either
by audio or video or something. And so then they can post it and
they can edit. If they’re self edit,
everybody edits whatever they want, so they can show the bad or
the good of whatever it is. How does the fact that
the idea of the fact that anybody can tell most any story they want
to bring it to a very large audience. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook and
the virility of post. So how does that play in all this?>>It means we have to help. Excuse me, we have to have
a whole new kind of literacy. My background is in rhetoric
which initially started the good old fashioned way of looking at a text and
taking it apart, figuring out->>And by text you mean a piece of paper.>>Exactly.>>Not an SMS.>>You’re right, exactly. [LAUGH] I am taking it apart, I’m trying
to figure out who this writer is, what audience he or she intended,
what is the main point. And just all sorts of things I can what
kind of arguments is this person making cuz everybody’s making an argument. We do the same thing with visuals. And that’s what I’m trying
to do with my students. We need to learn how to read
there’s a saying, well, the picture speaks itself,
no, it really doesn’t.>>Actually, no.
>>You have to know how to read pictures now. And we’ve seen that so many times. Just last January, I believe it was,
or it was over the break possibly, the Nicholas Sandmann case where it appeared that there was this young high
school boy mocking a Native American. And when you unpack the situation, it is a
situation where nobody really looks good. But the one picture that went everywhere,
where it looked like this boy was in a man’s face was
just one sliber of the reality. When you look at all the other ones, there
is a mob of media surrounding these two. [LAUGH] They were not
squaring off one on one, and it’s learning to look at a photo and
say what else is going on. I think that’s where we start
with the other question, what else is going on leading up to this,
more than what I’m seeing? What is the deep story? Sort of hearkening it to what
a nonfiction writer would do. We were talking about earlier that
someone can look at like Sebastian younger that there were few fishermen
last to see what’s the deep story here. We’re all the different angles and so
they go off and they do this research. Well, it’d be great we could all, [LAUGH]
Have the time to do that and didn’t have dentists appointments to make jobs to get
to dinner to make that sort of thing. But, it’s just it’s a very,
Least having the sort of literacy and looking at how is this shot framed,
where is it from, and what else is going on cuz there’s always
something else going on in the shot? As far as social media, well the obvious
no-brainer there is it makes it easier and faster to share things. And the sort of crazy, or I’ll just call it out there stories, as
I talked about with supposed alien base, which I learned about the story of it,
anyway, in 1994. That was just from a buddy
who is into crazy stuff and those were in the very
early self-published books. It looks like somebody did it on a copier. Now you can post anything, any blog. And so
it’s a much quicker proliferation and a reduction in the stop and think time. And we are at a point where
people see a headline and they’ll share the article,
I think that’s part of it, without stopping to really reason
through how likely this is. And I think there’s a lot of
questions to ask yourself. One that comes from an academic
name Joseph Kosinski, who wrote a whole book on
conspiracies available on Amazon. He’s a political science professor and
he has a great analogy for these long-term conspiracies such
as keeping cures for cancer secret, or we faked the moon landing,
or something like that. He said, consider the amount of people
involved, and he said, think about this, think about your favorite rock band,
got them in mind? Good, okay, are they still around,
at least in their original lineup? And unless you’re talking about About
a rarity like a band like YouTube that’s been around for 30 more years,
it’s still the same four guys, likely, it isn’t because people after a time
don’t work together very well. There are disagreements,
they’re falling out, they are just seeing things
differently and so people part ways. The same thing would logically
happen with conspiracies and somebody would eventually talk. Somebody would not get along anymore, and we’d have somebody who would turn
a witness and ask for protection. Another academic named David Grimes,
he’s a physicist at Oxford University. And he developed an actual equation
to calculate how long it would take before given the sheer amount of people
involved in keeping something secret, how many years would it take
before something got it? So as I mentioned,
the moon landing hoax idea. He calculated the truth would
have been known in 3.7 years.>>[LAUGH] Nice!>>The secret cure for cancer, he
calculated 3.2 years, we would have known, just-
>>Just due to the number of people->>Due to, exactly.>>On Earth, and-
>>The people’s limited ability to keep things-
>>Keep things quiet. I mean, in preparation for this podcast,
you had mentioned as a communications manager for organizations that how,
okay, a story gets out [LAUGH].>>Yep, now what do we do?>>Information has this
tendency to wanna be free. And people, a lot of times
are terrible secret keepers.>>Sure, sure.>>So those are things to keep in
mind when confronting something in social media. How likely is this, how many people
would it take to pull this off and how realistic is it
they could all keep quiet?>>So it seems like the ability,
the big microphone, the big megaphone we all have with social
media, the ability to share things widely is powerful, and
that causes things to spread. But it seems like it also reduces
the amount of time for it to be debunked.>>Cuz there are enough people now
looking at it, whatever it is, and say no, fake or-
>>And just as we said earlier, we love stories and
good ones, exciting ones. And what could be more exciting than
a few of these that we mentioned? And so,
especially someone who may feel for a lot of good reasons rather
powerless in their life. And it gives them something and
it gives them a reason to, okay, that’s why I’m in the situation and
if it’s especially entertaining. I’ve seen it become something
of an obsession for people, that it’s like going into
the movies or reading fun fiction.>>Yeah, we had started talking about
the idea of what based on a true story is, and conspiracies and
I don’t know if there is any direct link. But to maybe put a point on this,
what should people know and think about in connecting these two or
separating these two ideas?>>Well, I think that one thing to keep
in mind, we mentioned that when a writer writes, it’s from his or
her point of view, that is inevitable. And even when they’re trying to
combine multiple points of view, we hear the part of conspiracy
is this idea of fake news. And yes, there are websites out
there that are not legitimate, [LAUGH] they’re not telling true things. But when we’re looking at major news,
it’s not so much that it’s fake, that it’s false,
it’s from a point of view. And this is something
I do with my students. They have to write a report on, and
the genre of the report must be completely fact-based, don’t put
any of your opinion in. And I assigned them recently
the impeachment process and I said report only facts and you-
>>Good luck with that.>>Well, that’s just it, you have to pick
a focus cuz a report, gosh, whole people, whole books are gonna be written about
this when it’s all said and done. But for a three page report,
you’ve got to narrow your focus. So one of the choices for your focus
could be okay, what are the allegations? What are certain political forces saying? How another focus could be how’s
the president defending himself? What is that response? So depending upon the focus that you take,
depends on the information you present. That’s exactly what we’re seeing in news. That point of view in determining what
focus to filter all this through, it isn’t fake so much. The information more often than not, sure
there are always times that journalism gets it wrong and
they have to cop to that, hopefully. But the lens through
which we’re getting it, that’s what’s going to alter what we get,
and it depends upon your news source. So keeping that in mind,
is always good keep in mind the business aspect of news that they
have got to sell ad time and just also, I think it’s good to
engage with multiple news sources.>>If you’re getting it all from CNN or
getting all from FOX, you’re not getting all the stories. So try to engage with different ones and
keep critical thinking in mind, but not to the point where we’re
absolutely rejecting everything. And I think your example of police
departments was spot on that you’re, I understand why there are populations and
may think fear burst upon seeing a police officer but if we all
start thinking that way and we can’t trust people that we fund to protect ourselves
and there’s an issue in society.>>Yeah, yeah, then it’s-
>>Then it’s a problem.>>Probably true, we all need to work
together to get through those issues. So what is your take this
take about this topic? What would you tell if you get
to tell all students everywhere? So, you’re just talking about
critical thinking or whatever. So summarize in a sentence or two, kind of
the take away from this whole discussion, we started off talking cuz we didn’t
intentionally want this to be, intentionally then. I want this to be about Waubonsee You’re
a faculty member at Waubonsee, I work at Waubonsee,
this happened at Waubonsee thing. But maybe we started off, you’ve been at
Waubonsee for two years and whatever. Now okay, you’re a faculty member, what would be your lesson your
parting shot to students?>>I’m glad you asked that because it
would be my parting message to not just students but
anybody in our community listening and that would be, don’t believe,
don’t disbelieve, think.>>There you go.>>Take each claim, consider it,
and consider what kind of evidence is available to support whatever
claim that someone is making.>>We’ve spent the last little bit with
John Nichols, instructor of English at Waubonsee Community College,
and it’s been a delight. I have learned much-
>>Well, thank you.>>And I’m glad we have folks like you
who help us think through these things. Look forward to doing this again.>>I thank you for having me and
I would love to be back again. [MUSIC]

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