STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Spooked!

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Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America, by Gail Jarrow

144 pages; ages 10 – 12. Calkins Creek, 2018

Mischief night is October 30, the night before Halloween. It’s the night when older kids and teens head out to soap windows, TP trees, and other mischief. But on October 30, 1938, a radio theater company unwittingly perpetrated mischief on a national audience. They performed an updated production of H.G. Wells’s science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.

The novel portrays a martian attack on Earth – unrealistic, right? And yet, people tuning in late heard breathless announcers read alerts of an invasion. Because they hadn’t heard the disclaimer at the beginning of the show, that this was an act of fiction, some people panicked. They piled in their cars and fled their homes. Others jammed phone lines, calling relatives for one last conversation. And some drove to the invasion site, hoping to get a look at the alien invaders.

How could people be so taken in by a radio show? It was the depths of the depression, Gail Jarrow writes. Hitler is rising to power, and his invasions of European countries have Americans anxious. So if a person turned on the radio after the introduction, they might believe that the “program interruptions” they heard were legitimate alerts about invasions on American soil.

Gail’s book connects history with science, technology, engineering, and math. Right now, she days, we live in a world where the technology – social media and the Internet – is way ahead of human behavior and culture. Back in 1938, that’s what was going on with radio. People got their entertainment and news from the radio. As she studied this event in history, she kept seeing parallels in the way people responded to a radio broadcast and the way people respond to social media now.

The biggest issue Gail saw is confirmation bias – that we tend to believe “news” that conforms to our ideology or politics. Not only is this a hazard when reading news presented on our social media, but it can also sway scientists, says Gail.

Hop over to Archimedes Notebook for an interview with Gail, and some beyond-the-book resources.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Copyright © 2018 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.

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Author: Sue Heavenrich

I write about science and environmental issues for children and their families.

One thought on “Spooked!

  1. I’ve never thought about this event in the context of what the world state was in before–how people were used to listening to the radio for war announcements and emergency information. No one had the background/experience to tell truth from fiction. I must read this book.