Miseducation: Media War of the Worlds

Orson Welles

Orson Welles, 1938

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Halloween is a time to keep aware that not everything is what it seems. With so many ghoulish tricksters trying to surprise and frighten you, it is important to keep your wits about you. This is advice that America could have used on the eve of Halloween 1938, when radio listeners tuned into Orson Welles’ production of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The science-fiction thriller was so expressively captured, the radio audience was reportedly convinced that aliens had breached our atmosphere and had begun a full-scale invasion. While it is easy enough to believe gullibility is a frequent trait, the more plausible explanation is that legends of interesting stories can become exaggerated over time, or in some cases begin as exaggerated.

Orson Welles’ production was aired on the anthology series The Mercury Theater on the Air on October 30, 1938. Broadcasted by CBS in its radio heyday, auteur-to-be Welles produced it as a series of realistic news reports that detailed the space invasion. As a responsible network, a disclaimer assuring the falsity of the news reports preceded the program. However, because The Mercury Theater aired parallel to a more popular show on another network, listeners would change stations during commercials, preventing the hearing of the initial disclaimer. To Welles’ credit, his program was timed for the action to coincide with the more popular program’s commercial breaks, thus heightening his chances at audience captivation. Meanwhile, “The War of the Worlds” was broadcast with no commercials, which only added to the perceived validity of the news reports.

In historical context, it is understandable to mistake the burgeoning medium of radio for a credible news resource, as previous generations were not accustomed to new-wave entertainment and viral media. In what could be considered the first ever viral sensation, panic ensued, but mostly in newsrooms. As radio had risen to prominence in the public’s heart, the flow of advertising revenue shifted from newspapers to broadcast stations. In a desperate bid to regain readership and sponsorship, newspapers saw an opportunity to discredit radio by spinning the extent of panic out of proportion. Print journalists criticized Welles’ entertainment tactics as irresponsible and called for legal action. Audiences should have learned from the broadcast that just because something masquerades as news does not make it so.

Contemporary sociologists have established the panic as exaggerated through several ways. For safe measure, CBS added a disclaimer in program breaks at 40 and 55 minutes for anyone too enthralled for skepticism. The leading ratings service calculated that only 2% of the audience was tuned in to “The War of the Worlds.” Some CBS affiliate stations opted to air local programming instead of The Mercury Theater, so many areas such as Boston would not have had access to Welles’ adaptation. While calls to local authorities and newspapers increased during the broadcast, this is generally viewed now as a lack of panic in a society of pre-war anxiety. Some media historians would go as far to say that practically nobody was tricked.

Staying rational when things become stressful is crucial. Whether you’re trying to keep sharp in a haunted house, watching something scary on television, or taking a terrifying test, people often want to trick you. Ulterior motives arise when the incentives are great, such as candy or candy advertising dollars. Orson Welles’ “The War of The Worlds” was a prime example of the news media sensationalizing story for commercial reasons.

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic – Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow – Slate

War of the Worlds – American Experience – Public Broadcasting Service

Miseducation: The Adequate Wall of China

Iberian Peninsula from the International Space Station

Iberian Peninsula from the International Space Station

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Even on the brink of the final frontier, it is in human nature to look back on where you have been. This tendency is likely what has raised to fame the claim that the Great Wall of China is such a monumental structure, it can be seen all the way from space. Supposedly, a viewer still within the radius of Earth’s orbit would be able to view such gargantuan infrastructure, even without magnification from binoculars or a zoom lens. It is even considered to be the only man-made structure visible from such a distance. This assumption is outrageously false, as it would instead take upwards of 17,000 times normal human visual strength. While this is conclusive, the question of whether the Great Wall can be seen from closer reaches of space remains.

Like the beginning of every scientific question, we must conceptualize our terms with operational definitions. International aeronautical authorities agree that Earth ends and space begins at the Kármán line, marking the edge of space at 62 miles above sea level. However, a more practical definition of space visibility would be from the window of the International Space Station, orbiting at roughly 245 miles up, where one could take the time to get a good look at the view. This incongruity of perspective demonstrates the importance of operational definitions, as visibility of the Wall fades out at roughly 180 miles above sea level.

So while the moon is a stretch, the myth of the Great Wall is not a total fraud. However, visibility of the monument is dependent on weather and lighting conditions, which more often than not obscure its view. Not only can it only be viewed under virtually perfect conditions, it also depends on the space traveler. Some astronauts describe the Wall as hardly visible, whereas others cannot spot the Wall at all, given that it is not particularly wide nor does its color clash with landscape.

Although there is limited truth to the Great Wall’s space visibility, the common notion that it is the sole man-made feature with a heavenly view is totally false. The most common example would be larger highways, which outspan the Wall and are more identifiable because they are straighter and more off-color. While individual buildings are hard to spot, clusters of infrastructure can easily be recognized from the International Space Station. Densely urbanized cities are discernible from vast rural areas, where the most to be seen from space would be the occasional dam. Whereas interstellar lighting plays a key role in visibility of the Wall, nighttime may actually heighten visibility of highways and cities from space, as they become flooded with powerful electric lights that illuminate the structures.

Construction of the Great Wall of China was started in the seventh century B.C. as strategic military fortification from foreign invaders. But in a grander view, its majesty pales in comparison to the structural advances invented for the betterment of humankind, such as electricity, irrigation, and even roads. City lights, river dams, and interstate highways were built with noble intent, leading to widespread use. Because of this, their omnipresence towers over the Great Wall in the context of a bigger picture. Granted, the Great Wall of China is certainly a better vacation spot than a desert highway, but an astronaut – returning home after years of looking at the world luminous and ribboned with highways – might disagree.

Is China’s Great Wall Visible from Space? – Mara Hvistendahl – Scientific American

Iberian Peninsula at Night – Earth Observatory – NASA

Miseducation: Finding the Middle Ground with Columbus

The Erdapfel (1492) and Martin Behaim

The Erdapfel (1492), the oldest surviving globe, painted with its creator, Martin Behaim

‘Miseducation’ is a series intended to correct falsities that are often mistaken for common knowledge. Tips provided are discouraged from being raised to maliciously correct teachers. Furthermore, OPT does not condone acts of know-it-allism.

Christopher Columbus’s legacy is fraught with controversy. By modern standards, his deeds would be considered less than reputable. More than that, controversy stems from numerous inaccuracies about his voyages, such as coming in second to the Americas to Leif Ericson and never having landed in the U.S. but the Caribbean islands. Christopher Columbus remains a history lesson despite his faults, but he may make a better lesson because of his faults.

One pillar of the Columbus mythology is his crusade against the commonplace belief of a flat Earth. Fabricated accounts describe the voyager as perpetually persuading potential financiers of Earth’s sphericality. While an alternate route to India was a tough sell, it had nothing to do with a mistaken perception of the globe. By medieval times, Earth’s three-dimensional nature was generally accepted as fact among the European intellectual elite, as well as eventual investors King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

This misconception about medieval thinking is known among historians as the Flat Error. Indeed, the concept of the flat Earth was done away with long before Columbus set sail. As early as ancient Greece, scholars have made themselves aware of the orbicular form of our planet. Aristotle’s cognizance, however, has been compromised through years of sloppy historians crediting Columbus with heralding in the round Earth era.

This misconception of Columbus having an uphill battle against ignorance is a warped recounting of a different uphill battle, almost in defense of ignorance. While many agreed one could conceivably sail westward to India, discerning investors correctly deemed it further than the explorer anticipated. The Spanish crown only agreed to finance half the voyage on a last-minute whim against the advice of learned counsel. In the absence of the Americas, making a straight shot from Europe to Asia as Columbus envisioned, the distance would have exhausted the supplies of his ships. Since it saved the crew from certain doom, the area was then declared the land of opportunity.

Columbus was undoubtedly wrong in a few ways, and his legacy is poorly cited. With all the facts in place, it might seem like there’s nothing to learn from Columbus besides luckily stumbling upon an opportunity. Nevertheless, his saga has thematic undertones about goals, in that you sometimes find what you were searching for isn’t what you expected – but that can still mean success. Even with obstacles, such as the Atlantic Ocean or being misinformed, accomplishment can only be the result of pursuit and effort. But unless you want to depend on luck, you should learn as much as you can before embarking on a goal.

The Myth of the Flat Earth – Jeffrey Burton Russell – American Scientific Affiliation

The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus – Irving Washington (1828)

On Point News – Fall 2014

OPT polo shirt

OPT polo shirt, in green

On Point Tutoring is delighted to usher in a fresh year of quality education. Like our students, we as a company have advanced over the past year and are eager to apply our knowledge to build on our success this year. We have many exciting developments for fall 2014, and we are poised to provide another year of exceptional tutoring.

Student progress is a top priority of OPT, which is why our company must improve with our students. We are debuting our standardized test score tracker this year, which will catalog high school students’ performance on college entrance exams. Each student can closely monitor their personal progress on the SAT and ACT, as well as their scores on practice exams administered by OPT. We developed the standardized test score tracker to increase student goal focus and to encourage further progress with graphical reinforcement of hard work.

Another emphasis of On Point Tutoring is accessibility. To that effect, we are embracing the most modern systems to facilitate session payment. We are proud to announce our use of Square Register, a mobile application to accept credit cards for our service. Using our smartphones and tablets enabled with Square Register, we can slide or manually input credit cards. Through adopting this program, we will increase the availability of our company.

OPT realized that the fresh school year calls for a fresh look. Henceforth, our tutors will sport company polo shirts, in white or green. On Point Tutors are defined by our dedication, and this team uniform feels consistent with our attitude. Also, we simply can’t conceal our company pride, and polos seemed like an appropriate way to show it.

Besides these developments, On Point Tutoring remains committed to providing a fresh approach to learning. As we continue the 2014-2015 school year, we aim to steadily progress our company as we work to help students reach their scholastic goals.