a little bit of knowledge (this american life)

This American Life

293: A Little Bit of Knowledge
Chicago Public Radio


Stories about the pitfalls of knowing just a little bit too little.

Prologue.Host Ira Glass describes the thing that we all do at some point: talk expertly about something we don’t actually know anything about. It’s so common, explains This American Life contributing editor Nancy Updike, that some friends of hers invented an imaginary magazine devoted to such blathering. It’s called “Modern Jackass.” (4-1/2 minutes)

Act One. Small Thoughts in Big Brains.

This American Life producer Alex Blumberg investigates a little-studied phenomenon: children who get a mistaken idea in their heads about how something works or what something means, and then don’t figure out until well into adulthood that they were wrong. Includes the tale of a girl who received a tissue box for Christmas, alledgedly painted by trained monkeys. (13 minutes)

Song: ” Zing Zing, Zoom Zoom,” Perry Como

Act Two. And Daddy Makes Three.

Six-year-old DJ has two dads, Dan Savage and Terry Miller. DJ is being raised by two gay men, but he has a preschooler’s understanding of what gay means. Which is to say, he doesn’t understand it at all. Though he does oppose gay marriage. Dan, the author of the syndicated column and book Savage Love, tells the story. His latest book is Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America. (11 minutes)

Act Three. Sucker MC-Squared.

Bob Berenz had a good job as an electrician. But he wanted to do something bigger. He came up with an idea for an invention. But as he studied physics texts to see if his invention could work, he happened upon the biggest idea of his life: a revelation about physics that would disprove Einstein, and Newton. That is, if Bob’s right. Bob’s friend, Robert Andrew Powell, reports the story. He’s a sports writer and the author of We Own This Game, about youth football. (16-1/2 minutes)

Song: “Modern Physics in Five Easy Verses,” Bruce Lesnick

Act Four. The Art of Adult Conversation.

Writer Alexa Junge tells about the time when she was thirteen and she decided to have a “grown-up” conversation with her beloved grandmother. (10 minutes)

Song: “Words as Weapons,” Michael Fracasso

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