I am a professor— “Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Law”— at a 4,500-student college of Penn State in Erie. NBI emerged gradually from teaching thousands of Penn State students, many less than 20 years old and taking their first college course. Students have changed in many ways. One troubles me most. Today’s student wants things to be simple and brief. This stems from the information age where most communication is quick, brief and simple. Many of the concepts I must teach cannot be make brief and simple. This book is my attempt to help people to deal with this “everything can’t be made simple” aspect of the today’s world.
My students are right in the middle of the most significant and complex array of issues at any time in our nearly 250-year history. I know what you’re thinking—what about the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II? This time we have an intermingling of what we do and how we do it that is unmatched in history. We have drastically changed the modes of communication—cell phones and the Internet to name just two— that are so much faster and so different, they fundamentally alter both the information transmitted and the people involved in the transmission. Most of us are so immersed in this new information age, we forget how rapid and pervasive the change has been.
The origin and development of NBI is an excellent example of synergy. I needed to find ways to help my students to adjust to the quick, brief, oversimplified information age of which they are a part. I’d use techniques in my classes that, if they past the student test, wound up in NBI. I know these techniques make my classes better, the students learn more and remember it longer.
At the most basic level, NBI is about facts, basic units of information. I explain how facts are the building blocks of information and understanding. But “fact traps” are everywhere, many very subtle. Understanding facts and what to do with them involves far more than recognizing and discarding misinformation. Often that is the easy part. Far more important is appreciating facts, where they fit, and what to do with them.
An example from sports: On March 2, 1962, a basketball player scored 100 points in a single game. On the face of it, this seems like quite a big deal. But we must go further and put the fact into context. We need to know this was in the NBA, the premier professional basketball league in the world. The player, Wilt Chamberlain, was one of the greatest players who ever lived. This record has never been matched. It’s only in the context of this additional information that we can truly appreciate what an achievement this was.
Due to NBI, often in my classes, I discuss a “fact” or an “assertion,” then walk to the center of the classroom and challenge the “kids” to put the fact into context—PUTFiC. A recent example: many of my students believe the U.S. has the best health care system in the world. I challenge them to put this into context by asking how much it cost us and what results do we get. The answers are we spend about 1/3 more than any other rich country and our results are no better than 15 in the world, below average for a rich country.
No-Bull Information is a way of coping more effectively with the flood of information that defines our new, chaotic, information-dense environment. NBI will not lead to the same answers for everyone. NBI can help each individual to understand what is best for her/him. What works for you as one person must consider seven billion other people on planet earth, each trying to find their route through the information labyrinth. Ultimately, the success of NBI depends on it handling the most serious abuses of phrase and fact.
Dr. John Gamble is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and International Law at Penn State’s Behrend College in Erie and Director of Honors Programs. He is the author of approximately 100 publications and recently won Penn State’s most prestigious award for teaching, the Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.
Dr. Gamble has stuttered all of his life. As a result, he believes words are precious and should not be taken for granted; this motivated him to write NO BULL INFORMATION. His dream for the book is that parents and grandparents will teach their children and grandchildren NBI techniques and demand clear, concise information from political leaders and service and product providers.
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