Penn State New Kensington and a New Post at Salon

I have a new piece up at Salon, called Benghazi nuts, anti-vaxxers, birthers — Do they really believe their own Nonsense?” It’s a much shorter version of a lecture I delivered at Penn State New Kensington a couple of weeks ago, under a wonkier title (“How Conspiracy Theorists are Like Canaries in the Mineshaft of the State”).

Professor John Craig Hammond, who had assigned THE NEW HATE to his honors seminar on “Conspiracy Theories in American Life,” very graciously invited me to come to the campus, meet his students, and deliver a public lecture. He also invited me to write an essay for his students to critique while it was still in progress, which provided the genesis of the lecture. Perhaps I’ll post its full text some day.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, he arranged for me to be interviewed on Essential Pittsburgh on the NPR affiliate WESA. Here’s the link to the podcast (unfortunately when you click on it, there’s a woman talking about a new hospital wing in Pittsburgh or something, not me. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll fix it in due course). It was a good interview though.

I loved meeting his students, most of whom were studying STEM subjects. They were a fascinating mix of former soldiers using their GI Bill benefits, foreign students (a Saudi student asked me if I’d heard the theory that 911 was orchestrated by Mossad; I told him that I had), and locals who will transfer to Penn’s main campus after two years. Penn State still takes its land grant mission seriously, to create schools that, “without excluding scientific and classical studies … teach agriculture and the mechanic arts [engineering] … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in all the pursuits and professions of life.”

Learning to think critically about conspiracy theories, one could very truly argue, is an important tool for every citizen to acquire, whether they belong to the industrial classes or the elite. I was honored to do my part.

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