The Weekender, March 24, 2017

1) “Missing Richard Simmons,” a podcast. Total listen time is about three hours and 15 minutes, and it’s worth the entire length. Short version: Richard Simmons, the unique fitness guru, was an attention-seeking fireball for years — until about 2014, when he became a massive recluse. The podcast series is a highly entertaining exploration of Simmons’ life, history, friends, and colleagues, exploring the when and (via conjecture) the why behind Simmons’ sudden about-face.

A few words of caution, though. First, this is more than a bit gossipy — it’s well done and tries to be highbrow, but one can only do so much with the topic. Second, it’s riddled with pop-psych analysis by a host who lacks the competence to do so (although in fairness, he readily admits this throughout). Even with these concerns, though, it’s worth a binge-listen.

2) Support Now I Know:  I don’t have any sponsor lined up for today, so I’ll use the opportunity to politely ask again that you consider supporting Now I Know on Patreon. As of this writing, nearly 400 of you already do — I’m only 20 away from that milestone! — which is mindblowing. Thanks!


3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

And a bonus item: here’s another story about a masterpiece hidden in plain sight.

4) “This Article Won’t Change Your Mind” (The Atlantic, 25 minutes, March 2017). The subhead: “The facts on why facts alone can’t fight false beliefs.”

The theory of cognitive dissonance—the extreme discomfort of simultaneously holding two thoughts that are in conflict—was developed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. In a famous study, Festinger and his colleagues embedded themselves with a doomsday prophet named Dorothy Martin and her cult of followers who believed that spacemen called the Guardians were coming to collect them in flying saucers, to save them from a coming flood. Needless to say, no spacemen (and no flood) ever came, but Martin just kept revising her predictions. Sure, the spacemen didn’t show up today, but they were sure to come tomorrow, and so on. The researchers watched with fascination as the believers kept on believing, despite all the evidence that they were wrong.

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,” Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schacter wrote in When Prophecy Fails, their 1957 book about this study. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point … Suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.”


5) “Meet The Man Who Stopped Thousands Of People Becoming HIV-Positive” (Buzzfeed, 17 minutes, February 2017). The title summarizes it without giving away the details, so, click, read, and be amazed at how something so heroic — and unlikely — comes to pass.

6) “The Weather God of Oklahoma City” (New York Times Magazine, 27 minutes, August 2013). This is a profile of a weatherman — now retired — who was an icon in the Oklahoma City community. For those unaware of that area’s weather, Oklahoma City is smack in the middle of Tornado Alley, a section of the United States which gets a lot of tornados. A great weatherman can be a literal lifesaver; this is the story of a man who dedicated his career to being just that.

Have a great weekend!