Fair and fact-based news helps people make good decisions. That's why journalists work hard to get their facts straight.
In the third installment of our series "Prove It: How to find the facts," we'll hear how one daring reporter got herself locked in a mental hospital to uncover injustice. We'll meet an 11-year old publishing her own paper and Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold tell us how he makes sure his stories are accurate. And we'll find out if the claim that fish have no memory holds water.
All that plus a fresh new Mystery Sound and a Moment of Um tackling the question: why do humans have a tailbone but no tail?
PRESENTER: You're listening to Brains On!, where we're serious about being curious.
PRESENTER: Brains On! is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
GOLDFISH: Hey, honey, I'm home. Oh, dinner and flowers?
CLAM: Hi, Goldfish darling. Do you like it?
GOLDFISH: Who doesn't like a nice romantic dinner with their handsome Clam husband. How thoughtful.
CLAM: Goldfish, you forgot.
GOLDFISH: No, I didn't forget. How could I forget my hubby's birthday? Look, Clam, I got you this file folder. It's Manila, your favorite color.
CLAM: It's not my birthday.
GOLDFISH: Syke, I know it's not your birthday. That was a joke. What kind of a lame gift is a file folder anyway?
GOLDFISH: Happy Valentine's.
CLAM: It's our anniversary!
GOLDFISH: Oh, right.
CLAM: How could you? It's our first anniversary as an aquatic married couple. Does that ring on your fin mean nothing?
GOLDFISH: Wait, I'm just a fish. We have terrible memories. We can only remember things for like three seconds. It's just a fact. It's not my fault.
CLAM: Wait, is that true?
GOLDFISH: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's totally true. It's science. Us fish, we don't remember anything, like where am I right now? I don't even remember who are you. Who's that handsome hunk of a clam holding those flowers. Are those for me?
CLAM: Oh, I can't stay mad at you, Goldie. Those cute gills, those stunning scales, your beautiful, black, unblinking eyes. Look, let's just enjoy this dinner together. I'll go get the sparkling white brine.
GOLDFISH: Shelley, mark this date on my calendar next year. Anniversary with Clam. Do not forget. Also, Shelley, when is Clam's birthday?
MOLLY BLOOM: This is Brains On! Welcome to part 3 of our series, Prove It; How to Find the Facts. Check out parts 1 and 2 if you haven't. Let's do it.
[PROVE IT THEME SONG]
(SINGING) How can we deflate what we declare, theorize, and test for errors? What if what we say feels right? OK, sure, but let's just shine a light.
We can prove it. We can prove it. Let's check the facts and prove it.
We can prove it. We can prove it. Let's check the facts and prove it. Prove it! Yeah!
MOLLY BLOOM: This is Brains On! from American Public Media. I am your host Molly Bloom. And my co-host for this series is 12-year-old Katie from Fairfield, Connecticut. Hi, Katie.
MOLLY BLOOM: In this series, we've been talking about different ways we humans find facts about our world. Last time, we tackled science. And today, we're talking journalism, the news business, mass media, the press.
KATIE: We'll be explaining more about the history of newspapers. And we'll ask some journalists about their jobs. Plus, the Mystery Sound, the Moment of Um, all the good stuff.
MOLLY BLOOM: Katie, you love reading news. Do you want to be a journalist when you grow up?
KATIE: Yes, I love journalism. And I think it would be a really cool job. I get to research stuff and all that.
MOLLY BLOOM: So what are your favorite types of news stories to read as a news consumer?
KATIE: I love reading international stories because I love to know what's going on in the world.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK, so fish, do they have a three-second memory? That's what our friend Joe is curious about.
JOE: Hi, Brains On! I'm Joe, and I'm 12. I'm from Reno, Nevada. Do fish have brains? And I heard they have a three-second memory, is that true? Bye.
MOLLY BLOOM: Linda Qiu, fact checker and journalist at the New York Times, is back to help us see if this is true. Welcome back, Linda.
LINDA QIU: Thanks.
KATIE: So is it true that fish only have a three-second memory?
LINDA QIU: That's not true, and there's actually a lot of research that shows that fish have way longer memories. Sometimes they can last for months. So I'll give you a couple of examples. There was a study in 1994 where scientists trained goldfish to pull a lever one hour every day in order to get food over several weeks.
When the lever stopped giving out food, the fish still remembered to pull the lever and what time to pull that lever. There was another study in 2016. Scientists used an archer fish, which is a fish that can shoot water.
And they trained this archer fish to shoot water at a picture of a human face. And they gave the fish pellets of food afterwards as a reward. A couple of days later, scientists then introduced pictures of different human faces, but the fish could actually remember which human it was supposed to shoot water at.
MOLLY BLOOM: That's a really funny experiment.
KATIE: Yeah, that sounds awesome.
MOLLY BLOOM: Well, there you go. So they do have longer memories than just three seconds.
LINDA QIU: Yeah.
KATIE: Wait a minute, how does a goldfish pull a lever?
LINDA QIU: [CHUCKLES] So from the videos I watch, it looks like they just kind of bump into it.
So they more like bump a lever.
KATIE: Yeah. Yeah.
MOLLY BLOOM: So for this fact, how did you check this one out?
LINDA QIU: So, again, I started with a Google search. And it led me to a couple of different news articles about scientific research that had been conducted. And then I went ahead and read the articles myself.
KATIE: How long does it usually take you to check a fact?
LINDA QIU: That depends. Some things are pretty easy to fact-check, so I can get it in a couple of seconds. Other times, it can take hours or even days.
One of my longest fact checks, it took me about a week and a half to do because I had to go to the Library of Congress and pull archival material and convert it from microfilm to PDFs and just look at everything there. So that took very long.
- Well, thank you so much for checking this fact for us today.
KATIE: Thanks for being here.
LINDA QIU: You're welcome.
CHILDREN: Brains On!
MOLLY BLOOM: Ha, I just got a news alert on my phone.
KATIE: What does it say?
MOLLY BLOOM: Breaking news. Sanden is coming to blow minds with history? That can't be right.
SANDEN TOTTEN: Oh, it is right. Molly
KATIE: Sanden, where did you come from?
SANDEN TOTTEN: I was just hiding in the trash can, but that's not important. What is important is history. And I'm here to give you some.
MOLLY BLOOM: Wow, that trash smell is really strong.
KATIE: Like spoiled cottage cheese or rotten pumpkin.
SANDEN TOTTEN: It's all worth it for dramatic entrance. Look, I'm here to tell you how journalism as we know it came to be. So in our first episode in the series, I told you how the printing press brought facts and information to a wide audience.
KATIE: Right, and you said publishing small papers or pamphlets became really popular around the Revolutionary War in America.
SANDEN TOTTEN: Exactly, so that's where I'll pick up the story. It's 1775, and the colonists are stoked.
NEWSPAPER BOY: Hear ye! Hear ye! We beat the British! The war is over! We are free to start our own nation! Anyone know exactly how to start a nation? Is there like a manual or like a cheat sheet or something? I'm way out of my depth here.
ANDIE TUCHER: They wake up in the morning, they've defeated the biggest empire in the world, OK, now what do we do?
SANDEN TOTTEN: That's Andie Tucher, a Journalism Professor at Columbia University.
ANDIE TUCHER: We've got this country we're supposed to organize. How are we going to do that?
SANDEN TOTTEN: Andie says, at the time, there were two major political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. Both had a grand vision for how to raise this baby democracy.
(BABY TALK) So cute the little baby democracy.
Excuse me. The problem was their visions were pretty different.
FEDERALIST: Fresh news here. We, Federalists, came up with the best way to form a new government. Read all about it in our paper.
DEMOCRAT: Breaking story. We, Democratic-Republicans, invented an even better way of doing things. Way better than the Federalists. Buy our paper for the story.
FEDERALIST: Oh, yeah? Well, breaking our news, we Federalists saw the Democratic Republican's plan, and it's a flaming pile of hogwash.
DEMOCRAT: What? Update to our last edition. Federalist ideas found to be pure whale snot. And their editor is a festering pustule.
FEDERALIST: Oh, ho, ho. Says in our paper your editor is a pea-brained horseful flicker.
ANDIE TUCHER: They would call each other names, you logger-headed booby and addled cat's paw. This is editors talking about each other. But you bought the newspaper. You supported the newspaper that supported your point of view.
SANDEN TOTTEN: So not exactly the objective journalism we strive for today.
KATIE: I'll say. So when did things begin to change?
SANDEN TOTTEN: It took some time. Let's fast forward a few decades to the 1830s.
[PLAYER PIANO MUSIC]
Cities like New York are becoming these massive communities. There are no cars. People use horses to get around.
It's dirty and smelly, but also bustling and full of newcomers from Europe and rural America who want to know all about their new home. So some publishers start printing papers all about life in the city. They're cheap, often just a penny, and Andie Tucher says these papers cover a lot more than just politics.
ANDIE TUCHER: And it gives you all this cool stuff to know about your city. It tells you about the murders and the scandals. It tells you about the woman who was arrested because she was smoking a cigar in the street.
It tells you about down in the battery, there was a tree. And it had 60 wild pigeons in it. And people are thrilled about this because, for the first time, newspapers are telling ordinary people facts about their daily lives at a price that ordinary people can buy it.
MOLLY BLOOM: Wait, Sanden, did she say a tree had 60 pigeons in it?
SANDEN TOTTEN: Yep.
MOLLY BLOOM: I'd read about that.
KATIE: Yeah, me too.
SANDEN TOTTEN: I know, right? That was the point. These papers made money by luring in as many readers as possible. And one reporter who was great at getting readers and telling really important stories was a woman named Nellie Bly.
BROOKE KROEGER: She just moved to New York from Pittsburgh where she got fed up with covering flower shows and new raincoats and things like that.
SANDEN TOTTEN: That's Brooke Kroeger, a Professor of Journalism at New York University and author of the book, Nellie Bly; Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist.
BROOKE KROEGER: She really wanted to cover real news, things that made a difference.
NELLIE BLY: I mean, flowers and coats are fine, but there's injustice in the world and someone needs to shed a light on it. I guess that someone is me, Nellie Bly.
SANDEN TOTTEN: Nellie uncovered poor conditions for women in prisons, she described poverty in Mexico, and reported on crooked politicians. Early in her career, she heard a rumor that patients in a New York mental hospital were being mistreated.
NELLIE BLY: I wanted to see it for myself. But the only way to get in was to get locked in, so I pretended to be mentally ill.
BROOKE KROEGER: She practiced in a mirror. She moved into a women's boarding house downtown. And she began to act very, very strangely.
NELLIE BLY: It wasn't easy, but I was determined. I barely spoke to anyone. I pretended to forget where I was from.
I even refused to sleep. I sat up all night with a dead look in my eyes. Everyone was spooked.
BROOKE KROEGER: When she got to the boarding house, she just kept saying, I need my trunks, I need my trunks, I need my trunks! Her big suitcases. I need my trunks! I need my trunks! And people just thought she was quite loony.
SANDEN TOTTEN: It worked. She was locked up, and she saw all kinds of abuse in the hospital. Living conditions there were terrible, too. Her newspaper was in on this plan, so they eventually bailed her out. And when people read her report, they were outraged. Politicians vowed to improve the mental hospital.
BROOKE KROEGER: There was actually a real result, the sort of things we like to see newspapers accomplish. So that was a pretty big deal.
NELLIE BLY: It's all part of the job. Now aren't you glad I wasn't stuck covering fashion shows and theater?
SANDEN TOTTEN: Nellie was part of a growing tradition of journalists helping those in need.
But soon the news business would suffer an embarrassing scandal that would reshape the world of journalism. I'll be back with that in a minute.
KATIE: Wow, it's fun to binge all this history.
MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah. Hey, you know what rhymes with history?
MOLLY BLOOM: Mystery, as in it's time for the--
[MYSTERY SOUND THEME] Ssh! (WHISPERS) Mystery Sound.
Here it is.
[MYSTERY SOUND PLAYING]
OK, Katie, any guesses what that sound might be?
KATIE: I think it sounds like a printer shooting out paper.
MOLLY BLOOM: Excellent guess. We're going to be back a little later in the show with the answer.
KATIE: Do you have a mystery sound to show or a question only Brains On! can answer?
MOLLY BLOOM: Or maybe you want to share a drawing of Clam and Goldfish's romantic anniversary dinner?
KATIE: We'd love that, so get in touch. Just go to BrainsOn.org/contact.
MOLLY BLOOM: Be like Julia who sent us this question.
JULIA: How come we have a tailbone but no tail?
KATIE: Good question. So good in fact that we'll be answering it in a Moment of Um.
MOLLY BLOOM: Stick around for that and to hear the latest group of curious kids to join the elite ranks of the Brains Honor Roll.
KATIE: These are the fans that send us ideas, questions, and drawings, and also make our day by being the best.
MOLLY BLOOM: And if you love Brains On!, please help keep the show going. We're a nonprofit supported by our frans.
KATIE: What's a fran?
MOLLY BLOOM: I made it up. It means a friend who is also a fan. That's how I think of our listeners.
KATIE: Frans, I like it.
MOLLY BLOOM: So please help us out with a donation of any amount, large or small. For a show as scrappy as ours, it really makes a difference. Just go to BrainsOn.org/donate. Thanks.
KATIE: Thanks, frans.
MOLLY BLOOM: This is Brains On! I'm Molly.
KATIE: And I'm Katie. And today, we're all about journalism. Sanden, you were telling us about the newspapers in the US during the late 1800s.
SANDEN TOTTEN: Yeah, as I mentioned, some of those papers were heading for an epic fail.
MOLLY BLOOM: What do you mean?
SANDEN TOTTEN: Well, these papers needed a lot of readers to make money, so to keep people buying, some of them started stretching the truth. They did something called sensationalizing the news. That means to take a story and make it way more exciting or scandalous than it actually is to get readers.
NEWSPAPER MAN: Extra! Extra! Horse goes missing in New York. Buy the paper. Read all about it. Anybody? Wait, did I say goes missing? I mean, horse snapped! Horse is horse snapped in New York! Any of your horses could be next!
WOMAN 1: Horse snapped? Oh, dear!
MAN: I'll take a copy of that paper. I need to read up, so I can protect my horse.
WOMAN 2: Oh, me too! Here's my money. Take my money!
NEWSPAPER MAN: Kaching! Yes!
SANDEN TOTTEN: Now not all newspapers did this, but towards the end of the 1800s, it got really bad in New York. Sometimes these papers sensationalized crimes or scandals. And in 1898, they sensationalized something called the Spanish-American War. Here's journalism historian Andie Tucher again.
ANDIE TUCHER: This is a very small-scale war in which the Cubans are revolting against the Spanish who have controlled the island. The United States gets involved to help. It's a very fast war. The United States has enormous firepower, defeats the Spanish very quickly. But the sensational newspapers in New York, they see this as a great story.
It's going to get people to buy their newspapers. Well, they made up stuff, they lied, it was really sensational. There's a backlash against this. And many people are starting to think we can do a lot better.
SANDEN TOTTEN: One of those people was Joseph Pulitzer. He ran a paper called The New York World. He felt bad about what his paper published during the war. So he decided to help change things.
He founded a school that opened in 1912, the Columbia Journalism School. That's where Andie Tucher teaches. Just a few years earlier, the Missouri School of Journalism opened up. These were some of the first formal schools to teach reporters how to be fair and ethical.
ANDIE TUCHER: So the beginning of the 20th century, there is a real movement toward reforming a lot of what was awful about journalism. That's where you see the beginnings of the idea that journalists should be responsible, should strive for fair play, should be impartial, should try not to take sides, and not to be opinionated. This is a new value.
We now criticize all sorts of journalism for not being objective, but that would not have been an issue until just about 100 years ago. That idea took hold in the beginning of the 20th century in response to the idea that if you're going to give people information that they can use to make their own decisions, you should try to give them the whole story.
SANDEN TOTTEN: Obviously, a lot changes over the next 100 years. People put out news on the radio and eventually on TV. Newspapers pop up all over the globe.
And reporters print stories that change the course of history. Because, it turns out, fair and fact-based news is a powerful tool. When people know the news and trust what they're hearing, they can make good decisions and that's what it's all about.
MOLLY BLOOM: Thanks, Sanden.
KATIE: Yeah, thanks a lot.
SANDEN TOTTEN: My pleasure. Now, uh-- [SNIFFS] I think I need to go take a shower. This trash smell just is not going away. Ugh!
MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, that's a good idea.
SINGERS: (SINGING) Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, Brains On!
MOLLY BLOOM: Of course, news is always changing. And over the last 20 years, there were some major changes thanks to the internet.
KATIE: We'll talk more about that in our next episode. Plus, we'll give you tips on how to protect yourself from bad info.
HILDE LYSIAK: I'm Hilde Lysiak. I'm 11 years old. And I'm the Publisher of the Orange Street News.
MOLLY BLOOM: When Hilde started her paper at the age of seven, it really did just focus on the news of her street, Orange Street. Now four years later, the Orange Street News is a small monthly newspaper that covers the news of her whole town, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Hilde is the publisher, meaning she prints and distributes the newspaper, as well as its reporter. Hilde is usually the one doing the interviews, but she agreed to let us interview her last week.
How do you find the stories that you report on?
SANDEN TOTTEN: Well, usually, I mean, I just bike or walk around, and I ask people have you seen anything interesting or stuff like that. And a lot of times, I'll get a tip like someone will tell me something from that. But, other times, if I can't find anything that way, then sometimes people email me tips.
But usually walking around and asking people questions works. Once I get the tip, I'll usually do an interview. So I'll just ask them five questions, like basically the who, what, where, why?
Like those types of questions just to figure out mainly what happened. And after that, I'll just walk home, or I'll walk to a cafe. And I'll sit down, and I'll just write out the story.
MOLLY BLOOM: Do you interview more than one person for a story?
HILDE LYSIAK: Sometimes. Most times it's more than one person, but sometimes it will be that one person has all of the information I need to know. But, usually, it will be a few people.
MOLLY BLOOM: So what makes a good story? What do you look for in the stories that you choose to include in the paper?
HILDE LYSIAK: Mainly, I like to report on crime or mysteries because, well, in a crime story, it's basically a puzzle. And you're putting all the pieces to it together. And that's just so much fun for me.
MOLLY BLOOM: So what would you say is the difference between a news report and gossip around the neighborhood? What is the difference?
HILDE LYSIAK: A news report it's a lot more factual. As gossip is something that's mainly just spread around by people talking to each other.
MOLLY BLOOM: And what is your favorite story you've reported on?
HILDE LYSIAK: I got a tip that someone's house was almost robbed in Selinsgrove. And I heard it was on my block. So I walked around and I knocked on every door in my block until someone was, like, oh, yeah, I know which house that is. So I went to that house. And they basically said that they were almost robbed and that someone had broken in, but the dog had scared the intruder away.
MOLLY BLOOM: And why is that your favorite story?
HILDE LYSIAK: Well, it was my first real almost crime story. And also, it was a really hard-to-get story. It took a while to do.
And it was a lot of hard work. But it made me feel so accomplished when I was finished. It was really cool.
MOLLY BLOOM: What is your favorite part of reporting?
HILDE LYSIAK: Well, my favorite part is I love interviews. When I'm interviewing people-- for some people it's the writing that they like the most. But for me, I love interviewing people. It's so much fun.
MOLLY BLOOM: And what's your least favorite part?
HILDE LYSIAK: Um-- I don't know, that's a hard one. I don't think I have one.
MOLLY BLOOM: [CHUCKLES] That's awesome.
In addition to writing news stories, Hilde also has written a book series called, Hilde Cracks the Case. There are five books right now and a sixth one on the way.
KATIE: She uses real-life stories she's reported on as inspiration for the series of fiction.
MOLLY BLOOM: Hilde is driven to find out about the stories that are important to the small community where she lives.
KATIE: But what's it like to report on national or international stories?
MOLLY BLOOM: To find out, we have David Fahrenthold here.
KATIE: He's been a reporter at the Washington Post since 2000. Welcome, David.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.
MOLLY BLOOM: So, David, after hearing how Hilde report stories, what similarities do you see in her work to the work that you do as a reporter?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: A lot of similarities. The most important thing she talked about is separating news from gossip. She talked about how you can hear something from somebody, but if they didn't hear it directly from the source, that they don't have direct knowledge of what happened, that conversation is just the starting point. You don't really have your story yet, where you might go look for a story.
So a lot of our job is hearing things that other people have heard that may or may not be true. And then trying to figure out a way to prove them. To figure out what's actually true. And going looking for either people who have direct knowledge of what happened or try to find something like a government document or some other sort of physical proof that the story is true.
That's one thing. The other thing is the process she described knocking on a lot of doors, talking to a lot of people, working really hard just to get one story. And that's the life of a reporter, whether you're reporting on crime stories or you're reporting on politics.
KATIE: What does it mean to be objective?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Objective to me means that you don't go into a story knowing what you want the story to say at the end. You don't have an outcome or a bias in the story before you even start. Objective to me means you come in and you do all the reporting you can. And then you look at the facts, and let the facts tell the story. You stick to the facts, you follow the facts, and you don't let what you want the story to be, influence what the story actually is.
KATIE: So what sorts of ethical standards do reporters use in their jobs?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: One would be the ethics we have toward the readers. And so part of that is what do we owe to readers? We owe it to readers to be objective. And we also owe it to the readers that we're going to be truthful. That we've made every effort to figure out if what we were reporting is true.
And we've chased every lead that shows us the reporting is true and also leads that point in the other direction. And there's another set of ethics that governs how we deal with the people who are mentioned in our stories, the people we write about. And so that means some really basic things.
Like if you're going to write about somebody, you always give them a chance to tell their story. I write a lot about folks that never call me back, never respond to my questions, but every time you have to give them the chance. If you're going to write a story about them, you have to give them the chance to speak for themselves and tell their side of the story.
KATIE: So there's a lot of work going into to make sure everything is fair.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Absolutely. That makes reporting really hard sometimes. Trying to think about every angle on a story, everybody in the story. Have I treated this person fairly?
Have I accurately portrayed what they said and what they think? But that's the only way to do it. You realize when a story that I write, once it goes up online, once it comes out in the paper, if it mentions somebody in there, that's with them for life.
They're affected by it when it comes out. And they're affected by it 20 years later when somebody googles it. So you have a responsibility to make sure that if you have that kind of influence on people's lives, that you're being fair and being accurate.
KATIE: What do you enjoy most about your job?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: The thing I enjoy most about my job is actually the same thing that Hilde mentions, solving mysteries. I really enjoy the challenge of trying to set out on a story to understand something that's mysterious but important. And looking for all the different ways into that story, all the ways to find out this thing that somebody's trying to keep hidden.
KATIE: So I love to read the news and have been reading it since I was younger. Do you think it's important for young people to read the news?
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Absolutely. I mean, I grew up reading the news, reading my hometown newspaper. And I like the feeling of just being somebody who was well-informed, somebody who knew what was going on in the world. Just to pick one example of something that's been in the news this week. This new report about climate change and the change it's going to make to the world in the next 20 or 30 years.
Young people, that's the world you're going to live in. I think that fact, the fight against climate change, will be as important to your life as the rise of the internet has been to mine. And I think if you don't read that, the news is going to happen to you one way or the other. And if you read the news, you'll understand what's coming, and maybe take a role in preventing it.
KATIE: Well, thanks for being here today, David.
DAVID FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK, the time has come to unmask that mystery sound. Let's hear it one more time.
[MYSTERY SOUND PLAYING]
OK, Katie, any new guesses?
KATIE: Nope, I still think it's a printer.
MOLLY BLOOM: OK. Well, here is the answer.
SARAH QUIMBY: Hi, I'm Sarah Quimby. And I'm the Head of the Reference Department at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. That was a microfilm reader. So we use that to look at microfilm.
MOLLY BLOOM: Have you ever seen one of those before, Katie?
KATIE: Nope, I have no idea what that is.
MOLLY BLOOM: That's a hard mystery sound. So those you can find at libraries. And basically, you get a cartridge that has very small film on it.
You put it in this reader. And it shows up on a screen in front of you. And you can zoom through the film to find old newspapers or old documents or things like that.
KATIE: Wow, that's super interesting.
MOLLY BLOOM: Yes. If you ever need to dig up old information from an old newspaper, sometimes the only place you can find it is on these microfilm cartridges.
SARAH QUIMBY: You can fit a lot of information on one small reel. Like a thousand pages of a newspaper or a thousand pages of letters onto a tiny reel that weighs an ounce or more. And during wars, before they were computers, people would actually microfilm letters or orders and have a pigeon carry them across a battlefield. So you can drive a pigeon 10 miles, 20 miles, and they will fly back home.
MOLLY BLOOM: But pigeons weren't the only way folks used to get information before the internet. They'd go to libraries. If people had a question, they would go to the human version of Google, reference librarians.
A couple of years ago, the New York Public Library started sharing records of questions posed to librarians by visitors in the pre-internet days. That would be the 1940s, '50s, '60s, and '70s. And being excellent catalogers of information, the librarians wrote them all down.
People called looking for the poem on the Statue of Liberty, a school for auctioneers, and the eye color of the silver fox. People wanted to know how to put up wallpaper, what the life cycle of an eyebrow hair was, and whether or not a poisonous snake would die if it bit itself. Those are really good questions by the way. Sara says, to this day, libraries are still full of useful information you just won't find online.
SARAH QUIMBY: Like very old materials that have never been digitized. And here at the Minnesota Historical Society Library, we have things like diaries that people have written in the 1900s, 1800s. We have letters. We have state government records.
MOLLY BLOOM: So if you're on a fact-finding mission, try hitting up your local library. And in our next episode, we're going to be back with lots of tips for you to make sure that the information that you're looking at is factual and not false.
KATIE: Newspapers have not always been a reliable source of information.
MOLLY BLOOM: But in the early 1900s, journalists came together to make sure this powerful tool, journalism, was driven by objectivity and a set of ethical standards.
KATIE: A reporter needs to talk to lots of people, gather information from documents, and verify their reporting before even publishing it.
MOLLY BLOOM: And they need to be driven by curiosity and a desire to find the facts. That's it for this episode of Brains On!
KATIE: Brains On! is produced by Sanden Totten, Molly Bloom, and Marc Sanchez.
MOLLY BLOOM: We had production help from Natalie [? Brookstriker, ?] Otis Gray, and BD Zhang. We had engineering help from Julia [? Fredino, ?] Randy Johnson, and Michael DeMark. Many Thanks to [? Megan ?] Reddy, Paul Tosto, Julia Franz, John Wanamaker, Sarah Meyer, Elyssa Dudley, Andrew Walsh, Phillip Picardi, Bill Catlin, and Matt [? Leeshack. ?]
KATIE: And Brains On! is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
MOLLY BLOOM: If you have a question, idea, or mystery sound to share with us, you can head to BrainsOn.org/contact.
KATIE: And you can keep up with us on Instagram and Twitter. We're @Brains_On.
MOLLY BLOOM: Did you know we've made more than 100 episodes of the show? Well, you can find all of them at BrainsOn.org.
KATIE: Now, before we go, it's time for a Moment of Um.
JULIE: Hi, my name is Julie. I am 6 years old. I am from Atlanta, Georgia. And my question is, how come we have a tailbone but no tail?
[? BETSY ABRAMS RICH: ?] Would you actually be surprised to find out that we do have a tail? We actually have one before we're born, in our fifth through eighth week of life while we're growing in our mother's bodies. My name is Betsy Abrams Rich. I'm a Biological Anthropologist.
Anthropologists study what it means to be human. And biological anthropologists focus on the biological piece of that puzzle, investigating questions like why our bodies work and look the way they do. By the time we're actually born, our tail's disappeared. But what we have instead is a tailbone.
The technical term for our tailbone is a coccyx. Some people think of our tailbone as a vestigial tail. A vestigial structure is a remnant of something that once functioned.
We're part of a larger group of animals called primates. And these original primates had tails. We lost tails around 20 million years ago when we see the first apes. Humans are closely related to apes.
The important question is not why do humans not have tails. It's actually why do apes not have tails. Scientists don't know why apes don't have tails. We may be able to look at the function of tails, though, to think about why apes don't have tails.
When you look at animals with tails, they might use their tail for balance, for signaling, for grasping things. But if you're walking on two legs, a tail will get in the way. If we imagine a scenario in which animals with either shorter tails every generation or who lost their tails completely, we're able to move through the forest faster or escape from predators faster, you can see how you would end up with apes not having tails.
MOLLY BLOOM: I'm standing upright and ready to read this wonderful list of names. It's time for the Brain Honor Roll. These are the creative and inspiring listeners who keep this show going with their ideas and energy.
[LISTING HONOR ROLL]
(SINGING) Brains On!
That's it for this deep dive into the world of news. Next time, tips for finding your own facts. See you then.
KATIE: And thanks for listening.
Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.