Interview with Dr. John Gamble, author of 'No Bull Information'

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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About the Book:

In his new book, NO BULL INFORMATION, Dr. John Gamble challenges readers to confront the Information Age by abandoning simplistic thinking and taking a measured approach that requires asking questions to analyze and understand complicated issues, to identify and avoid word traps, and to effectively dissect and comprehend numbers frequently used to confuse voters and consumers.
Gamble uses humor and a wise cartoon character, Arnbi, to guide the reader through the maze of political doublespeak, expert-celebrity pitches of products, and healthcare options, among other issues.

With a focus on helping Americans to become better prepared to deal with the massive amounts of information that they face on a daily basis, NO BULL INFORMATION (NBI) instructs readers in developing “a new type of literacy.” NBI seeks to create an educated citizenry that can sift through information, identify the facts, and determine the best way to manage those facts. Gamble asserts that the super citizens who accept the challenge of NBI will make better decisions, which will lead to a reduction in financial disasters and government inefficiency.
Gamble’s cartoon sidekick, Arnbi, supports the NBI movement by offering targeted advice that summarizes many of the key principles outlined in NO BULL INFORMATION, including:
·        Too bad, but “simple” is a square peg that seldom fits into the round hole that is our modern world.
·        Facts are necessary but they must be put into context (PUTFiC).
·        Vested interests are everywhere—recognize them.

Breaking down words and numbers is the foundation of NBI. In one section of the book, Gamble walks the reader through a basic lesson in understanding percentages and statistics. “You need to understand numbers enough not to be deceived.” In one intriguing illustration, Gamble compares the Pentagon’s budget of $700 billion to a two-liter bottle and a proposed $20 million in spending to one drop of water from an eyedropper placed in that bottle. “It is a helpful strategy for understanding large numbers that are thrown at us every day by politicians and salespeople.”

Stressing the necessity of analytical thinking, Gamble explores the use of words in “bull-laden” information and the need to guard against what the author calls “landmine words and phrases”; for example, quite frankly, my good friend, clinical studies prove, award winning, and as seen on TV.
Gamble uses guidance survey and focus cards to demonstrate how readers can practice NBI in their daily lives. The cards cover nine areas each (Survey cards: sampling, word warnings, vested interests, etc. Focus cards: infomercials, supermarkets, credit, etc.). The cards include questions that help the reader to analyze a particular situation (buying a new cell phone, for example) and offer guidance for making decisions.

“I have been a college professor for more than thirty years. I am convinced that there are serious problems with the way information is presented and understood,” Gamble says. “This affects all Americans. I am writing for and to them.”

The idea for NO BULL INFORMATION came to Gamble about ten years ago as he observed the difficulty his Penn State undergraduate students were having adjusting to the Information Age. “NBI was inspired by hundreds of students in scores of classes I have taught. It was an iterative process: a class inspired an idea for NBI that I took back to class to test before including it in the book.”
Gamble believes that people who read NO BULL INFORMATION will “gain a sense of empowerment, like a life preserver when we feel we are drowning in a mass of information.”

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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

The idea to write No Bull Information (NBI) first occurred to me about 15 years ago as I taught undergraduate students at Penn State’s 4,500-student college in Erie. I notice a change in my students, more wanted simple, brief answers. Instead of understanding a complex issue, they wanted a five option (even better four) multiple choice item. I saw that a lot students’ difficulty came from the information age where they receive information in short, quick bursts. NBI 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; rather it enables each individual to understand what is best for her/him as each tries to navigate the information labyrinth.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Very hard! I have been a professor for more than 1/3 of a century and have published about 100 more narrowly focused academic things (whatever that means). NBI deals with a far broader issue in a way an audience of millions can appreciate. It was a long, long process to find a way that would be effective— I am not naïve or arrogant enough to claim to have found the way. I describe the process like this. I had an itch needed to scratched but it took me years to figure out exactly where the itch was and how to do the scratching.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

The publisher is Morgan•James. It was difficult to find someone who would produce a good paperback, in color, at a reasonable price.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

This is not my first book, but it is my first book aimed at a mass audience. There were many big surprises. First, many publishers thought an egghead academic could not write for a wide audience. Most frustrating to me was the fact many publishers were not willing to take the time to make an informed judgment about my book proposal.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I plan spin-offs—more targeted versions of NBI if the first effort goes well. With the more traditional college professor side of my brain, I am writing about on why international law clings so tenaciously to its textual orientation.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I don’t hang out on-line. I try to use the Internet intelligently and not get seduced by, or addicted to, it.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

No-Bull Information is a way of coping more effectively with the flood of information that defines our new, chaotic, information-dense environment. 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.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I’ll leave to Arnbi, a character I created to get my message across in a memorable way. The name comes from the book’s title plus “Ar” from Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher who, 2500 years, was examining information critically. Arnbi is cute as hell. Statements from Arnbi are called ARNBisms. One example to whet your whistle:
 • Facts are necessary but they must be put into context (PUTFiC).

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