The War of the Worlds and the Myth of Mass Panic

The 75th anniversary of the broadcast nears.


Next week will mark the 75th anniversary of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds, a radio drama that is often accused of provoking a mass panic. (In fact, the panic was a myth.) Big Picture Science, a public radio show sponsored by the SETI Institute—yes, that SETI Institute—just devoted an hour to Welles' show, and I was one of the guests.

You can listen to the episode here. First Michael Socolow does an excellent job of debunking the story of the mass panic, and then I put the legend into a larger historical context. Then Kevin Schindler talks about the idea of life on Mars, and then Katy Culver discusses misinformation in social media today. Clips from Welles' broadcast appear throughout the program, but if you've never heard the whole play, I recommend it highly; you can download it here.

Bonus links: The radio play later inspired a strange Superman comic, and the original H.G. Wells novel later inspired a bad disco record.