Skip to comments.The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect
Posted on 11/16/2012 7:09:09 AM PST by Mr. K
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murrays case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the wet streets cause rain stories. Papers full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Id point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.
But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isnt. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
"In any case [after reading] with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-[you]then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate"
It isn’t amnesia. It is hope. You hope these people really aren’t that STOOPID.
I’d add that the passivity of the news-reader or news-listener is a big factor.
I submit that Middle America receives the largest portion of its world view on national and international news from passive listening to the radio. Followed by passive reading of internet or local newspaper news, and then by listening to local television news and news from entertainment media.
Nearly 100% of this reporting comes from less than ten wire services: Associated Press, the big three networks, Reuters, a few large newspapers, foreign wires, NPR, and that’s about it.
Middle America receives its worldview every hour at the top of the hour in between cuts of our favorite classic rock or country tunes.
I call these the wet streets cause rain stories.
This is going right into my “really useful, funny quotes” bag
How about using stock photographs of politicians in story bylines?
For example, there are a set of stock photographs used on Drudgereport and Townhall (and I assume elsewhere) of Obama in various poses that the photograph itself imparts a particular feeling without having to read past the headline.
The picture itself has nothing to do with the topic at hand, it may be Obama laughing at a joke at a the correspondence dinner, but then is used to caption an article like “Obamah’s Ohio Election fraud”.
I used Obama as an example, but I first realized this method when I was rooting for Newt Gingrich in the primaries. Bad story about Newt had a picture of Newt with his head in his hands. Good story about Newt and it had Newt with his head up and laughing.
A little research and I found that in almost every instance, the picture has nothing to do with the headline and everything to do with what the creator of the website wanted you to feel.
Actually, I noted a long time ago that every time I read a news article about something I already knew about, they got something wrong, and I started trying to remind myself of that when reading about something I didn’t know much about.
“In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.”
A doctrine which I believe is “falsus in uno” but probably adhered to for the convenience of the legal bureaucracy.
It’s not amnesia if it’s deliberate.
We witnessed massive Pundit Fail on this last election. Look for all those failed pundits to enjoy continued prosperity and a steady stream of links from Freepers who like what they say — even if it turns out to be completely wrong.
I’m pretty fed up watching people on the right turn “like/dislike” into “true/false” and frequently into “friend/enemy.” And don’t tell me about how the liberals are even worse about it. I don’t claim to be part of the “liberal movement” so I don’t have to be embarrassed when they run around spouting comforting delusions.
The idea is from Michael Crichton- he is an amazing writer getting better all the time, I think
“Its not amnesia if its deliberate.”
True, Depending upon its purpose, it can either be propaganda, mass delusion, or an error in reporting/judgement.
I keep something in mind when I’m reading or listening to the news. If the broadcast and print media keep using the same phrases or expressions, that is a very strong indicator of ‘talking points’ that have a political source.
Of course, this could be misleading. A group of people, liberal or conservaitve, read a trusted source, pick up a meme, then repeat it ad nauseum which can look as though it were planted propaganda particularly if it is false.
I used to do SIGINT for the U.S.Navy and have found it really helps to have a solid base of historical facts as a background, just in order to detect when propaganda or bullshit is coming from the MSM.
Michael Crichton cannot be getting better all the time. He is dead, having passed away a few years ago.
:( I didnt know that
Incidentally, two days ago the WALL STREET JOURNAL had an op-ed about political affairs in Turkey, by a writer whom I had thought was pretty well informed. I send a copy of it to the guy who was my department chairman when I was teaching in Turkey, and asked his opinion. His opinion was "Trash," and then he went on to explain what was wrong with it. I'm glad I had an informed source. Otherwise I might have accepted it simply because I'm not informed about the situation there.