Thursday 9 May 2024

How many journalists understand the 'Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect'?

"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. ...
    "Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s 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. Paper’s 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 as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know."
    "That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd 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 isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia."
~ author Michael Crichton, from his 2002 talk 'Why Speculate?'


oneblokesview said...

100% correct.
Man at the pub always believes crap.
Because it was on the news, inthe paper.

MarkT said...

There is another possible explanation - that journalists get it wrong more when reporting on specialist technical or physical sciences, than they do non-generalist social sciences - just because the former is not their thing and they lack the specialist knowledge. On the other hand the state of social sciences wouldn’t be so dire if they got it right more often. So I suspect it’s a combination of both.

Peter Cresswell said...

@MarkT: It's not just specialist technical or physical sciences they get reporting wrong. It's not even just science reporting.

Just think back to when you've been involved in any incident that yu read about next day in the newspaper or, worse, see on TV news, and consider how close that report is to what you KNOW about the incident. What proportion, if any, is accurate and relevant, with all necessary context. And it's THAT proportion of trust you should place in EVERY news event.

Libertyscott said...

A small part of the problem, having talked to one or two journalists, is that other than politicians, they struggle to find people who actually know what they are talking about, who aren't lobbying cranks of one or another variety. They go to academia, which can be laden with ideological bias which the journalists aren't aware of. Thinktanks are invariably laden with bias as well, and so to do a story that is "current" they rush, they use Google and grab whatever takes they can. Of course there is no shortage of ginger groups etc to give their takes, plus if journalists are personally sympathetic to listen to those that share their views, that's what comes across.

MarkT said...

PC and Libertyscott, you're probably both right.

I think it ultimately all comes down to shitty epistemology - epistemology basically being the process for gathering information and establishing facts. Their mentality seems similar to what I regularly encounter from real estate agents. They hear things, but don't really try to understand it. Instead they throw everything they hear into a big word salad, hoping it will look good and provoke interest - without caring about the concepts the words actually refer to, or if they way they've combined them aligns with reality.