012. 19 Things About 2019 #12

#12  Don’t forget the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

The skinny

Michael Crichton coined the term in a 2005 talk.

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.

Why this matters

If you’re going to make good decisions – about your health, your wallet, or your politics – you need good information.

Unfortunately, the continuing deterioration of journalism as the publishing business model collapsed in the face of new digital media, means that your ‘news’ is less and less reliable or useful.

You’re going to have work harder to find the information you need. Oh, and you should pay for it. The new saying applies: “if you’re not paying, YOU are the product.”



Crichton slyly named the effect after his Nobel prize-winning physicist friend “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.”

Among many other things, Gell-Mann applied the term ‘quarks’ to a group of fundamental particles which I frankly do not understand. He acquired the term from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake: “Three quarks for Muster Mark!”

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