Gell-Mann Amnesia

Mar 14, 2023
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.
Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

It's something to keep in mind, especially as information moves faster than ever before. We also get it from more and more places, such as primary sources directly on social media, or independent analysts synthesizing information in real-time. It can be hard to tell who an expert is (or what being an expert means).

Counterpoint: It's exhausting to be skeptical of every piece of new information. Malcolm Gladwell popularized a theory in psychology he called "default to truth," where he suggests that our default position when encountering new information is to believe it until we have evidence to disprove it. Trust is something that our society is built on. The real answer is probably a balance of both.

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