Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, or How Crichton Pens More Than a Novel


Michael Crichton may be best known for his sci-fi novels, or writing stories that get made into films.

He was prolific in his writing but also a great thinker. He felt the “media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved”. He observed that someone who has an expertise in a particular topic notices an error in the newspaper article on that topic. S/He would also dismiss the article as not credible because of the error s/he found. But flip the page and read an article on another topic, s/he believes that article 100%, not considering the possibility that the quality of the next article was just as inaccurate.

He, using his market-savy, coined it as the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. In his 2002 essay, “Why Speculate”, he explains why:

“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.”

Here is the description of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect in Crichton’s own words:

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works 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 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. 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 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.”

Love the concept (almost as good as Dunning-Kruger effect), but love how he coined the name for the effect even more.

Photo: How Nara, Japan, coined themselves as the place of deer as they roam freely in the city with manholes as well as various sweets and merchandise that bear the deer theme.

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This entry was posted on September 11, 2015 by in Management, Thinking, Vocabulary and tagged , , , , .
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