Fred Fredrickson and Johnny Journalist

A look at the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

Fred Fredrickson always started out his day with a cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. One day Fred read in the newspaper an article by Johnny Journalist reporting on a new scientific study proving that gravy was by far the best morning beverage and that everyone should quit drinking coffee in the morning and transition over to drinking gravy. fred Fredrickson of course was growing more health consious as he aged so later that day he went to the store to buy some gravy to replace his moring coffee so that he could reap the health benefits of morning gravy.

The next moring as Fred sipped his morning gravy he read an article by Johnny Journalist talking about how a group of biologists at South Dakota university had recently trained dolphins how to speak English to a level that they could be trusted as substitutes for divers in research expeditoins. Johnny Journalist wrote about how these researchers would soon have their dolphins start exploring and writing reports on the coral reefs that are just off the South Dakotan coasts. Fred was intrigued and quite exited about the idea of research papers on the South Dakotan coral reefs.

The next morning Fred had a stomac ache as he read the newspaper, but he was sure that it was nothing that his morning gravy couldn't fix. Fred then read an article by Johnny Journalist about how light polution was killing the stars and that there were only a few stars left in outer space. Johnny Journalist claimed that the human race had destroyed our chances of ever encountering alien life because our light polution caused all their suns to burn out. Fred Fredrickson was appalled when reading this, Fred lived in a small town out in the country and many nights he enjoyed driving out away from town to stargaze, Fred knew that the stars were not gone, light polution only prevents you from seeing them. Fred Fredrickson could not believe that Johnny Journalist could write such falsehoods and he didn't know how he could ever trust that writer or newspaper.

Regardless Fred Fredrickson took a sip of gravy and turned the page of the newspaper hoping for updates on the South Dakota dolphin story, but he soon became greatly worried for the future of the movie industry as he read an article claiming that a worldwide paint shortage would soon cause many TVs to no longer function because they of course require paint to display anything. By the time that Fred realized that that article was also written by Johnny Journalist he had forgotten about the anger he had after reading the light polution article.

The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

I hope you didn't take the above story too serriously, I wrote it to be intentionally preposterous so that it could be a clear demonstration of the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, as Michael Crichton coined it, is what happens when you forget that the same people who you laugh at when you see them get things wrong when they write about topics that you happen to be an expert on are the same people that you trust for information on topics that you know nothing about. For example a biologist will gladly make fun of how poorly a journalist reports on some new biological study because the bioligist can tell that the journalist has no idea what they're talking about, but the biologist will believe every word that comes out of the journalist's mouth when they report on something like the Israel Palestine conflict because the biologist knows very litle about that topic. When the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is laid out like this we can see why it is ridiculous. What sane person can logically believe that a group of people is an expert on litteraly every topic exept the ones that that person is an expert on? Unfortunately most of us do this exact thing when we watch or read the news.

An unserstanding of the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is the main reason why I chose not to get my news from tradtional media. Crichton's claim that the media holds unjustifeid credibility has never been truer. Sure, media bias is a huge problem and another reason why we should all leave traditional media, but the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is an even deeper problem than bias because it is easy to spot bias, the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is all about us not knowing what we don't know, it's impossible for us to correct a claim on a topic we don't know the facts on.

Of course the news is not the only place where we can experience the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, it hapens whenever we see people talking matter-of-factly about a variety of topics, Wikipedia (which is also badly biased) is a great example of this. Many people do not realize that the majority of writing on Wikipedia is done by a small group of people, many of these people have contributed to thousands of Wikipedia pages, it is not possible for one person to be an expert on that many topics.

I actually wanted to write about this months ago, but I couldn't remember the name of the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect and I didn't want to write this without having all the facts like so many journalists do. The morale of the story of Fred Fredrickson and Johnny Journalist is that if we want to get accurate information to form our opinons and guide our actions we need to do our own reaserch, we can't trust others to do it for us, especially the media.