The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

20 Nov

Thanks again to Dave Hansell for this. Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton named the effect after his friend, the Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Crichton describes it thus:

You open a newspaper to an article on a subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You see the journalist has zero understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. 1 Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, 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.

I saw the effect at first hand during the 1984-5 miners’ strike in Britain. Miners I’d stood with on picket lines would jeer at the lies of corporate media on their situation, yet buy without question what those same media were saying about Gaddafi, the USSR or the Provisional IRA.


  1. An infamous case of “wet streets cause rain” understandings – or as Dilbert creator Scott Adams has it: trousers big in the waist make you fat – was also from the miners’ strike. The BBC reversed its footage of Orgreave to make it seem that mounted police charged at miners in response to having stones hurled at them, when the reality was exactly the opposite.

4 Replies to “The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

  1. Encountered the quote whilst following some threads arising from a Glen Greenwa;d tweet
    where Greenwald is highlighting a number of self identifying US Liberals/progressive left expressing surprise at having found out that the media were lying to them about those who lost their lives in the incident involving Rittenhouse being black; along with said posters having the intellectual honesty to publicly admit they have had the wool pulled over their eyes as well as apologise.

    Greenwald’s main argument relevant to the Gibbs-Webb effect can be found in a recent polemic here:

    Where he neatly skewers the faux progressive left and it’s simplistic and dishonest purist spiral ‘my gang right or wrong’ approach:

    “In sum, those who view the world through a prism bereft of principles — either due to lack of intellectual capacity or ethics or both — assume everyone’s world view is similarly craven. It is this same stunted mindset that saddles our discourse with so much illogic and so many twisted presumptions, such as the inability to distinguish between defending someone’s right to express a particular opinion and agreement with that opinion. In a world in which ideology, partisan loyalty, tribal affiliations, in-group identity and personality-driven assessments predominate, there is no room for principles, universally applicable rights, or basic reason.”

    In more recent days Greenwald has drawn attention to the hypocrisy of this Randian and Thatcherite individualistic political gang culture and it’s narrative. Highlighting cases in which a self defence plea has been successful in the case of a black defendant in Florida:

    along with this case in which a white detective was convicted of the fatal shooting of a black citizen.

    Neither of which fits into the simplistic narrative being pushed via the corporate media and parroted by many claiming to be of ‘the left’ on both sides of the pond in the Rittenhouse case and the issues surrounding it.

    We see the same Gibbs-Webb effect at work in the case of Esther Giles – de-platformed at an event by LP members, many of them from the Jewish Community, meeting to protest against and highlight their being de-platformed from the LP and their own communities. An occurrence straight out of a Month Python script which clearly demonstrates Greenwald’s point about a gang culture totally devoid of principle or reason.

    Complaining about the reverse of causality and then turning the page to do precisely the same thing.

    Similarly, the justified wailing and knashing of teeth over the media and establishment treatment of Jeremy Corbyn (in reality this was in all practical effect using a single individual as a proxy to undermine what they stand for) is totally undermined by unquestioning acceptance and enthusiastic amplification, on turning over the page, of the same media narratives when it comes to other ‘official enemies’ of the Western Establishment, which brought us non existent WMD’s in Iraq and a host of other false flags as justification for Imperial resource grabs, in the case of, for example, Russia and Chin

    The level of cognitive dissonance is off the scale. Akin to the Left of ninety years ago rallying around in support of the Daily Mail accusation and narrative contained in the Zinoviev letter.

    What this tells us is that much of what passes for the Western “left” on both sides of the Atlantic is deeply, and probably irredeemably, compromised. What the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

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