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.
- 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.