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May 20, 2018

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect: A Wikipedia Corollary

When I was a wee lad, cutting my conservative teeth baiting hippies and fighting with communists on the streets of Berkeley, I lived in student cooperative housing. Since placement was based on seniority, I lived for the first two years in the least desirable and largest place, called Barrington Hall. It has been closed for years; a result off awful management on the part of the socialist organization that ran it, and dumb ass college students being allowed to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

In its defense, I met a lot of very interesting and intelligent people there, one of whom is a dear friend. And there was also a lot of free sex and nudity and punk rock and booze and all sorts of other stuff that appealed to the less high-minded part of my psyche. Anyway, I wanted to look up one of my acquaintances from Barrington, so I started poking around the internet, and discovered that there is a Wiki page devoted to it. As I read it I was immediately reminded of this:

“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

I am as guilty as many of turning to the easy research of Wikipedia for many things. And while I am aware of its crowd-sourced nature, and its political bent, and most of all its famous inaccuracies, it is an effortless and lazy shortcut.

But the absolute drivel written about a place in which I lived for two years was astounding. Dates were wrong, events were reported badly, or ignored or made up from whole cloth. And this is not an overtly political topic, one that I assumed would have some passing familiarity with the truth! It was an amazing experience, having the world's portable encyclopedia revealed to be completely full of shit.


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posted by CBD at 12:00 PM

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