Monday, June 27, 2016

Is that Right?

Devastating floods have put West Virginia in the news recently, and because I'm from the area, I've been noticing mistakes in the reporting. One source said that 44/54 counties had been declared disaster areas. Well, West Virginia has 55 counties. Another report at one point said that 98% of the state was without electricity. Well, one of the nearby towns to my mother had a 98% outage, not the whole state. Also, there were two places where the flooding was most severe--one on the east side of the state and the other on the west side of the state. The two areas were mixed up sometimes when reporting was done about damages. And of course, place names were said and spelled incorrectly.

Murray Gell-Mann - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012.jpg
Nobel prize winng physicist
Murray Gell-Mann.--
Crichton said that he named the
 amnesia effect after him because
Gell-Man was a famous, well
respected man that would give
the idea some attention. 
These inconsistencies bring up an interesting subject in how we read the news that has been named The Murray Gell-Man Amnesia Effect. Michael Crichton coined the phrase after he spent an afternoon with physicist, Murray Gell-Mann. They were reading the newspaper and realized that when they read an article about something they knew about, they found all kinds of mistakes. But when they read an article about something they were unfamiliar with, they took the story at face value even though they knew that there were problems with other articles.

On the surface this doesn't make sense. Logically, if you know the reporting is inaccurate in one story, you shouldn't trust any other stories from that source. But that is usually not what we do. We seem to have an amnesia about the mistakes and take the other stories at face value.

I'd like to say that I am a critical consumer of news and don't trust anything I hear or read. But that wouldn't be true. I do listen with a bit of skepticism to some things, but most things I don't. Flooding in North Dakota. Never gave the accuracy of the reporting a second thought. An election in California. Ditto. And so it goes.

Have you ever thought about what reporting you accept as the truth and what you don't?