After discovering a cache of heretofore long-thought lost Bob Dylan acetate recordings from the dawn of his recording career, Jeff Gold of a Website called Record Mecca discovers Michael Crichton’s “Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect” for himself. Gold writes:
I assumed this would be a big story in the Dylan collecting community, but was astounded at the overwhelming reaction from the mainstream media. Before writing about the acetates here, I spent a few months documenting and transferring the music with the help of two friends. When I finally wrote about the discovery in June, I was incredulous when the very next day it showed up on the front page of RollingStone.com. Even more surprising is that the Rolling Stone writer hadn’t reached out to me, but instead simply paraphrased my blog post. I know some of the writers there, and it would have been extremely easy for them to have contacted me. In the past, at the very least Rolling Stone would have a fact checker call to verify all the information. But in today’s instant media age, they just went with it. Everybody wants to be the first on a story.
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A few weeks after the media frenzy died down, it dawned on me–I could have made this whole thing up, and nobody would have been the wiser. Of course I didn’t; the whole thing is true. But probably 100 newspapers, websites and magazines for the most part just went with a story on a blog that sounded true. It does go to show, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet–or in a newspaper. (Happily, though, you can believe everything you read here.)
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.
Wait’ll Gold discovers the kind of stuff that Rolling Stone really just makes up, assuming nobody will be the wiser.
(Via Small Dead Animals.)