Fake News Shouldn’t Fake Us Out

Trusting a news source – any news source – should be categorized as a mental weakness.

Michael Crichton once wrote about this problem:

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.”

In my own experience, whenever I have expertise in the field being covered, I find the “news” reports to be of dubious, even negative quality.You’ve had similar experiences. It stretches credulity to believe that the news of other fields is not similarly lacking.

Even well-intentioned journalists are seldom expert on all the matters which they cover. And when they don’t know what they’re talking about, they turn to “experts,” who often have vested interests – often as propagandists for one agency or another.

We should be especially wary when the “experts” are politicians, the one category of people who seem to have cleverly immunized themselves from any penalty for lying.

We each need to build our own “shock proof crap detectors.” This requires a healthy skepticism, a willingness to do research and thinking. It is not enough that a “fact” is reported many times – if you look closely, you’ll find that many of the “reports” are word-for-word copies of each other. If the matter is taken from a scientific or engineering report, I always try to find and read the original. If it deals with economics, I study the root ideas of economics.

Truth is often difficult to discern, but the sanity saved may be your own.

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