The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

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

via Quote by Michael Crichton: “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as…”.


  1. I've often thought about this myself. When I read BusinessWeek articles about my industry, I'll see matter-of-fact statements that I know not to be correct, or at least not properly caveated or nuanced. When I read about most other industries, I'm at the mercy of the author, unless I spend the time to seek out multiple information sources. I'll do such due diligience before following any medical or investment advice, but in general one can't become expert at everything. This is the very challenge for authors I imagine, who must write on many topics, probably on short deadline. They are far from expert, but rather than sound wishy-washy, they write as if they are true experts.

  2. This is how I feel when I read anything Crichton has ever written about climate change.

    • Danny L says:

      While he was obviously wrong on some points, it doesn't change the fact that what the newspapers write about climate change is also consistently amazingly wrong. Scientific literacy amongst journalists is painfully poor.

  3. Just read Crichton's speech. Entertaining and enlightening, though I think he oversells his "the future is unknowable" theme. The future is unknowable to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the context. If I beat my kids they might still turn out to be happy adults, but I've certainly lowered the odds.

    I see Crichton is a climate change skeptic. I'd pay good money to see him debate Jeremy Grantham on this topic. Both are articulate guys whose intellects I respect, but somehow they've landed on opposite sides of the climate debate.

  4. Esteban – unlikely, as Crichton passed away a few years ago. Too bad, as it would have been an interesting debate, and it would be nice to have seen him come around on the subject.

  5. I 'm sure his thoughts on Palestine would be a tonic for liberals also.

  6. I've had this happen to me several times. Even at times when the reporter was in the same room with you as everything occurred and they still get it completely wrong. You're left wondering what went wrong…what did I miss? It definitely makes you question anything you read that claims any authority at all. Listen…learn…question.

  7. That's a longer version of the saying which runs roughly "Everything in the newspaper is right except for the one article where you have personal knowledge of the subject".