Gell-Mann amnesia effect

By Wikipedia Contributors

The Gell-Mann amnesia effect is a theoretical psychological phenomenon, the term itself being coined by author, film producer and academic Michael Crichton after discussions with Nobel-Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Originally described in Crichton's "Why Speculate?"[1] speech, the Gell-Mann amnesia effect labels a commonly observed problem in modern media,[2] where one will believe everything they read from a news source even after they come across an article about something they know well that is completely incorrect.[3] The conclusions found and perspectives portrayed by the author are entirely erroneous, often times flipping the cause and the effect.[4][5] Crichton notes these as "wet streets cause rain" stories.[6] In short, most eloquently put by Thomas L. McDonald, the Gell-Mann amnesia effect defines the idea that "I believe everything the media tells me except for anything for which I have direct personal knowledge, which they always get wrong."[7]

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

One example is that of C. S. Lewis (who did not know of this phenomenon but nevertheless has a case of it). After reading biographical interpretations of his own works and realizing how incorrect they could be, he began to read other biographical interpretations with more caution, aware not to accept everything stated at face value.[8]

Michael Crichton concluded in the same essay that there is absolutely no value in the media, as society continues to seek information from the same source that was entirely wrong on the topic in which one retains expertise.[9] He then says that ″the only explanation for our behavior is amnesia".[1][7]

Christopher Hitchens once referenced this phenomenon in a town hall speech with the example of the Washington Post, saying that, although things are often biased and incorrect, he and a large portion of the audience continue to get their news in that way.[10]


  1. ^ a b Crichton, Michael (April 26, 2002). Why Speculate? (Speech). International Leadership Forum. La Jolla, California. Retrieved April 10, 2018.,
  2. ^ Carey, Benedict (2017-10-20). "How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  3. ^ "'I'm Not an Expert, But I Play One on TV.' | National Review". National Review. 2017-04-25. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  4. ^ James, Desborough (2017). Inside Gamergate : a social history of the gamer revolt. [S.l.]: []. pp. 106–107. ISBN 9780244627720. OCLC 1011256859. CS1 maint: Date and year (link)
  5. ^ Kimball, Roger. Saving the republic : the fate of freedom in the age of the administrative state. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway. New York. pp. The End of Our Collective Amnesia. ISBN 9781594039669. OCLC 1008762474. 
  6. ^ "Wet Streets Cause Rain". November 17, 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2018. 
  7. ^ a b McDonald, Thomas L. (March 12, 2014). "The Gell-Mann Effect". Retrieved April 10, 2018. 
  8. ^ Cranach (2011-08-23). "The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect". Cranach. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  9. ^ "Media Credibility and the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect | Joe Carter". First Things. Retrieved 2018-04-10. 
  10. ^ Hitchens, Christopher Hitchens. "On The Washington Post".