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.
I thought about this because I have been having an email exchange with a left-wing acquaintance of mine. My acquaintance thinks highly of Obama’s performance in office. Like many of us, my acquaintance has noticed an increase in racial animosity over the seven years of Obama’s presidency. My acquaintance attributes this increased racial tension to racists, presumably white, who “are driven practically insane at the thought of having a black president”.
I am sure that there are such people. A quick tour of the Internet reveals plenty of racism to go around. And yet none of the many anti-Obama arguments I’ve read or heard has been based on race; conservative media are full of substantive arguments against Obama and his policies. Meanwhile Obama and his political allies have gone out of their way to racialize political controversies. And yet most of the Obama partisans I’ve met have been confident that white racism is the cause of most opposition to Obama. Apparently there are many people out there who believe that wet streets cause rain.