The Gell-Mann Effect: another word for misinformation

How many times have you picked up a newspaper and read something, on a topic you’re familiar with and realised that you’re reading something which isn’t true? Annoyingly, it happens to us all, then a moment later, we’re reading a different page of the same newspaper or website and getting angry because of something they report and we know it must be true, maybe we want it to be true, usually there’ll be some quotes from an unnamed, but well-informed, source and we believe it… because it’s in the news.

But then, is it true? When the news reports something we know is untrue and then reports on something we don’t know about why do we believe that must be true?

Well, it’s a real thing and Michael Crichton, the famous doctor, writer, scientist movie maker among many other things gave it a name. The Gell-Mann Effect.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again, but when I arrived in China, I had a very different perspective on what I was seeing to what I thought I knew — no, let me rephase that, to what I knew I knew about China.

It really didn’t take me long to understand that was wrong, probably about 24 hours.

But, even years later, when media reported on what was happening in Beijing, I believed it. I thought at the time that President Xi must be a bad president because it was in all the papers and on the BBC and China was on the verge of collapse.

What I was seeing in real life didn’t matter at that time because my media consumption was telling me China was slowing, China was collapsing, China was a bad place to be and it must have been true because even the BBC said so. But… China didn’t collapse when they said it would!

As my years of living in China extended I started to notice things: China said it would build a bridge to Hong Kong, they said they would put two high speed train stations into the city where I lived, they said they would build a new university and another hospital downtown and I’ve seen many governments promise to do things like this but then China actually did them all.

In the UK, back in 2013, I read about a high-speed rail link that will be completed by 2045 and, if it ever finishes will be a total of 530 kilometres. Most of it is still being planned and much of it is still unapproved by Parliament — it might be finished in 2045… We shall see!

China, whilst in the process of a reported collapse, has built 42,000km and 1,100 train stations to accommodate them, just in the last 20 years.

Australia’s Western Sydney was promised a new Airport in 1946, then promised again in 1986; work finally started in 2022 and it’s scheduled to be completed in 2025, but that’s been extended, to 2026. China builds an average of 8 new airports a year and by 2035 plans to build over 200; all while reportedly collapsing.

Why is my news telling me one thing, when my ears and eyes are showing me something completely different?

I also noticed at the standard of living’s improved. When I came here, almost no one had a car, now almost everyone does. Corruption, pollution and crime are almost non-existent. Education, health and economy have all improved and yet, everything I read in the news about China says the opposite.

For several years, I continued along this path of reading things in the paper and believing them, except when it came to China. I witnessed how life in China has improved, it was clear that people in the west were being misinformed about this one topic that I actually know about. But I still wanted to believe the rest of the things I read were true — that was the Gell-Mann Effect.

I started to question the things I don’t know about. Why are Australians sure that China is a threat when China has never uttered a threatening word against Australia?

Why do people think China is waging a trade war on Australia when Australia was the country that had almost 100 items of trade from China blocked before anything happened with Barley, coal, lobsters and wine? Go look it up, it’s true.

What’s going on in Ukraine and why can’t I easily find information from both sides of this conflict?

What really happened with Hunter Biden’s laptop and why is it coming to light now, not in mainstream media, that the FBI attempted to suppress the truth?

Why did Trump supporters think Trump was still president after losing the election?

Why did the USA invade Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction there but that was their reason?

It’s simple, we’re being misinformed about almost everything we’re reading, hearing and watching; sometimes we know we’re being misinformed so why do we believe it when we don’t know? That’s the Gell-Mann Effect in action. We want to believe something is true when we want it to be so.

If you want to believe China will collapse soon and you want to believe China is a threat you can read that every single day in your media but think about the logic of that. How can a country that’s in been in decline for dozens of years build all that infrastructure. How is a country that has never invaded or attacked another in your lifetime be a threat. Who told you these things? Think about that: who is telling you these things?

Remember the expression: “if you don’t read the papers you’re uninformed, if you do, you’re misinformed” and we’re all told it was said by Mark Twain, well, once again, we’re misinformed even about that — there’s no record Mark Twain ever said it but there is a similar quote from Thomas Jefferson who, in an 1807 letter said “nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper” and went on to say that “a man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them.”

So, this is not new, consider who owns or controls your media. If you believe your government and you believe your news then that’s great for you. But please, read wisely, be critical and don’t believe everything you read — I can’t say for certain about much else, but I can absolutely and certainly say, everything you’re reading about China is wrong — everything.

I’m British born Australian living in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write mostly positively about my China experiences

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Jerry Grey

I’m British born Australian living in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write mostly positively about my China experiences