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Improve Your Information Consumption by Understanding Gell-Mann Amnesia

Today you will become much better at analyzing information you read on the internet and social media while improving the quality of your digital network. I’d like to teach you about Gell-Mann Amnesia and how it related to trust and information consumption.

“You open a newspaper to an article on some subject you know well… 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 backwards – 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

I would imagine that if you’re fairly competent in a particular area you’ve experienced the act of reading something in popular media that is completely upside-down and backwards. Examples of my own experiences come in the form of false or exaggerated health & fitness claims. There are endless amounts of articles that are ignorant to (or blatantly ignore) basic human biology and/or intelligent research methods.

So maybe your examples are different, but hopefully you understand what I’m saying here. Now having this experience, why do we continue to click on links and read reports from these journalists and major media companies? In the areas that we are competent we know they carry little weight, but at the same time we will trust an article about something different. What makes you think they’re suddenly more trustworthy about topics you aren't as educated on?

This is called Gell-Mann Amnesia. Described in terms of a newspaper, you’ll turn to a subject you know well and read out of amusement for the abundance of errors. You’ll then turn the page (or in our case, click another link) to a story about, say, the stock market, and give complete trust to the information you are gathering. You forget what you know about the lack of trustworthiness of the source based on the previous article and go on consuming without any filter or criticism.

"It is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives." - Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (1620)

With this understanding, we can now realize that we aren't the best judge of quality information when we aren't an expert ourselves. This makes us vulnerable to the topics we want to learn about the most. In the world of health and fitness, with the abundance of misinformation and the massive relevance to your well-being, this is not to be taken lightly.

My suggestion to you is to ask yourself whether you’re dealing with an educational company/personality or a media company/personality. Websites like Men’s Health or Bodybuilding are media companies – they are incentivized to bring as many readers, watchers, and listeners to their content as possible, and therefore it is inevitable that information is presented in the most shocking or attractive way rather than the most honest and transparent.

On the other hand, educational companies and personalities are incentivized by presenting the most honest and accurate information. Their popularity comes as a result of building long-term trust and gathering brilliant friends and co-signers. This can only be achieved through years of producing high-quality content.

This may include those heavily involved in the research side of things like Brad Schoenfeld (@bradshoenfeldpdh), Andy Galpin (@drandygalpin, YouTube) and Layne Norton (@biolayne), but their content has potential to appear complex or intimidating to those less familiar with the science. Luckily there are many other accounts which are heavily influenced by the likes of those above, but who put a focus on making easily-digestible content. Examples of these would include Bret Contreras (@bretcontreras1), Jordan Syatt (@syattfitness), Kelly Starrett (@thereadystate), Precision Nutrition (@precisionnutrition), and of course many more.

There is a third category of people to be aware of. This third category is lovingly called “quacks” by many. They present themselves to be trustworthy educational resources (sometimes indistinguishable from those listed above) but present information that is simply a misrepresentation or exaggeration of reality. These people are abundant in the nutrition space, and are often called out by the likes of Layne Norton (@biolayne, YouTube) and Kevin Bass, who mostly hangs out on Twitter @kevinnbass and on his blog Diet Wars - where you can find his . You can check out their content to find the people that may not be worth listening to.

Of course, they don’t only exist in the nutrition space. In fitness all it takes is a quick search of “#fitness” to find millions of posts by people with great physiques but lacklustre knowledge of training and human movement. It is vital to understand that a great physique and a large following do NOT contribute to the trust-worthiness of their information.

These people are quickly exposed by their list of clothing and supplement discount codes that is longer than their list of education and experience. For some, they serve as great entertainment or motivation, if you happen to be entertained or motivated by that type of content, but should not be relied upon for guidance or education when it comes to your health and fitness.

"80% if success is knowing what doesn't work and what not to do." - Stuart McMillan

If you're looking for a quick and easy take away from this read, here it is: Find people who are really smart and (potentially) highly educated, then look at who they turn to for information and advice and follow them too. Over time, as you find more people worthy of your trust and respect, your digital network of influences will grow and you'll be surrounded by high-quality information.

The best thing I ever did was stopped buying books that were popular, or that I thought "looked good" and started buying books that really smart people claimed to be great reads.


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