The Economist and the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect

I’ve been a subscriber to the Economist for the last couple of years and quite enjoy reading that newspaper. There are weeks when I don’t manage to go through the week’s edition, but there are certain weeks when it forms a large part of my reading. I quite like the paper, and I subscribe to the daily “Espresso” issue on my mobile phone.

I have only one problem – a lot of their writing about India is biased, and filled with Sominisms. I mean their business pieces are pretty good, like this profile of Welspun. But their political coverage is generally biased by their correspondents’ dislike for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and hence not particularly objective.

I had recently carried a copy of the newspaper to read on my way to a quiz, where I met Baada. Baada was surprised that I read the newspaper, since it was so obviously biased in its coverage of Indian politics. “I agree that India coverage is biased”, I said, “but its worldwide coverage is really good. Hence I read it”.

Recently I came across the “Murray Gell-mann Amnesia effect“. It is named after the physicist, and claims that you will trust the rest of a newspaper even though you know that its coverage of your domain is shit. And thinking about it, I’m wondering if I should continue trusting The Economist.

Currently, I believe that the Economist’s coverage of Indian politics is shit, but I continue to read the newspaper for its other coverage. But what if everyone believes that the Economist’s coverage of their domain is inadequate? If that is the case, does it still make it a good paper? Should I use the fact of the Economist’s coverage of Indian business being better as a mitigating factor?

The problem is that there is no other paper that gives a nice concise view of what is happening in the world (FT is too voluminous given its frequency), and that makes the Economist good. But if their coverage is biased by their correspondents’ views in every country, it is not that trustworthy any more.

The only option I can think of is to continue reading the newspaper, but to “add salt to taste”. Every time I read a political story set in some country, I should keep in mind that the correspondent might be biased, and adjust my views accordingly. That way, I can consume the paper’s curation and analysis while not getting influenced by its inherent biases.

3 thoughts on “The Economist and the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect”

  1. I find Economist’s coverage of politics in Africa and much of Asia very ‘gora’ and steeped in the Raj worldview still.

  2. I know this is a year too late, but…

    No, you shouldn’t trust them. And it’s not just them. Over the past two years I’ve spent a significant amount of my time double-checking stories in it and many other ‘trusted’ sources, and invariably the article is more wrong than right, at least if you try to verify it via independent sources.

    So what does one do in the face of that?

    Here is what I do. I use these media sources to find stories I’m interested in, including those I’m incredulous of. I take the time to do some independent research, mostly quick google searches if I’m honest, and either verify the content directly from the original source or via other means, or I assume it’s false, especially when I’m already incredulous. If the media has a comment section, I may take the time to detail what’s wrong with the story, but more often than not now, these media sources are closing their comment sections, claiming trolls and harassment, but the truth seems to be they’re avoiding corrections by people who are knowledgeable about the subject. If the media source does this, I discount everything they write from then on. Media unwilling to accept criticism is media that is undeniably agenda driven.

Put Comment