Swords Orthodontics
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A thought about a very famous Murray - Murray Gell-Mann and the Gell-Mann Effect

A colleague of mine gave me a text last week to tell me that Murray Gell-Mann had died.

He's not exactly a house hold name, but within his field (extreme theoretical physics) he was a legend. I had heard of him in passing as he appears on the periphery of the legend of Richard Feynmann, a physicist who became a bit of a cult figure around the same time as Gell-Mann and of course, the name stood out to me.

There's a list of things in physics that he's famous for, and I don't understand most of them but his name is also connected to something that's not specific to physics - The Gell-Mann Effect (or Gell-Mann Amnesia).

This was something I'd thought about on many occasions but never knew there was a name for it. It goes like this:

You watch a TV documentary, or read an article or a book, or listen to an interview, about something you know well. You know the speaker/author is wrong, is talking nonsense and you dismiss it as rubbish. Then you read another article in the same paper, watch another documentary by the same team, etc, about something you don't know much about and you assume it's true. You've forgotten that the publisher lets poorly written stuff, or just inaccurate stuff, make it to publication.

It's described on Wikipedia here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gell-Mann_amnesia_effect

I've thought about this almost every time I have seen an item about dentistry on TV or in a paper. I suspect it's not accurate or it's not particularly objective or not giving the full story or just not explaining things well to someone that doesn't know much about dentistry. There aren't many dentistry features in main stream media outlets, so they tend to stand out to me on the occasions when I come across them. When I disagree with them, I do start to wonder, can I believe what these people tell me about civil wars, structural engineering, computers, medical advances, politics?

(In a less serious manifestation, the same colleague that told me about Prof Gell-Mann's demise once me that when we were students, that one of our lecturers had considered Jimi Hendrix to be a poor guitarist. We both concluded that such an error of judgement meant that we couldn't trust anything this poor man said ever again - not just on matters of guitar heroism, but also dentistry and the world in general.)

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