GTO Poker Theories: The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

Why is it that we get annoyed at how poker is portrayed in the mainstream media but never question anything else we read?

Trump Newspaper
Is everything Fake News? Well, maybe.

One of the real gifts poker has given me is that it has been a great jumping off point to learn things from other disciplines like economics, AI, psychology and Game Theory. So here is a series of articles where I bring some of the most interesting things I have learned from other subjects outside of poker which are applicable in this game we know and love.

Most of the concepts in my GTO Poker Theories series I think poker players need to know, either because they will help them become better players or because poker players have a unique insight into the concept being discussed. This week's submission, however, is just a bit of fun. 

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect was coined by author Michael Crichton to describe how we are skeptical about the news when we understand the subject but trust the media blindly when we do not. He described it as follows (he was discussing this with Murray Gell-Man, who this is named after):

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.

You will have noticed this whenever the press write about your workplace, industry, home town or hobby. For example, my Mother used to be a Paramedic and would often shout at the screen "not how we do it" when her job was being portrayed on screen. Yet she will, like most of us, believe pretty much everything else she sees in the media. 

But how much did you lose?

Trickett Media
Mainstream media ignore profits and concentrate on biggest wins and losses

I just thought this was a fun one to highlight because as poker players we have all had to put up with inaccurate and in some cases uncharitable representations of this game in the media. 

Things like the many forms of angle shooting like string betting in Casino Royale, or the insistance that Five Card Draw is the only game poker players know in Sitcoms. 

Then you have the way in which winning poker players can often come across as degenerate gamblers because the mainstream media concentrate only on the losses. It is common for newspapers to ignore net profit and instead ask about the biggest losing sessions, to make it appear if the game is more volotile than it is. 

Of course there are tragic stories in poker which should not be ignored, but anyone in the industry knows that fixating on short term results, good or bad, is not the real story behind most serious poker players. 

Yet all of us are as guilty as the next person of blindly believing headlines we see when it's related to something we don't know about. This is not an entirely bad thing either. Humans are 'cognitive misers' meaning we try to use as little mental resources as possible, so we use heuristics to fill in the blanks for us. Most of the time that serves us perfectly fine. 

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect should make us take a moment to stop and laugh at how easily manipulated we all are. If it gets you to develop a healthy skepticism of the media you are fed (from all sides of the political spectrum), then that's a bonus. 

What theories from outside of poker have helped your game? Let us know in the comments.

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Comments (1)

  • MyFloXyBabY


    I do question anything else I read, thank you. For example when I read that I don't question anything else I read... :)