Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Because They Aren't Trustworthy

James Taranto takes on the press complaints that the public doesn't trust the media because of partisan efforts to undermine that trust. That's the kind of analysis that will lead the media to keep doing what it is doing, keep losing trust, and go out of business.

The media is absolutely needed--even if it doesn't reach the level of an entity that holds people in power responsible for their actions as Chris Cillizza is quoted as claiming. As a blogger, I absolutely have to have those stories to offer my commentary.

But as I've long said (sorry, I don't feel like finding a post to link), to use our media you need to have a base of knowledge that allows you to interpret what they say, in a "I speak jive" type of skill.

While bias that turns a news story into an opinion piece is a real problem to overcome, honestly it is often just lack of subject knowledge. I find it horrifying that so many reporters no so little about military matters or history. No newspaper would allow a fashion reporter to do their job without knowing their beat, but with rare exceptions the overseas correspondents are clueless.

And thinking anything big and green is a "tank" is only the tip of the ignorance iceberg.

Not that bias isn't important, this hyper-partisan attitude reflects attitude held by the majority of the media. It's just not the only problem relevant to trust.

Combine the two issues and you get real problems.

Anyway, the piece is really good. And Taranto highlights two gross problems with President Obama's efforts to compare casualties from terrorism to casualties from gun violence.

One, the gun violence statistics usually include suicides when homicides are the only thing that should be considered. Even gun accidents shouldn't count. By comparison, terror violence statistics only includes victims. Either only count victims or count dead terrorists from our military operations, too, eh?

And two, contrasting the death tolls to argue for a bigger federal role in gun violence neglects that fighting terrorism is a federal government responsibility while crime is basically a state and local responsibility.

The federal government keeps reaching too far. And if it doesn't focus on terrorism because that is its responsibility, we'll see others take up the slack.

And I bet we won't like that. It could make for some ugly charts. That's a real cost of lack of trust.

Oh, and the media trust statistics cited note that trust by Democrats in the media has continued to rise even as overall trust has declined. In our hyper-partisan environment, there might be a reason for that.

UPDATE: From Michael Chrichton:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. 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.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.

Exactly. Except I start with the knowledge on international and defense issues. My career added state-level issues, And I don't forget that they get it wrong in areas I can check them when I read in other areas. But I just don't know what I don't know--I don't assume they know.

But I got this lesson early in life when I saw an article about my twin brothers. The quotes were entirely manufactured. So I knew that from the article, the only things I could reasonably assume were right were the facts of twin brothers who played baseball. Those facts I could confirm. Everything else? Nonsense.

And whatever low level reporter got assigned to that local story apparently grew up to run an entire newspaper or news station.

UPDATE: The logistical base for the left-leaning and background-deficient media class is the left-leaning and science-deficient social scientists:

Over 270 researchers, working as the Reproducibility Project, had gathered 100 studies from three of the most prestigious journals in the field of social psychology. Then they set about to redo the experiments and see if they could get the same results. Mostly they used the materials and methods the original researchers had used. Direct replications are seldom attempted in the social sciences, even though the ability to repeat an experiment and get the same findings is supposed to be a cornerstone of scientific knowledge. It’s the way to separate real information from flukes and anomalies.

Nearly two-thirds of the studies could not be replicated. Huh.

These are the sources of all those stories that attempt to answer the Great Liberal Debate that I often noticed on NPR programs over the years: Are conservatives evil? Or just too darn ignorant to know better?

We've all seen those studies. Do read all of the article. It is fascinating.

The failings of their methods that don't rely on overt bias (and here's relevant information on how Democrats have moved to the left more than Republicans have moved to the right) to create bias are interesting.

And I have personal experience in this realm, too. In college, for a while I volunteered for psychology studies. It paid. Not well, but at least I didn't have to have experimental substances injected into my body.

One study was centered on college roommate conflict resolution. I was the subject and my roommate was an experimenter. The idea was to have a conflict and to resolve it using their designed process.

The conflict was that the roommate kept forgetting to leave phone messages for me (this being the land of landlines only, of course) and one day he neglects to inform me of an important message.

Let the confrontation begin!

My first thought was that I'd put a pad of paper and pen by the phone. But I knew that this would never fly.

So I went through the motions of anger and demands whatever reactions they expected until I finally got to the step of suggesting a pad of paper and a pen by the phone.

Which my "roommate" agreed would solve the problem.

The experimenters were delighted! They even asked me if I would agree to allowing the film of the confirmation of the usefulness of their process to be used in classes.

For all I know, I'm still on film file somewhere.

But it was hogwash. All it was was a study of how well I could act to follow their script and expectations.

Ah, science!

Although ignore all this if there has been a subsequent study about how conservatives are more likely than liberals to evilly game systems set up by honest social scientists.

UPDATE: Oh, and you can see the obvious importance of this kind of research on how word choices control our feelings and actions in justifying the idiocy that is political correctness. I addressed that kind of nonsense in my pre-Blogger site here.

And yes, revel in the antiquity of the whole experience.