“Whoa-oo-who-o-o-o-oa, Listen to the Science”

Years ago a friend told me that when you’re talking to people in a group, the majority of them may not follow your words, but they will certainly “hear your music.” By this he meant that non-verbal cues would carry even if the substance of your comments doesn’t.

This effect becomes even more pronounced when most of the people you’re talking to don’t even have the basis for following your words even if they're paying rapt attention. Imagine, for example, being an epidemiologist interviewed on network news, encouraged to go into minute detail on how a virus infects a person, or how a vaccine promotes immunity.

People in the health-care sector might hear the substance of the epidemiologist’s words and find them accurate and valid.

You and I, however, would hear a lot of technobabble we can’t follow, and fall back on trusting the speaker's “music,” which may sound anxious because epidemiologists aren’t usually brilliant public speakers — especially if they’ve been selected by the network news to explain a complex medical concept.

And of course, when the science has finished speaking, the media chimes in, in the form of the interviewer, eyes wide and haunted, playing the song of fear — even if what the science just got through saying was that there was absolutely nothing to fear, and the virus/vaccine would only cause lollipops to spontaneously appear out of thin air at the exact moment you want them to.

This affords our media friends a perfect workaround for what Michael Crichton discussed when describing his “Gell-Mann Amnesia” effect, which would otherwise have medical professionals objecting to the lies the media would be putting in science’s mouth (while of course continuing to assume they’re getting everything else right). This way the knowledgeable are appeased while the rest remain subject to media fearmongering.

Maybe critical media-consumer skills should be taught to kindergarteners, and reinforced throughout the grades, and college, and as part of any continuing education that may be required for various occupations. Just to make sure it takes.


Author: McGehee

I used to get Instalanches.

Not here, though.