Newspapers make you stupid

29 September, 2015 at 13:17 | Posted in Politics & Society | 1 Comment

Lydon: You say newspapers make us stupid, and I’m not quite clear why.

Taleb: Because they always give you an explanation to events so that you have the feeling that you know what’s going on. They tell you the stock market went down, because of fear of a recession, and that’s false causation with uncertainty there. They check their facts, but you can’t check their causes. So, you have the feeling of over-causation from newspapers. That’s number one, the first one.

The second one: newspapers aren’t going to tell you “we had 280 deaths on the roads today in America”. They’re going to tell you about the plane crash killing 14 people. So, you have misrepresentation of the math of risks. They are driven by the sensational. And the statistical and the sensational are not the same in our modern world.

sunThere’s a third thing about newspapers. Supplying someone with news reduces his understand-ing of the world. It’s more complicated than I can go into here, but let me tell you how I cope with it. I don’t mind knowing the news, but I go by a social filter. I eat lunch and dinner with other people. (I try to. I still have people who won’t eat lunch or dinner with me, even after writing the Black Swan). And I make sure. You can eavesdrop on conversations and stuff like that. I can tell if something is going on.

If there’s an event of significance, I know about it. And then I go to the web, or go buy a paper sometimes, or something like that.

Christopher Lydon interview with Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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  1. Hmm. Unless I misread Dr Taleb badly, he regards newspapers as suspect because they’re produced by journalists as opposed to rational scientists. So far so obvious. Is “The Black Swan” worth reading for a layman like myself (in your or anyone elses opinion)?
    As any ornithologist worth his salary could tell you Black Swans are endemic in Australia/New Zealand fwiw.
    Using the Sun newspaper as a stand in for Uk journalism seems a bit naughty too, akin to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” when (e.g) The Guardian was an option. The Sun does have some admirable sports journalists who report on the rogues gallery operating in Uk professional football for example.


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