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Friday, 10 March 2017

When we go public

40-50 Years ago you had so search hard to find really stupid people in the media, now they pop up all the time. What happened ?

The Badger - WUWT comment


If anything happened then perhaps it was inevitable. Many of us will know what an availability cascade is, but for those who don’t this is how University of Chicago Law School explains it.

An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse.

For an example of availability, suppose you are asked ‘who is the most beautiful woman in the world?’ It is likely that a range of celebrity candidates will come to mind and this is what is meant by ‘availability’. Our responses tend to cluster around what is publicly available.

A cascade is obvious, so an availability cascade occurs when an issue hits the headlines, becomes available to a large number of people and gains self-reinforcing traction. We select from what is available and the media create both the availability and the cascades because it is their business to do so.

Obviously availability cascades are an unreliable window on the real world but they dominate the media for equally obvious reasons - to have public debates we must direct our attention to the same issues. Unfortunately that requirement is wide open to manipulation and is bound to limit the range and quality of any public debate. Also obvious.

For example - as the BBC produces daily news shows it has to use availability cascades. Not entirely because it can slip in stories about shortages of elk meat in Siberia or a unicycling plumber, but in the main its news has to be drawn from what is available and currently cascading. Apart from a few exclusives it cannot report major news items which avoid availability cascades because to a large extent availability cascades are the news.

Whatever the BBC adopts as its ethical pretensions, this is bound to lead to biased reporting and worse. Availability cascades do not do nuances, uncertainty or detail because that would interfere with the cascade. Even basic veracity may interfere. News outlets are biased because they have to be, because bias is a feature of the game, because it embodies an aspect of what we are when we go public.

3 comments:

Demetrius said...

The Mendicant Orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans were very good at this. As were the Premonstratensians in France, and I once went to a European Conference at one of their old places. Sadly, we have the media and celebrities today, nowhere near as good or reliable.

Michael said...

It's much easier to live a pleasant life by avoiding the 'media' for as long as possible.

Luckily I'm old enough to care very little for celebrity deployment, and while it is necessary occasionally to catch up on the news, unfortunately live from the BBC but from more enlightening websites etc., I really wander as a cloud most days...

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - the media and celebrities today have the exposure though, the drip, drip, drip of endless repetition.

Scrobs - I think you are right. I like keeping tabs on the news but often wonder if I'd be better off ignoring it. A habit I suppose.