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News Makes You Stupid

August 17, 2020

Following the news does not increase your intelligence. This is a mathematical consequence of the Lindy Effect.

Intelligence equals fluid intelligence plus crystalized intelligence. Your fluid intelligence decreases over time. You must increase your crystalized intelligence just to stay in the same place. News would make you stupid if all it did was waste your time.

But news is much worse than that. News does not merely occlude you from learning things of importance. News worsens your model of the world.

Consider the facts. The news is a stream of exceptional events. From a signal processing perspective, exceptional events are literally noise. Noise contains negative information. You gain information by tuning it out.

Informatically, exceptional events are a source of statistical bias. The most powerful news bias comes from subsidization. Most news stories are created by public relations firms. The newspapers get free content. The special interest groups get high quality mind control. Everybody wins.

News bias is most pronounced on the global and the national levels. The wider a pool of data you have to draw from, the bigger the potential for statistical bias. Bias is minimized when it comes to local news. It would be hard for a newspaper to mislead a small town about its murder rate when everyone knows the name of everyone else.

News bias is so bad that historians sometimes assume reported news to be exceptional. If someone writes a news story about a plague then that means plagues are uncommon. If someone writes a news story about a war then that means wars are uncommon. If nobody writes news stories about the existence of slavery then that means slavery is boringly commonplace.

Are you telling me to stop following the news?

No. I am telling you the news makes you stupid. Boxing and mixed martial arts can be worthwhile activities even though they make you stupid too. Following the news because you want to get smarter is like is like joining a boxing club because you want to protect youself against brain damage.

What about my civic obligation to understand my government?

News is a top-down system of literal mind control. Civil society is a bottom-up mess of human interaction. Get into the streets. Write a blog. Volunteer for a community group. Meet your neighbors.

What if I am curious about what is going on in the world?

Read history.

What if I miss something of historical importance?

You will not. "History" is the things you could not escape even if you tried.

But couldn't the news help me respond sooner to a historical event?

That is like looking for a used needle in a haystack.

Mass media has a record of misleading the public about where things are going. These were not failures of the system. These are examples of a propaganda system functioning as intended.