My wife noted that one thing we can be confident will come out of the tragedy in New Orleans is PHD thesis. We have enjoyed enumerating all the different departments (math, engineering, sociology, ecology, history, music, etc. etc.) that will be granting these.
One that I look forward to reading is the book or doctoral thesis on the dynamics of the rumors spreading. The stories about violence in the shelters in New Orleans have turned out thankfully much overblown.
Apparently people are actually quite constructive in these situations, but have a tendency to assume the worst about the behavior of ‘those other people.”
I gather that the textbook pattern for a rumor runs along these lines:
- An exceptional event occurs outside the usual frameworks; so it’s hard to assimilate
- Details that don’t fit the available framework are discarded or minimized.
- Details that fit the available framework are highlighted, or invited.
- The story, now reduced to rumor, can be assimilated.
But these scenarios don’t seem to fit that model. These seem more like given extreme anxiety a demand emerges for some idea of exactly how bad things are going to get. Rumors evolve to fill that demand; and apparently those that increase the anxiety thrive. But maybe not. Every narrative I read about Katrina includes lots of rumors. Many of these rumors, maybe even the majority, are positive – though false. E.g.: the bus is coming today, or supplies are available over at the school.
Have you seen Brian Hayes’s article from The American Scientist called “Rumours and Errors”?
He presents a model of rumor passing and gives some empirical results. The article isn’t an exact match for your discussion, but if you are thinking about rumor passing I think you’ll enjoy Brian’s article.
Eugene, What a hoot! Thanks.
“I could summarize it as follows: I wrote a program that gave a wrong answer, and then I fiddled and fudged until I finally got the output I wanted, and then I stopped. This is not a protocol to be recommended.”