TED Conversations

Andrew Tam

This conversation is closed.

What makes an idea spread? Duration? Quality? Loudness?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we talked about the propagation of electrical signals in the body. In the body, cells transmit action potentials (or "spikes") which propogate along the cell membranes of electrically excitable cells like neurons and muscles. However, these action potentials are only produced if the stimulus is of long enough duration, or of high enough amplitude. If signals are too weak, they instead dissipate as they decay in time and space. I was wondering: is the same true of the real world? If news spreads rapidly, is this reason to believe that the news is of of good quality? Is the spread of news proportional to the quality of it?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Feb 23 2012: Nowadays, with so many information brought to us by the mass media we have lost sensibility.
    For example: almost every day we watch on TV images of tragedies around the world. After we see so much of that it comes to a point when we don´t get so shocked, although we know that is horrible what we are watching.
    That´s what happens with stories and ideas. These days, it has to be something unusual and uncommon to draw attention.
    It has to capture attention, even if it is for just a especific audience.
    • thumb
      Feb 24 2012: Hey Joao,

      You are definitely right about the mass media. Its just bad news after bad news after bad news, and for some reason, this stuff attracts everyone's attention! Does science pertain to a smaller sized audience? Maybe there is some kind of relationship between marketability and kinds of ideas that get spread.
      • thumb
        Feb 25 2012: Hi Andrew,

        "Does science pertain to a smaller sized audience?"

        Asking to your question: Unfortunately, it does.
        People get a kind of education through TV wich is getting even more futile day after day. Therefore, people get "educated" according to TV and their preferences get shaped in base of what they see.
        Science isn´t that much entertaining (although is very interesting) so TV stations just brings commercial stuff, that serves their (TV stations) interests - gain audiences.
        People get used to that type of programmes and starts to rejects what they don´t usually watch - science. It´s a vicious cycle.

        Plus, it´s hard to a person that barely reads books to watch something related to science.

        I´ve seen very interesting and bombastic news about science that have been shown just for a day.

        It´s really a shame that to be good news, isn´t enough that the news is just good and interesting.
        • thumb
          Feb 25 2012: We discovered meteorites in the antarctic with fragments of DNA in it which couldn't have come from Earth. We found a serious indicator that life was seeded on earth billions of years ago by asteroid bombardment. Where were the news reports? I saw nothing on TV. And yet, we all know Whitney Houston died, how she died and an enormous amount of energy has gone into this solitary death.

          Modern media is a sham.
    • thumb
      Feb 26 2012: "Nowadays, with so many information brought to us by the mass media we have lost sensibility."
      What would be the preferred reaction to such horrible events? What should we do instead? Is the issue at hand to reduce the information we receive? Do we prefer to live in ignorance? Or do you think we should be affected by such news? I agree that we should aim to do something to prevent man-made tragedies, but natural tragedies are a necessity in order to prevent overpopulation. And in regards to our reaction to man-made tragedies, I think our reaction should not be that of sympathy or sadness, but to question ourselves: “what can we do to contribute and prevent such tragedies in the future?” If we choose to ignore these tragedies, then it is only fair to be treated the same way if we are part of such tragedies.
      • thumb
        Feb 26 2012: No news = No business for media !
        I have seen the most despicable things get airtime on media. and they perpetuate and dwell on extreemly inferior things making a big deal out of nothing. read desperation.this coupled with the fact that most of these companies are owned by the same group of people advancing a particular agenda.
        I think that its incumbent on us to choose media that not only keeps us informed but also adds value to our lives.
      • thumb
        Feb 26 2012: I'm not saying that we should ignore those tragedies. In fact, I even told that we know how horrible they are.
        I´m saying that mass media brings us lot of useless, futile and sometimes stupid information. With so much information we can´t filter what´s important and what´s worth our attention. And so, often, important and interesting news goes unnoticed.
        • thumb
          Feb 28 2012: Additionally, we don't really get the chance to filter information as media has already done the filtering for us. Thus, we are left with already filtered information to try to pick from, meaning we are exposed to an even smaller subset off all the information that is really out there.

          To make things worse, many people probably think that the news presents us with the most "important" information, and therefore don't go digging around for information themselves.

          The mass media is primarily how ideas spread, but the mass media also fails to spread much scientific news, such as the discovery mentioned by Spencer.

          Perhaps we should figure out how to get science a bigger spot in the news reel? Ideas in the news reel are already the filtered ones that have been chosen as "good ideas." Thus, the mere presence of science in the mass media may be a huge factor in getting the ideas to spread.
        • thumb
          Feb 28 2012: It’s especially true that science is often digested for the general public by the media and unfortunately, the information is often sensationalized. Oftentimes, as mentioned in Ben Goldacre’s TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_goldacre_battling_bad_science.html) on battling bad science, there is a lot of misinformation out there that most people are not even aware of. I almost feel that, unfortunately, it is the dramatic interpretation of a research study rather than the actual finding that is being spread. In short, it’s what the media perceives that the public will relate to that will initially spread like wildfire.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.