I know we like lists, but I'm not sure we like them quite as much as the media thinks we do.

You can't venture very far in cyberspace without being bombarded with lists, many of which are contrived, to put it mildly. Here are just a few of those I came across in the space of half an hour's browsing:

• Eight possible explanations for Solange's attack on Jay-Z. (Curiously, the possibility that she's a maniac didn't seem to have occurred to the authors.)

• The 10 heaviest drinking countries in the world. (New Zealand isn't one of them, but we are "bubbling under".)


• The 12 most annoying things travellers do in airports. (Why stop at 12?)

• Ten ways Katherine Heigl destroyed her career. (Huh?)

It's easy to see the attraction from the media's point of view: lists are fun to compile, they're a diverting but undemanding read and they're interactive in the sense that if you disagree with the writer - as you invariably will - you can make your own.

And they're democratic: list-making is a game anyone can play, providing you don't mind getting scornful emails from people in other timezones.

For example, if you get the urge to compile a list of the 20 greatest crime novels ever written, don't be deterred by the fact that you're not an expert on crime fiction or haven't read much of it.

For that matter, don't be deterred by the fact that you haven't actually read 20 crime novels. Just come up with 20 titles: Wikipedia will do the rest.

Because it's just an opinion. (The mantra "Everyone's entitled to their opinion" is a driver of the dumbing-down of culture since it implies - and is often taken to mean - that all opinions are of equal value. This in turn implies that knowledge is over-rated if not irrelevant, which is why ignoramuses don't mind advertising their ignorance.)

The big daddy of media lists is Time magazine's 100 most influential people.


The recently published 2014 version caused a stir by giving pride of place to Beyonce, who graced the cover in what appear to be designer nappies, thus making the point that influence is in the eye of the beholder.

And it was a surprise to discover that teenage golfer Lydia Ko, on whose behalf New Zealand Golf had sought taxpayer assistance to enable her to travel the world making lots of money, is such a heavy hitter global influence-wise.

Time would have us believe that almost one fifth of the most influential people in the world are entertainers.

Thus Robin Wright, who plays a Machiavellian politician's Machiavellian wife in the TV show House of Cards, is more influential than, say, the head of Mexico's biggest drug cartel.

A notable absentee is the most influential person in the world these past few weeks: Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram and kidnapper of hundreds of schoolgirls. Perhaps he refused to have his photograph taken.

Meanwhile, under the attention-grabbing headline "British public wrong about nearly everything", the Independent this week reported on a survey showing Britons are wildly misinformed, almost to the point of believing black is white, about many of the issues likely to loom large in next year's election.

For instance, they believe blacks and Asians make up 30 per cent of the total population when the actual figure is around 11 per cent. Majority opinion is equally at variance with the facts on benefit fraud, immigration, crime, teen pregnancy and foreign aid. I suspect the same applies here.

A 2003 Ministry of Justice survey found that 83 per cent of respondents had an inaccurate and negative perception of the crime rate. In 2009 Victoria University researchers found an overwhelming public belief that crime had got much worse even though statistics clearly show the opposite is true. In 2012 we had the lowest crime rate per capita since before electronic records were maintained.

This week the Government released figures showing that, contrary to the widespread perception that foreigners are buying up New Zealand, the level of foreign property ownership is low, particularly compared to other countries.

It's no accident that the issues which give rise to misconceptions and ill-informed emotionalism are those that attract vocal lobby groups, self-appointed watchdogs and populist politicians, all of whom adhere to the time-honoured principle of propaganda: that if you say something often enough and loud enough, people will believe it.