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"Wisdom of Crowds" Works For Individuals Too

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the I-am-large-I-contain-multitudes dept.

Social Networks 158

ideonexus writes "Take a crowd of people and have them guess how many jelly beans are in a jar, and the average of their answers will be remarkably accurate. Now researchers have found the same goes for asking one person to guess about the same thing several times. Accuracy improved when the individual was given longer periods of time between guesses." The anonymous author of the Economist piece, not quoting the researchers, says the finding bolsters the "generate and test" model of creative thinking.

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In related news... (4, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966707)

In related news, students were found to do far better on multiple choice tests when given an unlimited number of guesses at each question. Even students that didn't study eventually got As.

Re:In related news... (4, Insightful)

smallfries (601545) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966835)

Not quite... but you are close. It sounds like you're pointing out that anyone will get lucky if given enough chances. These guys are claiming that the average will converge to the ground truth over time. This would need to have guesses with some Gaussian distribution about the correct answer.

If the guesses were uniformly distributed then the average wouldn't tend to the correct answer over time. Of course what is described in the summary has nothing to do with the wisdom of crowds as it is commonly thought of (i.e in markets) where shared information is vital. Instead it is simply an artifact of sampling (which is why the longer gaps are necessary for better accuracy)

Re:In related news... (1)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967573)

I wonder if the effect varies with the age of the subject?

I'd hazard a guess that us oldies would need longer between guesses than the young 'uns, since we're more likely to remember the previous guesses than a rap-music listening, zero attention span teen.

That is, the effect of increased accuracy should fall off with age.

Re:In related news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967719)

I'd hazard a guess that us oldies would need longer between guesses than the young 'uns, since we're more likely to remember the previous guesses than a rap-music listening, zero attention span teen.

Should check for a correlation with lawn-trespassing, too.

Re:In related news... (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967721)

That's an interesting idea. It would be a good follow up to measure the short-term attention span of the subjects and see if there was a correlation between memory and accuracy.

In general though, doesn't short-term memory decrease with age? Or don't you remember what we were talking about :)

Re:In related news... (3, Informative)

bunratty (545641) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967689)

I think you need another class in statistics. It doesn't matter whether the guesses are normally or uniformly distributed. If the guesses are distributed around the correct value, the average over many guesses will converge to the correct value. All this shows is that when someone makes an estimate, they are usually close, and they overestimate about as much as they underestimate. The average of those guesses will then be more accurate than any one guess selected at random. The guesses probably are normally distributed, but that the fact that the average of the guesses converges to the correct result in itself does not prove that they are.

Re:In related news... (3, Insightful)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967883)

You state the really cool thing about this but somehow completely miss it!

You say, "If the guesses are distributed around the correct value...." Well, why would they be? They're guesses! There's no reason to expect one person's guesses to be centered on the correct value if they don't know the correct value. But this study shows that they are centered near the correct value, even though the person doesn't know what that value is.

Re:In related news... (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967903)

Sorry I was a bit unclear with the way that I phrased it. I did mean the literal comparison between a "Guassian distribution about the correct answer" and just a uniform distribution i.e. not about the correct answer. Of course you are correct that any symmetric distribution would work as long as it was was centered around the correct solution.

It is with an image of Ferris Bueller playing the sax(?) that I say: and without a single stats class ever :)

Re:In related news... (2, Interesting)

Falkkin (97268) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967727)

Good observation about the Gaussian distribution being necessary. Thought experiment: I am thinking of a number between one and a million. What's the likelihood that the average of a bunch of people's guesses are anywhere near the number I am thinking of?

Re:In related news... (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967863)

In that case, the number you pick as the correct number is uniformly distributed. The OP was referring to the distribution of the bunch of people's guesses, not the distribution of the correct number. Yes, statistics is hard.

Re:In related news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23968053)

The number HE picked is a "singular" distribution. ONE element in the set {n: n in N and n 1000000}. Though this is a discrete set, using terminology from the continua theory of statistics, we can say that this distribution is UNIFORMLY ZERO a.e.

Statistics is a lot easier if you know what you're talking about.

Re:In related news... (2, Insightful)

jibster (223164) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968071)

The Gaussian distribution is completely unnecessary. The only necessity for the law of increasing averages to hold is that the distribution is centered on the average.

So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (5, Insightful)

Watson Ladd (955755) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966719)

Wisdom of crowds only works when the crowd has some information about the situation. Look at polls about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for more details.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (4, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966871)

Exactly. Penn and Teller asked a group of people if the chemical Dihydrous Monoxide should be banned. Nearly every one of them said yes. The wisdom of crowds is not in and of itself some sort of magic. It is merely an interesting observation.

That your own guesses seem to exhibit the same 'average' correctness as a crowd is bad science IMO. Once you guess at a problem, you're subconsciously directed to think of that problem, thus getting more than a knee jerk reactionary guess. The longer you have to think about it, the longer you have to assimilate information pertaining to the answer.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967317)

Once you guess at a problem, you're subconsciously directed to think of that problem, thus getting more than a knee jerk reactionary guess. The longer you have to think about it, the longer you have to assimilate information pertaining to the answer.

Or maybe after 3 weeks you've forgotten your previous answer or have lost the psychological attachment to it and are not as nearly as likely to pick a new number in close proximity to the original.

What I'm saying is that maybe 6%* just represents the avg amount individuals are willing to stray from their original guess.

What the study really needed was intermediate data points between "immediately" and "3 weeks".

*shouldn't it be a 12% difference between the 1st & 2nd guess, which avgs to 6%?

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968677)

Exactly. Penn and Teller asked a group of people if the chemical Dihydrous Monoxide should be banned. Nearly every one of them said yes. The wisdom of crowds is not in and of itself some sort of magic. It is merely an interesting observation.

The problem with your example is that it is not remotely comparable. That is not a guess, that is just being stupid.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (1, Informative)

will_die (586523) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966919)

HUH????
Most polls said people expected that we would find WMD and WMDs were found.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (0, Offtopic)

doooooosh (1124823) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967071)

I thought about modding you funny. Then I thought about modding you troll. Instead I'll just comment that you made me laugh and shake my head.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967615)

if you mean "many people believe that WMDs were found", then you are correct. However, none of the specified weapons were ever found.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (2, Informative)

rsborg (111459) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969065)

HUH???? Most polls said people expected that we would find WMD and WMDs were found.

How is this informative? This is wrong. Read the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]. Money quote:

"No one was more surprised than I that we didn't find (WMDs)." General Tommy Franks December 2, 2005.[67]

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (0)

BarryJacobsen (526926) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969271)

HUH???? Most polls said people expected that we would find WMD and WMDs were found.

Well of course we knew they were there - we were the ones that sold them!

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967377)

Oh yeah? Well, I've got an imaginary jar of jelly beans sitting on my desk right now, and I'll ask everyone to guess how many jelly beans are in it. I can guarantee at the end of the day, the average of all the guesses will be spot on.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967945)

Wisdom of crowds only works when the crowd has some information about the situation.

Or when the crowd isn't a self-reinforcing/recruiting echo chamber for ignorant fuckwittery..... like the one-time alleged poster boy of the movement, Digg.

Re:So how long is the emperor of China's nose? (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968995)

First of all, who the heck knew that China even *HAD* a nose, much less the notion that its nose has an emperor? As for how long that emperor is, that question itself has several possible meanings... including asking how long he has been an emperor, how tall he is, or possibly enquiring about the size of his privates. Be specific, man!

1? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966723)

i'm guessing 1. and that's my final answer.

oh yeah? (0, Redundant)

alxtoth (914920) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966729)

And if they run several of these tests over time, their result maybe will also get closer to the truth .. That it's bu#sh#t.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966761)

Think long think wrong.

From the I-am-large-I-contain-multitudes dept.? (4, Funny)

lilomar (1072448) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966765)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then! I contradict myself!

Wisdom of the Crowds" (5, Insightful)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966789)

The idea that a group guessing is more accurate than an individual guess, and if you make more than one guess the mean or average of the guesses is more accurate than a single guess?

So, in real world terms, 1000 rednecks are going to be more accurate than one Harvard graduate? (assuming the graduate in question isn't our current President) (if we were guessing the number of pickled eggs in a pickle jar, I'd have to agree... Otherwise, I'm somewhat skeptical of how well this translates beyond the estimation of things.

Re:Wisdom of the Crowds" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967225)

Or maybe the answer lies somewhere in between, after all the Harvard dropout got tired of fleecing the Harvard believers in luck out of their spare coin at the poker table and founded what became the world's largest software company that specializes in selling software to those who like to guess where it is safe to click.

As an aside, wonder how many of those who caused the inflation to a higher percent of second guesses after three weeks are the same as those who don't mind reading the man?

Re:Wisdom of the Crowds" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967247)

He went to Yale, not Harvard. I think you just made the Crimson turn Crimson with rage.

Re:Wisdom of the Crowds" (4, Funny)

thethibs (882667) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967279)

More like it takes a thousand Harvard graduates in conference to show the common sense of one redneck. But who's counting?

Re:Wisdom of the Crowds" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23968319)

one Harvard graduate? (assuming the graduate in question isn't our current President)

Hardvard? It was Yale, wasn't it?

head in the sand/mass hypenosys works for crowds (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966801)

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http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/05/senate.iraq/index.html
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whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

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& pretending that it isn't happening here;

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all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

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Explains (4, Funny)

Paranatural (661514) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966803)

This explains why there's so much informative discussion here at slashdot. N o one knows much of anything, but if you throw enough wild assed guesses at something, one of them is bound to be right, right?

Re:Explains (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966861)

Yes they certainly are.

No, you're wrong, they're not.

Re:Explains (4, Insightful)

HairyCanary (688865) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967041)

No, I don't think so. It wouldn't be "one of them is bound to be right" -- it would be something more along the lines of "with enough posts, the consensus is likely to be close to reality."

This assumes, of course, that everything in life is like a jar of jellybeans.

Re:Explains (1, Funny)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967151)

This assumes, of course, that everything in life is like a jar of jellybeans.

Unfortunately, it's not. Life is like a box of chocolates. Ask Forrest's momma.

Re:Explains (0)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967097)

I'm not sure if you're joking or not, but no, it's something quite different. The ideas they're talking about (or at least the idea involving multiple people) is that with a large number of guesses there's a good chance that the majority of guesses will balance out between being too high or too low allowing an average of those guesses to be relatively accurate.

On Slashdot each post is a disparate peice of information, you can't average anything. The number of informative/interesting/insightful posts is a much simpler concept - the more people that post the greater the odds that a few have something worthwhile to say.

Re:Explains (3, Insightful)

virgil_disgr4ce (909068) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967135)

Har har, but that's not the idea. If only one of them is right it's not the average. I interpret it more like this: intuition is a product of subconscious information processing. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, and is generally very good at that. I would hazard a guess that if you average out everybody's intuitions ("first guesses"), some of the people are "overthinking" things, but many are just going with their gut, and the pattern recognition and extrapolation that's going on constantly anyway in your brain is often onto something.

The "generate and test" idea is something I've made great effort to more consciously embrace in my creative endeavors. People decry "quantity over quality," but what I've found is that you simply can't just brood over an idea and "work on" the idea until it's "perfect" and then execute it--you have to create prototypes and test them, and the more you do this, the better you get at creating good prototypes in the first place. Still, it's remarkable how difficult it can be to convince yourself of this.

Re:Explains (1)

Burz (138833) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969225)

intuition is a product of subconscious information processing. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, and is generally very good at that. I would hazard a guess that if you average out everybody's intuitions ("first guesses"), some of the people are "overthinking" things, but many are just going with their gut, and the pattern recognition and extrapolation that's going on constantly anyway in your brain is often onto something.

I think you hit on why I like Derron Brown's shows so much. He actively gets people to perform amazing feats [youtube.com] by (among other things) getting them to listen to their subconscious. He even goes to the extent of using hypnosis.

Re:Explains (1)

Kamineko (851857) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967269)

Yes, yes, no, yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no, no.

Your comment violated the "postercomment" compression filter. Try less whitespace and/or less repetition.

Huh, that's a new one.

It's true (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966823)

I've been guessing that CmdrTaco is gay for the past 10 years. Turns out, he's gay.

I've also been guessing CowboyNeal's weight.... 435 ... 390 ... 412 ... 420...

What is it, cowboi?

Gubmint (1)

southpolesammy (150094) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966827)

N.B. -- this does not apply to politics. In fact, the phrase "Political Science" may be turning into the biggest oxymoron of all time.

Re:Gubmint (0, Troll)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968215)

May be? Turning into?

(on the other hand, Rove and his ilk have shown that a calculated understanding of the electorate is a powerful tool)

Ah duh! (5, Funny)

mspohr (589790) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966831)

The amazing discovery they made is that when people had time to think about a question, they gave better answers. This is profound.

Re:Ah duh! (3, Funny)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966877)

And it took a study to prove that. Now let's have a control group that will be base on faith...

Re:Ah duh! (4, Insightful)

JustinOpinion (1246824) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966989)

In fact there is some research that suggests for certain kinds of decisions, more thought is actually counter-productive. That is, initial "gut" decisions are sometimes more optimal than carefully-considered ones (where "optimal" is measured by longer-term happiness/regret of decision). (For instance, check this writeup [newscientist.com] of this paper [sciencemag.org], or the associated Slashdot submission [slashdot.org].)

The point is that while thinking long and hard about some problems can be helpful (e.g. designing something complex and technical), for other kinds of problems, added thought can hinder (e.g. when there are many confounding unknowns).

Re:Ah duh! (5, Funny)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967987)

The point is that while thinking long and hard about some problems can be helpful (e.g. designing something complex and technical), for other kinds of problems, added thought can hinder (e.g. when there are many confounding unknowns).

So that explains why most /.ers are single.

Re:Ah duh! (1)

jez9999 (618189) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968733)

For once, a post on Slashdot about singleness that's actually a seriously good point. I should think about these things WAY less. Mod parent informative.

Re:Ah duh! (3, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967111)

They didn't say that the second answer was better. They said that the average was better. It would be interesting to know if the second answer was, on average, better than the first.

Re:Ah duh! (1)

7 digits (986730) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967147)

> The amazing discovery they made is that when people had time to think about a question, they gave better answers. This is profound.

I don't think so. Thinking about a question is anti-american due to the lack of truthiness [wikipedia.org] in such answers.

Re:Ah duh! (1)

7 digits (986730) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967165)

> > The amazing discovery they made is that when people had time to think about a question, they gave better answers. This is profound.

> I don't think so. Thinking about a question is anti-american due to the lack of truthiness [wikipedia.org] in such answers.

Mmm. Now that I had the time to think about it, I tend to agree with you.

This is, indeed, profound.

Re:Ah duh! (1)

Racemaniac (1099281) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967189)

eh no, the point is, that if they leave enough time in between the answers (and people will have forgotten their last answer better), they'll be able to give a new answer, just as good as the last one, but the average of both is more accurate.

rather than having 100 people give an answer, and take the average, which is remarkably accurate, ask 1 person 100 times, with enough interval for him to not always go to the same/similar answer because he remembers what he said previously. and this apparantly is also far more accurate than a single answer by that person.

which i find to be a nice result :). you'd expect someone to always make the same mistake, or go for a similar guess, but apparantly not :).

Re:Ah duh! (2, Interesting)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967339)

I predict that if you ask the same person the same question over and over again even at wide intervals the answers will converge but not necessarily to the correct value (of course, that value may often be "You asked me that before. Bugger off!")

Re:Ah duh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967205)

I'm wondering...if they came back to the people three weeks later, and asked them the same question, how do they know the people didn't look up the answer in that time? I suppose if they asked them several questions, they probably wouldn't remember them all, but if they remembered some significant fraction, that could skew the data. I know I would be interested in seeing how close I was. I would look up the answers for the questions I was asked.

I remember taking a standardized test in elementary school. I feel silly admitting this, but one of the questions asked us to name a certain point on the graph, and I couldn't remember which coordinate was listed first -- the horizontal-axis distance, or vertical. (If they had taught us independent- and dependent-variables, I'm sure I would have learned it more easily. Otherwise, the order is just arbitrarily chosen.) Well, we finished that section, and then had lunch. During lunch, I looked in my math book and found I had done it wrong. Of course, I couldn't go back and change my answer -- that would be cheating. But after lunch, we started a new section, and that section had more graphs on it. So, not surprisingly, I got those answers right. But it wasn't because I had taken longer to guess.

I'm not saying the phenomenon they are describing is false, but the article doesn't describe their scientific approach well enough to trust the results touted.

yea, no (2, Funny)

epfreed (238219) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966841)

Yea, that seems right. But maybe not.
Yes, a little right. No, not at all. Total bullshit. Yet also 100% right. Doorknob. Right about 30% of the time. Wait, what was the question?

Seriously? (1)

Tsoat (1221796) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966865)

So what they're saying is when someone has a long period of time to think about an answer, or the trial-and-error option they're answers are better then just guessing? Astounding! This new information changes everything...wait no no it doesn't this has been known for thousands of years. Good Job at rediscovering what was already known though, really I mean it.

Durr (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23966917)

Um, three weeks is plenty of time to look up such an intriguing factoid on the Internet.

Pure Brain Power? (1)

Aldenissin (976329) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966943)

I was thinking about a jellybean in the jar scenario just the other day, as we had someone guess correctly for a prize at work. Examples of fast calculation by certain autistics (think toothpicks in the movie Rainman) suggests to me that the mind counts and analyses all sorts of information, and with certain individuals is able to be called more easily. What does the mind do behind the curtain? Can these feats be learned and a person be trained to do these things? I'd like to think so. Of course, this study could just be evidence that humans are capable of abstract calculation and rounding. I am not a statistician (ianas?), but wouldn't you expect that several guesses would average out this way? Humans have carried berries in baskets for millennia sure, but aside from an "evolutionary" trait, I would think humans have ample brain power to make very educated guesses quite easily.

Should this be a surprise? (4, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | more than 5 years ago | (#23966979)

I thought this was understood.

This is how you are able to catch a ball. Your brain doesn't do a physics calculation and determine where the ball will land. It guesses, watches, refines the guess, repeats, and eventually the guess is close enough so your hand is in the right spot to catch it.

Re:Should this be a surprise? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967043)

...which ultimately amounts to doing a physics calculation anyway, just using training rather than a priori formulas.

Re:Should this be a surprise? (1)

lazyDog86 (1191443) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968235)

Well, and maybe this sounds obvious when I say it but that's what the formulas are too. They aren't a priori in any sense of coming into existence ahead of the physical universe. They are a distillation of physical observations. While they often seem novel the first time you encounter them in a textbook, but I would argue that they too are really a result of training.

Re:Should this be a surprise? (2, Funny)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967193)

This is how you are able to catch a ball. Your brain doesn't do a physics calculation and determine where the ball will land. It guesses, watches, refines the guess, repeats, and eventually the guess is close enough so your hand is in the right spot to catch it.

Apparently that feature of the brain is broken for the players of the [Insert Name of Hated Sports Team].

(Hey...I try to make my put downs fun for everybody!)

Re:Should this be a surprise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967793)

But when you are watching the ball you are constantly receiving new information about the trajectory, so it makes sense to update your forecast of the final position. In the experiment the subjects are asked to guess again with no new information.

I call bs on the concept.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967087)

I read through the first few chapters of James Surowiecki's book in the bookstore. The only thing I found was a small (statistically speaking) number of anecdotes. Nothing really well researched (perhaps there were actual studies done later on).

I would say my main gripe is that the idea is often presented in an extremely poor manner. Like the author above does with the jelly beans.

It implies that the "popular mean" can express knowledge that isn't strongly represented in the group already. I.e. Clearly people voting on what medical procedure should be done for a given set of symptoms is radically different than people voting on what they would like to be fed for breakfast and likely puts the patient in a worse position rather than a better one. Now I get that with the idea of jelly beans is the belief that more people with overestimate or underestimate than guess right and that these two sides "balance" but, to my knowledge anyway that hasn't been actually demonstrated in a statistically valid way or for that matter in a way where proper bias control was done (the first example in the book IIRC was about the weight of cattle - clearly that could be biased by the sample used - especially since it was self-selected)

This brings us to the question: "How is this useful?" It doesn't introduce us to a new concept. We already believe that the "popular mean" is a better judge of some things but not others. It doesn't give us any better idea HOW to judge which things are better judged by crowds and which do not.

Crowds not wise in sports betting, that for sure (1)

Morris Thorpe (762715) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967107)

I was deeply involved in sports betting for a while. One of the first things any serious sports bettor learns is that if everyone else likes the same team as you, then start to worry.

There are several websites dedicated to come up with a public consensus on wagers. They were always a must-see for me but only as another piece of information (oddly, it's just as dumb to bet along with the crowd as it is to bet against it.)

Yes, this is gambling, but it's not like betting red or black in roulette. There here has never been so much information available: stats, trends, computers, and tons of message boards to share it all.
In the end, very few manage to win that elusive 52.x percent of the time needed to make a profit.

As for me, I did win for a while but proved to be too undisciplined to stick to my own rules :)

Intervals (1)

Hemogoblin (982564) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967253)

It sounds like this is just an example of someone making a confidence interval; "I know the answer is in a certain range, so I'll make two guesses and it should probably be in there."

If each guess is made using a different model, then you're adding more "information" to the guess. Then there's more total information in the average, than in each guess on it's own.

But what do I know, I'm not a psychologist. I could just be making stuff up.

The wisdom of averages (3, Interesting)

thethibs (882667) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967309)

So what we've always thought was the wisdom of crowds turns out to be the wisdom of averages. That does make more sense.

Someones going to say it sooner or later.. (0, Troll)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967367)

Bush... what kind of wisdom is that ?

I guess in voting for him they picked the winner (insane laughter in my head right now) which would verify what this is saying.. but wisdom ???

Forest for the trees. (1)

Dzimas (547818) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967495)

Things get awkward when people talk about harnessing the power of crowds to improve complex predictions. A question like, "What will the price of oil be in five years?" is damn near impossible to answer without a time machine because it completely fails to factor in unpredictable economic & political disruptions (9/11, some guy inventing a portable fusion generator in his basement, alien invasion, global war, or pandemic). In fact, the financial markets are a great example of "the wisdom of crowds" looking more like "the wisdom of sheep."

Humans are forced to take analytical shortcuts when observing the world, and the process involves heavy socialization. We can spot a crazy (and potentially dangerous) street person in mere moments. We can judge the social standing of a person within seconds. It's one reason that branding works so well, because we can be trained to think, "Mmm, BMW good. Macintosh good" without pausing for hours of tedious analysis. The trouble is that socialization plays a massive role in our views of the world. Any "educated guess" we make about the possibility of a future pandemic or going to war with the Vogons will be colored by our social network - what our friends think, what our favorite bloggers think, what the media tells us. It is a rare soul who can step out from the crowd to see the forest for the trees.

I wonder... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23967579)

But what if the first guess is correct?

That's What The Mice Wanted (2, Funny)

morgauo (1303341) | more than 5 years ago | (#23967905)

Ah Ha!! Proof! The world and the people in it are a gigantic computer, built by the greatest mice scientists working on the meaning of life! Collectively our minds hold the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything... even if so many individual minds hold so little.... Where's my improbability engine?!?!? The Vogons are coming!

So in other words... (1)

lanceblack (969852) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968025)

...thinking about a problem longer improves your chance at getting it right.

Earth-shattering stuff.

...and doesn't that directly contradict Malcolm Gladwell's Blink theory?

Gotta love Pop Science

There's a very clear difference... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23968283)

Yes wisdom not intelligence. That's why there are two stats on the D&D character sheet.

Ah the secret to good karma (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23968575)

Guess what people will think is insightful/informative/positive.

Get modded troll.

Repeat. :)

Minsky's Emotion Machine (2, Interesting)

br00tus (528477) | more than 5 years ago | (#23968581)

In Minsky's book "The Emotion Machine" he describes what we know about the human brain from observation and such. When one encounters a tough problem, one turns different parts of the brain on and off in an attempt to solve it. First might be a trial-and-error brain agent, then an analogy brain agent that searches memory for some similar situation and so forth. That is why there is a difference between blitz chess and tournament chess - in tournament chess, where you have several minutes to make a decision for each move, you can draw on memory, make tactical and strategical decisions and the like quicker than the snap decisions made in blitz chess. It's also why we often go to sleep working on a tough (programming etc.) problem and wake up with the answer - our "unconscious" brain put the answer together while we slept.

Problem dependent (1)

underworld (135618) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969199)

As pointed out in "The Black Swan", this is HIGHLY dependent on the scenario in question. For problems where the bounds are easily determined (say, the number of jelly beans in a certain size jar), then "crowd wisdom" might apply. For example, you would be unlikely to guess to that a 1 gallon jar holds 3 million normal sized jelly beans.

But take a different scenario. Let's have the crowd guess the income of some random individual. Depending on the individual the crowd could be very wrong. If the individual is a homeless man with no income, they will be wrong. If the individual is James Simons with $1.5B (yes, that's a B) of income, they will also be wrong.

Only when the scenario in question is already "average", then a crowd may be able to make a reasonable estimate. If the scenario is not "average", the crowd will continue to make an average estimate.

So, while it appears that there may be wisdom in a crowd, really there's only mediocrity. If you apply the mediocre crowd to the mediocre problem, you should expect to get reasonable results.

Of course, the same dependencies on the problem also exist for the crowd. A crowd of A-list movie stars guessing the income for the random individual may be very different from a crowd on wellfare.

noise reduction (1)

halfelven (207781) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969323)

This is just like noise reduction. You either shoot with more sensors at the same time, and do an average between them to eliminate sensor noise, or shoot with the same sensor repeatedly and average with itself.
The noise and other sensor defects are reduced.

Apparently, it's the same with people.

Educated Guessing converges (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 5 years ago | (#23969483)

Many people are taking this out of context.

Obviously if you presented a complex mathematical PHD level math problem to a crowd, the crowd have absolutely no concept of what the answer could be and the answer would never converge.

However, when looking at an example like counting the number of jellybeans in a jar, most of us are guessing within REASON. We know it's > 10 and we know it's 1 000 000. So we're testing our ability to approximate.

What this study says is our ability to judge increases with the number of people. Lots of people judging means the group's average is closer to the real answer than most individuals.

It also says that an individual judging multiple times with greater breaks between each judgment gets closer to the answer.

I don't think this should be too surprising. By judging multiple times, your subconscious is able to work on the problem. It also eliminates variations of things you don't think about. Maybe when you first judged the number of jellybeans in the jar, it was morning and you were hungry and your subconscious made you judge higher. Now its afternoon after you had lunch, and that apsect is not being played out. I think that given multiple judgments, we also take that into account. If last time I judged 900, but I had a 'feeling' it was too high, this time I might judge 800.

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