Facts, Wisdom of the Crowds, and Anchoring Part II

by Edward Henkler on October 8, 2013

In 2005, James Surowiecki wrote a marvelous book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”.  The following Wikipedia article is a cogent explanation of the book:

The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group. An intuitive and often-cited explanation for this phenomenon is that there is idiosyncratic noise associated with each individual judgment, and taking the average over a large number of responses will go some way toward canceling the effect of this noise.[1] This process, while not new to the information age, has been pushed into the mainstream spotlight by social information sites such as Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers, and other web resources that rely on human opinion.[2]

  1. Yi, S. K. M., Steyvers, M., Lee, M. D. and Dry, M. J. (April 2012). “The Wisdom of the Crowd in Combinatorial Problems”. Cognitive Science 36 (3). doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01223.x.
  2. Baase, Sara (2007). A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing and the Internet. 3rd edition. Prentice Hall. pp. 351–357. ISBN 0-13-600848-8.

How does this relate to last week’s post?  If a random crowd can guess an answer better than an expert, perhaps this is further indication we should not get “anchored” in our personal belief system?  If you earnestly listen to the opinions of others and test them against your own “facts”, you begin to apply the “wisdom of the crowds” philosophy.  The sample set may be smaller but you are still likely to reach a better answer.

Remember, anchors are for ships, not your thinking!

Anchored thinking

Anchors – for ships, not your thinking


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