Posts Tagged ‘wikipedia’

What Are Crowds Good For?

May 21, 2010

The book “The Wisdom Of Crowds”, by James Surowiecki, evoked a surprising amount of interest upon its publication in 2004.  The book sets forth a thesis that seems to have struck a chord with many people.  Actually, there are two forms of the thesis, which it is helpful to distinguish:

Wisdom Of Crowds Thesis, Weak Form
: By properly selecting a large number of people with a good mix of skills and knowledge about some subject, and by adopting a carefully-designed procedure for distilling their views into some kind of weighted-average consensus view, it is possible to arrange matters so that this consensus view is almost always more accurate and reliable than any individual view held by any member of the group.

Wisdom Of Crowds Thesis, Strong Form: Given a sufficiently large group of people, if their average or consensus view on any subject is somehow ascertained, that view is always more reliable than the views of any individual.  Expertise on the subject in question is nice, but not required, since knowledge will emerge of its own accord once some “Large Number of Participants” threshold has been reached.

As a brief assessment of these two versions of the “Wisdom” Thesis, the Weak Thesis is demonstrably true, while the Strong Thesis is, not to put too fine a point on it, bunk.  On this, more below.