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The Wisdom of Crowds

James Surowiecki · 8 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
In this fascinating book, New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. With boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, military history, and politics to show how this simple idea offers important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, run our companies, and think about our world.
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A nice book I liked is "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki.

From what I remember, the gist is you want people to be coming up with solutions to a problem independently, and then you want them to voice their proposals independently (so as not to be stymied by others' ideas). And then you want to aggregate these solutions/proposals. The beneficial dynamic breaks down if people around the table share their ideas in order one after another.

https://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/038...

Side note: "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki

https://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/038...

DonaldFisk
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: https://web.archive.org/web/20040623130633/http://www.litrix...
It's bad enough to foster an echo chamber to your personal biases, as is currently standard operating procedure. But to actively engage in hidden manipulation of public views strikes at the very heart of democracy. Democracy only works because of the wisdom of crowds [1], and the wisdom of crowds only works if each participant has independent knowledge. The more people rely upon a shared source of knowledge and truth, the less accurate their collective wisdom becomes.

Practically, this means that anyone with wide enough influence can directly affect democratic outcomes, which defeats the entire purpose, and the level of influence possible these days is unprecedented.

So regardless of what actually did or did not happen, the fact that a few companies ARE in a position to wield this kind of influential power should strike fear into the heart of every free citizen of every democratic nation.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/038...

jlebar
> to actively engage in hidden manipulation of public views strikes at the very heart of democracy.

Indeed, Fox News, Britebart, and friends are terrifying.

parthdesai
Let's be honest, all media organizations are biased. Be it Fox News, Britebart, or CNN. Heck even r/politics is biased af.
mattnewton
Bias is a sliding scale; it’s possible to decide the degree to which a source is biased about a topic, and treat it different from more biased or less biased sources. We definitely don’t want to just throw our hands up and say everything is biased, we can’t trust news, or worse, everything is biased, might as well pick the one that feels comfortable to me.
nraynaud
the difference is the number of deaths they produce.
beepboopbeep
to say that they are equally as bad is, actually, dishonest.
komali2
/r/politics is a subforum on a news aggregator. While media organizations definitely buy upvotes, as of yet there's no actual evidence of Reddit itself artificially promoting/demoting content within a subreddit

(Tweaking the algorithm to get bot-propogated t_d content off the front page doesn't count, it's a different subforum)

Brietbart is an entirely different category than Fox news. It will publish straight up conspiracy theories with no evidence. I'm talking "moon landing didn't happen" level shit. It's an insult to tabloids, to call it a tabloids.

Fox News is so comically biased to compare it to CNN is dishonest. CNN has liberal bias, sure, but it doesnt sink to the level of claiming Hillary Clinton had Seth rich assassinated (https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/may/23...) or completely makes shit up about supreme court candidates whole-cloth (https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2016/mar/18...).

Sure, they're gonna spend a lot of airtime on the "kavanaugh allegedly raped a girl in high school" story, or when the president says some messed up ish they're gonna go ahead and play that clip again and again, but that is a far cry from outright lying, which fox news does again and again, and which Breitbart does every breath.

emmelaich
> Brietbart is an entirely different category than Fox news. It will publish straight up conspiracy theories with no evidence. I'm talking "moon landing didn't happen" level shit

Do you have an example? I visit that site extremely rarely. And then only via a link to a story that looks reasonable on it's face.

goblekitepe
CNN is exclusively supportive of the Leftist and Liberal agenda. They are absolutely a fair game comparison to Fox.

CNN has spent over a year covering the Russia investigation, breathlessly accepting any shred of hearsay that could possibly maybe implicate Trump in collusion, however it seems now that there has been no collusion whatsoever and the entire issue is fake. CNN has been pushing nonsense this entire time!

In fact I've watched both Fox and CNN my entire life and Fox seems to me much less biased than CNN as of late.

komali2
Oh absolutely cnn is biased left.

But its journalists don't lie at nearly the same frequency as fox's

Here's a very simple comparison, persue at your leisure:

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/fox/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/cnn/

goblekitepe
Politifact is left biased as well and goes out of its way to discredit right leaning organizations.
parthdesai
>/r/politics is a subforum on a news aggregator.

Agreed, i didn't say otherwise and i didn't group it with other three websites. As an outsider, i have seen tons of people who are non-liberal (either centrist or right wing) get dismissed immediately even though there are times when the argument makes sense. Also, it filled with Russian hacking.

I never compared the three news sites. Parent point first two, i just said it's not like CNN is completely neutral as well. Also remember this is the same channel that didn't want you to download wikileaks and only listen to what they say. Did CNN's political commentator not actually pass questions to Hillary prior to the debate? How is that not biased?

I also completely agree with your points about Fox news and Breitbart and i do agree they are worse than CNN but we aren't on a binary scale. You can't just blame Fox news and Brietbart and completely ignore CNN (which the op did).

komali2
I hear you, but I still disagree. I think the depth of the "crime" fox news and Breitbart are engaging in is so great that CNN controversies are meaningless comparatively. To try to "both sides" by lumping CNN in is in my opinion muddying the waters.
spaginal
Unfortunately this is a false assessment. CNN has been caught plenty of times lying about stories and making up news, many examples on Youtube can bear this out, as well as recent stories they’ve had to retract. I’m no fan of Fox News, but CNN’s hands are not clean, they are in fact one of the worst offenders out there.
refurb
That’s been my experience as well. CNN has really gone downhill in the last decade. I used to be able to get a relatively balanced view, but every time I go on CNN.com all is see is “Trump should be impeached” as every other article. As though there was no other news in the world.
komali2
CNN doesn't lie at anywhere near the level fox news does. Please take a look at a hard comparison of the times both organizations have been caught lying.

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/fox/

https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/cnn/

simula67
I don't think this is proof that Fox lies more than CNN unless you can prove this is the comprehensive list of all statements made on both networks.

Read about the leftward movement of Politifact here : https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/politifact/

This does not mean Politifact cannot be trusted, but it potentually makes analysis like yours less accurate

enraged_camel
>>I don't think this is proof that Fox lies more than CNN unless you can prove this is the comprehensive list of all statements made on both networks.

Wow, so we need to look at each and every statement they have made and analyze their truthfulness before we can conclude which one lies more?

I take it you have never heard of statistics and sampling.

komali2
Ah, I disagree. You've engaged in blanket ad hominem against politifact without analysing the contents of the two articles themselves.

I believe this is proof that CNN lies less than Fox.

To convince me otherwise, you'd need to put the work in that politifact has done here, and compile your own list of statements, analyzed for truthfulness, from each organization.

My email is in my profile if you ever do this work. I'm happy to be convinced.

goblekitepe
Try actually watching and reading them, they're not as "terrifying" as you've been trained to think.
wtf_is_up
Agreed. For me, it's CNN, MSNBC, and HuffPo.
mc32
Keep in mind that of US journalists 50% ID as (lowrcase) independent, but 28% as Dems and only 7% as Repubs. So there is inherent bias on one side, if looking at affiliation.
humanrebar
You presume the independents are in the center. There are plenty of libertarians and conservatives disgusted by Trump and staying away from the Republican party until they get their act together again.
mc32
This poll took place in 2013 when the Repubs were the party of Romney and McCain --two Repubs, who according to quite a few Dem operatives, exemplify what Republicanism should be all about, so that is not a reason.
tacomonstrous
You're basically implying that only someone who shares your political views can report fairly about you. Pretty toxic view.

Also, if journalists are reluctant to be identified as Republican, perhaps the Republican party should do some soul searching about why this is so.

mc32
It looks like you're claiming that Silicon Valley is wrong when they talk about implicit bias, or Dems are wrong when they state that judges nominated to the SCOTUS by Republicans can't execute the law faithfully. Or that a call for more women in the boardroom is unnecessary because that implies that people are biased.

Note that I'm not taking a position on those implications, but am saying according to your logic the above is sound.

Also according to your logic Dems should do soul searching because lumberjacks and truck drivers are mostly Republicans...

propman
Not toxic at all, that is absolutely true in this day and age. The most neutral news I watch is pbs which leans left. I’m not going to find illegal immigrant crimes on CNN for the most part, but I’ll find them all over Fox. I won’t find Trump scandals and hate crimes against minorities on Fox much but I’ll find them super highlighted on CNN.

Assuming there’s no bias is naive.

Waterluvian
For some reason I just had a sudden idea about democracy being like Monte Carlo localization. We don't need everyone to have the same, or even correct ideas. We need a whole lot of disagreeable perspectives to consider and explore. That way we don't get trapped in ideological local minima.
ryanx435
Holy shit you've just discovered the reason behind the first amendment!
cma
>It's bad enough to foster an echo chamber to your personal biases, as is currently standard operating procedure. But to actively engage in hidden manipulation of public views strikes at the very heart of democracy. Democracy only works because of the wisdom of crowds [1], and the wisdom of crowds only works if each participant has independent knowledge. The more people rely upon a shared source of knowledge and truth, the less accurate their collective wisdom becomes.

It may have always been that way in the US. From his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin controlled a newspaper and founded secret societies for wealthy business owners to collude together while getting business for his printing press from the government.

magicalist
> the level of influence possible these days is unprecedented

vs the past when we had the single newspaper, the single encyclopedia, their priest, the three TV networks, or the town gossip mill?

> only works if each participant has independent knowledge

So, can you name a time that this was more possible than it is now?

mc32
Now imagine the conversations in newsrooms all over the world on how to present a particular event or newsstory. You can imagine how the different actors behave given their affiliations and editorial freedom (or control, depending) and this is why there is distrust since the ‘60s.
failbuffer
Yeah, caught this on Fox News tonight, and the hypocrisy of their breathless hand-wringing about the "threat to democracy" really burned me up. Not because they're right wing, but because they coordinate a top-down propaganda machine and have spurred other news organizations (like MSNBC) to do the same. The magnitude of their crime and the devastating rifts it has helped widen in our country is so much greater in scope than what the Google employees were talking about doing.
EGreg
Have you read Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent?”
mc32
Manufacturing consent can mean a couple of things. One, where the state apparatus or industry are in cahoots with journalists to execute a conspiracy on information.

The other has to do with journalists following their biases in reporting things --an agenda that is not dictated by outside third parties, but one of following an implicit ideology.

chiefalchemist
Two things to add:

1) You might be interested in the book The Influential Mind. While she doesn't come out and say it directly, the bizarre state of our digital lives (i.e., social media) has quite a bit of reasonable (scientific) explanation.

https://www.amazon.com/Influential-Mind-Reveals-Change-Other...

2) The irony of the homogenized "wisdom" is that these same entities are personalizing so much that the shared / collective experience is being diminished. Perhaps it's easier to build mono-minded on top of a disheveled and disorganized foundation?

TomMckenny
In this case what did or did not happen was that some employees noticed that search results for "Muslim" and "Latino" were almost exclusively anti-Muslim and anti-Latino. Since the typical person searching for those terms is obviously interested in a broader view, the algorithm was flawed or even gamed. The article title is click-baity.

But I agree it is terrifying that there are companies devoted to an overt political stance that have vast reach and even monopolies in many markets like Sinclair [0] and others [1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stations_owned_or_oper... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_Networks_Group#Internation...

josephh
> Since the typical person searching for those terms is obviously interested in a broader view

I don't find it obvious at all. Do you have any evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case? Why would those terms/results show up in the first place if only few are looking them up?

danaris
It is almost trivially obvious that the average person, even in a polarized climate like America during the 2016 election cycle, is more likely to be interested in a reasonably balanced set of results on any given topic than they are to be interested in a set of results that exclusively favor one fairly extreme position.

(Unfortunately, I would say this is even likely to be true of topics for which there is, in fact, an objectively true answer, like climate change, which many of the results will be opposing.)

TomMckenny
>>Since the typical person searching for those terms is obviously interested in a broader view

>Do you have any evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case?

Only my apparently overly optimistic understanding of human nature.

mikeyouse
Google's algorithm is biased toward recency. In a universe of "Foo Badbar", "Foo Neutralbar" and "Foo Goodbar" -- If a person searches for "Foo" after there's a bunch of stories in the press about "Foo Badbar", the results will all reflect that topic. For something like "Latino", it's crazy for all the results to reflect the border wall and not at all controversial for Google to want to promote "Foo Neutralbar" and "Foo Goodbar" to balance the results.
It's not a threshold of the amount of wealth a person has before he or she makes bad decisions. Have you read James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds?[1]"Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future." If that is true, no matter how smart or stupid individual people are, a group of 100 people each worth $10,000,000 using their money as a 'vote' will be better at investing than a single billionaire. The Koch brothers have $100 billion between them. They will spend one billion this year on political influence. They control the conservative conversation which has lead to people who follow them controlling a majority of state legislatures, a majority of state governors, the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. Those two are not stupid. However, any single person or small group of people with that much power is dangerous no matter how smart they might be. The point isn't to take money from rich people to finally pay for the Iraq war. The point is to take money from the most wealthy to prevent any one person or small group of people from having that much influence. Even the president steps down from power after two terms because our form of democracy doesn't work when someone passes a threshold of power from consolidation. The threshold is an amount of power that is consolidated where a person or small group of people are not longer competitive because they can eliminate all competition. Don't allow the consolidation of wealth into a few too big to fail banks. Break up the banks. Tax inheritance above $10,000,000 90%. Their children can innovate and invest to make money like the rest of us. I don't feel bad for them at all. Have a progressive tax structure using income, capital gains, and corporate taxes to prevent people from acquiring more than $250,000,000. Don't threaten me saying they are going to leave the United States. Please, please, please make them leave. They leave behind Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Cal, Stanford, and every other research school and university which will probably do better without their influence on the faculty. They will leave behind the abundant natural resources and infrastructure which sadly lately under their influence has been neglected. They will leave behind the most productive work force in the world. Americans specialize in management and upper management will see an increase in income without them taking a bulk of it. Please, make them go away.

[1]http://www.amazon.com/The-Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/...

zo1
>"I don't feel bad for them at all. [...]Their children can innovate and invest to make money like the rest of us"

That's a very negative attitude to have towards people with wealth above some magical number you deem "too-much".

People will get very illogical and angry when they see you blatantly stealing from their children. I know I will, because at the end of the day, I work for my progeny. An estate/inheritance tax is not taking away from my well-being, but from that of my children.

So, instead of fixing the problems with your form of governance, you decide to impose even more tyranny over the few who can possibly take advantage of it. The problem is not the money that allows them to possibly take advantage, but the corruptible system you have in place. Use that effort in making it actually noble like it's claimed to be.

It isn't fool-proof, but there is a lot of research into the phenomenon that groups of humans are pretty good at predicting outcomes (much better than most individuals). I forget the math behind it, but it makes a lot of sense mathematically.

Here's a book all about it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/...

masonhipp
Very true. There's another one floating around somewhere about how good we are at estimating the IQ of other people. Pretty interesting.
If you think you're going to harvest the "Wisdom of the Crowds", please go read James Surowiecki's book of the same name. http://www.amazon.com/The-Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/...

If that's too hard, at least understand the summary on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds#Four_eleme...

A quick look at your site and it's clear you don't get point #2 Independence as you're showing people the prior avg before they submit their answer. I'll bet your site will suffer from a lack of #1 Diversity of opinion as well, as most websites tend to gather abnormally high concentrations of like minded people just through the natural ways they acquire and accrete audience.

thomasfromcdnjs
This was just an MVP so didn't bother to put too much effort into tackling Information Cascading.[1]

I was hoping that because there are many answers above the folder, it might negate information cascading.

Lack of diversity will be definitely be a problem =D

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_cascade

Good luck with the app, I read the intro and the first thought that popped up was Wisdom of Crowds: http://www.amazon.com/The-Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/...
There's also stuff under "Network theory"[1] at Wikipedia. I feel like those two articles should probably be merged, but it hasn't happened yet, and I haven't had time to take a stab at it. But anyway, both articles contain some useful info.

I also recommend these few books as a good starting point:

Network Science: Theory and Applications[2]

Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means[3]

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age[4]

The Wisdom of Crowds[5]

Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks[6]

Diffusion of Innovations[7]

Of course - being that Network Science is a multidisciplinary field, that touches a lot of other areas - it can be hard to get a handle on what to study. But those few books - between them - cover a lot of the basics and would give somebody who's interested in this stuff enough background to figure out where to start digging deeper.

For a little bit more on the technical side, a couple of good resources at:

Introductory Graph Theory[8]

Introduction to Graph Theory[9]

Algorithms in Java: Part 5 - Graph Algorithms[10]

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_theory

[2]: http://www.amazon.com/Network-Science-Applications-Ted-Lewis...

[3]: http://www.amazon.com/Linked-Everything-Connected-Else-Means...

[4]: http://www.amazon.com/Six-Degrees-Science-Connected-Edition/...

[5]: http://www.amazon.com/The-Wisdom-Crowds-James-Surowiecki/dp/...

[6]: http://www.amazon.com/Nexus-Worlds-Groundbreaking-Science-Ne...

[7]: http://www.amazon.com/Diffusion-Innovations-5th-Everett-Roge...

[8]: http://www.amazon.com/Introductory-Graph-Theory-Gary-Chartra...

[9]: http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Graph-Theory-Dover-Mathem...

[10]: http://www.amazon.com/Algorithms-Java-Part-Graph-Pt-5/dp/020...

mysterywhiteboy
I would add near the top of your list the awesome (and free[1]) book by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg that accompanies their Cornell undergraduate course:

Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World.

[1] http://www.cs.cornell.edu/home/kleinber/networks-book/

mindcrime
Oooh, good call. I hadn't read that one, but it looks very good.
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