The Questionable Wisdom of Crowds

We're told about the magical wisdom of crowds. They can estimate the weight of a bull or the number of beans in a jar. But there are a lot of other things crowds aren't good at.
Photo – James Cridland

There’s often far too much credibility given to the wisdom of crowds.

The original much-quoted observation by Francis Galton that the average of a group’s estimates of something (beans in a jar, weight of a butchered ox) can be much better than an individual estimate may often be true, but in some circumstances it may be much worse. This is frequently forgotten.

I just came across an excellent ten minute presentation by Tom Scott which explains some of those other circumstances, providing a convincing live demonstration using audience tweets. It’s worth having on hand for those occasions when you are tempted (or told) to simply average people’s estimates of the likelihood of an event or of the impact of a disruption.

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25 January 2012

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