The Wisdom of Crowds

Was forwarded this book review by my mate Pete McCrum – and am now off to get it. The book is called “The Wisdom of Crowds: How the Many Are Smarter Than the Few” and it’s written by a New Yorker called James Surowiecki. Some of the choice snippets are:

“In 1906, English scientist Francis Galton visited a country livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest.

An ox was about to be slaughtered, and the villagers in attendance were invited to guess the animal’s weight after being slaughtered and dressed. Nearly 800 gave it a go, and not surprisingly, no one hit the exact mark: 1,198 pounds. Astonishingly, however, the average of those 800 guesses came close – very close indeed.

It was 1,197 pounds.”

It looks to be much more than a series of interesting anecdotes though …

the mathematics work so long as Surowiecki’s three key criteria – independence, diversity and decentralization – are satisfied. “If you ask a large enough group,” he says, “to make a prediction or estimate a probability,” the errors they make cancel each other out. “Subtract the error, and you’re left with the information.” In this fashion, the TV studio audience of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” guessed the right answer to questions 91 percent of the time, torching the “experts,” who guessed the right answer only 65 percent of the time

Have to admit, I was a little surprised that Pete was reading the Christian Science Monitor 🙂