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Wisdom of Crowds

Wisdom of Crowds



Having recently completed reading two books on diversity, I am compelled to put together these thoughts. Our success in learning is dependent to a large extent on cognitive diversity, in addition to ethnic diversity. When faculty and students fully recognize that “collective diversity trumps individual ability,” as Scott Page puts it by way of decoding his research, diversity makes bigger sense. Consider the following simple conclusions from research on group intelligence (Len Fisher, The Perfect Swarm):


  1. When answering a state estimation question, the group as a whole will always outperform most of its individual members. Not sometimes. Always.
  2. If most of the group members are moderately well-informed about the facts surrounding a question to which there are several possible answers (but only one correct one), the majority opinion is almost always bound to be right. If each member of a group of one hundred people has a 60 percent chance of getting the right answer, for example, then a rigorous mathematical formulation proves that the answer of the majority has a better than 99 percent chance of being the correct one.
  3. Even when only a few people in a group are well-informed, this is usually sufficient for the majority opinion to be the right one.


In the areas of problem solving and prediction, our collective differences are as important as how good and able we are individual. These differences grouped under cognitive diversity are: knowledge – specifically, a range of different areas of relevant knowledge within the group; perspectives – different ways of viewing a problem; interpretations – different ways of categorizing a problem or partitioning perspectives; heuristics – different ways of generating solutions to problems; predictive models – different ways of inferring cause and effect (Len Fisher, The Perfect Swarm) .