4 June 2011

The wisdom and foolishness of crowds

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Social influence
Experiments suggest that wisdom of the crowd can be countered by too much communication within that crowd.

“The wisdom of crowds turns out to be an incredibly fragile phenomenon. It doesn’t take much for the smart group to become a dumb herd. Worse, a new study by Swiss scientists suggests that the interconnectedness of modern life might be making it even harder to benefit from our collective intelligence. […]

This research reveals the downside of our hyperconnected lives. So many essential institutions depend on the ability of citizens to think for themselves, to resist the latest trend or bubble. That’s why it is important, as the Founding Fathers realized, to cultivate a raucous free press, full of divergent viewpoints.

And yet, while the Web has enabled new forms of collective action, it has also enabled new kinds of collective stupidity. Groupthink is now more widespread, as we cope with the excess of available information by outsourcing our beliefs to celebrities, pundits and Facebook friends. Instead of thinking for ourselves, we simply cite what’s already been cited.

We should be wary of such influences. The only way to preserve the wisdom of the crowd is to protect the independence of the individual.”

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