When Wisdom of the Crowds Goes Wrong

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When Wisdom of the Crowds Goes Wrong

Post  Monil Gandhi on Fri Jun 05, 2009 8:59 pm

In class, we learn that "Wisdom of the Crowds" means that often times a group's opinion is better than an expert opinion because it will average out the "incorrect" answers. In fact, Prof. Immorlica even gave us statistics to prove this on the show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" where the audience was correct more times than the phone-a-friend lifeline was in terms of percentages.

However, there are certainly times when the crowd is wrong because of a biased "crowd." For instance, in France, when a contestant was faced with this question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, he asked the audience:

What revolves around the Earth?
A) The Moon
B) The Sun
C) Mars
D) Venus

The audience responded with a majority voting for "The Sun" while 47% voted for the correct answer "The Moon."

The man eventually went on to go with the audience and lose the game. In this case, the crowd was definitely wrong, and this example shows when "Wisdom of the Crowds" can go wrong because of a biased audience. One theory that some people have (besides French people just not knowing the answer) is that perhaps the question was confusing because of the way it was translated into French. However, another, more interesting theory is that the French people don't like to see undeserving participants advance in the show, so they purposefully made him lose. This is a prime example of when the "crowd" can be wrong because of cultural differences or bias that cause them to not use the information they have effectively.

For one blogger's perspective on this issue: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/09/sun-revolves-around-france.html

Monil Gandhi

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Re: When Wisdom of the Crowds Goes Wrong

Post  IanCharles on Fri Jun 05, 2009 9:26 pm

Now that you mention it, I'd agree with the somewhat sinister "They-made-him-lose-on-purpose" scenario. I know that I'd probably do the same thing if some clod didn't know the answer to a question I could've answered at age six.

Frankly, anybody who doesn't know IMMEDIATELY what revolves around the Earth really doesn't deserve to win anything. This is sort of an example of the kind of externalities that can affect game theory. For instance, the people in the audience had objectively nothing to gain from Mr. Idiot losing. They don't get a prize or anything. Mr. Idiot essentially counted on the idea that the crowd was benevolent. However, what nobody could predict was that the crowd would get a small satisfaction from him losing, probably from schadenfraude. So, they lied, screwed Mr. Idiot (who was probably screwed already), and got their small satisfaction.


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People are Stupid....

Post  mrv528 on Fri Jun 05, 2009 11:07 pm

I sort of agree that if he is stupid enough not to know right off that the moon revolves around the earth... then he deserved that one. But it makes you wonder whether the crowd was malicious or just stupid. I hate to say it but I'm not sure the wisdom of the crowds is going to work unless you have a fairly large and diverse crowd. You take any homogeneous room with a few people in it and ask them a question, there is always a chance that the people are stupid and that even if you combine all of their answers that it's going to be wrong. Example:
Seventy-five percent of people polled could not find international hotspots like Israel or Iran on a map. (see this article: http://www.rferl.org/content/Article/1068259.html) Its an article about how much Americans suck at geography. Wisdom of the crowds alright.


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Re: When Wisdom of the Crowds Goes Wrong

Post  Eric Chang on Fri Jun 05, 2009 11:19 pm

Here's the link to the OP's Who Wants to be a Millionaire video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmLwnSXNpFU

Here's another example when the audience is wrong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7nO6JWHaVk

The majority did not know how to spell the word defined as "the study of family ancestries and histories." I bet some of you would have picked the wrong spelling.

Here's another video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTspuJS5dAA

^ This one shows an example when the millionaire player does not listen to the audience.

He ends up using all 3 of his lifelines to this question: What parts of speech are usually classified as being in "active voice" or passive voice"

Had he listened, he would have been correct. The hilarious part is wife did not know either.

The majority can be both right and wrong. It is up to you to decide if the statistical factor can hide the truth!
Eric Chang
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