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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Continuing my reading of Wisdom of Crowds, a very insightful book about how we make decisions by James Surowiecki. The author describes the dangers of homogeneity in promoting group think, something we will begin to see more of in the Bush second administration as he builds his Cabinet with "Yes" men and women. Analysis by social scientists shows that decisions made by groups that permit little diversity are often wrong and conformity to adhere to the majority opinion can be very strong. Solomon Asch 's studies on conformity showed that an individual would often agree with the group even if there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, when presented with a card showing lines of different lengths and asked to pick the shortest one, subjects would almost always pick the one chosen by other members of the group (the experimenter's confederates) even when it was obviously not the shortest.

Much like army ants in a circular mill who die from exhaustion following a lost leader, humans will often indulge in group think and group action even if it is not in their interest to do so. And the more influence we exert on one another the more likely we are to become collectively dummer. A very good argument for encouraging independent thinkers and nay sayers.


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