Wisdom Of The Crowd Experiment, Pt. 1
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Politics and Activism

Wisdom Of The Crowd Experiment, Pt. 1

How much smarter can we be if we work together?

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Wisdom Of The Crowd Experiment, Pt. 1
James Surowiecki

The Wisdom Of The Crowd philosophy is an interesting and important topic to think about in society. It illustrates and proves that we, as an intelligent species, are meant to work together, and can accomplish more as a whole than any one of us alone. This idea is summed up in the well-known quote, "United we stand, divided we fall."

If you haven't heard of this before, it's really a simple concept. The Wisdom Of The Crowd is the theory that if a group of people are told to try to guess an unknown quantity, the average of all of the guesses will be more accurate than any of the other guesses. For example, if I asked you and a group of hundreds of people to estimate the exact weight of an object, there's a good chance that none of you would get it right, but there's a much better chance that if I averaged all of your guesses, that average would be more accurate than any one of your guesses.

A common example of this is an experiment done by a British professor named Marcus du Sautoy. He counted a pile of jellybeans as he put them into a jar, and then asked his colleagues how many jellybeans were in the jar. The real answer was 4510, and guesses ranged from 400 all the way up to 50,000 jellybeans. Then he averaged all 160 total guesses. His answer? 4515. That's within 5 jellybeans of the actual number, or about .1% away.

Demonstrated time and time again, this phenomenon was also written about by a man named James Surowiecki, who has a lot more information on the topic. Now, I've known about this concept for several years, but not until recently did I finally find a name for it. And of course, as soon as that happened, I dug deeper. I learned all of this information and realized that I had all of the tools necessary to try this out myself. So that's what I have done.


My Experiment

The experiment I did is, in essence, the same as the others. I've already collected all of the data, but I haven't analyzed it yet.

The container I used was a 40 oz. cookie jar, and I put popcorn kernels in it instead of jellybeans. I chose this container because it had a fairly regular shape, so the guesses would be easier for people. Admittedly I could have used something more regularly shaped than popcorn kernels, but the concept is still the same. I counted each kernel carefully, 10 kernels at a time until the whole thing was filled with popcorn. I made sure not to include any seeds or partially popped kernels, pieces that had previously been part of a different kernel. Side note, I also ate a few kernels here and there, but I made sure it wasn't a substantial amount.


This is the sheet of paper I used while counting the kernels. As you can see, the total number of kernels was 847, and I took a few precautions to maintain the accuracy. The random scratches were just me testing the pen. In the upper right, you can see the system I used. I made this up as tally marks would be too difficult to maintain accuracy and clarity. A dot equals 10 kernels, and a line equals 1 kernel. The lines were mostly for the uneven remaining number of kernels after each bag.

After each bag of popcorn I had to pop, I started a new line of these dots and lines. 2 bags fit completely, and I popped a third to take a few kernels out of to fill it completely to the top. (I didn't waste the rest of the third bag, mind you; I gave the rest of that one to my aunt!) Then, after I was done with all that, I marked off every ten dots with a squiggly line, which would be 100 kernels, and then just added the remainder. I did that for each row and then added the 3 numbers up, which brought me to my total of 847.

This is what the barrel looked like when it was completely filled. This isn't the same batch of popcorn that I used during the experiment, but it is the same jar, and I used the same principles when filling it; I packed it in as deep as I could and shook it down to fit even more. The only difference is that I didn't exclude the seeds or premature kernels, but the difference is negligible.

Anyways, after I was done filling the jar, I went to school the next day and asked my fellow students, as well as teachers and administrators, how many kernels they thought was inside the jar. There are a few guidelines I followed to make guesses as real as possible:

-I asked everyone the same thing. "how many kernels do you think are in this jar?"

-I asked a mixture of many different people. Those that I knew well and those that I didn't, both teachers/administrators and students, etc.

-I told them that they could do whatever they wanted with the jar to make their guess, but they couldn't open it. This was to make sure that nobody took any of the popcorn out.

-I told them to assume that the jar was completely filled and packed tightly, with premature, broken or unpopped kernels excluded.

-If somebody asked how many were actually in there, I told them that I knew exactly how many there were, but I wouldn't tell them until after I collected all of the data.

-If someone asked a question that would help them determine the number, e.g. 'how many are in one bag?' or 'How big is one kernel?', I would not answer.

-If someone made their guess or wanted to change their guess due to being influenced by somebody else, I wouldn't count it.

-If I felt like the guess or the new guess wasn't genuine, then I wouldn't count it. However, if I felt the new guess was more genuine, then I would include it.

-I promised I would buy a large bag of popcorn for whoever had the closest guess.

Now, I am going to take all of the data I've collected, and I'll analyze it in various ways. My findings will be posted in a separate article, so I may have more preparation, and it'll be easier for you to look at. Look out for part 2!


Sources/links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140708-when-crow...

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/31...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds

http://wisdomofcrowds.blogspot.com/2009/12/jelly-b...

http://quotes.yourdictionary.com/articles/who-said...

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