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2012 September 09 Sunday
How To Compensate For Dunning Kruger Effect In Democracy?

The biggest problem with democracy is the Dunning Kruger Effect: Incompetent people aren't smart enough to recognize their own incompetence The problem of incompetence is a growing concern of mine as I expect American society's competence to decline. This thought keeps bringing me back to the Dunning Kruger Effect: the incompetent aren't competent enough to recognize their own incompetence. When such a large fraction of the population can vote and become government employees how to at least partially mitigate the effects of all these incompetents making bad decisions?

DAVID DUNNING: If you knew it, you’d say, “Wait a minute. The decision I just made does not make much sense. I had better go and get some independent advice.” But when you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is. In logical reasoning, in parenting, in management, problem solving, the skills you use to produce the right answer are exactly the same skills you use to evaluate the answer. And so we went on to see if this could possibly be true in many other areas. And to our astonishment, it was very, very true.

To understand reality requires a pretty high IQ. But the vast majority of people lack IQs high enough to make sense of the world. They are able to live and function in industrialized societies because a fairly small fraction of the population can create and maintain the complexity that everyone else benefits from. Yet less competent ones end up with power and they make bad decisions with the support of even less competent masses. What to do?

Since cluelessness is a bigger problem than self-deception and self-deception is a bigger problem than denial the idea that we can reason with nutcases on the Right or the Left is just not realistic. The rhetoric spewed by members of both parties during every election (like now) serves as a reminder of just how clueless people are. I'm not just talking about the masses. I'm also talking about major popular politicians, pundits, and reporters. Even academics in less rigorous and demanding fields are too innumerate and flawed in their methods of reasoning.

The Alt Right needs to come up with policy ideas aimed at reducing the damage that comes from pervasive incompetence. Got any ideas?

By Randall Parker    2012 September 09 02:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2011 December 18 Sunday
Ignorant Humans Behave Like Uninformed Fish

Princeton University researchers believe ignorant voters behave like uninformed fish and go along with the decision-making of the majority. (thanks Lou Pagnucco)

Contrary to the ideal of a completely engaged electorate, individuals who have the least interest in a specific outcome can actually be vital to achieving a democratic consensus. These individuals dilute the influence of powerful minority factions who would otherwise dominate everyone else, according to new research published in the journal Science.

A Princeton University-based research team reports Dec. 16 that this finding — based on group decision-making experiments on fish, as well as mathematical models and computer simulations — can ultimately provide insights into humans' political behavior.

This is not the sort of Panglossian view we hear from TV political commentators on election day about human political behavior in a democracy.

The majority attracts the ignorant.

The researchers report that in animal groups, uninformed individuals — as in those with no prior knowledge or strong feelings on a situation's outcome — tend to side with and embolden the numerical majority. Relating the results to human political activity, the study challenges the common notion that an outspoken minority can manipulate uncommitted voters.

Outspoken minority views are hopelessly outgunned.

These researchers think the ignorant do not help extreme views to proliferate. The ignorant are too apathetic.

"The classic view is that uninformed or uncommitted individuals may allow extreme views to proliferate. We found that might not be the case," said lead author Iain Couzin, a Princeton assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. He and his co-authors found that even a small population of indifferent individuals act as a counterbalance to the minority — whose passion even can cause informed individuals in the majority to waver — and restore majority rule.

"We show that when the uninformed participate, the group can come to a majority decision even in the face of a powerful minority," Couzin said. "They prevent deadlock and fragmentation because the strength of an opinion no longer matters — it comes down to numbers. You can imagine this being a good or bad thing. Either way, a certain number of uninformed individuals keep that minority from dictating or complicating the behavior of the group."

Wondering what this portends for the future? With too many ignorant people (think Idiocracy) the society ceases to function coherently. Noise dominates.

Of course this effect has its limits, Couzin said. He and his co-authors also found that if the number of uninformed becomes too high, a group ceases to function coherently, with neither the majority nor the minority taking the lead. "Eventually, noise dominates because there just aren't enough informed individuals to guide the group," he said.

I'm thinking we need more political fragmentation with break-away states that will contain the smart people. Then those break-away states can make better policies and also create barriers between their mini-states and the states that have most of the uninformed people.

A cult around a leader's personality or charisma is a sign that the ignorant masses are playing too big a role in the electoral process.

A forceful minority can dominate in circumstances that attract the more politically inclined, such as midterm elections and primaries. In more popular elections, however, that influence wanes as less passionate people participate. Situations in which a candidate's personality or personal life takes precedent over policy positions in voters' minds could be an equivalent to the breakdown in direction Couzin and his co-authors found when there is a glut of uninformed individuals, Saari said.

Update: I have an idea for how to cut the harm from the growing ignorant masses: Make primary voting only available to people with more intellectual resources. For example, only party donors could participate in primaries. Or only people who show up at caucuses. Raise the bar for primary participation.

By Randall Parker    2011 December 18 02:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
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