Name For The Trope Of Belief In Statistical Collective Wisdom: What Is It?

Ermintruder

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#1
I'm unsure whether there is an actual term for what I'm about to describe:

the belief or expectation that the answers to many complex organisational /societal problems can be obtained via recourse to large population sets; that, through the application of eg focus groups, citizen involvement (via facilitation and effective data) will solve "the biggies"; further, that there is a concealed fundamental shared wisdom possessed by the multitudes, and that all it needs for it to be extracted is massive participation, followed by benevolent insightful analysis.

Is this called something like 'gems from coal-dust'? Or 'nuggets underfoot'? Or 'it's always true that the truth is in there'?

Hopefully this query makes sense...help!
 

EnolaGaia

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#3
Off hand I can't think of a single formal term. In the mean time:
In argumentation theory, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for "argument to the people") is a fallacious argument that concludes that a proposition must be true because many or most people believe it, often concisely encapsulated as: "If many believe so, it is so."

This type of argument is known by several names, including appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to democracy, appeal to popularity, argument by consensus, consensus fallacy, authority of the many, bandwagon fallacy, vox populi, and in Latin as argumentum ad numerum ("appeal to the number"), fickle crowd syndrome, and consensus gentium ("agreement of the clans"). It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect. The Chinese proverb "three men make a tiger" concerns the same idea.
SOURCE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum
 
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#7
This sounds very like the subject matter of James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds. It's a while since I read it and I don't recall there being a single overarching definition, rather than a conglomeration of various theories.

Surowiecki's book begins with a fairly well known anecdote regarding Francis Galton - his observation that when asked to guess the weight of a cow at a country fair the average of all the guesses was closer than any individual estimate.

(It's worth pointing out that the book does not suggest that crowds are always wise - just that herd decisions should not automatically be discounted as intellectually bovine.)
 
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Ermintruder

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#8
Sorry, but are you talking of something like a hive mind??
No, nothing as abstract or hypothetical as that.

The Wisdom of Crowds
^this is very close (nb I had thought, perhaps wrongly, that the stereotypical belief perhaps was that organisational/societal self-analyses always included this phase...but seemed to include it last, due the anticipated probability of it being true).

All helpful pointers above, many thanks.

Maybe I need to ask my family psychologist (nb I mean a family member who is a graduate psychologist, as opposed to someone professionally-allocated to my family....probably). Or @Loquaciousness <turns an enormous searchlight beam up into the sky, with the projected shape of Margo Leadbetter reflecting off the clouds>
 

EnolaGaia

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#11
Going back to Ermintruder's original specification of the issue ...

It strikes me that ascribing 'truth' (efficacy; probability; etc.) on the basis of surveying popular opinion (broadly construed) is a metaphorical, if not definitive, exercise in divination.

Unfortunately, I cannot locate any term for a divination practice that's clearly predicated on signs received from surveying or polling a group / population.

I half-expected to run across something along the lines of (e.g.) 'populomancy' or 'consensuomancy', but no such thing turned up.

One angle for seeking correspondence concerns proportionality or relative amounts / prominence, which in turns leads to the involvement of quantification, and further to numbers / numeracy. There is such a thing as 'arithmancy', but it's commonly taken to be limited to numerological analyses of specific items (e.g., letters in an alphabet). As such, this and other methods actively / presumptively project numerical values onto the divined objects or phenomena rather than passively recording and analyzing the numbers / quantities associated with those things themselves.

There are various methods for augury based on the behaviors or characteristics of animals. Some - most particularly those involving birds or small organisms like insects - are sometimes described as possibly involving attention to groups of animals rather than individual specimens. However, I can't locate any category of animal divination that's specifically framed with regard to groups or populations rather than individuals.

There are also various methods involving the casting of lots, ballots, etc. However, all the examples I could find were framed with regard to the diviner(s) being the ones casting items and analyzing how they fell. Furthermore, those among these items which carried symbols or ascriptions received those signifiers from the diviners / analysts themselves.

It seems to me that a divination protocol matching Ermintruder's context would diverge from these three examples as follows:

- It would involve quantities or amounts expressible as numbers without focusing on the numbers per se;

- It would resemble animal-related augury, but with a focus on the whole population of interest and without any presumption the same or equivalent result could be obtained using a small subset, much less a single individual specimen; and ...

- It would resemble any of the lot-casting methods if the participants' roles were modified or re-defined.
 

Ermintruder

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#13
remember Boaty McBoatface
The entitled righteousness of any large lynch-mob focussed upon a task in hand can be a terrifying sight.

And Churchill's famed comment "Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…" is true in so many ways.

I think that all of the comments above are very helpful, thank you.

And @EnolaGaia - I do like both 'populomancy' and 'consensuomancy', with the caveat that this "effect" (something which I couldn't name, but presumed all others semi-consciously knew of, as well) was very-much a metadata dynamic of mass unspoken opinion, rather than augury in any supernatural/divination sense.

I suspect there are a number of other key presumptions of common societal currency that I make, which are not necessarily shared on a universal basis.
 

Ermintruder

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#15
If you ever get seduced by the idea that democracy is a bad thing
You make a fair point, but (and at the risk of taking my own thread off-topic) surely you would agree that democracy is now dead?

We see a constant sequence of almost dead-heats....Brexit vote, US Presidentials, Scottish independance vote. I read an extremely-insightful summary of this situation written by a friend of mine, I must try and track it down.

To me, any popular margin less than 5-10% is meaningless. Democracy works best when you have a clear differentiation between stripe of politician, and pole-opposed policies.
 

James_H

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#16
If you ever get seduced by the idea that democracy is a bad thing remember any tyranny ever.
I think democracy is great – I'm talking about direct democracy. Imagine how quickly the people on 4chan would get hold of it if we got to vote on every issue via the internet.
 
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#17
Seems like a great idea. Certainly no democratic election or referendum has ever led to an unwise decision, not that I can think of. ROFLMAO
A Finnish academic, Harri Oinas-Kukkonen, developed a list of conjectures based on the ideas in the Surowiecki book I mentioned earlier - one is that (quoting from the Wiki page on the book), Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.

I find this fascinating. At first it seems counter-intuitive, but, it seems to me that this does not necessarily imply that the communication of information is in itself negative - rather than the over-production of information, and the subsequent over-dissemination of this information, is (and it's worth pointing out that 'information' in this sense does not automatically imply accuracy - and 'communication' does not necessarily imply the transfer of truth); an idea which seems to me to be very much applicable to the problems inherent in the democratic process in the internet and mass media age.

In layman's terms, maybe our problem is that we shout a lot, but don't talk anywhere near enough.
 

Mikefule

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#18
A Finnish academic, Harri Oinas-Kukkonen, developed a list of conjectures based on the ideas in the Surowiecki book I mentioned earlier - one is that (quoting from the Wiki page on the book), Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.

I find this fascinating. At first it seems counter-intuitive, but, it seems to me that this does not necessarily imply that the communication of information is in itself negative - rather than the over-production of information, and the subsequent over-dissemination of this information, is (and it's worth pointing out that 'information' in this sense does not automatically imply accuracy - and 'communication' does not necessarily imply the transfer of truth); an idea which seems to me to be very much applicable to the problems inherent in the democratic process in the internet and mass media age.

In layman's terms, maybe our problem is that we shout a lot, but don't talk anywhere near enough.
This sounds similar to the idea of "groupthink".

10 intelligent people walk into a meeting. They all have ideas, some broadly the same, some different.

One person puts forward an idea convincingly. People, being social animals, look for areas of agreement and contrive a range of arguments in support of the idea rather than considering alternatives.

Another side of it is that with too much "white noise" the task of gathering, filtering and considering the evidence becomes too onerous, and people go for simplistic analysis and easy answers.
 

EnolaGaia

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#19
... Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent. ...
In layman's terms, maybe our problem is that we shout a lot, but don't talk anywhere near enough.
I spent years formally researching group meeting and decision making processes, and I can assure you the former is definitely a common phenomenon. The latter is definitely one - but not the sole - risk factor and eventual cause for such suboptimal outcomes.

Meetings (at all scales) aimed at mutual orientation or decision making exhibit two key dimensions of activity and interaction - one social and one topical. The social dimension is the one within which personal and interpersonal factors (e.g., position, status, aggressiveness, alliances) are front and center. The topical dimension is the arena within which the focal issue(s), problem(s), and / or plan(s) are identified, collated, analyzed, compared, and even voted into action.

The social dimension is omni-present, and the social factors are constantly in play. It's the topical dimension that usually requires the most group effort to open, explore, and bring to some sort of closure point. The #1 breakdown risk occurs when the tides manifest in the social dimension overwhelm the ramp-up and progressive self-education required within the topical dimension, resulting in a rush to reach a conclusion without adequately laying out the issue / problem and the possible options in the first place

The two detrimental factors Mikefule cited illustrate how meetings can crash as a result of poor performance in these two dimensions of activity. The 'follow the leader' style premature acceptance and reinforcement of a single alternative is usually a pathology of the social dimension. The information overload and resultant cognitive over-burden are typically pathologies of the topical dimension. Pathological trends within either dimension will almost certainly influence the course of progress in the other dimension.

In a well-circumscribed setting (e.g., a management or project team meeting) there are mitigation tactics that can dampen runaway pathologies in these two dimensions. These tactics involve requisite structure, accountability, and some degree of regularization, up to and including personal and process discipline. In a wide-open (i.e., public) setting these requisite factors are effectively impossible to obtain - especially when there will be an arbitrary number of participants operating to subvert or influence the overall process.
 

Frideswide

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#20
And if you ever feel seduced by direct democracy, remember Boaty McBoatface.
nothing wrong with Boaty McBoatface! Hence the autistic support FB groups Supporty McGroup-face, Lovey McBoat-face and Everything McElse-Face. All lovingly named by their members and forming a distinct culture!
 
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#21
I spent years formally researching group meeting and decision making processes, and I can assure you the former is definitely a common phenomenon. The latter is definitely one - but not the sole - risk factor and eventual cause for such suboptimal outcomes.

Meetings (at all scales) aimed at mutual orientation or decision making exhibit two key dimensions of activity and interaction - one social and one topical. The social dimension is the one within which personal and interpersonal factors (e.g., position, status, aggressiveness, alliances) are front and center. The topical dimension is the arena within which the focal issue(s), problem(s), and / or plan(s) are identified, collated, analyzed, compared, and even voted into action.

The social dimension is omni-present, and the social factors are constantly in play. It's the topical dimension that usually requires the most group effort to open, explore, and bring to some sort of closure point. The #1 breakdown risk occurs when the tides manifest in the social dimension overwhelm the ramp-up and progressive self-education required within the topical dimension, resulting in a rush to reach a conclusion without adequately laying out the issue / problem and the possible options in the first place

The two detrimental factors Mikefule cited illustrate how meetings can crash as a result of poor performance in these two dimensions of activity. The 'follow the leader' style premature acceptance and reinforcement of a single alternative is usually a pathology of the social dimension. The information overload and resultant cognitive over-burden are typically pathologies of the topical dimension. Pathological trends within either dimension will almost certainly influence the course of progress in the other dimension.

In a well-circumscribed setting (e.g., a management or project team meeting) there are mitigation tactics that can dampen runaway pathologies in these two dimensions. These tactics involve requisite structure, accountability, and some degree of regularization, up to and including personal and process discipline. In a wide-open (i.e., public) setting these requisite factors are effectively impossible to obtain - especially when there will be an arbitrary number of participants operating to subvert or influence the overall process.
Not withstanding your excellent observations, current research supports your findings.

Meetings really are sub-par way of solving problems and they also seldom get any work done and actually cost a fricking fortune. They do however boost the ego and self-image of the meeting controller and cronies. It's one of the reasons I've just changed jobs.
 

EnolaGaia

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#22
Not withstanding your excellent observations, current research supports your findings.
Certain key facts were well-known a long time ago ...

Thirty years ago my specialty was CSCW (computer-supported cooperative work) and 'groupware'. At that time there was a confluence of data networking, hypermedia, and computer-mediated communications capabilities that made distributed and co-located group work the 'next big thing'. This was during the circa 5 years just preceding the unveiling of the Web (and hence the Internet) to the masses.

Group decision processes were a hot topic during that period, and the still localized (LAN-based) network deployments afforded researchers well-circumscribed settings for observations and experimentation.

It was obvious back then that a shared information space (typically, but not always nor always visual, a common point of dynamic reference) was the key to keeping multiple players on topic with good situation awareness and thematic focus.

The farther one diverged from effective, if not literal, co-location and / or an up-to-the-moment shared information visualization depicting precisely what was at issue, the worse the group's results became. The worst performances were consistently produced with text-only asynchronous interactions among groups widely separated in space and having no coordination for timing / updates - i.e., exactly the sort of scenario we have today with (anti-)social media accessed all too often through the keyholes mobile devices impose.
 

EnolaGaia

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#23
Meetings really are sub-par way of solving problems and they also seldom get any work done and actually cost a fricking fortune. They do however boost the ego and self-image of the meeting controller and cronies. It's one of the reasons I've just changed jobs.
The most common workplace meetings involve a diverse set of folks who:

- are busy elsewhere / otherwise, making the meeting an unwelcome sideshow or digression;

- aren't usually or regularly engaged with the others in the meeting;

- aren't uniformly 'up to speed' on the focal topic / issue (assuming one's been identified at all);

- aren't accustomed to engaging a problem except from their own role's perspective (e.g., financial folks only see money flows; production managers only see material flows; etc.); and

- include one or more managers who are clueless about the issue / topic but are eager to get a quick 'n' dirty answer fast.

In other words, most business / workplace meetings are cluster-fucks waiting to happen.

On the other hand ... I've studied, analyzed, and worked with very high-performance teams for whom meetings are constructive and mission-critical elements of their process. The most proficient ones combine seasoned experienced experts with unrestricted data / visualization support and a well-ingrained procedure to follow.

None of these 3 key factors are typically encountered in workaday business meetings. To make matters worse, it's my firm belief that two absolutely critical individual skills - focusing attention on the matter at hand and listening with comprehension - are becoming lost arts.
 
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#24
On the other hand ... I've studied, analyzed, and worked with very high-performance teams for whom meetings are constructive and mission-critical elements of their process. The most proficient ones combine seasoned experienced experts with unrestricted data / visualization support and a well-ingrained procedure to follow.

None of these 3 key factors are typically encountered in workaday business meetings. To make matters worse, it's my firm belief that two absolutely critical individual skills - focusing attention on the matter at hand and listening with comprehension - are becoming lost arts.
That seems correct. Small teams, when all concerned have the right expertise and clearly defined goals, do work, something of the 'Mythical Man Month' and all that.

It's the 'cluster-fuck' meetings you allude to above that I have an issue with. These are, sadly, the prevailing form of meeting - it's often the case that the participants in such actually consider that this is what work is. They're essentially trained into non-productivity.
 
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