At the October 3rd Future Science Leaders Group B Session, Dr. Jenny McQueen told the FSL Students of a few well-respected science journalists such as Ed Yong and Simon Zimmers. Curious about these scientists, I looked them up and read an article published by Ed Yong on the topic of the wisdom of the crowd. I was amazed that a crowd of people could approximately guess “the weight of an ox”.
The “wisdom of the crowd” experiment mentioned in the article was conducted by Sir Francis Galton who gathered 787 villagers in desire of attaining the weight of an “oddly-shaped ox.” These villagers did not guess the ox’s weight to be correct but when the villagers’ scores were averaged, a weight approximately close to the correct weight was achieved.
As a curious Future Science Leader, I decided to try out “Wisdom of the crowd” experiment myself and see if I can attain similar results myself. For this experiment, I asked students passing by my club’s booth at “Club Day” to fill out a ballot that has their name, grade and guess how many M&M’s are in the jar. My experiment results are as follows:
Image by: Fawzan via personal
As you can see, the average result was 621, with the maximum value as 4,200 , the minimum value as 120, the median (the middle most number) as 281, the mode (the most consistent appearing value) as 150 and the standard deviation (how much the standard individual scores are different from the average) as 407. In total, there were 707 M&M’s in the jar.
So how exactly does “wisdom of the crowd” work?
To answer this question, I head to an YouTube excerpt of the BBC – The Code – The Wisdom of the Crowd Documentary. In this documentary, Professor Marcus du Sautoy explains that the reason the crowd is wiser is that usually there are an equal amount of people who overestimate the number of jellybeans and underestimate the number of jellybeans. There will also be some who are completely off the actual number. By asking many people, these outliers should cancel each other out, leaving you with an average of the overestimations and the underestimations.
In conclusion, the accuracy of the crowd’s guess is closer to the unknown number than the individual’s guess. I guess it’s fair to say that the crowd is wise after all.
Post By Fawzan