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Anders Monthly Book Report. Or non fiction authors and the quality of their examples.

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
So I wanted to get some inspiration from some books that are slightly besides my field of science (I am studying sociology) and I brought with me a handful audiobooks on my vacation and while they are very interesting and have been the sources of inspiration I am of the school that if you present an idea or a theory in social sciences you must always be able to track it back to concrete examples in the course of the argument. So when I read (or listen in this case) to books that includes lots of examples the text becomes much more interesting for me. A lot of times that doesn´t happen and you only refer back to other theory or your examples take the form of analogies or metaphors. But in these instances I am quite surprised by the quality of their examples. The poor quality.

The wisdom of crowds by James Surowiecki.

This book is filled with examples that tries to support the authors point, that groups are much better at reaching decisions than single heroes or experts. And they fail one after the other at showing his point. At least the first ten have holes in then as large as the statues of liberty. Let me just take the two first ones.

1) Who wants to be a millionaire. Why is it that the audience is so much more reliable than the life lines? Isn´t that because crowds are more intelligent than the single expert? No, its because of the law of large numbers. The question has to be constructed as a trick question for the crowd to be wrong. If only a handful of the audience know the answer it will shine through when conducting the pole among the audience unless the producers have been very conscious of tricking it with the three wrong answers. And it is much less likely for one person, no matter how knowledgeable he or she is, to be right. Its not the crowd that is wise. Its the single persons in it.

2) After the Challenger accident the stock marked reacted immediately and the stocks of three main suppliers to the shuttle program fell, but one of the three, a company I had never heard of and was responsible for the faulty O-rings, fell more than the other, proving to Surowiecki, that the stock marked knew who was to blame. Surowiecki totally ignores the fact that the two other companies are large known companies with a lot of other branches of work than the space industry but not the responsible one. Or rather he acknowledge the fact and just moves one, saying it still leaves an erie feeling. No dumbass. It is quite explainable and not because the stockmarked as a whole somehow knew something immediately that the rest of us (including NASA) didn´t.

Actually the book doesn´t show that crowds are more wise than experts. It shows that given the right circumstances persons of different baggrounds can add views that can be fruitful in solving problems. The trick is to create the right circumstances because they don´t form spontaneously out of the groups themselves. Enter the experts in group dynamics

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Haven´t heard much of this yet but the two first examples have major flaws in them. His main argument, at least so far, is that our sub consciousness works faster than our consciousness in pattern recognition, even in complex problem solving. having read other books on the subject I am convinced about this but He still have to make a good case for his argument.

1) A person is presented with two decks of cards, a red and a blue, and is asked to turn the cards one by one. Each deck is marked with a negative or a positive mark. If you turn a negative card you get minus points, a positive plus points, converted to cool cash. A 100% red deck strategy will give you large winnings and large losses, but as a whole losses, because the negative cards outnumber the positive. The blue will give you small wins and losses but an overall win, positive outnumber negative. After 80 cards the persons could explain what was going on but already after 50 cards they had a hunch. BUT already after 10 cards they showed more stress (sweat from palms of their hands) in combination with the red cards, proving to the author that our subconcious already knew at this point. DUH. No matter if you win or lose the red cards strategy is more risky since it involves larger winnings and losses. Your subconscious doesn´t have to know the long term consequences to react at the short term difference between high gains and loses.

2) By viewing a 2 seconds, mute clip of a teacher teaching you will grade this teachers teaching the same way as someone who followed him or her a whole semester. According to Gladwell that proves that our subconscious already have "deciphered" the quality from those two seconds. I say that our first impressions can cloud the real quality of anything, including teaching. Or, as study after study have shown, we react more positive to good looking persons and ascribe positive qualities to those.

This month recommendation is the combo reading of The world is flat by Thomas Friedman and Technopoly by Neil Postman. Read them in that order. Friedman is only really interesting put up against Postman, while Postman is interesting in itself. Discover them for yourself.
"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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post #2 of 5
I've stopped reading provocative books. Too much trouble on my mind.
post #3 of 5
Good criticisms Anders. I've read most of "Blink," and it covers a lot of good stuff, IMO, but it's right in my research interests. I think you've got a good criticism of the card study. You've got me interested now - I'll have to look it up. I think you're right that "risk" could easily be perceived earlier than pay off under those conditions. But I also wonder if you asked people which was a riskier deck, if they'd be able to answer. I also think the 2-sec. mute teacher finding is fascinating.

I haven't read it, but the Wisdom of Crowds just sounds stupid. Why do I get the feeling that it's just some kind of justification of super-free-market capitalism? There's already a ton of research on this, and there are very well-accepted conditions under which groups are better than individual experts. And it's not often.
post #4 of 5
And in the stockmarket example after the Challenger tragedy, doesn't it make sense that the smallest company involved would suffer the most? There's nothing mystical about this.
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
Good criticisms Anders. I've read most of "Blink," and it covers a lot of good stuff, IMO, but it's right in my research interests. I think you've got a good criticism of the card study. You've got me interested now - I'll have to look it up. I think you're right that "risk" could easily be perceived earlier than pay off under those conditions. But I also wonder if you asked people which was a riskier deck, if they'd be able to answer. I also think the 2-sec. mute teacher finding is fascinating.

I have finished reading it now. Its quite a good book despite what I still see as bad or of point examples (but nothing worse than what I find in almost all other books).

May I make a suggestion? Read Tor Nørretranders The user illusion. I may be old now (I read it ten years ago). Its the best book I have read on the subject. Its not only shift between different aspects of the subject but also different levels (Look at the Review page on Amazon. They are better at explaining it than me). The book covers a lot of issues besides the consciousness. Its more a book about information in all its forms. For instance it introduce the concept of entropy into information theory in a way I simply cannot decide with myself is just a smart metaphor or if the way he uses it is totally similar to entropy in the physical world. As I remember it he more or less reduces everything to information, not in the sense a computer does it (as a representation of the real world) but that everything IS information.

Ohboyohboyohboy. The semester starts friday and I just KNOW that I won´t read anything else than his book again for the next week.
"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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"I reject your reality and substitute it with my own" - President Bush
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