Archive for the ‘Presentations’ Category

Testing the Wisdom of Crowds

February 8, 2010

On January 11th, I spoke at a gathering of the Libertarian Alliance about James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds book (previous post here).

I got 15 responses to a questionnaire I handed around at the meeting (recording here) and can now report on my findings.

The questions were as follows:

Question 1. Regardless of what you think will happen, which political party or parties, if any, do you want to win the next British general election?

Question 2. Below is a list of six Premier League football clubs, please list them in order of closest to this place [near Senate House, Malet Street London WC1], to furthest (1 is closest, 6 is furthest. [Ranked in alphabetical order: Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Hull City, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic]

Question 3. Guess my weight (in kilogrammes, stones or pounds). [I stood in front of the audience]

Question 4. Which of these four themes is part of the 2010 Spring Collection, according to the latest trends being pushed by fashion houses?
[Stiletto heels; Kitten heels; Pompadour heels; Achilles heels]

Question 5. Regardless of what you want to happen, which political party will have a majority after the next British general election? If you think no party will have a majority, write “None”.

I also asked respondents to rate how they thought the group would do as a whole. However, I have not reported these as it is clear from the responses that this instruction was not well explained by me (some responded in relative terms, others in absolute terms).

Responses and my comments below the fold…

A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

Thoughts on Twitter and Facebook

November 1, 2009

I’ve done a podcast with Brian Micklethwait about Facebook and Twitter for people who may not have worked them out yet (I know…).

Two thoughts I didn’t develop fully in the talk [link]:

1) Twitter is where the news is at and is the vehicle for creating newsworthy events. Two examples, the plane crashlanding in New York harbour and the Iranian protests over the recent election.

2) I don’t understand *how* these people used Facebook to link up. It doesn’t strike me that random paedophiles would set up a contact group on Facebook (What would it be called? How would members know who was a police informant and who wasn’t? Surely such a group would get spotted rather quickly I hope and its members investigated promptly?). I’m assuming that some other network is where such people first communicate and they then use the strong privacy settings on Facebook to exchange communications.

My point is that I can imagine how criminals might use Facebook to plan and coordinate criminal activities, but not how they would make initial contact. This matters because if I advise a parent that Facebook is broadly safe (and the whole point about the networks of friends and status updates is that a trail exists of where they are and what they’re doing, with whom), then it would be good to know what the real threats are and to expose them.

However, this was a tangent from the discussion so it was right of Brian to get us back on track with how ideas and news are spread through social media.

I’m talking at the Putney Debates tonight

January 11, 2008

The topic is ‘Change at the Top: How the US Election Process Works and What are the Opportunities for Ron Paul?’

My audience will mostly be British so it’s mostly about explaining just how decentralized the U.S. electoral system is. Because anyone turning up is likey to be a Libertarian, I shall be concentrating on Ron Paul’s campaign and what he can realistically hope to achieve. I shall try to post a summary of the talk somewhere. Details from the LA Blog.

[cross posted from Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch]

Me 1, WSJ 0

November 14, 2007

Last year I was on a panel in Philadelphia on the subject of new media and how companies need to get their act together when dealing with journalists and/or bloggers.

I happened to mention that everything was becoming available on-line and that it seems like a matter of time before all the print media makes its content available for free.

A fellow panellist was from the Wall Street Journal. He insisted that *his* corporate model was doing just peachy and no need for change, in fact a model for others.

I’m pleased to say I merely responded by saying: “well, maybe the WSJ can get enough readers willing to pay a subscription.”

Now we know.


May 11, 2007

I’m speaking at the Putney Debates tonight on the recent election of Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Details from the Libertarian Alliance. I hope to post comments on my other blog.

Cross posted from Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch.