Re: [unrev-II] Ratings and Maleability

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 16:22:10 PDT

  • Next message: Peter Jones: "[unrev-II] Awareness and Task Patterns; WAS: Ratings and Maleability"

    "Garold (Gary) L. Johnson" wrote:
    > ...
    > I went through inability to reason, lack of scientific knowledge,
    > evil people, evil ideas, graft, the corruption of power, and
    > several others searching for the nature of the difficulty.
    > ... the question I am working on now boils down to "how does it
    > happen that a group can make decisions that are worse than the
    > decisions that would be made by nearly anyone in the group?"
    There is a group decision-making experiment that should prove

    It's where you put several people in a room and give them a
      You're marooned in a desert. You have a compass, a life raft,
      a bottle of water, salt tablets, a flare, etc. What do you

    The people who run the experiments monitor the process to
    see how group decisions are reached. Sometimes a strong
    personality takes over and creates an autocracy. Sometimes
    its a democratic process. Basically every kind of government
    we know gets represented at one time or another, by some

    The lesson that was most intriguing for me was relayed by
    a friend who had either taken part, or monitored, or read
    about the experiments (I don't know which). The moral of
    the story, apparently, was this:
      The groups that had the best chance of survival all
      had one thing in common. It wasn't the groups organization
      that predicted success, but rather this: They excelled

    If they needed to tie a knot in a rope, they found among
    themselves the person best qualified to do it. If they
    needed to decide whether to take the salt tablets (they
    shouldn't), they were able to identify the person with
    the most useful knowledge on the subject, and follow his
    or her advice.

    This principle is reflected in two of my dictims for a
    knowledge-accreting system:
      a) Ratings
      b) Maleability

    Ratings make it possible for the most useful information
    to "float to the top". Maleability makes it possible to
    change one's rating, as one becomes convinced by subsequent

    I recall arguing for one point of view in a philosophy
    class for the duration of the class. I even spent one
    class lecturing for that point of view. The night before
    the finals, I actually read the papers. The first one
    argued persuasively for my point of view. The next two
    papers took that perspective, point by point, and
    destructed it utterly. I was overwhelmingly convinced.
    (And since it was all fresh on my mind, I was able to
    quote paragraphs from my memory on the final.)

    The point, really, is that the all the arguing I did for
    one point of view really turned in me into an expert on
    why that view was wrong. But up until my epiphany, I
    could never be argued out of it.

    Imagine a similar result in a group decision-making
    scenario. 5 out of 6 people agree that X is right.
    #6 argues persuasively that it isn't and convinces one
    other. Together they convince a 3rd. Eventually, the
    thing snowballs, and everyone agrees.

    Or perhaps #6 has the information, but it is #2 who
    excels at spotting people with authoritative info,
    and others listen to #6 because #2 says that #6 is
    making sense.

    However it works, the end result is the product of
    ratings and maleability.

    One further observation on the subject of maleability
    is that, from the standpoint of *using* the information,
    it is the *result* that is important. All of the
    arguments that led to the result become background.

    So, where the initial series of arguments is a
    hierarchy that proceeds from an initial question down
    through a series of options, with relevant arguments,
    the product of all that is an inverted hierarchy that
    has the ANSWER at the root.

    Under the "answer" comes "what questions does this
    answer respond to" (which ties together those elegant
    options that satisfy more than one criteria). Under
    each question comes, "what other alternatives are
    possible" (which keeps track of options that may be
    of greater use in other circumstances).

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