What's so mysterious about it?

Should we be surprised that accurate perceptions can be discerned from the median of guesses of a group of non-professional strangers? One of the earliest of Surowiecki's examples is that of guessing the number of jelly beans in a glass container. Tests have shown that though each guess may be off the mark, the average of those guesses is often extremely close to the correct number. Is this a sign of an amorphous cloud of wisdom that hovers above an ill-defined group waiting to condense and be converted into a rainfall (well, maybe a drizzle) of accurate information? I really don't know why we might think that.

Apparently on game shows like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" the audience, when asked for help, very often knows the correct answer to the question presented to it. But here there's probably no mystery at all. Rather than trusting the audience to know the answer to any question, what a game-show contestant has to be able to discern is which questions an audience might be expected to be able to answer, and which not. If the contestant requests audience aid on a question of common cultural knowledge, chances are good that the majority of audience members will know the correct answer. If the contestant turns to the audience on a question of professional expertise, the audience fails in its guesses, and the contestant fails in his or her guess as to what can be expected of the audience.

And perhaps we've become so atomized in our thinking that even the mere suggestion of teamwork seems like a revolutionary idea.

Go to: Are crowds really that smart?