Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Wisdom of the crowd


I'm going to try something a little different this time - a commentary piece.  If you're reading this, then I managed to finish the post without totally hating it.  That said, I can't promise this is very good but I'm into challenging myself to do new things and I guess this counts.

There's a pretty well known and understood theory about how collective opinion can be used to answer questions better than a single voice or opinion. Experiments have shown that by collating and taking "average" responses to questions you will get close to a "true" answer than you would expect any individual to.  There's a self-referencing Wikipedia article here if you're after a better explanation than I can offer.

In theory at least, this appraoch can be used to model "opinion" answers as well as things such as quantitative answers (such as measurements).  Unless you've avoided any sort of news or media outlet for the past week or so, you're probably familiar with the goings on at Barclays and their involvement in attempting to manipulate the LIBOR and mis-selling to small businesses.  You're probably also equally familiar with the exodus of people at the top including the Chariman, the CEO and the COO.

The media have been quick to label these events as a "yet another scandal" and they're probably well within their rights to do so.  There's a good argument to say that some actions are essentially purely fraudulent and that criminal proceedings should follow.  There's the usual lines of how the public's faith in the banking system as been shaken and so on and so on.

And as always, the public (or for the purposes of this blog, the crowd) have an opinion.  The BBC offer up the ability to comment on selected news stories in an attempt to garner the mood of their readers.  And without even a hint of irony, many people are quick to do so (If you're already bored of this, then the rest of this post can probably be summed up in this clip from Mitchell & Webb).

The news story on the depature of Bob Diamond has, at the time of writing, attracted nearly 1700 comments from the public.  You may think I've cherry picked this to prove some sort of point, but these are as representative as they can be given the huge volume of commentary:

When will he be arrested? - sunshinesuzy

Read my lips, I will not avoid tax on my payoff!!!!! - gillan69

Why only him? What about Hester and all the others? I hope he does not get a penny settlement and that his residence and work permit are revoked, and his licence to 'practice' as a banker withdrawn. As he is not a UK citizen, time to expel him as an undesirable alien - Dr John Frank

What's the better he got paid off..... - Pevvy78

I am glad he has resigned. Now there should be a full INDEPENDENT enquiry headed by a judge. - Si Cheshire

Never trust a banker. Its one of life's immutable laws like death and taxes.  Whose bright idea was it to ignore this? Was this the price of fighting communism? Was it worth it? - United Dreamer

i borrowed £25k from Natwest over a 6 year period, when the loan has completed (2014) i will have re-paid £49k. is this relevant? - alanbang

I am normally totally against Capital Punishment but I would cheerfully pull the trap on the the scum that have made this country no better than a Banana Republic mired in corruption and dishonesty at the highest level.  These people are economic Nazis who care nothing for the suffering of the Untermensch. How many suicides and breakdowns can we put down to economic pressures? - Simmybear

There is, of course the occasional, slightly more reasoned comment that you get the impression isn't written by someone wearing a hat made out of tin foil and screaming at their monitor.  But those are few and far between and as such are not representative of the 1700+ comments.

So what does the wisdom of the crowd tell us?  Essentially that the "average" person believes Bob Diamond is a tax dodging, bang-to-rights criminal who would happily see him killed.  The "average" person will also invoke Godwin's Law and invariably mention something that is wholly irrelevant to the conversation.

I hope I'm not making a leap when I think that the average British person doesn't really think like that.  I'd really like to hope we're a bit more reasoned than that as a society.  I suppose the wisdom of the crowd can be adapted in this case to be the wisdom of the mob.  Perhaps that's the view of the average person-who-feels-compelled-to-comment-on-news-stories instead.

I suppose it's a bit sad that people aren't willing to read more around things before commenting.  For example, criminal prosecutions are difficult in these cases due to the absolute burden of proof - as a lawyer states here.  All the information about that story is contained on one website and yet the commentary seems to rarely reflect the fact that anyone's read anything.  Whilst the workings of banks and financial markets is complicated, surely it can't hurt to educate yourself before resorting to calls for murder and comparisons to Banana Republics.

Ignorance is little excuse.

1 comment:

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