June 14th, 2009
The new Scientist reports on a recent paper by CMU psychologist Don Moore that shows that people prefer advice from confident sources even when they have a poor track record.
Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.
In Moore’s experiment, volunteers were given cash for correctly guessing the weight of people from their photographs. In each of the eight rounds of the study, the guessers bought advice from one of four other volunteers. The guessers could see in advance how confident each of these advisers was (see table), but not which weights they had opted for.
Describing his work at an Association for Psychological Science meeting in San Francisco last month, Moore said that following the advice of the most confident person often makes sense, as there is evidence that precision and expertise do tend to go hand in hand. For example, people give a narrower range of answers when asked about subjects with which they are more familiar”
Why aren’t we better at recognizing cover-confidence? There must be some evolutionary fitness in this, at least for humans. There can be a big penalty in indecision or vacillation. I wonder if we will see the same phenomenon in systems of cooperating autonomous agents?
Here’s the paper:
Joseph R. Radzevick and Don A. Moore, Competing To Be Certain (But Wrong): Social Pressure and Overprecision in Judgment, 21st Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, May 2009.
Overprecision in judgment is both the most robust and the least understood form of overconfidence. Overly precise judgments claim more certainty than is objectively warranted. In this paper, we investigate whether the competitive social pressure of a market contributes to overprecision among those competing for influence. We find evidence that markets do indeed exacerbate overprecision. This evidence comes from two experiments in which advisors attempt to sell their advice. In the first experiment, advisors must compete with other advice sellers. In the second, advisors and decision makers are paired. Overprecision exists in both studies, and it helps advisors’ sell their advice. However, the market also exacerbates overprecision. We discuss the strategic implications of these results.
June 7th, 2009
Who’s got the best basic web search engine? One way to approach that question is to conduct an experiment in which subjects rank the results returned by several engines without knowing which is which.
BlindSearch is a simple and neat site that collects ‘objective’ opinions on search quality by showing query results from Google, Yahoo and Bing side by side without identifying which is which and inviting you to select the best.
“Type in a search query above, hit search then vote for the column which you believe best matches your query. The columns are randomised with every query.
The goal of this site is simple, we want to see what happens when you remove the branding from search engines. How differently will you perceive the results?”
As of this writing there have been 1679 votes for preferred results with Google getting 39%, Bing 39% and Yahoo: 22%.
update 2:14pm edt 6/7: Google: 45%, Bing: 32%, Yahoo: 22% | 11,130 votes
June 5th, 2009
How’s this for truth in advertising. The Chromium blog announces beta versions of Google Chrome for MAC OS X and Linus, but warns people not to try them in a post Danger: Mac and Linux builds available.
“In order to get more feedback from developers, we have early developer channel versions of Google Chrome for Mac OS X and Linux, but whatever you do, please DON’T DOWNLOAD THEM! Unless of course you are a developer or take great pleasure in incomplete, unpredictable, and potentially crashing software. How incomplete? So incomplete that, among other things, you won’t yet be able to view YouTube videos, change your privacy settings, set your default search provider, or even print.”
Of course, they know that this will make trying them irresistible to some of us. If that includes you, go get the Mac or Linux version.
June 3rd, 2009
Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler posted some interesting graphs showing historical browser usage. Looking at the percentage of users, Internet Explorer is slowly losing market share to Firefox and Safari.
Looking at the total number of users, all three are increasing.