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The uninformed are the key ingredient for a working democracy,
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The uninformed are the key ingredient for a working democracy,

  #1 (permalink)
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The uninformed are the key ingredient for a working democracy,

  • The 'uninterested' help to sway large groups towards views of majority Even a small number helps to 'balance' views of powerful minorities Research with animal groups and computer simulations
  • Minority groups have less influence than thought
A well-informed, interested public is often hailed as the 'ideal' of democracy.
But a new Princeton study suggests that the opposite could be the case - and that people who have no interest at all could be vital to the working of a democratic society.
The uninformed are essential to democracy because their apathy helps to dilute the effect of powerful minority interests - for instance, highly educated elites - who would otherwise dominate public life.

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Vote for apathy? Researchers found that a mass of people who didn't have any particular political interest were essential to democracy - diluting the effect of powerful minority groups in a society

The researchers used animal research, mathematical models and computer simulations. They report that in animal groups, uninformed individuals — those with no strong feelings on a situation's outcome — tend to side, simply, which whichever group is the largest.
The idea that an outspoken minority can 'manipulate' voters may be mistaken, say the searchers.

The less interest someone has, the more they are likely to side with the majority, the researchers found - leading them to speculate that in human societies, the uninterested could be a vital 'counterbalance' against powerful groups.

The researchers worked with fish with a strong 'schooling' instinct - and saw how large groups reacted when some fish were trained to swim towards different-coloured targets.

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Researchers found that as more and more 'uninformed' fish - ie not trained to swim towards either target - were introduced, the more the fish tended to group together and swim towards the blue target, which the majority had been trained to 'like'

'Why are individuals with no opinion more influential than individuals with one? I don't know what it is, but I do know it's worth investigating,' said Dr Donald Saari, a professor of economics

The researchers trained groups of fish to swim towards either a blue, or yellow target. More fish were trained to swim towards blue, but those trained to swim towards the yellow 'liked' yellow more - to simulate the effect of a highly opinionated minority.

They found that as they introduced 'untrained' fish - ie fish without an opinion either way - the school increasingly swam towards the blue target, the one which most of the fish had been trained to seek out.

Even a small number of 'untrained' - apathetic - individuals could have a huge effect on the group.

It might have important impact on our understanding of how groups of humans react.
'The classic view is that uninformed or uncommitted individuals may allow extreme views to proliferate. We found that might not be the case,' said lead author Iain Couzin, a Princeton assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

'Even a small population of indifferent individuals act as a counterbalance to the minority — whose passion even can cause informed individuals in the majority to waver — and restore majority rule.'

'We show that when the uninformed participate, the group can come to a majority decision even in the face of a powerful minority,' Couzin said. 'They prevent deadlock and fragmentation because the strength of an opinion no longer matters — it comes down to numbers.'

There are limits to the effect, though - if too many fish are 'uninformed', the whole group eventually grinds to a halt

'These experiments indicate there is an evolutionary function to being uninformed that perhaps is as active as being informed,' said Couzin.

Donald Saari, a professor of mathematics and economics at the University of California-Irvine who studies voting systems, said he sees parallels to the Princeton-led work in markets and politics.

Highly informed economic forecasters and political activists frequently lose out to the masses of consumers and regular voters who base decisions on personal preferences and reasons more than on expertise, said Saari, who is familiar with the Science report but had no role in it.

'This study gives us a new interpretation of group decision making that really flies in the face of previous opinions. We usually assume that a highly opinionated and forceful group is going to sway everyone,' Saari said.

'I think the effect the uninformed have is much more than just number-counting and that they're offering something else,' Saari said. 'Why are the fish with no 'opinion' more effective toward taking the group toward plurality than the fish that only had some opinion? What is that additional dynamic, what are the real contributions of the uninformed? I don't know what it is, but I do know it's worth investigating.'

Read more: The uninformed are essential to a working democracy, study finds | Mail Online

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  #2 (permalink)
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Same is true to...

an extent in trading. Difference of opinion is one thing but just plain stupid, that is a gold mine.

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  #3 (permalink)
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Well, I don't care.....

Actually it's really interesting! Never saw it that way...


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