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Alex3 comments on Useful Statistical Biases - Less Wrong

11 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2007 04:51AM

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Comment author: Alex3 02 April 2007 09:08:55AM 5 points [-]

The astounding notion is that human beings are unbiased estimators of beans in a jar, having no significant directional error on the problem, yet with large variance. It implies that we tend to get the answer wrong but there's no systematic reason why. It requires that there be lots of errors that vary from individual to individual - and this is reliably true, enough so to keep most individuals from guessing the jar correctly. And yet there are no directional errors that everyone makes, or if there are, they cancel out very precisely in the average case, despite the large individual variations. Which is just plain odd. I find myself somewhat suspicious of the claim, and wonder whether other experiments that found less amazing accuracy were not as popularly reported.

This is precisely what I find disquieting about wisdom-of-crowds arguments - they require that our errors are nondirectional and normally distributed, but we know they aren't. We have cognitive biases!