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Evolution and the 'Wisdom of Crowds' 804

An anonymous reader writes "An essay by a developer of recommendation systems makes a case for why so many people have trouble grasping Darwin's theory of evolution. Downplaying its conflict with religion, the essay suggests that evolution is in a specific class of "equilibrium seeking" concepts that tend to be extremely counterintuitive to most people. The hypothesis is supported by the observation that so many people reject the notion that evolution-like systems such as Wikipedia, prediction markets, and recommendation systems can actually be effective. Particularly fascinating is the description of his surprisingly simple algorithm for competing in the Netflix prize contest."
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Evolution and the 'Wisdom of Crowds'

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  • Re:typo (Score:5, Informative)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:23AM (#21038721) Homepage
    Journalist to George Bush (senior): Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are Atheists?

    Bush: No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.

    Current stats:

    85% of Americans self-identify as Christians. (2002)
      7% of US adults classify as evangelicals (2004) (see Evangelical category for more information)
      38% of US adults classify as born again, but not evangelical. (2004)
      37% are self-described Christians but are neither evangelical nor born again
      Atheists and agnostics comprise 12% of adults nationwide. (2004)
      11% of the US population identify with a faith other than Christianity (2004)

    Nuff said... No further comment...
  • Re:typo (Score:5, Informative)

    by vadim_t ( 324782 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:33AM (#21038787) Homepage
    Actually it's largely an American thing.

    I brought this subject up several times in a conversation with europeans. Those who don't follow slashdot and similar sites hadn't heard about the concept of "intelligent design" at all, and needed it explained. And all of them went "WTF?" at the explanation.

    The vast majority of the population hasn't even heard of ID. All the religious arguments I participated in (and there were quite a few) always revolved around the existence/inexistence of a deity, evolution wasn't brought up even once.
  • Re:Bad analogy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by JimboFBX ( 1097277 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:33AM (#21038793)
    No, wikipedia is evolutionary- an incorrect edit will be removed, edited, or fixed while correct edits will be changed back to the way they were if they become vandalized. Essentially it's an equilibrium function because equilibrium is clearly achieved once everything is correct. Of course, its the kind of wobbly equilibrium you get when you try to hold your hand steady without support- but equilibrium nevertheless.
  • Re:typo (Score:3, Informative)

    by oliderid ( 710055 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @06:47AM (#21038875) Journal

    Well things are changing in other developped countries as well. I've watched a report concerning Biology classes in Belgium few weeks ago. Some teatchers complain that it is more and more difficult to teach evolution in classes where there is a significant fraction of immigrants from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Qur'an is considered by those folks as the Alpha&Omega. Somes even believe that modern science discoveries can be easily traced back to this holly book.
    The problem is that it is not simply arguing. Somes students become violent.

    Disclaimer: I'm not saying that all muslims think that way.
  • Re:typo (Score:3, Informative)

    by arktemplar ( 1060050 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:14AM (#21039019)
    ermmm I dont know which country you live in, but here in India there is no creationism. It is indeed possible that those people studying sanskrit or theology might get to study religious text that contains creationism, I have however never heard of any university preaching it in their science department\lectures.
  • Re:typo (Score:5, Informative)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:17AM (#21039037)
    Not just Americans, but most people across the world don't believe in evolution.

    Got any proof? Because I've got some that shows you're wrong. Link [].
  • by Nephilium ( 684559 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:26AM (#21039097) Homepage

    Generally, the use of creationism references young Earth creationism... where part of the belief is that the Earth is only a couple of thousand years old. This flavor of creationism can't stand alongside evolution.


  • by SunTzuWarmaster ( 930093 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:32AM (#21039147) Homepage

    85% of Americans self-identify as Christians. (2002)
        7% of US adults classify as evangelicals (2004) (see Evangelical category for more information)
        38% of US adults classify as born again, but not evangelical. (2004)
        37% are self-described Christians but are neither evangelical nor born again
        Atheists and agnostics comprise 12% of adults nationwide. (2004)
        11% of the US population identify with a faith other than Christianity (2004)
    okay, so we know that the 2002 poll polled everyone (americans) while the 2004 poll only polled adults. For those that didn't catch that (2002!=2004), I'll say it again, these are two separate polls.

    Now, knowing that they are 2 separate polls, the author implies the breakdown of that 85% (into 7+38+37). This doesn't work because they are 2 polls.

    Now that we know line 1 has nothing to do with the lines following, we must assume that the numbers add up to 100, right? Wrong, 7+38+37+12+11=105%. Okay, so now that we know some people fall into 2 categories.

    Also, take note of how the original poster doesn't align atheism with the rest of the religions (to imply that there are more atheists than "other").

      - Figures don't lie, but liars figure. - Samuel Clemens (alias Mark Twain)

    Of course, the above poster had some Bush-bashing, so he gets modded up. Goddamn Slashdot.
  • Secularism in UK (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @07:48AM (#21039239)
    The UK has less trouble accepting evolution - we also have more trouble accepting religion -

    "The comprehensive professional research in 2006 by Tearfund found that two thirds (66% - 32.2 million people) in the UK have no connection with any religion or church". Even those that do have (IMHO) often have little or no belief in the churches ideals and often attend out of social and class trends and peer or family pressure.

    Those who do accept their beliefs (my guess is between 1 and 5% ) do so with a zeal that matches any American church, and can be equally unaccepting of any evidence of evolution.
  • by Nephilium ( 684559 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:00AM (#21039333) Homepage

    I suppose I could generalize it even further...

    Young Earth creationism can't stand alongside almost any physical science.


  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:11AM (#21039429)
    Not really. The idea is being bastardized quite a bit in this discussion. It turns out that if you take a bunch of non experts and run them through some sort of information aggregator(like a decision market), the crowd(paired with the info aggregator, this part is sort of key and often left out) will very often come to a superior conclusion when compared to a lone expert, or several individual experts.
  • Re:typo (Score:3, Informative)

    by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:15AM (#21039471) Homepage Journal
    > These Europeans haven't heard of the theory that god created the world?

    Yes, we did. But, some of us believe that an omnipotent god could conceive a universe where living creatures do NOT need "a patch" from him to exist. If you see conflict between evolution and life being a miracle, between freedom of choice and prophecy, it might not be the same for an hypothetical entity that exists (also) outside the influence of space and time.

    Back to the topic. A minister in the previous government in Italy "forgot" to include Darwin. After getting a good share of egg on her face, had to backpedal publicly. Even if it was a temporary measure, among the indifference of public opinion. Some italian pages about that still on the web. []
  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:40AM (#21039777) Homepage Journal
    So true. For those that are somehow in doubt, consider these facts:

    • The Christian Bible is the all-time best-selling book in the world and continues to do very well despite wide available on the Internet and despite being in the public domain.
    • The religious book market in the U.S. had net sales of $1.3 billion dollars in 2004 and continues to grow very well
    • Religious merchandise has recieved similar growth in recent years
    • Retailers in the U.S. are in the red all year up until "Black Friday" -- the day following Thanksgiving. This is mostly due to the existence of multiple religious holidays where gift giving/exchange is encouraged that fall on or around the winter solstice.

  • Re:typo (Score:2, Informative)

    by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @08:48AM (#21039867)
    Okay, can I delete the above post? I read "supports" as "rejects" (can one be dyslexic with entire words?) and went on a totally underserved rant agains someone who was arguing a position I agree with.

    It's too early for this shit - where's the SCO posts when you need them?
  • by Zwets ( 645911 ) <> on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:08AM (#21040075) Homepage

    The mixed-belief world appears to be the "fittest" world, as opposed to such less-fit worlds of all atheists or all Christians, as examples.

    "Survival of the fittest" is about individuals, and does not apply to worlds. "Fitness" is always a relative measure, comparing one individual with its competitors. And while individuals are in direct competition with one another, worlds are not. A world can not be said to be "fit" or "unfit" because it is not in competition with other worlds.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:35AM (#21040435) Homepage Journal
    Your .sig betrays you, but if it is so begging for a definition, how do you define "faith"?

    Merriam-Webster says:

    2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof

    Which, I'd say, is very much head on, especially the religious overtones and the "no proof" part.

    And that's why grandparent is right. A debate between one side resting on proof and the other resting on something that explicitly excludes proof as a requirement can not have a common ground.
  • by dunkelfalke ( 91624 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @09:45AM (#21040563)
    hitler was a catholic, stalin also was (an orthodox) christian, was even in a church school.
  • by nicklott ( 533496 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:25AM (#21041193)
    The Romans were pagans not atheists
  • Stalin once studied to be a priest.
  • Re:typo (Score:4, Informative)

    by aymanh ( 892834 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @11:41AM (#21042627) Journal
    From the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe []:

    1. Creationism, born of the denial of the evolution of species through natural selection, was for a long time an almost exclusively American phenomenon. Today creationist ideas are tending to find their way into Europe and their spread is affecting quite a few Council of Europe member states.
    19. The Parliamentary Assembly therefore urges the member states, and especially their education authorities:
    19.1. to defend and promote scientific knowledge;
    19.2. strengthen the teaching of the foundations of science, its history, its epistemology and its methods alongside the teaching of objective scientific knowledge;
    19.3. to make science more comprehensible, more attractive and closer to the realities of the contemporary world;
    19.4. to firmly oppose the teaching of creationism as a scientific discipline on an equal footing with the theory of evolution and in general resist presentation of creationist ideas in any discipline other than religion;
    19.5. to promote the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory in the school curriculum.

    So yeah, Europe is doing something to stop pseudoscience from finding its way into schools.
  • Self Organizing Maps (Score:2, Informative)

    by SPickett ( 911670 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @12:14PM (#21043305)
    His netflix is very similar to a standard methodology called Self Organizing Maps (SOM). It's cool to implement because it is automatic. You can use it to map 3 or more dimensions onto 2 dimensions and look at it. The output also changes depending on how you start it. Map the same data set in reverse or some other order and you end up with different clustering. You can use it to solve a problem as the author described. Or, you can use it to simplify complex input before you feed it into a further model, neural net, or whatever.
  • by grandpa-geek ( 981017 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @01:27PM (#21044649)
    There is a book written in 1841 by Charles Mackay titled "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds". It describes some "bubble" markets, such as the Dutch Tulip Craze (when people would invest their life savings in a tulip bulb, only to see the market eventually crash) and then goes on to describe other non-market crazes.

    The book is frequently referenced in discussions of investment strategy, especially so-called "contrarian investing", which often makes money for its followers. The contrarian investing principle can be summarized as being that when the crowd overwhelmingly agrees on something, go the other way.

    The book describes market behavior at least as well as Adam Smith's "unseen hand", and may also well describe other aspects of crowd behavior. I had never heard of the "wisdom of crowds" before this posting, but I have heard of the "madness of crowds" for many years.
  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Friday October 19, 2007 @02:56PM (#21046169) Homepage Journal

    Interesting. I guess you haven't heard that they have found the function for the Appendix?
    You guess wrong. []

Logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.