Difference between revisions of "Talk:Best of the public"

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(Does Galileo count?)
(Galileo: Galileo isn't a clear-cut case. He was more of a political figure who was wrong about some basic stuff (like tides). His own contributions were not substantial.)
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Another maverick, wasn't astronomer [[Galileo Galilei]] largely self-taught? --[[User:Ed Poor|Ed Poor]] <sup>[[User talk:Ed Poor|Talk]]</sup> 15:01, 19 December 2009 (EST)
Another maverick, wasn't astronomer [[Galileo Galilei]] largely self-taught? --[[User:Ed Poor|Ed Poor]] <sup>[[User talk:Ed Poor|Talk]]</sup> 15:01, 19 December 2009 (EST)
:Galileo isn't a clear-cut case.  He was more of a political figure who was wrong about some basic stuff (like tides).  His own contributions were not substantial.--[[User:Aschlafly|Andy Schlafly]] 15:48, 19 December 2009 (EST)

Revision as of 20:48, 19 December 2009

A third "Invisible Hand?"


I think you may be underestimating the importance of the concept you've articulated. It seems to be that best of the public, when applied to an academic endeavor, creates a third "Invisible Hand"--an "Invisible Hand of Insight," if you will, with the power to lead to deeper and more powerful insights than conventional, expert-dominated processes.

Indeed, it may well be that best of the public is, in fact, the driving mechanism behind all of the Invisible Hands. Certainly, Smith's Invisible Hand can only function in a free market, where the best of the public is free to produce goods and generate wealth. The Invisible Hand of Marriage only functions in a society where those who believe in the value of the family are free to marry and raise children to share those values--again, the best of the public coming to the fore.

Thus, best of the public would be a central force. When applied to economic matters, it would result in Smith's invisible hand; when applied to social matters, it would result in the Invisible Hand of Marriage, and when applied to intellectual, it would result in the Invisible Hand of Insight.

In fact, best of the public provides a powerful means of explaining exactly why big government liberalism is so harmful. Invariably, dependency on big government intervention interferes with the best of the public, and thus, with the ability of the Invisible Hands to act.

Really, a remarkable piece of insight. It succinctly and concisely identifies the engine behind conservatism. Well done, indeed!

--Benp 22:18, 15 December 2009 (EST)

That's brilliant, Ben. You (or the public!) could develop your marvelous insight further!--Andy Schlafly 22:38, 15 December 2009 (EST)

Well, thank you, Andy! I'm honored and flattered that you find it so. I'll certainly work on this (and I hope others will, too)...but perhaps tomorrow, when I'm not nodding off at the keyboard.  :) Have a pleasant evening! --Benp 22:46, 15 December 2009 (EST)

I think there may be Coase theorem implications as well. When property is owned individually, by the public, regardless of what property or who owns it, an economic system flourishes. However when property is owned collectively, even by well meaning institutions run by experts and people who think they know best for others, economic decline and catastrophe are inevitable. It is almost as if an invisible hand guiding the public works better than the all too visible hand of the experts. --PThomson 23:00, 15 December 2009 (EST)

I may work this into my final lecture for my Economics class, which I must complete tomorrow (Wednesday). Perhaps students -- and the best of the public here -- can develop it even further!--Andy Schlafly 23:25, 15 December 2009 (EST)

Boston Marathon

It's not quite true that "anyone can enter" the Boston Marathon--I cannot,as I have yet to meet their standard of completing a marathon with a time better than 3 hours 10 minutes (the minimum required for a male in my age group). AlexWD 00:54, 17 December 2009 (EST)

That's a new strict condition. Good point to raise it. I'll replace the Boston Marathon with the New York Marathon to avoid that issue.--Andy Schlafly 08:52, 17 December 2009 (EST)
It's interesting to note that the Boston Marathon has resulted in few world records--one men's and two women's, none more recent than a quarter of a century ago--and all three of those were controversial in some way. On the other hand, the Chicago Marathon, which lacks the restrictive entry requirements of the Boston Marathon--has had four, and the Berlin Marathon--which prides itself on the number of people who participate, and also doesn't appear to have an entrance requirement--has had 7, the most of any marathon. This would seem to be strong corroborative evidence that the best of the public principle is valid; otherwise, you'd expect the races that only allow "expert" runners to produce the most records. --Benp 19:32, 17 December 2009 (EST)
That's an intriguing insight, Ben--you should add it to the article, and I should consider setting my marathon goals "lower" and find a cheap flight to Berlin!! AlexWD 19:40, 17 December 2009 (EST)
The Chicago Marathon actually sets so many records because it is held in a very mild time of year, and Chicago is an incredibly flat city. The Fargo Marathon features a similar route without hills, and is used by many to qualify to the Boston Marathon.--Rcgallup 23:09, 17 December 2009 (EST)

Kasparov vs. the World

This is a fascinating article and I'm sure you're on to something here. I have another apparent "counterexample", the close consideration of which I hope can lead to new insights on this topic, and I certainly don't expect to refute it. In 1999 the chess champion Kasparov played a match in which his opponent's moves were decided by popular vote. More than 50,000 players participated, but Kasparov emerged victorious nonetheless. Do you have any reflections on this match, and can it help refine the notion of "best of the public"? --JimR 19:47, 17 December 2009 (EST)

That seems much more like an example of mob rule than of Best of the Public! If the opponent's moves were the best suggested moves rather than just the ones the mob voted for, I suspect Kasparov would have had a harder time. What we're doing here at CP isn't decided by popular vote of 50,000 random people; rather it is truly the best of the public. DanielPulido 19:55, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Daniel raises an excellent point. Simple majority vote doesn't ensure that the best of the public will prevail. If anything, it makes it very difficult. Suppose ten of those 50,000 players were capable of beating Kasparov. All of them saw clearly which moves would defeat him; all of them voted for those moves. Unfortunately, twenty thousand not-so-good players all voted for a different set of moves--resulting in a win for Kasparov. --Benp 20:03, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Benp hits it right on the nose. Kasparov's victory just shows he's better than the average chess player, since good and bad players voting on moves will be average. We already knew Kasparov was better than average. JacobB 20:14, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Super point by JimR, and even better responses. As noted in response, we don't decide by majority vote here. The winner of a gold medal at the Olympics is not chosen by popular vote either.
The better analogy is if Kasparov played a "best of the public" opponent consisting of a Conservapedia-like, rule-based process for welcoming, accepting, debating and then making each move. Timing would be an obstacle but in the real pursuit of knowledge there are no constraints of chess clocks. Kasparov would lose a contest against the best of the public. Indeed, if the best of the public could use computers, as our best of the public can, there would be no doubt that Kasparov would lose.
Thanks for the tantalizing point that illustrates how powerful the "best of the public" is.--Andy Schlafly 20:17, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Ah, you're right of course! But that there could be ten of those (non-expert) players capable of beating him seems extremely unlikely to me -- any such player could turn professional and make large sums of money, and so probably would for economic reasons. On the other hand I am sure that for each move, there were members of the public who found the ideal move, one which would give the best overall chance. Can this fit into the theory? --JimR 20:18, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Although I am not sure of the exact situation in this particular game, I have seen games played on other forums following this format. What tends to happen is one or two people (self titled "experts" usually) monopolize the conversation and shut out the rest of the people who want to contribute. Since the public views are largely ignored by a vocal minority who are more interested in self aggrandizement than success, the process results inevitably in failure.--PThomson 20:32, 17 December 2009 (EST)
As an interesting aside, this is perhaps much why Wikipedia is such a failure - a vocal minority want to argue and set aside the persuasive arguments of others primarily for their own sense of well being rather than helping the project.--PThomson 20:32, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Brilliant point. I suppose it is a thin line between the "best of the public" and the "worst of the public"! Wikipedia, with its lack of meaningful rules, approaches the "worst of the public." As with the US Constitution, the rules make all the difference in bringing out the best of the public.--Andy Schlafly 21:14, 17 December 2009 (EST)

A better analogy with the advancement of knowledge would be Kasparov playing 100 games simultaneously against the best of the public. Kasparov would lose nearly all of those games. Limiting the contests to just one game at a time artificially helps Kasparov in a way that is not realistic in the search for knowledge.--Andy Schlafly 21:20, 17 December 2009 (EST)

Actually, this is a common event in chess (called a "simul" for short), in which a grandmaster plays a large number of members of the public at once. Usually the master dominates the event, while losing a few games -- in one performance the great Jose Raul Capablanca played 103 games simultaneously, winning 102 of them and settling for a draw in the other. Kasparov has played these too and I don't think he ever lost nearly all. Now, perhaps this isn't the "best of the public" he's up against, but if he's playing against more specialized members of the public, aren't these just more experts? Understand that I appreciate this observation, and I'm just hoping to refine my understanding of it! --JimR 22:05, 17 December 2009 (EST)

What I don't think has happened yet, Jim, is the type of process Andy's describing: determining the next move not by majority vote, but by the sort of group deliberation, collaboration, and consideration that routinely takes place here on Conservapedia. As pointed out, time would be a factor in that, since such deliberation takes time. If we remove the time factor, though, it could very well be that the best of the public would be able to collaborate to determine superior moves. Certainly, it would be an intriguing experiment. --Benp 22:19, 17 December 2009 (EST)
It occurs to me that the most interesting experiment might be one that just cut Kasparov out entirely-- Have a chess match between the mob and the Best of the Public. Let one side's moves be determined by a majority vote and the other's by the Best of the Public. Can there be any doubt who would win? DanielPulido 22:25, 17 December 2009 (EST)
Having a chess game where the public goes up against the public is an interesting concept, but wouldn't prove anything. It is a fairly safe assumption to make that we don't share brain power or intelligence directly with other human beings. We can collaborate and share ideas, which can lead to new discoveries, but I can't add my brain power directly to BenP's intelligence, and Andy can't use mine. One other thing: what exactly makes the 'best of the public'? Is it Education, scope or depth of knowledge, morals? Is it an amalgamation of traits, and if so, which traits? In my opinion it begets a slippery slope. -- CodyH 22:52, 17 December 2009 (EST)
In response to JimR, I am familiar with those simultaneous matches, and I recall my brother User:RSchlafly competing in one as a youngster (and as a member of the public) when a grandmaster visited our small town. As I recall, the expert beat everyone except RSchlafly, who was then playing simply as a random young member of the public.
But while that made for a powerful childhood experience, it wasn't what I really meant here. I suggested Kasparov playing 100 games simultaneously against opponents, each of whom consisted of a process generating the best of the public. If Kasparov focused all his efforts on one or two of those matches, then he might win those, but he would lost perhaps 98% of the matches overall (simultaneous matches are difficult for the person who must hop from board to board). This set-up of course allows the public to harness its greater numbers to its advantage, as often many minds are better than one. But this is a closer analogy to the advancement of knowledge than artificially limiting the contest to merely one chess match between one man and everyone else, a structure that benefits the one man.--Andy Schlafly 23:24, 17 December 2009 (EST)

To me, the idea of the public, collectively knowing what is a better solution, or having the power to best the so-called experts, mirrors the ideas put forward by Ronald Reagan.

It was Reagan, at his first inauguration, who famously declared that "in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." President Reagan went on to outline his idea that the "common citizen" was more likely to come up with the right solutions to our problems than all the government "experts" combined.

Of course it is a proven fact that all of the great innovations of America have come from the public, not experts or Big Government. Perhaps I am being too obtuse here, drawing a comparison to the ideas of Reagan and Andy's point. To me the similarities seem striking! --ṬK/Admin/Talk 04:42, 18 December 2009 (EST)

This is an interesting discussion, though I'm having a hard time seeing the difference between an expert and the "best of the public." Isn't an expert precisely that, someone among the public who was gifted enough at something to go through specialized training and become even better? From my own experience, I had a certain degree of musical talent as a child, but would not have excelled had it not been for great teachers and hours of hard work. I calculated the other day that I've practiced the piano somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 hours in my lifetime, with probably around 2000 of those being intensive private work with a teacher of some kind. It's probably true that one of my gifted 10-year-old students could play better on a good day than I could on a bad day, but the experience does count for a lot.
I realize that when it comes to certain problems (the kind of systemic problems Reagan talked about come to mind), common sense counts for a lot more than expertise. But at any rate, I don't see how translating the Bible or playing chess is more a matter of common sense than experience. That's why Kasparov vs. the World shows precisely that talent and expertise can beat amateurs putting their heads together. Having thousands of hours of work under your belt gives you a much more comprehensive perspective, much more depth, than having a few good and untested ideas. JDWpianist 08:03, 18 December 2009 (EST)
I agree completely, and I feel you are exposing an aspect of the problem which needs to come to light. There is a difference between expertise (as in actually having the skill of playing the piano well) and holding the status of an expert. Expertise must be manifested, while being called an expert is often only political.
They awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore, even though he knows nothing about global warming science and has been scolded by British courts for lying to the public. He's an example of the kind of "expert" who retards progress in science and the humanities.
The promise of online encyclopedia projects is that contributors with true expertise (such as yourself) will emerge. --Ed Poor Talk 08:32, 18 December 2009 (EST)
Excellent points, but in response to JDWpianist an "expert" is a particular type of person who pursued a particular credentialing path. It usually entails years of specialized learning from ages 16 to 25, at the sacrifice of other activities or pursuits. Typically experts are from middle or upper class families that value credentials. Women who have children during those ages -- the most natural ages for childbearing, are disqualified. Also, criticizing the mainstream or saying something politically incorrect is a disqualification. Only a tiny percentage of the public fits this narrow track of an "expert".
The best of the public draws on the entire population, including those who worked full time during the formative age group but developed expertise later, and those who reject the politics of academia. With the far greater numbers and freedom from political restraints (politics in the sense of political correctness), the "best of the public" is far better and yet is remains a largely untapped resource. Obviously there is self-interested opposition by entrenched interests to even developing this.--Andy Schlafly 09:48, 18 December 2009 (EST)
(Replying to TK above) An excellent modern example of one person getting the answer when hundreds of government experts were failing is the Challenger disaster. It was maverick physicist Richard Feynmann who deduced that rubber sealing rings exposed to excessive cold had cracked. Meanwhile, all the "experts" were going through a process that almost seemed designed to hide this fact.
Of course, if Feynmann weren't a celebrity he never would have been able to penetrate the stonewall of the investigation (coverup?), but that's precisely my point. At Conservapedia (and some other online encyclopedia projects), we are opening up the possibility of criticizing the mainstream - and we are showing the mainstream to be wildly incorrect in many instances. The recent exposure of the climate fraud (see Climategate) is something we've been covering here for over 2 years.
But it's not just us on the Internet (a purely American invention, by the way). It's American democracy, with freedom of the press, which allows the best ideas to bubble up and reach the surface. No one can put a lid on the truth here. --Ed Poor Talk 10:11, 18 December 2009 (EST)
Ed brings up an interesting example, and I can think of a few other cases in the sciences where a non-expert or group of non-experts has had important ideas. It would be an interesting experiment to attempt to harness the "best of the public" toward a specific problem in science. For example, if I set up a Wiki with rules along the lines of CP (or even just used CP), recruited helpful and skilled editors, and had access to the most important data, what is the chance that the editors would be able to improve on the theory of relativity, showcasing the power of the "best of the public"? I think the answer is probably no. But perhaps such a program could succeed with something a little easier first. I more interested in the principle of the thing and the limitations of the BoP methodology. Do you think it would be possible to utilize the best of the public in such a manner, toward a very specific goal? --JimR 10:43, 18 December 2009 (EST)

Well, let's take a slightly different example. If you took a group of students and showed them an "unsolvable" math problem, what are the odds that the best of them would be able to solve it, when the solution had eluded the experts for years? Of course, this is a little bit of a trick question, as it actually happened--George Dantzig, a student, copied down two problems from the board. Not realizing that they were on the board as examples of theorems for which nobody had been able to work out a proof, he proceeded to do exactly that. Had he known that the problems were "unsolvable"--in other words, had he been more fully immersed in the subculture of expertise--he likely wouldn't have even attempted to solve them. It might not work so well all the time, but it undoubtedly works. --Benp 17:52, 18 December 2009 (EST)

To Andy: That's an interesting distinction, the first time I've heard it put that way. Still one point for me is unclear. Are you saying that the "best of the public," as per your definition, is made up of people who do have expertise in a field, just not the credentials required for them to be called "experts?" Or are you saying, rather, that one does not need to invest time and hard work in a field at all to contribute meaningfully to it?

To Ed: There's a certain blindspot that can indeed occur with experts: I'm no conspiracy theorist, so I'll always assume "groupthink" over "coverup" in these types of situations unless extraordinary evidence surfaces. As to this blindspot, I'm reminded of a quote from the great British music-critic Donald Francis Tovey, noting that when approaching certain complex musical passages, analysts can be guilty of "making an exhaustive chemical analysis of a plum-pudding and omitting to ascertain that the cook had boiled it in a cloth." Sometimes the simplest explanations are invisible to the technically-minded experts, but we also can't forget that the right answers are always found by people who know their stuff, whatever their credentials. In other words, Joe the Plumber could not have made any meaningful guess as to what brought the Challenger down. JDWpianist 18:15, 18 December 2009 (EST)

Linux/open-source an example of this?

Is this reasonable to add to the Linux article? I thought I would ask this here, instead of the talk page for Linux, to hopefully reach more members and get some feedback. Even though many of the developers throughout the open source movement could be considered experts (in the colloquial sense that they know their field very well and apply that knowledge with considerable dedication and skill) they are not experts in the modern sense. I would argue that the collaborative efforts of the open source community could be considered the "Best of the public," as even computer users without programming knowledge file bug reports and use the products daily, therefore increasing the quality incrementally. Tzoran 11:31, 18 December 2009 (EST)

Excellent insight. Please do include this example.--Andy Schlafly 11:55, 18 December 2009 (EST)
Thank you; I'll include this immediately. Tzoran 12:06, 18 December 2009 (EST)
Even Microsoft acknowledges this power:
I updated the open source and Linux articles accordingly. Should I add your reference to the open source article, Ed, or leave that to you? I feel we should include it as a great testament to its progress (especially if Microsoft feels partially threatened by it, as other parts of your link seem to indicate).Tzoran 12:28, 18 December 2009 (EST)


I don't know for sure about the rest of the details, but calling him an "unknown" is an exaggeration. Perelman received a PhD from a top university and was already noted for his slick proof of the "Soul theorem" in Riemannian geometry, which had already become commonly taught. No, he wasn't a leading mathematician, but he was not unknown by any reasonable stretch of the imagination. --JimR 11:12, 19 December 2009 (EST)

The Perelman example is quite interesting: who decided that Perelman found a proof? The public? No, a couple of experts... FrankC aka ComedyFan 12:08, 19 December 2009 (EST)
What you have to understand is that "best of the public" doesn't exclude experts, or make light of their expertise. It just acknowledges the very obvious truth that they're not the only ones with expertise, and allows other voices and other perspectives to be heard. Rather than "I'm an expert, therefore you have to listen to my ideas," it's "You have good ideas, therefore we will listen." --Benp 13:32, 19 December 2009 (EST)
(edit conflict)I expected the Perelman example to ruffle the feathers of expert-defenders, precisely because it illustrates the point so well. I don't think "Perelman received a PhD from a top university," though I have an open mind about it (I think he received something other than a PhD from an institution ranked nowhere near the international top). More importantly, Perelman was not given a permanent job, was not recognized as an expert, and indeed was somewhat ostracized by the experts to the point where he was left to produce his great work on his own from his mother's apartment. Then an expert allegedly tried to take the credit!
Note that Perelman himself has been highly critical of the expert mentality in mathematics, to the point where he sacrificed much money to turn down the experts' honors. Sorry, not even mathematical experts are better than the "best of the public," despite the discomfort some will have with that revelation.--Andy Schlafly 13:40, 19 December 2009 (EST)
At the risk of beating the drum too loudly on ClimateGate, it was outside mathematicians (not climate "experts") who showed the Michael Mann's denial of the worldwide Medieval Warm Period was statistically unsound (at best) and really just a crude example of academic fraud. --Ed Poor Talk 13:51, 19 December 2009 (EST)
Excellent point, Ed. Could you add an item to the entry about who those outside mathematicians were? (I don't know).--Andy Schlafly 13:57, 19 December 2009 (EST)
I'm not arguing that Perelman doesn't belong on the list, I'm arguing that to call him an "unknown" is simply wrong. He had done other fairly important work before this. --JimR 14:08, 19 December 2009 (EST)
You are probably right about his degree not being from a top university internationally; but it was at Leningrad, one of the top schools in Russia. He then held positions at Steklov, SUNY Stony Brook, Berkeley, and Courant. These are all major research centers -- off the top of my head I can name Fields medalists currently at each of them except Courant, and it wouldn't surprise me I'm forgetting one there too. Perelman apparently had job offers from Stanfold and Princeton -- such offers go only to the very top prospects, and certainly not "unknowns". --JimR 14:23, 19 December 2009 (EST)

Manhattan project

The Manhattan project seems to be an ultimate example for a great innovations of America which came not from the public, but from experts and Big Government. FrankC aka ComedyFan 12:12, 19 December 2009 (EST)

But follow the project back to its roots, Frank. You'll find that many of those whose ideas led the government to pursue that line of research are a splendid example of "best of the public." Nobody's saying that experts can't take the ball and run with it, but frequently, it's someone outside their little circle who tosses the ball in the first place. --Benp 13:38, 19 December 2009 (EST)

Wright Brothers

People seem keen to find counter-examples, so let's talk about some examples. What about the Wright Brothers? They certainly weren't part of any elite fraternity of engineers--neither one even graduated from high school. Their endeavors were greeted with open mockery and accusations of fraud from the "experts" of the aviation community, particularly in Europe. They're certainly one of the finest examples of what American ingenuity and can-do attitude can accomplish. --Benp 14:15, 19 December 2009 (EST)

(whacks own forehead in mock despair) I should have thought of that myself! Not only did they make a lighter, more powerful engine, but they weren't professionals at all: mere bicycle mechanics, really. And yet they solved the crucial aspect of powered flight: controlling the aircraft in the air. Their idea of warping the wings prefigured ailerons, and was the chief reason their flights succeeded while everyone else's ended in crash after crash. --Ed Poor Talk 14:59, 19 December 2009 (EST)


Another maverick, wasn't astronomer Galileo Galilei largely self-taught? --Ed Poor Talk 15:01, 19 December 2009 (EST)

Galileo isn't a clear-cut case. He was more of a political figure who was wrong about some basic stuff (like tides). His own contributions were not substantial.--Andy Schlafly 15:48, 19 December 2009 (EST)