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Half of Trump’s major federal agencies still only have one Senate-confirmed appointee

Washington Post - 5 hours 1 min ago
And, no, it's not all Senate Democrats' fault. The Post is tracking Trump's historically slow pace of nominations

Kushner adds defense attorney Abbe Lowell to Russia-investigation legal team

Washington Post - 5 hours 1 min ago
Kushner has retained the services of a storied white collar criminal defense attorney.

Cillizza: Globally, more have confidence in Putin than Trump

CNN - 5 hours 2 min ago
Donald Trump is the fairly elected leader of the most prominent democracy in the world. Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian with a long record of punishing political allies and suppressing views divergent from his own.

Groups are often smarter without ‘opinion leaders’

Futurity.org - 5 hours 3 min ago

Equality may counteract the tendency toward groupthink, research suggests.

The classic “wisdom of crowds” theory goes like this: If we ask a group of people to guess an outcome, the group’s guess will be better than any individual expert. So, when a group tries to make a decision, in this case, predicting the outcome of an election, the group does a better job than experts. For market predictions, geopolitical forecasting, and crowdsourcing product ideas, the wisdom of crowds has been shown to even outperform industry experts.

“On average, opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

That is true—as long as people don’t talk to each other. When people start sharing their opinions, their conversations can lead to social influences that produce “groupthink” and destroy the wisdom of the crowd. So says the classic theory.

But Damon Centola, an associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Network Dynamics Group, discovered the opposite.

When people talk to each other, the crowd can get smarter, report Centola, PhD candidate Joshua Becker, and recent PhD graduate Devon Brackbill in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Equal influence

“The classic theory says that if you let people talk to each other groups go astray. But,” says Centola, “we find that even if people are not particularly accurate, when they talk to each other, they help to make each other smarter. Whether things get better or worse depends on the networks.

“In egalitarian networks,” he says, “where everyone has equal influence, we find a strong social-learning effect, which improves the quality of everyone’s judgments. When people exchange ideas, everyone gets smarter. But this can all go haywire if there are opinion leaders in the group.”

An influential opinion leader can hijack the process, leading the entire group astray. While opinion leaders may be knowledgeable on some topics, Centola found that, when the conversation moved away from their expertise, they still remained just as influential. As a result, they ruined the group’s judgment.

“On average,” he says, “opinion leaders were more likely to lead the group astray than to improve it.”

Gut responses

The online study included more than 1,300 participants, who went into one of three experimental conditions. Some were placed into one of the “egalitarian” networks, where everyone had an equal number of contacts and everyone had equal influence. Others were placed into one of the “centralized” networks, in which a single opinion leader was connected to everyone, giving that person much more influence in the group. Each of the networks contained 40 participants. Finally, Centola had several hundred subjects participate in a “control” group, without any social networks.

In the study, all of the participants were given a series of estimation challenges, such as guessing the number of calories in a plate of food. They were given three tries to get the right answer. Everyone first gave a gut response.

Are we too connected for good problem-solving?

Then, participants who were in social networks could see the guesses made by their social contacts and could use that information to revise an answer. They could then see their contacts’ revisions and revise their answers again. But this time it was their final answer. Participants were awarded as much as $10 based on the accuracy of their final guess. In the control group, participants did the same thing, but they were not given any social information between each revision.

“Everyone’s goal was to make a good guess. They weren’t paid for showing up,” Centola says, “only for being accurate.”

Patterns began to emerge. The control groups initially showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but did not improve as people revised their answers. Indeed, if anything, they got slightly worse. By contrast, the egalitarian networks also showed the classic wisdom of the crowd but then saw a dramatic increase in accuracy. Across the board, in network after network, the final answers in these groups were consistently far more accurate than the initial “wisdom of the crowd.”

“In a situation where everyone is equally influential,” Centola says, “people can help to correct each other’s mistakes. This makes each person a little more accurate than they were initially. Overall, this creates a striking improvement in the intelligence of the group. The result is even better than the traditional wisdom of the crowd! But, as soon as you have opinion leaders, social influence becomes really dangerous.”

In the centralized networks, Centola found that, when the opinion leaders were very accurate, they could improve the performance of the group. But even the most accurate opinion leaders were consistently wrong some of the time.

“Thus,” Centola says, “while opinion leaders can sometimes improve things, they were statistically more likely to make the group worse off than to help it.

“The egalitarian network was reliable because the people who were more accurate tended to make smaller revisions, while people who were less accurate revised their answers more. The result is that the entire crowd moved toward the more accurate people, while, at the same time, the more accurate people also made small adjustments that improved their score.”

Engineers and doctors

These findings on the wisdom of crowds have startling real-world implications in areas such as climate-change science, financial forecasting, medical decision-making, and organizational design.

Social norms can catch on without leaders

For example, while engineers have been trying to design ways to keep people from talking to each other when making important decisions in an attempt to avoid groupthink, Centola’s findings suggest that what matters most is the network. A group of equally influential scientists talking to one another will likely lead to smarter judgments than might arise from keeping them independent.

He is currently working on implementing these findings to improve physicians’ decision-making. By designing a social network technology for use in hospital settings, it may be possible to reduce implicit bias in physicians’ clinical judgments and to improve the quality of care that they can offer.

Whether new technologies are needed to improve the way the groups talk to each other, or whether we just need to be cautious about the danger of opinion leaders, Centola says it’s time to rethink the idea of the wisdom of crowds.

“It’s much better to have people talk to each other and argue for their points of view than to have opinion leaders rule the crowd,” he says. “By designing informational systems where everyone’s voices can be heard, we can improve the judgment of the entire group. It’s as important for science as it is for democracy.”

Partial support for the work came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

The post Groups are often smarter without ‘opinion leaders’ appeared first on Futurity.

3 CNN Journalists Resign After Retracted Story on Trump Ally

NY Times - 5 hours 4 min ago
It was the latest in a series of embarrassing episodes at CNN, which has a contentious relationship with President Trump.

'Baby Driver' clicks on all cylinders

CNN - 5 hours 4 min ago
As sharply executed as a hairpin turn, "Baby Driver" is a crackling-good ride, one that organically weaves music and humor into a slick showcase for its cast. Despite a few potholes toward the end, writer-director Edgar Wright's stylish thriller consistently clicks on all cylinders.

Greenpeace Combats Planned Obsolescence in New Repairability Campaign, iPad and MacBook Score Low

MacRumors - 5 hours 13 min ago
A new campaign by Greenpeace today has rated the repairability of six Apple devices against the smartphone, tablet, and laptop market at large, the purpose of which is to highlight planned obsolescence in the technology industry. Greenpeace partnered with iFixit to assess over forty different devices that debuted between 2015 and 2017, with iFixit's teardown repairability scores serving as the basis for the data.

Apple's products looked at in the campaign included the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad (fifth generation), 13-inch MacBook Pro, and 12-inch MacBook (refreshed in 2017). All products were rated in the following categories: battery replaceability, display replaceability, no special tools needed, and spare parts available.


Scoring worst on the list were the two MacBooks, which each got a 1/10, and the two iPads didn't fare much better, both getting 2/10 marks in the campaign. The new iPhone 7 models were much higher, both receiving a 7/10 with positive check marks in display replaceability but red x's in all other categories.

Microsoft had trouble in the ratings as well, with its Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book both rated at 1/10. Conversely, the brands abiding by Greenpeace's repairability mantra included Fairphone, Dell, and HP, which all had products rated at 10/10 on the campaign's scale.

Ultimately, Greenpeace wants to bring awareness to the phenomenon of planned obsolescence, which the company's IT sector analyst, Gary Cook, said "adds to growing stockpiles of e-waste," due to difficult repairability shortening device lifespan. Cook noted that, "improving the repairability of electronic products is technically achievable and brands should be prioritizing this in their product design."
“Electronics take a massive amount of energy, human effort, and natural resources to make,” said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. “And yet, manufacturers produce billions more of them every year—while consumers keep them for just a few years before tossing them away. E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. We should be able to make electronics a more sustainable part of our lives.” In an environmental report earlier this year, Greenpeace awarded Apple with an "A" rating, calling it the most environmentally friendly technology company in the world, for the third year in a row. That report looked specifically at energy transparency, renewable energy commitment, energy efficiency and mitigation, renewable procurement, and advocacy.

Tags: iFixit, Greenpeace
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Economic Scene: When Cutting Access to Health Care, There’s a Price to Pay

NY Times - 5 hours 21 min ago
In measure after measure of well-being in rich nations, Americans are among the worst off, with costs to the economy and to individuals.

Supreme Court to take case on baker who refused to sell wedding cake to gay couple

Washington Post - 5 hours 31 min ago
Lower courts had ruled that the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who cited his religious beliefs, had violated the state’s public accommodations law.

Alec Baldwin will return to 'SNL'

CNN - 5 hours 38 min ago
Alec Baldwin is about to make your television great again.

Republican Party, India, Russell Westbrook: Your Tuesday Briefing

NY Times - 5 hours 39 min ago
Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

DWTS' Erin Andrews marries NHLer

CNN - 5 hours 46 min ago

What does psoriasis look like?

CNN - 5 hours 46 min ago

Google Fined Record $2.7 Billion in E.U. Antitrust Ruling

NY Times - 5 hours 57 min ago
The search giant must change how it provides some of its services to comply with the competition decision in Europe.

Hirono says she has kidney cancer, adds health care is ‘a right’

Washington Post - 6 hours 1 min ago
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) on June 26 said on the Senate floor that she was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. “Health care is personal and it’s a right, not a privilege reserved only for those who can afford it,” she said.

Senate leaders try to bolster GOP health-care bill with incentive for consumers to stay insured

Washington Post - 6 hours 1 min ago
The new provision would penalize them for not keeping their plans, imposing a six-month wait before they could re-enroll.
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