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October 27, 2009



The wisdom of crowds doesn't provide an escape here. Those people who complain about immigration feel strongly about it; and so tend to be loud. Those who don't care one way or the other ('it's a wash') tend not to say much. So public debate is dominated by the obsessives.

Next, the availability heuristic leads us to think that if there is so much talk about immigration being a problem, then perhaps it is.

Wisdom of crowds needs independent decisions; mass media tends to make the wisdom of crowds become the stupidity of mobs (This isn't a Sun or Mail reader's problem alone; the guardian-reader is every bit a part of their own mob).


As Willliam implies, there is the 'Spartan factor' at work as well as all those you cite. In ancient Sparta, votes in the Assembly were decided by which side shouted loudest. Under Blair and Brown, an increasing number of decisions to bring forward legislation seem to have been determined by listening to the volume and stridency of media shouting.


Both commenters make the same mistake - they think we can trust the evidence of our own eyes. We can’t. Such evidence is subject to horrible distortions.

So 4000 Muslims protesting in the streets cannot be trusted because our eyes saw it?


"So 4000 Muslims protesting in the streets cannot be trusted because our eyes saw it?"

Does this sentence even make sense to its author? What can't be trusted? The Muslims? The streets? The number? The fact they were protesting? What can't we trust them on?

Luis Enrique

tricky ... what does "do not believe your own eyes" tell us to think, for instance, about this:


(from your Top Blogging links)

Is Roy Mayall right to believe his own eyes? Do we believe that Royal Mail managers are deliberately falsifying the statistics to create the impression mail volumes are falling?


Luis - that rather depends on the sample size, doesn't it?


The problem here is quite clear from both comedy troll James "paedophile gay mafia" Higham (not joking: http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2009/10/marriage-prejudice.html?cid=6a00d83451cbef69e20120a5f1e974970b#comment-6a00d83451cbef69e20120a5f1e974970b) and Luis Enrique's posts. Rejecting anecdotes in favour of data isn't a question of partisanship.

Both the person who saw x thousand Muslims (or whatever Higham is on about), and Roy Mayall are human beings and therefore subject to the standard biases, staring down their own personal straws at the landscape and imagining they are telescopes. Mayall's claim sounds a lot like denialism to me, but frankly I dunno.

Luis Enrique


well ... quite. But Roy Mayall is an example of somebody calling reported data into doubt, using anecdote to suggest that what data we have is based on falsified management estimates. Of course the only way we have to find out the truth is to conduct an independent, well-designed data gathering exercise. I presume no such data exists, but Roy's anecdote might provide us with reason to gather it. How else would we have reason to doubt management, if not from people telling us it does fit with what they've seen with their own eyes?

But on second thought, this isn't such an interesting point; Chris is not arguing that we should never give any weight to direct observation, only that we shouldn't regard it as sufficient basis for informing our beliefs.


Of course, hardly anyone could be better placed to check those particular data than the CWU, which has a presence in every sorting office and actually could have its members sample them. It might be quite an interesting form of protest. (But then, if it really is declining, I suspect management and labour would be united in denial.)

Luis Enrique

Yes, it's really not clear to me why Royal Mail management would desire to report lower-than-true volume numbers - usually managers are busy falsifying numbers in the other direction. If lying about volumes helps evil managers in their scheming to make workers redundant, why don't other firms do it? Perhaps there is something special about the Royal Mail that means it's in the interests of management to pretend the business is in a worse state than it is.

(the CWU might be well placed to collect the data, but they'd be advised to have some independent involvement, if they want to be trusted)


Well, in order to create a permanent crisis narrative that supports their self-serving lobbying for privatisation...

Luis Enrique

ah! I was thinking that didn't make sense, because when you float a company, you usually want to make it look as good as possible, so that you can raise as much money as possible, and managers are usually given more lolly the higher the share price they achieve is ... so usually you'd avoid the impression of a crisis at all cost ... but in this case the managers may not care how much money is raised by privatization. This is the well worn City practice of "kitchen-sinking", isn't it - get it privatized for a low a price as possible, make the performance look as bad as possible, then state a miraculous recovery, get praised as management geniuses, watch the share price rocket, and quids in.

If this is what's going on, somebody needs to change the terms of managements' contract so that they get paid for floating the business as at high a price as possible, and have new management hired post-privatization.

Luis Enrique

(Chris, one for the tips section of your day job there: Buy Post Office shares upon IPO)


To whom it may concern,
I was wondering if there are any procedures to enable a patient to
enhance or change their eye shape (to make it bigger, or have an
upward slant to achieve a sexy look).
Also, I would like to know what can be done for 'asymmetrical eyes'
are there any correcting procedures???

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