Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vox Populi

photo taken in the women's bathroom in the Rideau Street Chapter's in Ottawa, just down the street from Parliament Hill. The most positive bathroom graffiti I have ever read.

Sir Francis Galton’s paper, "Vox Populi", (or Voice of the People) opens with his reason for his interest in the weight of an ox: “In these democratic days, any investigation into the trustworthiness and peculiarities of popular judgments is of interest,”* basically meaning he’s curious as to how trustworthy the voters are.

Some interesting points brought up in his paper are that he didn’t actually conduct the experiment, but he borrowed the votes from a contest in which people paid a fee to guess how much the meat, on an ox, would weigh after it had been killed and prepared for market. The fee and promise of a prize ensured the people would do their best. Another point is that he didn’t average out the votes, but looked instead at the middle vote, where fifty percent of the votes are higher, and fifty percent of the votes are lower. The middle vote was only nine pounds off, and Sir Francis found this extraordinary because that means there is less then one percent difference between the middle number and the actual weight of the ox.

The bulk of the paper is Galton trying to explain the math he used, but his final conclusion is that “the trustworthiness of a democratic judgment”* is more credible then he had thought it would be.


*Vox Populi

Saturday, September 12, 2009

We are in Ottawa!

The whole family is in Ottawa and we will be visiting the Parliament Buildings on Friday, September 18th. We will be asking people for votes on the Jelly Beans. Yay!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is the beginning.....

Hi. We (my mom, my sister, and I) are a homeschooling family from somewhere in Canada, and this is a blog to catalogue our process in our research project about the wisdom of the masses, or crowds. So now I will give a short overview of the project:

Okay, so this guy, Sir Francis Galton, who was a nobleman in the early 1900's, thought that the masses were to dumb to vote. Meaning that the average person couldn't vote in a democracy, and that only noblemen like him were intelligent enough to choose a prime minister, or whatever it was they had at that time in the United Kingdom. Think about it, only politicians all voting for themselves? Utter chaos!

To prove this theory, in 1906 Sir Francis took a cow out into the town square and said that whom ever could guess the exact weight of the cow would win something. Sound like a familiar fair game involving jelly beans, jars and numbers? I thought so. Anyway, 800 people voted on the cow's weight, and of course no one got it exactly right, not even the experts, and based on that Sir Francis figured his theory was correct. But then he averaged all the guesses out, and to his great surprise, the masses were almost exactly right! The cow weighed 1,198 pounds, and the average of all the guesses that day was 1,197 pounds. I know, right? So, the conclusion Sir Francis came to was that collectively, the masses were intelligent enough to vote. Also, if more people had voted that day, the combined answer would have been closer to the correct weight of the cow. So, we're doing a project on this.

I saw this story on Nova, and it interested me, so I suggested The Project! Dun dun duuuuun! What we're doing is taking a jar of jelly beans around wherever we go, and asking people to guess how many jelly beans are in the jar. After that, we're going to average out all the guesses, and see how close we get to the actual number of jelly beans. We're also going to see if there is a difference between male and female votes, and the different age groups. We'll post all our findings and research here, so if you're interested you can come back here to check on The Project. That's it; I have to return library books now. Bye!


We will be doing a brief study on Sir Francis Galton, his experiment, democracy and how the Canadian Government works. We will keep this blog up to date on what we learn and where we found our information. This is just the beginning. We would appreciate any suggestions you may have to help us on our journey.

-Kellie, the mom