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Never quite enough detail
on 25 August 2006
The central premise of the book is an interesting one - that taking the average of a large number of individual viewpoints is likely to give a better result than taking the view of a single (or small number) of experts.
The paragraph above is, of course, an oversimplification. The book does go into rather more detail about when this works, and when it doesn't.
The approach in the first half of the book overall seemed OK - there were points in the first chapter where I thought that the author had fallen into some basic errors, but reading on made me realise that, no, he had considered them and had responses to the questions that I thought needed answering.
However, there are, to me, two flaws in the book.
Firstly, the second half of the book is too lightweight. He applies his theory to a whole bunch of situations (shorting of stocks, elections and so on), but doesn't present any proof of his ideas. He seems to assume that we're all so convinced in the first half that he can spend the second half saying "now we know this is true, this is what it means."
... which takes me to the second flaw.
Someone rather more intelligent than I - from memory Richard Feynman - wrote a long and interesting article about scientific rigour, and how when you do one expirement that appears to suggest a theory, you don't assume the theory is right because it fitted that one set of data. Instead, you specifically design other experiments that TEST the theory.
The problem with this book is that there appears to have been a single "real world example" which suggested the theory, but that every other example is a "class room experiment by Professor X in which a series of students did Y..."
Sadly, in a book that purports to relate to research going back 50 years, it is hard to believe that there are so few examples of the principle that can be brought to bear.
In having said all that, I have a nagging feeling that the theory is right, and that the evidence is there, but that the book was over-pruned to get down to a certain size. If this is correct, I wish he'd given more material showing why he was right, and less speculation about what would happen if he were.