Jonah Goldberg

I have discovered the solution to liberal media bias. What mainstream journalism needs are more stupid people.

Conservative critics of the journo-industrial complex might dismiss this advice as merely adding more jelly-beans to the jar. Liberal journalists would regard it as absurd, because surely it is their genius that makes them special. Why would the temple want any - much less, more - stupid priests?

Well, it turns out that having a few stupid people in the group makes the group smarter. I've long suspected this, but I found confirmation in James Surowiecki's new book, "The Wisdom of Crowds."

It works like this. Groups of experts tend to reinforce their own views, particularly because experts believe in the authority of experts, causing them to defer to the super-expert in the group. Stupid people are, to put it bluntly, too stupid to defer to smart people. Remember the story about the truck that got jammed in the tunnel because it was too tall? All the experts were stumped. But some kid yelled, "Let the air out of the tires," saving the day. This is essentially the moral of the fable of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Substitute kids with morons and you get the same thing.

We've all been in meetings where the token idiot says something absurd and everyone reflexively groans. But then someone says, "Wait a second, Lothar may be on to something." The utility of the muttonhead is that he's too dim to cotton on to the groupthink and therefore is more likely to raise unconventional ideas.

This, according to Surowiecki, is the value of diversity within groups. He doesn't dwell on the need for stupid people per se, but he's fairly persuasive that even the "smartest" groups of experts are often outsmarted by more diverse groups that boast members with far less impressive credentials. For example, Scott Page, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, ran a series of computer models pitting all-smart groups of agents against other groups of more diverse agents ranging from not-so-smart to smart. The group with the lower average intelligence was almost always better at solving problems than the smarter one.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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