Tuesday, March 17, 2015

[PHI 3630] Are all opinions equal?

In "The science of protecting people's feelings: why we pretend all opinions are equal," Chris Mooney discusses a study which shows that participants "weight each other's opinion equally regardless of differences in their reliability, even when this strategy was at odds with explicit feedback or monetary incentives."

Here is the abstract of the paper, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
We tend to think that everyone deserves an equal say in a debate. This seemingly innocuous assumption can be damaging when we make decisions together as part of a group. To make optimal decisions, group members should weight their differing opinions according to how competent they are relative to one another; whenever they differ in competence, an equal weighting is suboptimal. Here, we asked how people deal with individual differences in competence in the context of a collective perceptual decision-making task. We developed a metric for estimating how participants weight their partner’s opinion relative to their own and compared this weighting to an optimal benchmark. Replicated across three countries (Denmark, Iran, and China), we show that participants assigned nearly equal weights to each other’s opinions regardless of true differences in their competence—even when informed by explicit feedback about their competence gap or under monetary incentives to maximize collective accuracy. This equality bias, whereby people behave as if they are as good or as bad as their partner, is particularly costly for a group when a competence gap separates its members.
Mooney goes further than what the authors of the study say and claims that the study "underscores this conclusion — that we need to recognize experts more, respect them, and listen to them." Do the results of the study actually support this conclusion? If so, how? If not, why not?

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