1) is this a situation where signaling of agreement is more important than accuracy to the participants? It seems to be at first glance, as I can see no harm to them getting very wrong answers, but some harm to them failing to agree. I think a preferable outcome would have been agreement on an estimate, but also agreement that there's very low confidence in the estimate.

2) would you post a followup about your friends' reactions when you tell them how far off you all were? Reaction to being wrong seems important when discussing how to be less so in the future.

3) what will you do differently next time a similar situation arises? The obvious first try would be offering a wager.

Maybe. Maybe the best explanation is that a young man who is truly intelligent, as opposed to merely clever, avoids disagreeing with a young woman.

And in line with that, I don't plan to tell either of them how far off they were.

(I was pretty close; I thought it was 150 yards tall.)

Calibration fail

by PhilGoetz 1 min read9th Aug 200936 comments


I was talking on Friday with two people who've been to Italy recently and saw the leaning tower of Pisa.  One of them was surprised at how short it was:  "about 30 feet tall", she said.  Then the other person, who'd also seen it, agreed that it was surprisingly short, and said it was "only about as tall as the Washington Monument".

"Wait," I said. "You just said it's 30 feet tall; and you just said it's as tall as the Washington monument, which has got to be at least 100 yards tall.  And you agreed with each other."

And they both shook their heads, and said, "No, the Washington Monument isn't anywhere near 100 yards tall."  We all live near Washington DC, and have seen the Washington Monument many times.

I said that the Washington Monument must be taller than that.  One of them said that it was just as tiring to walk to the top of the Leaning Tower as to walk to the top of the Washington Monument; which was odd, since the WM stairs have been closed since before he was born.

They finally agreed that both structures were about 30 yards tall.

The Leaning Tower is 183 feet tall, and the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.