I have a confession to make: I have been not "publishing" my results to an experiment because the results were uninteresting. You may recall some time ago that I made a post asking people to take a survey so that I could look at a small variation of the typical "Wisdom of the Crowds" experiment where people make estimates on a value and the average of crowd's estimates is better than that of all or almost all of the individual estimates. Since LessWrong is full of people who like to do these kinds of things (thank you!), I got 177 responses - many more than I was hoping for!
I am now coming back to this since I happened upon an older post by Eliezer saying the following
When you hear that a classroom gave an average estimate of 871 beans for a jar that contained 850 beans, and that only one individual student did better than the crowd, the astounding notion is not that the crowd can be more accurate than the individual. The astounding notion is that human beings are unbiased estimators of beans in a jar, having no significant directional error on the problem, yet with large variance. It implies that we tend to get the answer wrong but there's no systematic reason why. It requires that there be lots of errors that vary from individual to individual - and this is reliably true, enough so to keep most individuals from guessing the jar correctly. And yet there are no directional errors that everyone makes, or if there are, they cancel out very precisely in the average case, despite the large individual variations. Which is just plain odd. I find myself somewhat suspicious of the claim, and wonder whether other experiments that found less amazing accuracy were not as popularly reported.
(Emphasis added.) It turns out that I myself was sitting upon exactly such results.
The results are here. Sheet 1 shows raw data and Sheet 3 shows some values from those numbers. A few values that were clearly either jokes or mistakes (like not noticing the answer was in millions) were removed. In summary: (according to Wikipedia) 1000 million people in Africa (as of 2009) whereas the estimate from LessWrong was 781 million and the first transatlantic telephone call happened in 1926 whereas the average from the poll was 1899.
There! I've come clean!
I had deferred making this public because I thought the result that I was trying to test wasn't really being tested in this experiment, regardless of the results. The idea (see my original post linked about) was to see whether selecting between two choices would still let the crowd average out to the correct value (this two-option choice was meant to reflect the structure of some democracies). But how to interpret the results? It seemed that my selection of values is too important and that the average would change depending on what I picked even if everyone was to make an estimate, then look at the two options and choose the best one. So perhaps the only result of note here is that for the questions given, Less Wrong users were not particularly great at being a wise crowd.