Power in Numbers

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki begins with the story of an ox judging competition in which 800 people—not ox experts nor breeders, just ordinary people attending a county fair—were asked to guess the weight of the ox. The competition was conducted by a scientist, Francis Galton, who held a low opinion of the intelligence of the average person, remarking that “the stupidity and wrong-headedness of many men and women being so great as to be scarcely credible.” He hoped to prove, by examining the various guesses, that the average person had no idea of how to judge the real answer. After all participants casted their written votes, Galton tallied up the total and averaged the result: 1,197 pounds—just one pound off from the real weight of 1,198 pounds. Few individuals actually guessed the correct weight themselves but, when the opinions of many were combined, the result was near-perfect.

Crowds can also be a source of irrational behavior, panic, and stampede. Witness any modern football or soccer game, for instance, in which fights break out over an issue as minor as a disputed call or a heckle. Or go back through history to the countless events when mass hysteria ruled, such as the Salem Witch Trials or Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Let’s put aside examples of mass emotional chaos of the sort that causes crowds to stampede store doors on Black Friday. Let’s focus instead on conscious, considered, thoughtful opinions. We all accept that there are as many opinions on issues as there are people, not uncommonly with widely divergent views. But can we, as Galton’s famous experiment did, combine the opinions of many and come away with some fruitful insight—the correct answer? Just as the people participating in Galton’s experiment were not experts, so Cureality participants—a crowd-sourced collection of opinions—are not experts. If we were to poll everyone to identify their area of expertise or experience, it would likely include finance, the retail industry, raising children, or teaching—but not health. Yes, we have experts curating the direction of content, but we also crowd-source collective opinion.

Right now, Cureality is based on existing science, the philosophy of self-directed health, combined with guidance and community to help the participant along in the sometimes complex world of health questions. But as our processes and procedures improve, can we—like Galton’s ox weight guessers—come away with coalescent wisdom, answers to our health questions, near-perfect solutions to health conditions that have eluded the “experts” for centuries?

I think that we can. No, I know that we can. We enter a new age in information and harness the power of the crowd-sourcing of solutions, even when no single individual has the complete answer herself.