Thought for the month
“It is a general popular error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.” Edmund Burke, politician (1729 – 97).
Friday, 5 February 2016
Too good to be true?
Under ancient Jewish law, if a suspect on trial was unanimously found guilty by all the twenty plus judges in the Sanhedrin, then he or she was acquitted. The legislators had noticed that unanimous agreement often indicated the presence of a systemic error even if the nature of the judicial error was not known. They intuitively reasoned that when something seems too good to be true, most likely something had been missed and a mistake was the end result. This “paradox of unanimity" has been explored with probabilistic mathematical analyses in several real world situations. It turns out that the probability of a large number of people all agreeing can be small, so our confidence in unanimity can be ill-founded.