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🦉 10x curiosity - Democratic Lotteries

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🦉 10x curiosity

August 14 · Issue #259 · View online

🦉 A weekly sample of links that made me think 🤔


Thinking…
Also published in 10x Curiosity

In so many of life’s outcomes luck plays a major part. Yes you have to work hard, but if you are honest either side of that hard work on the road to success is luck. As I have previously written Going up it’s hard work…. going down is bad luck .
Flipping the script, wouldn’t it be refreshing if our various institutions and life events embraced these elements of randomness and luck. Two interesting case studies have done just this. Student council elections and medical grant funding selection.
First up is a wonderful Malcolm Gladwell podcast where he investigates a concept called democratic lotteries with Adam Cronkright of Democracy In Practice.
Adam has developed a concept for student council elections where anyone is able to put their name forward, and then instead of campaigns and popularity contests ahead of a vote, the council is elected by students randomly pulling coloured ball or beans out of a bag.
Student Government Lotteries on Vimeo
Through the interview with Cronkright, Gladwell draws out 3 laws relating to democratic lotteries:
1st Law
What’s interesting is the extent to which. Running for an office and running an office are two very, very different things. And someone may be both capable and interested in. Running an office, but have no interest in running for. That’s the first law in a democracy.
Elections are supposed to encourage participation, but they don’t. They discourage. Lotteries, encourage participation.
2nd law
… when you choose your student government by lottery, you see a change in the kinds of things the government actually does.
It’s a more diverse group. They come from different social circles…
Democracies are supposed to be the best system for ensuring that a whole gamut of interests are represented in government. Cronkite’s second law says that’s not true. Not if the government is drawn from the same narrow band of society year after year.
It’s the lottery that gives you a truly representative sample of leaders.
3rd law
Cronkhite third law, maybe the most important of all. Nobody knows anything. The number of times that we’ve walked out of those meetings and been worried about a particular student … And, you know, they within a couple of weeks, they figure out what’s expected of them, how they can plug in…And by the end of the term, they’re even voted by their peers as one of the most important members of the team.
Democratic elections are based on the idea that voters are good predictors, that they can look at a slate of candidates and accurately predict who will be the most effective leader. That’s why we have campaigns and speeches and debates to help us make that prediction. But… Adam and his team discovered that people are lousy predictors.
Grant funding
The second example of this comes from the field of medical research where every year across the world, hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money is handed out to researches based on an expert panels view of the merit of the grant application. In the paper by Ferric Fang and Arturo Casadevall: Taking the Powerball Approach to Funding Medical Research the authors:
analyzed nearly 1,500 successful grants and found no correlation between the productivity of a project, as measured by the citation of grant-supported publications, and its score. Although study sections may be reasonably good at recognizing low-quality proposals, they are unable to accurately rank good ones. NIH peer reviewers fare no better than random chance when it comes to predicting how well grant recipients will perform.
In place of the current system they suggest the following:
Study sections could simply be asked to determine whether applications are meritorious or not.
Meritorious applications would then be randomized by computer, and funding awarded to as many projects as can be accommodated by the research budget.
Applications not chosen would become eligible for the next drawing, with individual researchers permitted to enter only one application per drawing.
And why to they think this will be an improvement
  1. it would convert the current biased and arbitrary system to a more transparent process.
  2. it would relieve reviewers from having to identify the top applications since it is increasingly obvious that this is not possible.
  3. applicants with meritorious but unfunded proposals could continue to reapply.
  4. it would lessen the blow of grant rejection.
  5. funds currently used for the futile exercise of ranking proposals could be devoted to supporting scientific research.
  6. the realization that many meritorious projects remain unfunded may promote more serious efforts to improve research funding and to study alternative approaches to peer review.
So what else could this work for? Imagine if our government elections embraced this concept. Instead of insane amounts of money and electioneering, change the system so that anyone can put up their hand and randomly be chosen. Do we really think the popular vote is delivering a representative group of elected officials? Could this system possibly offer a better alternative?
References
Let me know what you think? I’d love your feedback. If you haven’t already then sign up for a weekly dose just like this.
More like this….
Links that made me think...
Alan Kohler: Look to the west to find out how to get the end of coal right
The Problem with Fighting Fires (Ed Batista)
Cooling the tube – Engineering heat out of the Underground
Why America can’t build quickly anymore
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