Influence, ignorance, and doubt: two scientific articles

As a young boy, I was familiar with the books and movies of the Italian pop-philosopher Luciano De Crescenzo. “The question mark”, was one of his favourite quotes, “is the symbol of good. The exclamation mark, the symbol of evil. When you meet someone who has doubts, you can take it easy. That means he’s a good person, someone broad-minded and tolerant… But if you meet someone who is overconfident, someone of unshakable faith – you should be afraid.” (Here is how it sounds in Italian, in this excerpt from his 1984 film Thus spake Bellavista).

A couple of recently published articles seem to make the same point – but in a more formal way. The first one has been published in Science on December 16th, 2011. Based on observations of animal behaviour (I know, I know… but bear with me please), the authors emit the educated guess that, within a human group, less-informed individuals are able to balance overly polarized political views.

Couzin, I., Ioannou, C., Demirel, G., Gross, T., Torney, C., Hartnett, A., Conradt, L., Levin, S., & Leonard, N. (2011). Uninformed Individuals Promote Democratic Consensus in Animal Groups Science, 334 (6062), 1578-1580 DOI: 10.1126/science.1210280