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Politics Science

Scientists Say People Aren't Smart Enough For Democracy To Flourish 1276

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-voted-for-who? dept.
cold fjord writes "The inability of the incompetent to recognize their own limitations is a story that has been covered before on Slashdot. But, what happens when you apply that finding to politics? From the article: 'The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies. The research shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. If people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments...democracies rarely or never elect the best leaders. Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they "effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders."'"
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Scientists Say People Aren't Smart Enough For Democracy To Flourish

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  • by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:05AM (#39247587)
    Can somebody explain to me what they mean by "not smart enough"?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#39247593)

      I would, but you are not smart enough to understand.

      • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:24AM (#39247951)

        Maybe he is.

        Being able to see your limitations- step back and say "I don't understand" is a much stronger sign of intelligence than thinking you know the answer if you don't.

        • by schroedingers_hat (2449186) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:32PM (#39249011)
          Indeed. Being aware of many of your limitations, and that you're unaware of all your limitations is probably the most important part of becoming good at anything.
          Of course this doesn't apply to me, as I have no limitations, unlike all those people who are incompetent and are just unaware of it.
        • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Thangodin (177516) <elentar&sympatico,ca> on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:53PM (#39251373) Homepage

          A little humility would actually go a long way to addressing the problem. Unfortunately we have so many populist demagogues out there right now, telling people not to trust 'elites' (that is, anyone who knows more on a subject than the demagogue, which pretty much includes anyone who knows anything at all) that humility has been banished from our culture. Even amongst the educated, post-modernism teaches that all opinions have equal merit. The low-brow political bullshit seems to be a recurring feature of democracy, but the high-brow bullshit is new, and is often used to neutralize opposition to the low-brow stuff. This is what we have to get rid of.

          So while there may be no such thing as Truth (with a capital T, the thing that ideologues and the clergy try to sell you) we need to bring that truth, you know, the sort of thing you need to get by everyday.

          By the way, I'm obviously the best choice for leader, since I'm so intelligent that I have realized that I suck at everything, which obviously makes me the most competent person out there...

    • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#39247599) Homepage

      In this case, it means "everyone else". Like when people think about their driving skill -- everyone else sucks.

      • by causality (777677) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:23PM (#39248871)

        In this case, it means "everyone else". Like when people think about their driving skill -- everyone else sucks.

        The problem is they hand out licenses to anyone who wants them. In my state they want you to memorize road signs and regulations but they do not require you to demonstrate any actual skill with the vehicle or basic knowledge of physics. Hence we have people who are panicky, don't know how to correct without overcorrecting, who tailgate, brake while cornering, unnecessarily brake uphill, and don't understand what banked curves are (when they're not too busy crossing over the median towards opposing traffic that is). The older people who have 25-30 years of "experience" have simply repeated the same uncorrected bad habits for that time. That's what "experience" means to them. It doesn't mean critically evaluating their own performance and trying to improve it.

        The state could deal with this using a driving simulator that throws certain surprise situations at the prospective driver to see if they have learned how to handle them. Certain behaviors like tailgating or weaving out of your lane like most SUV drivers do results in no license for you for X period of years. Behaviors like not knowing how to properly corner or not realizing that you have more traction available for steering when you're not also braking results in more training.

        Voting is tougher. In the early days of the USA, only a small minority could vote. You had to be white, male, and you had to own land at a time when most people didn't. Obviously the requirement that voters be white was plain racism, though at the time the same racism meant only whites would be educated. The exclusion of women meant that what we now call "big government" proposals had less support automatically (this has been proven and I don't care how anyone feels about facts - women tend to look for security from an external source and the government is only too happy to offer it). The exclusion of anyone who didn't own land tended to mean the voters were educated and prosperous enough that they could devote time to being active in politics.

        Oh and the fact that Senators were appointed by the states to represent the states meant you had one part of the legislature that didn't have to run campaigns, didn't have to worry about the way the wind was blowing, and could actually vote their conscience. Changing that was a bad idea. It was an important check against the soundbite-driven (well really headline-driven, back then) world we know today.

        What I'd like to see is some kind of very tough civics test as a requirement for voting. It should be as openly and transparently administered as possible, so that anyone who wants to study and learn could pass it but very few who didn't care to study would stand a chance. In addition, anyone currently receiving some form of "entitlement" should not get to vote because what they're going to vote for is not difficult to guess and this situation is too exploitable and too dangerous for our long-term survival. The last thing I would change is that all campaigns be publically funded, each candidate gets a very generous amount, and any other "contributions" are treasonous bribery resulting in a death penalty for the candidate and 20 years in prison for the one "contributing" the money.

        With something like that, we could have a nation again.

        • by vladilinsky (1071536) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:55PM (#39249445)
          This sounds good on paper, but could it not lead to extreme abuse? Think of how badly the parties sway the little things to be in their favour. Now think of how much they would warp the civics test. I feel that it would not take long until the civics test became a way from keeping people with opposing views from voting rather than ensuring only allowing qualified vote.
        • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gd[ ]aud.net ['arg' in gap]> on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:04PM (#39249617) Homepage

          What I'd like to see is some kind of very tough civics test as a requirement for voting.

          You raise some good points but the above is not really relevant. One can be uninterested in civics/politics while at the same time holding very valid points about an issue. Case in point, should the 'ruling' of the internet be left to the politicians/lawyers or to engineers who built it. If you exclude the latter because they are not involved 'enough' in politics, you'll break the internet. This applies to almost everything.

        • by Surt (22457) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:18PM (#39249831) Homepage Journal

          Unfortunately, there's almost no aspect of civics that isn't contested by a top-4 party (democrat/ows/repulican/tea). There'd be no hope of constructing a test people coudl agree on.l

        • by Feyshtey (1523799) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:20PM (#39249851)
          You're ensuring a process by which one demographic (wealthier, more educated) are given all authority over another (less wealthy, less educated). You are ensuring an aristrocracy in which the elite rule the serfs and the serfs have little or no voice.

          I get where you're coming from. We are rapidly approaching the reverse of the above where those whom are wholly reliant upon the government for their subsistence will continue to vote to retain (and in fact, increase) that subsidy without regard for the financial feesibility of such a vote.
        • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by thomst (1640045) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:30PM (#39251005) Homepage

          causality expounded:

          Voting is tougher. In the early days of the USA, only a small minority could vote. You had to be white, male, and you had to own land at a time when most people didn't. Obviously the requirement that voters be white was plain racism, though at the time the same racism meant only whites would be educated. The exclusion of women meant that what we now call "big government" proposals had less support automatically (this has been proven and I don't care how anyone feels about facts - women tend to look for security from an external source and the government is only too happy to offer it). The exclusion of anyone who didn't own land tended to mean the voters were educated and prosperous enough that they could devote time to being active in politics.

          Oh and the fact that Senators were appointed by the states to represent the states meant you had one part of the legislature that didn't have to run campaigns, didn't have to worry about the way the wind was blowing, and could actually vote their conscience. Changing that was a bad idea. It was an important check against the soundbite-driven (well really headline-driven, back then) world we know today.

          Actually, I've been reading The Gilded Age recently. In it, Twain and Warner keep politics in the age of buccaneer capital squarely in their sights. One of the supporting characters is Senator Dilworthy, who is up for re-election. He goes back to his home state of Missouri to campaign for reelection in the state legislature, and winds up losing in a landslide, when his widespread bribery of legislators is exposed.

          It's fiction, not history, but it's indicative of at least one of the problems with having Senators elected by state legislatures, rather than by direct vote of the people - it's a lot easier to bribe a few dozen than an entire electorate.

          Twain and Warner likewise rip the lid off of Washington politics of the time, when Dilworthy and his allies use bribery, coercion, and blackmail to ram through a bill to purchase 1200 acres of Tennessee land - ostensibly to benefit "the Negro", but actually for the benefit of a poor, but well-connected Missouri family, and the network of lobbyists, politicians, and infuence-makers who will "administer" the fund created by the measure.

          The book is a lot of fun - and quite enlightening. Politics, it seems, is ever the same. The details change, the corruption remains consistent.

          What I'd like to see is some kind of very tough civics test as a requirement for voting. It should be as openly and transparently administered as possible, so that anyone who wants to study and learn could pass it but very few who didn't care to study would stand a chance. In addition, anyone currently receiving some form of "entitlement" should not get to vote because what they're going to vote for is not difficult to guess and this situation is too exploitable and too dangerous for our long-term survival. The last thing I would change is that all campaigns be publically funded, each candidate gets a very generous amount, and any other "contributions" are treasonous bribery resulting in a death penalty for the candidate and 20 years in prison for the one "contributing" the money.

          With something like that, we could have a nation again.

          Mmm ... the civics test I could see. It would ensure an at least nominally informed electorate. Forbidding anyone who receives any kind of "entitlement" is a whole other issue. In fact, I'm really glad you put the term in quotes, because I don't think you've thought that restriction through.

          And I mean I don't think you've thought it through at all.

          For instance, your proposal - if it were implemented across the board - would mean that no one who receives Social Security or Medicare benefits could vote. Is that what you had in mind? Because it's senior citizens who have the most experience with the consequences of voting, as well as the leisure time necessa

          • by RR (64484) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:52PM (#39252369)

            it's a lot easier to bribe a few dozen than an entire electorate.

            These days, do the politicians actually bribe an entire electorate? Seems like they still bribe only a few dozen. But instead of the few dozen being the civil servants, they're bribing the demagogues who run the media.

            Okay, technically, campaign ads don't count as bribery. But note how the demagogues talk only about the people who run ads, and not about people who have interesting issues to bring to the voters. They're reporting the election like it's a popularity contest, and it makes me sick.

            See, I think that your proposal to exclude "entitlement" beneficiaries is just cover for discriminating against impoverished and minority voters.

            What's the problem with that? A few of the poor might be civically involved and responsible, such as yourself. But on the average, poor people have been shown to have bad decision-making skills. Also, "causality" mentioned "benefits" because he would prefer if decisions were not made by people who stand to benefit at the expense of the rest of the country.

            Also, "minority"? Are you serious? You're playing the structural racism card, and that's not a healthy way to play. Oh no, we can't increase our standards, or else a group that is disproportionately represented in the lower score will be disadvantaged. Played one way, why can't they be like Asians, who suffered prejudice and came out ahead? Played another way, why don't we extend the franchise to undocumented Hispanics, who may have just as much stake in our country as we do?

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:07AM (#39247619)

      Look in the mirror. Now picture depending on 200 million of them to pick a leader. Odds are he isn't going to be someone spectacular. Also, he has a big nose.

    • by rednip (186217) <rednip&gmail,com> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:10AM (#39247685) Journal

      Can somebody explain to me what they mean by "not smart enough"?

      'They' don't read about a subject before making a comment, and instead expect some random individual of dubious agenda to do it for them.

      • by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:45AM (#39248267) Homepage

        Bingo!

        About six months ago, my wife and I were doing some shopping at the local mall. Within earshot, I overheard a young high school girl saying "I don't need to remember any of that, I just "Google" everything in life. Google answers everything". It's like I was living in a bad dream. Now I *know* we are truly fucked. Precious snowflakes just ripe to be lead by the pied piper for that single vote that leads to a dictatorship.

        While some political systems are inherently better than others at fostering freedom, in the end they all fail. It all comes down to people. People are are what hold civilization together. Their lack of participation is ultimately what brings them down.

        • by turing_m (1030530) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:21PM (#39248849)

          How is Googling everything any worse than what happened in prior years - i.e. mistakenly thinking you are making your own decision by watching the news and reading the papers while being ignorant of the fact that you are really only seeing a highly edited stream of ideas designed to sway your vote? For at least a half a century there has been a democracy of sorts, but it is not how the average person conceives of democracy. It is instead a battle between several factions of highly intelligent plutocrats to see who can best manipulate a vast sea of idiots into voting their way.

          • by DigiShaman (671371) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:44PM (#39249231) Homepage

            There is a difference between knowing and understanding. The ability for Americans to understand has been on the waning side for quite some time. When people rely on TV, news, and Google searches point-blank, what they know to be factual isn't necessarily so. Only though understanding can you decipher what is and isn't factual among the knowledge you're seeking. Therefore, simply accepting knowledge without understanding leads to mental atrophy of the brain. In other words, the "dumbing down" of society leads to political abuse by those either in or seeking power.

        • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:45PM (#39249253)

          "Now I *know* we are truly fucked." -- Every member of every older generation ever.

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:11AM (#39247697) Homepage Journal

      A better question is, why does anybody think Santorum or Obama, let alone a 3rd world dictator, is any smarter than anybody else? Most people manage most of the rest of their lives just fine, why should politics be any different?

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:28AM (#39248017) Journal
        I've not really paid attention to Santorum, but listening to Obama speak and looking at what he did at Harvard it's pretty obvious that he's smarter than average. Whether or not he is more competent as a political leader than average is not necessarily dependent on this.
        • by jeffmeden (135043) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:03PM (#39248579) Homepage Journal

          I've not really paid attention to Santorum, but listening to Obama speak and looking at what he did at Harvard it's pretty obvious that he's smarter than average. Whether or not he is more competent as a political leader than average is not necessarily dependent on this.

          You've pointed out the central flaw; what's smarter for the goose is not always smarter for the gander. The idea that a "smart" candidate is the best one is almost never accurate. The candidate with the best demonstrated capacity to seek, set, and execute policies that do the greatest amount of public good is more to the point, but then again public good has such a wide definition that this is almost useless as well.

            Perhaps the founding fathers foresaw a future where the US had grown so large and cumbersome that not only did we need representative democracy to distance the plebeians from the decisions, but a representative representative democracy to distance us from those who were making the decisions... Enter, the Electoral College! Here to save the day with slightly-better-than-below-average decision making capabilities!

          • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:22PM (#39248861) Journal

            The Founding Fathers very much foresaw the future. These were men very well versed in political theory, and they would have known the lessons of the ancient Greek democracies, in particular Athens, where the citizens having basically a direct line to the executive could create dangerous, even catastrophic decisions. One can well imagine a representative assembly in Athens being less than keen on taking on Sparta, but there was no representative assembly. If a guy could stand in front of the assembly of eligible Greek voters and convince them that Athens would become a great empire if it went to war with Sparta, they voted right then and there, and it became policy.

            Basically the whole point of the Electoral College and Congress is to create an intentional roadblock between the popular will and government policy, to give debate and sober second thought a chance to properly analyze a policy. It isn't a perfect system, but sometimes I wonder if the United States was a direct democracy if it wouldn't have flamed out like Ancient Athens did, just one catastrophic popular policy away from ruin.

            • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by wisty (1335733) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:49PM (#39249333)

              Athens had a few cock-ups, but so has every other state. It's just that the eloquent (and somewhat egotistical) Socrates* hated the ignorant citizenry making decisions, and thought that it would be far better if people like himself were in charge. The Thirty Tyrants followed his suggestions, and took over; which led to Socrates being executed once their revolution had ended. Plato, a big fan of Socrates, then wrote the ultimate hatchet job on Democracy.

              tl'dr - Athens screwed up a few times, so their system of government is seen as bad.

              The best idea (and the one Socrates was least keen on) from Greek democracy was Sortition. It's essentially a jury system - a bunch of randomly selected citizens makes the decision. This is more representative than elections, and because the citizens on the jury know their vote will carry a lot of weight they have a big incentive to make a more educated decision (unlike most voters). They can also be given lots of resources (such as access to expert witnesses) to help make their decision; but they can rely on good-old common sense if they think the expert witnesses aren't putting the people's best interests first.

              * Who never wrote anything down, so this is all arguable.

        • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by tmosley (996283) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:11PM (#39248663)
          And yet he has carried on and expanded most of Bush's policies.

          Not exactly a ringing endorsement of his intellect.
          • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday March 05, 2012 @01:11PM (#39249709) Journal

            Or maybe he, and Bush before him, know some things you don't?

            I'm not saying that anyone should blindly follow their elected leaders but:
            - both these men were from radically different backgrounds and philosophical stances
            - both these men achieved the office of POTUS. Of course, I know it's a concrete fundamental that Bush was an idiot, and it's a concrete fundamental of the Right that Obama was elected only because he was was a charmingly coffee-colored candidate for the politically-correct drones of the Democrats, but seriously: both of them were/are PRESIDENT. That's a hell of an accomplishment.

            Could it just *possibly* be that both men, of at least reasonable intellect, when faced with the full disclosure of what the US intelligence community knows, decided on the SAME course for reasons that are mutually sound? Reasons we don't know, and probably won't know for 50 years if ever?

            Nah, that's unpossible.

            • by yurtinus (1590157) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:54PM (#39252411)
              Then we have a huge problem. Democracy is *wholly dependent* on having an informed voting base. If there are major national policies being carried out based on information that is not available to the voters - especially when those policies are contrary to the will of the voters that put the representatives in office in the first place - then we are no longer operating as a democracy and need to seriously re-evaluate what we want out of our government. As you say, these men are from radically different backgrounds and philosophies, if they chose the same course based on some intelligence how is it possible for voters to make an informed decision the next time around? Americans aren't yet children that need to be coddled.

              I understand the need for occasional *operational* secrecy when it comes to specific bits of intelligence that could endanger individuals involved in those operations. These are details in deployments, technologies, even negotiations with foreign powers when we need to keep from showing our hand up front that should be kept in confidence for a time. However, you simply can not have an educated and informed voter base when you hide information that is being used for entire government policies. If Obama's reversal on GITMO and other policy carry-overs from Bush are based on intelligence, the voting public needs to be aware of that intelligence and reasoning for the reversal to make informed decisions at the next election cycle.
    • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:11AM (#39247701) Journal

      Can somebody explain to me what they mean by "not smart enough"?

      As Bill Engvall might say, "Here's your sign."

    • Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shiftless (410350) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:12AM (#39247737) Homepage

      "incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people"

      Not sure why it took "research" to understand this. I thought everyone knew this.

      • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shish (588640) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:48AM (#39248321) Homepage
        Because "Everyone knows that X is true" and "X is true" are loosely correlated at best.
      • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jc42 (318812) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:15PM (#39248715) Homepage Journal

        "incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people"

        Not sure why it took "research" to understand this. I thought everyone knew this.

        Nah; it's more likely that they're actually competent scientists, who understand that things that "everyone knows" are usually wrong. So they go through the effort of applying scientific methods, which usually weeds out the things that everyone "knows" that aren't actually true. This does have the occasional PR disadvantage that you end up verifying that a common belief is actually true, leading to others ridiculing your apparent waste of time. But in the long run, the successes of scientific methods have slowly led to a world that it better than the old world of people just accepting things on authority or because they "sound right" without bothering to test them.

        Perhaps with time we might even build on this study, and discover effective ways of weeding out the mediocre from positions of power. We do know that, to a lot of people, it's "obvious" how to do this, but history tells us that the obvious methods don't seem to work well. They tend to give us even more malevolent oligarchies than the modern democratic systems produce. Maybe there's no way to fix this, but it's possible that methods will be discovered (and verified ;-), and even incorporated into our political and management systems. But, as the saying goes, further research is needed. That research will occasionally verify that something we know is correct. But not as often as we might like.

      • Re:Easy (Score:5, Informative)

        by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:17PM (#39248761) Homepage Journal

        "incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people"

        Not sure why it took "research" to understand this. I thought everyone knew this.

        The idea of the effect they showed was that this:
          - Competent workers estimate e.g. effort for a project more correct, and conservatively. They understand difficulties and feel less sure about difficult projects. They are more competent in evaluating the work of others, and understand what they don't understand about a project.
          - Incompetent (less experienced) workers underestimate the effort for a project and feel sure of their abilities to achieve it (more than they should). They are less good in evaluating others, and don't see any areas where they don't have the expertise to make judgements.

        Combining the two, incompentent or simple untrained workers (e.g. secretaries) will not delegate problematic areas to experts. The chain of judgement/delegation ends at incompetent people. here is the previous research [lifeslittlemysteries.com]

        There is a danger in governments that "small" officials think they can solve issues without consulting experts because of this effect, and a half-assed solution is the result.

        Of course it is difficult to judge for an outsider whether a politician will be a good leader and can work well once elected into a certain position. But that's why we vote for parties and directions, and not for individual people.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:20AM (#39247875) Homepage Journal

      Can somebody explain to me what they mean by "not smart enough"?

      In this context, it means someone who is insufficiently skilled at smelling bullshit. If a plurality of voters were competent in this regard, we would have had different leadership at the national level for pretty much all of the past 100 years. The individuals doing the voting aren't nearly as much to blame as those doing the politicking though, since they basically search FOR the weakness of the populace and use it to their advantage (the prevalence of the term "class warfare" nicely sums up how absurd the discourse is at this point), instead of searching for the best possible good and then putting that in front of the voters.

      At the meta level, it's back on the voters to not even realize that this is a problem, as I suspect most will react to this article with the phrase "fuck you for telling me I'm not smart!"

      • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by samkass (174571) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:53AM (#39248435) Homepage Journal

        I think the core problem with this discussion is that "smart" is such a loaded word. I know I'm pretty savvy with computers, and very clever with algorithms and design. I'm pretty well-read, and I know quite a lot about the world's history and its present situation. I know a lot about how things work, both natural and man-made. However, I have found that I'm a pretty bad judge of character, and can be somewhat gullible when my guard is down. Am I smart? Would Democracy do better or worse having had my participation?

        • by shiftless (410350) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:18PM (#39248801) Homepage

          I have found it useful to let go of the pedantry (for lack of a better word) when judging other's speech based on the use of specific words. You clearly understand that smart can mean different things in different contexts, or in different people's minds. Rather than trying to figure out what this one specific person believes, ask yourself, does this person's general idea (i.e. "non-smart people aren't good at judging smart peoples' competency") hold up in most cases where you allow 'smart' to mean whatever you imagine it to mean?

          You stated that you're somewhat gullible and not so 'smart' when it comes to people skills. (I'm still learning and am not a social butterfly myself.) Would it then follow that you are not so good at judging the competency of people who have excellent social skills? I submit you would be able to in general tell that a person is more competent than you, but you would have a hard time judging some nuances of just how good of a "player" someone is compared to others.

          Likewise, one subject I have been trying to learn about lately is the economy. I know very little about it. My bullshit detector is top notch and honed from many years of active use. Most times I can spot dumb/misinformed people within minutes. But when it comes to a subject like this that I'm not too familiar with, I really have to put that thinking cap on to analyze what this person is saying and finally after a while decide if this person is either a complete moron talking totally out of his ass, or the second coming of Jesus in economist form.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:20AM (#39247877) Homepage Journal

      You got 7 responses and none of them actually answer the question. They mean specifically that people cannot identify experts in the area of economics and leadership when tested. That's a pretty crippling problem, and worth discussion, even if the headline doesn't identify with enough precision the real problem(irony?).

    • Re:Not smart Enough? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:25AM (#39247961) Journal

      I'll take you seriously.

      The Founding Fathers did an incredible initial job. The problem is that slowly corrupting forces withered away at those freedoms.

      Take a deep breath:

      "Average people are not smart enough to create a Darknet on Retroshare as Govt keeps banning more and more types of information sharing. Average people are not smart enough to actively log out of their accounts while Google gives them targeted ads in their email based on what they watched on Youtube. Politicians are not smart enough to vote against a bill labeled "Protect the Children From Internet Pornographers Act" because they're either dreading the instant Ad Hominem smeared in the papers (and indexed by Google remember?), or else they are already bought and want the powers for themselves."

      • by Shoe Puppet (1557239) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:35AM (#39248119)

        Politicians are not smart enough to vote against a bill labeled "Protect the Children From Internet Pornographers Act"

        Yes, they are. They'll read, '"PCFIPA"? That's not even an acronym! There's no way I'll vote for that.'

      • by SlowMovingTarget (550823) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:58PM (#39249509) Homepage

        The U.S. Constitution was designed to restrict what the government could do to those it governed. The Founding Fathers were more concerned with what people who held power could do when that power was arbitrary and unchecked.

        The problems with government we have now are not a matter of not finding or identifying the right experts, because the system of government was originally designed to allow experts to function independently of government. The chief design flaw in such a republican democracy is that it depends almost entirely on the morality of its citizens. This system of government could never hope to control a selfish people out to "get theirs". It could never hope to maintain itself if the representatives were chosen for the bacon they brought home rather than the recognized desire to preserve the individual liberties of fellow citizens.

        In selecting representatives it required only that we recognize forthrightness, honesty, and the prioritization of individual liberty over governmental power. But in order to recognize that in others, those same desires and convictions must be present in those doing the selection. When the majority no longer select along those lines, but select on popularity or out of some notion of personal gain, we get what we starting to see now; arbitrary power exercised by the capricious and corrupt.

        We don't have a total loss yet, of course. We're not close to being the most corrupt country on Earth, but we're not the least corrupt anymore. Our education, in particular with regard to the notion of individual liberties as innate and not granted by government, is sadly lacking now. If we don't teach the importance of the system of government, and we have a complicit media that continues to deliver the message that the Constitution is just some piece of paper that is no longer useful (or worse, means what we decide it means today), then selection of representation will be poor.

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:36AM (#39248129) Journal

      The first problem is that most people just aren't knowledgeable of advanced theory and precedents in any domain. That's not to say they're "dumb" or "stupid", just that they don't know everything, because nobody can know everything.

      Basically, unless you're a physicist, imagine that you had to pick which form of energy supply should you back for interstellar travel. Should we pursue producing anti-matter (which can store incredibly much energy, but is so ridiculously ineffective to produce that we'll need several breakthroughs before it's even feasible to use like in Star Trek) or should we go with micro-black-holes and Hawking radiation, basically harnessing the incredible energy released as a small enough black hole evaporates? Both actually pack the same joules per kilogram, because at the end of it, both will have converted mess into energy as per e=mc^2. Maybe the black hole promises a bit less losses.

      But anyway, imagine you had to vote on which of the two should get a trillion dollars in research grants to get us off this piece of rock before some mass extinction event gets us.

      Now that's not to say that you're dumb or anything. You're a smart and educated person, and perfectly capable of rational thought and logical decisions. But unless you're a physicist, you won't know enough to understand what the choices are, much less to pick the best. They get a physicist proponent of each of the two to explain until they're blue in the face, but chances are even after a year you still won't know enough to make an informed choice.

      Now worse yet, imagine that it's not just YOU who gets a vote, but also that hippie chick who only heard of "quantum" in some bogus quantum chi crystal pendants she wears. And that dude who actually believes that the universe is less than 6000 years old and less than 6000 light years across, because the bible says so. Yeah, I wouldn't rely on him to estimate the amount of energy for star travel correctly, when he literally believes that everything is three million times closer than the scientists think. And millions of other woefully unqualified people.

      You probably see how the result of that vote will be no closer to picking the right one, than flipping a coin.

      And those are probably the worst, because, quoth Bertrand Russell, "[i]The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.[/i]" YOU, if you're not a physicist, and are all that smart and educated, will probably realize, "wait, why are they asking me? I don't know enough to judge that." Whereas the guy who thinks "quantum" is the mystical force in his new crystal pendants he bought from some dodgy site, will actually be more likely to think he knows enough about it.

      In effect, it's just Dunning-Kruger in action. The less you actually know, the more you'll grossly overestimate what you know.

      And it's really getting worse for topics where everyone thinks they know something about, like economics. You'll find very few people who actually understand what, say, Keynesian vs Austrian School economics say. Or to what extent they even make testable predictions. Or to what extent they were ever actually tested.

      But you'll find a LOT of people who think they know EXACTLY which theory will fix the economy, and furthermore, which candidate has the best grip on it, and exactly what they should do differently about it too.

      And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with letting people vote on it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#39247597)

    "Their advantage over dictatorships or other forms of government is merely that they 'effectively prevent lower-than-average candidates from becoming leaders.''"

    I would still say that's a plus.

    • by allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:11AM (#39247711)

      Yeah, well intelligence isn't the measure of all things. If given the choice, I would rather live under a kind-hearted, mentally disabled dictator than under a ruthless, intelligent one.

      The more intelligent someone with a cruel heart is, the worse everyone else will be off.

      • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:22AM (#39247911)

        But why do you think that you are better at distinguishing "kind hearted" from "cruel" people than you are at spotting which one is the idiot? And why do you think that the cruel option is necessarily better? It may well be that the dictator and his nation's interests are somewhat aligned, thus making the kind idiot a worse disaster that the cruel genius...

        This aside, people are in fact pretty good at spotting leaders -- much, much better than at spotting intelligence. This makes sense, after all, we have evolved in environment where intelligence was no doubt a plus, but leadership meant life or death.

        • by similar_name (1164087) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:44AM (#39248253)
          Unfortunately leadership is often measured in confidence and confidence has a strong correlation with being a good liar. I believe Plato said "And so it turns out that nothing is so firmly believed as whatever we know least about, and that no persons are more sure of themselves than those who tell us tall stories"
          • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:49AM (#39248341)

            But sometimes, you should vote for people because they are good liars! For example, I expect many atheists in America will vote for Obama, because they hope he lies about his faith. I expect many Republicans voted for Bush because they hoped that the pandering was just lies.

            It is part of a politician's job to tell a convincing lie. I think we can never have enough transparency, but even then, it is illusory to hope for people to never lie. And there are cases that lies are necessary: I would not expect leadership to say anything about, say, military preparations...

      • by Spad (470073) <slashdot@sp[ ]co.uk ['ad.' in gap]> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:29AM (#39248029) Homepage

        But it's not about the intelligence of the politicians, it's about the intelligence of the voters. You can have two dumb candidates, one with good policies and one with bad ones, but that still doesn't mean that the "average Joe" will be able to distinguish between them; then it just comes down to which candidate is the better debater and/or most successful at publicising their message, rather than the merits of the policies.

    • by TuringTest (533084) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:32AM (#39248067) Journal

      The first and main advantage of democarcy over is that a government can be thrown out without a bloody revolution. This prevents common people being hurt by the political plays of violent social climbers, where previously they were used as literal pawns on the battleground.

      It usually also has the benefit of keeping the current leader in check; a truly terrible elected government will have a quick fall, so they have to at least pretend to cater to the will of people. This is a small plus that too often can be subverted, but even without it I'd say that the first reason makes democracy worth every penny.

  • by Securityemo (1407943) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#39247601) Journal
    "Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:06AM (#39247609)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_Republic

  • by pecosdave (536896) * on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:07AM (#39247613) Homepage Journal

    I think a properly enforced constitutional republic really does beat democracy. It has some built in safeguards for this form of idiocy, unfortunately we've more or less proven we can vote and ignore our way around the safeguards.

  • Actually... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Moraelin (679338) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:08AM (#39247641) Journal

    Actually, that's just for the choice of leaders.

    IMHO the real advantage functioning democracies have are in the balances and checks on those leaders' powers. Because basically you're not better off with a genius leader, if he only uses that genius just to get more power for himself and suppress any possible threats to his rule. And those balances and checks tend to be the first to go in a dictatorship.

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:08AM (#39247643) Journal
    Alexis de Tocqueville pretty much summed up the problem with democracy: "A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it."

    That is one of the reasons why the founders of the United States wisely chose a republican form of government instead of a democracy (neither to be confused with the political parties we have in the USA today).
    • by aristotle-dude (626586) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:52AM (#39248397)

      Please stop that drivel immediately. Do you americans really believe that crap? You are a democracy and a republic is a type of structure for a government. You can have a republic which is unelected or elected and you can have a parliamentary system which is democratically elected on not in theory. Democracy concerns how representatives are chosen, not how representation is structured or how powers are divided within the government. You can also have a combination of elected and unelected portions of a government.

      Finland, for example is a combination of a republic and a parliamentary system and they are a democracy. They have a president and a prime minister and the latter choses their cabinet from among members in their parliament. Canada is a parliamentary democracy, with a democratically elected house of commons and an unelected senate.

  • We just want more funding for our research... why can't people see how important it is!

  • Majority rule... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tommeke100 (755660) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:10AM (#39247689)
    ...don't work in mental institutions.
    Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions.

    NOFX - The Idiots are taking over
  • by paleo2002 (1079697) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:16AM (#39247821)
    Everything old is new again I see. Monarchies, theocracies, feudalism, etc. are based on the presumption that the "commoner" is incapable of ruling her/himself and that it is the holy privilege of a select few to rule.

    Bullshit.

    People are more educated, more connected, more aware of society on a large scale than ever before. Now is the time to have more democracy, not less. Eliminate the electoral college system so that voters outside of Iowa, California, and Florida get to decide national elections. Have more binding referendums and propositions so that people aren't stuck voting on which guy or gal in their town looks best in a suit but on actual issues that affect their lives.

    Sure, voters don't research candidates and issues as much as we'd like and it would be great to have more scientists, engineers, and doctors running for office rather than lawyers and CEO's. That's idealism. To say that people simply aren't smart enough to govern themselves is elitist, bordering on fascist. I would rather be ruled by the collective will of a population with an 8th grade average literacy rate than the singular will of a man who happened to be born into the "right" family.
    • by benjfowler (239527) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:28AM (#39248023)

      Citizen-initiated referenda are a recipe for disaster. The e-petitions that get sent to Downing Street, egged on by our halfwit tabloids are proof of that.

      The simple truth, is that the vast majority of people are idiots, and a minority -- worse yet -- are wilfully ignorant. They cannot be trusted to formulate good policy.

      Which, as a side note, is why fossil fuel companies' efforts to sabotage action on climate change by vilifying scientific experts, and expertise in general as "unelected liberal elites", "elitists", "antidemocratic", and what-have-you, is such a master stroke. The vast majority of people are dumb, ill-informed, emotional, easily-led beasts, who are lead around by the nose by slick corporate-commissioned PR -- mass opinion is very easily bought. We would be wise to keep mass opinion-as-a-weapon out of the reach of vested interests, if at all possible.

  • by wolfguru (913659) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:20AM (#39247863)
    People seem to miss the point about Democracy, citing it as the best form of government. The actual definition, and the reason it was selected for the fledgling nation of the United States, is that is was the "least bad" form of government. Aristotle defined 3 types, and therefore 6 variants of government. The best, and the worst, are single person rule - a good, just and benevolent ruler can accomplish the most good as he has the fewest obstacles to enacting his decisions, a dictator or tyrant can do the most harm for the same reason. The secong "best" and second "worst" are rule by a small percentage of the population, as in an aristocracy - it is less efficient, both for good or bad, in that it requires getting concensus or at least a majority of the few to agree to enact a decision. The least good, and least bad, based on the effort needed to get anything enacted or done is rule my the majority of the people through voting/acclaimation/concensus, enacted through representatives. This is the hardest to enact a good policy, but also the hardest to get a bad policy enacted as well. The founding fathers determined that a government that could do the least to run people's lives based on the effort necessary to enact the laws and policies necessary would offer the greatest protection from the actions of that government in any negative way. They also apparently hoped and trusted that people would be intelligent enough to favor good policy when they heard it. Most interesting in the aristotle-defined definition of types of government is this ; the word we selected to define our chosen form is the one he used to define government by the people at its worst - A good "public" government was in his terms, a "Polity" - a bad one was a "Democracy"
  • by benjfowler (239527) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:21AM (#39247901)

    ...because getting bad leaders is inevitable. It's an iron law of nature that the exact people you want kept away from power gravitate towards it. And it's an iron law of nature, that if or when people get fed up with bad leaders, they get rid of them, either with huge amounts of upheaval and bloodshed (e.g. the French and Bolshevik revolutions), or peacefully (representative democracy).

    Simply put, the killer feature of representative democracy, is that it's easy and painless to kick a bad leader out of power without bloodshed and violence. Our corporate overlords insist upon it -- violent revolution is bad for business.

  • "Scientists Say" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoctorNathaniel (459436) <nathaniel DOT tagg AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:26AM (#39247993) Homepage

    Speaking as a scientist, whenever you see an article refer to "scientists" without any attribution, the best policy is to ignore it. Credit the specific person or group. "Scientists" are not a cohesive whole who all agree on everything, and this statement is almost assuredly not consensus opinion.

    As to the content:
    "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."
    --Winston Churchill

  • Measurement Error (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Klync (152475) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:29AM (#39248035)

    A scientist (or any academic) can always produce an interesting study with an interesting result, when they get to frame the question. This article summary starts out:

    'The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea. But...

    There's your problem right there. The democratic process does not exist to choose the "best" candidate or policy. Democracy is advocated on the belief that all individuals have an inalienable right to a degree of self-determination; to participate in the maintanance of the system that governs them. It is about being fundamentally free, not correct.

  • Welcome to 400 BC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:32AM (#39248071) Homepage

    A few thousand years ago, philosophers were already indicating that the inherent problem with Democracy was that the majority of people were never going to be smart/wise/informed enough to make appropriate decisions. The founders of the United States also identified this as a problem, and had many debates about how to mitigate the dangers.

  • by rlseaman (1420667) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:48AM (#39248309)
    It's a tradition on slashdot to not read the article, but has anybody of any political persuasion here actually clicked the link? It's a piece of crap designed to be echoed around the internet. So far I've been unable to locate the cited research from either this article or in any of its echoes or by searching directly. The word "smart" is something added to create heat, the phrase used is "leadership skills", and there is no indication how such skills are gauged in either the simulated voters or the simulated candidates. Nor any mention that the voters only get to choose between two starkly different candidates - this is a rather binary decision to simulate. It is insipid to blame the voters for the candidates produced by the major parties.
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday March 05, 2012 @11:58AM (#39248509)

    "Republic" means "no monarchy." "Democracy" means "elections." Don't pretend those words mean anything more than that.

    Republic and Democracy: France
    Democracy but not Republic: UK
    Republic but not Democracy: PRC
    Neither: Saudi Arabia

    So please, please stop with the trite, hackneyed nonsense about "This is why the US Constitution is republican but not democratic" because... no.

  • by loshwomp (468955) on Monday March 05, 2012 @12:49PM (#39249329)

    This is why Thomas Jefferson and others fought hard for free public education--they knew democracy could never work in the absence of a well-educated society.

    Another key problem (especially in the US) is the first-past-the-post voting system, which ensures a system dominated by two parties, and practically guarantees that, in any contested race, a majority of people preferred someone *other* than the winner.

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