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Why "We The People" Should Use Random Sample Voting 141

Posted by timothy
from the vote-early-often-and-loud dept.
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes this week with his explanation of how an improved algorithm on the White House's petition-creation site could do away with Death Star petitions and even improve on the existing serious ones. Read on below for his modest proposal on that front.

With a little boost from 4chan, a petition for the U.S. government to build a working Death Star has reached 30,000 signatures and counting, over on the White House's Department Of Let's See How Fast We Can Get 75,000 Signatures To Legalize Pot (or as it's officially known, "We The People"). This is the website where any of the member of the public can create a petition that other users can sign, and if the petition receives 25,000 signatures in 30 days, the White House will issue an official response. (Alan Boyle is taking suggestions on how the White House should respond to the Death Star request. How about: "4chan. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.")

Cynics will say that the whole process was already a joke anyway. Even looking at the most popular non-Death-Star related petitions on We The People, most of them express standard left- or right-wing positions on hot-button topics in a manner that's extremely unlikely to convert anyone who doesn't already agree. Since everyone already knows that those some large segment of the population holds those positions, nobody would be surprised that any one of those petitions would be able to gather 25,000 signatures, and so there would be no pressure on the White House to change any of their official positions as a result.

On the other hand, I don't think this means that online petitioning can't work. Rather, I think a sligthly different algorithm could greatly improve the quality of the suggestions that get filtered to the top and trigger a response from the White House. At least one algorithm exists that (a) would prevent the system from being "gamed" by any large, organized group (whether 4chan or the NRA); and (b) would reward the petitions that were supported by the highest percentage of the general user population (or, if you prefer, the petitions that were supported by the highest percentage of credentialed experts in a given field).

The algorithm is the same one that I've advocated for preventing cheating on digg, or identifying the best "hidden gems" among newly released songs (and political arguments), or adjudicating Facebook abuse complaints -- have each petition voted on by a random subset of users registered on the We The People site. Based on this random sampling method, the petitions that have the highest percentage of "yes" votes, are assumed to be the ones with the broadest level of support among registered users, and the ones most deserving of a response from the White House.

Example: Suppose there are 250,000 registered users on the We The People site. A user creates a new petition, and somehow manages to pass some "threshold" that is implemented to screen out blatant time-wasters. (Perhaps you have to gain 100 signatures to pass the first threshold. I'd prefer it if you could clear the first hurdle just by paying $5 with a credit card, but this might anger purists who say that petitioning the government should always be free.) Your petition then gets emailed out to 100 randomly selected other users on the site, who vote to either Agree or Disagree. (In practice, in order to get 100 votes cast, you'd have to email more than 100 people, taking into account their response rate. So if only 50% of users respond to an email request for votes, email it to 200 randomly selected users to ensure you get about 100 votes cast.) Then petitions are sorted according to the percentage of users in their sample who voted to Agree. Petitions that got a high percentage of yes-votes, could be forwarded out to a wider audience (say, 1,000 users), to ensure that the initial high percentages of yes-votes wasn't just a fluke. Users in each random sample could also include comments about why they were voting a particular proposal up or down.

This sounds deceptively simple, but it makes it much harder for an organized online movement to hack the system. Say that 4chan manages to get 25,000 registered users in an attempt to push their favored petition to the top. This still means that, on average, their voters will comprise only about 10% of the randomly selected voters in any online poll - possibly enough to give an extra boost to a petition that already had broad support from regular users, but not enough to achieve a coup all by themselves.

Perhaps you'd object that even if such a system could not be manipulated by organized mobs, it would still leave the approval rating in the hands of non-expert ordinary citizens (even if citizens registered on We The People are slightly more informed than average). Whether you think this is a good thing, depends on whether you think the purpose of the site is to reflect the will of the people, or to provide informed advice to the President.

But if you want to get a random sampling of expert opinions, that's pretty easy as well. For petitions on, say, economic matters, just have a subset of users consisting of economics professors from accredited universities across the country. (These credentials would have to be confirmed manually by White House staff, but it's not that hard to verify that someone owns an .edu address and that their university webpage identifies them as an econ professor.) Then any petition on an economic matter could be submitted to a random sample of economics professors to be rated by them. If a petition gets a rating from economics experts that is wildly different from the rating it gets from the general user population, that suggests something interesting is going on (either econ professors are out of touch, or the general public is misinformed). But if a petition gets high levels of support from the public and the relevant expert group, that would seem to justify a response from the White House, much more so than some of the idiotic petitions currently pulling 65,000+ votes on We The People.

Something almost like this has actually been done by the IGM Economic Experts Panel in Chicago, which surveyed a group of 41 economists that the IGM believed to be among the best in the world, representative of the political left, right, and center. The survey found a high degree of consensus on questions that the general public is divided on, such as the fact that 40 out of 41 experts agreed with the statement:

All else equal, permanently raising the federal marginal tax rate on ordinary income by 1 percentage point for those in the top (i.e., currently 35%) tax bracket would increase federal tax revenue over the next 10 years.

To people who have heard celebrity conservative economists claiming that raising marginal tax rates lowers tax revenue, it might come as a surprise that virtually all expert economists in the IGM's sample, including a representative number of self-described conservatives, agreed that it does not. But don't just soak the rich and call it a day; most economists in the IGM's sample also disagreed that:

The cumulative budget shortfalls in the US over the next 10 years can be reduced by half (or more) purely by increasing the federal marginal tax rate on ordinary income for those in the top tax bracket.

Of course those were questions of fact (what economists call positive economics), while petitions address questions of what should be done (what economists call normative economics, and which varies according to your values and goals). But even economists with diverse political leanings often advocate similar policies; NPR interviewed 5 economists spanning the spectrum from left to right, and found across-the-board consensus in favor of 6 proposals, which you can read here. And hey, one of them is legalizing pot!

If We The People implements a system for polling a random sample of economics experts, I think their first order of business should be to have them rate the ideas in that 6-point platform. The five-person panel claimed that all of these ideas have broad support from economists across the political spectrum, but it would be good to know for sure. And for any of those six points that has broad consensus support from experts, it should be incumbent on the White House to declare whether they agree, and if not, why not.

More generally, random-sample voting will always reveal more useful information -- whether about the opinion of the public, or about the opinions of experts -- than a petition site that lets passionate users self-organize into signature mobs. As I've been saying ever since my first story advocating this algorithm, the only site I'm aware of that currently implements random-sample voting correctly, is HotOrNot, which shows users a random series of pictures and lets users rate the picture's hotness on a scale of 1 to 10. Can we not make at least that much effort to design a working system, when it comes to deciding which petitions get a response from the White House?

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Why "We The People" Should Use Random Sample Voting

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We should make bribery illegal (instead of necessary).

    That way, rich assholes wouldn't sell out the rest of us in a shortsighted attempt at protecting or enlarging their giant piles of money.

    Of course the Republican party would oppose it, but at this point they also oppose hurricane aid so I think we should just stop taking those people seriously.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We should make bribery illegal (instead of necessary).

      So, start a White House petition on the subject. Not that it would get very far. The whole idea of campaign contributions as speech is based upon a court interpretation of the Constitution. As such, it would require an amendment to separate the concept of slipping someone a few bucks from that of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.

      Of course the Republican party would oppose it,

      I wouldn't worry too much about them. Its one thing to take money in exchange for political favors under the table. At least the ethics violations are deniable

      • The whole idea of campaign contributions as speech is based upon a court interpretation of the Constitution. As such, it would require an amendment to separate the concept of slipping someone a few bucks from that of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.

        I thought the non-strawman version of the issue was "is it protected speech for me to use my $1million to advertise for $_politicalfigure." Not quite the same as "slipping someone a few bucks", which is commonly known as bribery and is already illegal.

      • by gumpish (682245)

        The whole idea of campaign contributions as speech is based upon a court interpretation of the Constitution. As such, it would require an amendment to separate the concept of slipping someone a few bucks from that of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances.

        Indeed, and people are working on that [movetoamend.org].

    • by alexgieg (948359) <alexgieg@gmail.com> on Thursday January 03, 2013 @03:07PM (#42465265) Homepage

      Of course the Republican party would oppose it

      Exactly! Unlike Democrats, who would never, ever, accept money from Hollywood studi... er, wait.

    • So, what you're saying, is there needs to be a Death Star dedicated to blasting lobbyists and lawyers.

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      > We should make bribery illegal (instead of necessary).

      Gonna take that and run as fast as I can off topic....

      I heard some great comments about why bribery should be half legal. Specifically, it should be perfectly legal to offer bribes, pay bribes etc. However, it should be highly illegal to accept a bribe.

      Why? Quite simple, it messes up the power balance.

      Think of it this way, Alice wants to bribe Bob today. Either Alice officers, or Bob solicits the bribe, they may use very vague language, or other tec

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So Alice can claim (to the police or to the press) that she paid Bob a bribe, even if she didn't, and there's no downside for Alice. Or Charles (Bob's opponent) can pay Alice to falsely claim Bob took a bribe.

        Bribes are usually paid in cash so there's no way to combat a false claim. Alice just needs to go to a "meet & greet" (or some other political event open to the public), shake Bob's hand and maybe whisper "good luck" in his ear. The rest is "she said, he said".

        With bribes being illegal for both par

        • by TheCarp (96830)

          Of course, making false claims is, itself, already illegal. So Alice doing this is putting herself in some jeapordy. Bribes being paid in cash is problematic, sure, but that doesn't really change. Thats the same in both cases. If Alice claims "I bribed him to get X", at most that triggers an investigation.,.. an actual trial comes down to he said she said..... unless something happened that otherwise indicates impropriety....

          On the other hand.... yes, having it illegal for both DOES prevent most false claim

      • by OneAhead (1495535)

        In the second scenario, Alice may get what she wants sure.... but.... she has what she wanted. Her and Bob are no longer conspirators. In their next meeting, Bob can do it all over again, but Alice now has power over Bob. If Bob doesn't give her what she wants, all she has to do is drop a dime on him. Each transaction gives her more and more power over him, and digs him deeper and deeper into his relationship with his future bunk mate.

        Umm... isn't that a bad thing?

        So end result? Bob would have to be exceptionally stupid to accept even the first bribe.

        It may leave Alice getting off scott free for her behaviour, if it happens, but.... I wager (and it is the claim of those who advocate this) that it prevents more bribes than it lets Alices get off.

        Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? It's not that people/politicians ever go for the quick buck and regret it later... oh, wait!

        • Yeah, what could possibly go wrong? It's not that people/politicians ever go for the quick buck and regret it later... oh, wait!

          I see you identified another benefit to the suggestion.

    • It's fallout from the recent idiotic Supreme Court decisions, to wit:
      1) Corporations and "groups" deserve the same free speech rights as actual human beings.
      2) How you spend money politically is "speech".

      Go back and seriously re-assess either one of those and we're 90% on the way back to sanity.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @02:56PM (#42465109)

    This makes the erroneous assumption that only those things are worthy of attention of government that a large percentage of the public agrees with. That is a disturbing view of how government should work.

    If 25000 people bother to petition the White House about some issue, the president's staff should damned well pay attention and consider it. It doesn't matter whether any of the other 330 million people in the country approve or not. And if the president needs to make economic decisions by conducting unbiased polls of academic economists, he is obviously not up to his job and should resign.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 03, 2013 @03:07PM (#42465261)

      > And if the president needs to make economic decisions by conducting unbiased polls of academic economists, he is obviously not up to his job and should resign.

      I agreed with you up until that statement. I don't expect the president to be an expert on economy, I expect him to be a good leader. And a good leader asks for advice from the experts.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        I agreed with you up until that statement.

        You missed the obvious.. the President shouldn't be making economic decisions no matter how many people he consults with..

      • > And if the president needs to make economic decisions by conducting unbiased polls of academic economists, he is obviously not up to his job and should resign.

        I agreed with you up until that statement. I don't expect the president to be an expert on economy, I expect him to be a good leader. And a good leader asks for advice from the experts.

        Agree completely. If you really want to think about what the proper "Role" of a leader is, it's to take the mantle of responsibility for making important decisions. We can't expect our leader to be a philosopher king who knows everything. But we CAN get a good leader with a high intellect and surround them with a lot of experts who can fill in the gaps to help them make good decisions.

        But fundamentally we have leaders so we have someone to blame when things go wrong and reward when things go right. If you t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      25,000 / 330,000,000 is about 0.000076 or 0.0076%, which is not "a large percentage of the public".

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      This makes the erroneous assumption that only those things are worthy of attention of government that a large percentage of the public agrees with. That is a disturbing view of how government should work.

      If 25000 people bother to petition the White House about some issue, the president's staff should damned well pay attention and consider it. It doesn't matter whether any of the other 330 million people in the country approve or not. And if the president needs to make economic decisions by conducting unbiased polls of academic economists, he is obviously not up to his job and should resign.

      It does separate issues that are polarized (as almost all issues are these days) with issues that are simply pop-culture jokes. He doesn't indicate that it should be used to decide which issue is "the most agreed upon" but merely to decide which issue is debatable (legalize marijuana) vs which issue is worthless (the death star) although about 5 minutes and any sane person could tell you that anyway.

      That being said, the whole petition site is really just a mouthpiece in a slightly different form, so trying

      • It does separate issues that are polarized (as almost all issues are these days) with issues that are simply pop-culture jokes. He doesn't indicate that it should be used to decide which issue is "the most agreed upon" but merely to decide which issue is debatable (legalize marijuana) vs which issue is worthless (the death star) although about 5 minutes and any sane person could tell you that anyway.

        Of course, it assumes that people who register to vote on WTP would also be people who are not into promoting

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        It does separate issues that are polarized (as almost all issues are these days) with issues that are simply pop-culture jokes.

        How many pop culture petitions make it above 25000 votes? A few dozen a year? A few hundred? I would think the White House staff is large and competent enough to identify those quickly by hand, without some Rube Goldberg-like voting procedure.

      • by Garridan (597129)
        This relies upon the registered users of WTP to make the moral choice "yes this petition that I vehemently disagree with is valid for debate". I don't know that I could trust myself with that choice, given some of the things I see on that site.
      • You know this could be addressed in a really funny way that I know the white house would never endorse. Change the petition format into a mini-message board. Submit your question, get 25K votes, White House responds. From there the author can choose to respond or not (to determine if they actually had their question answered) and if they get 25K more votes again in a new window, WH has to respond yet again....ping...pong! ;D

    • Even besides that, a good idea could be killed off if the initial small sample of voters happens to be uninterested. With small sample sizes comes the potential to gather a highly homogenous group by accident. Post gun control proposal, happens to hit a group with 51 or more NRA members in it, proposal never had a chance at life.

      Instead it would be better to allow a larger group in the initial vote, to reduce this chance. The diversity of the group would ideally be maximized by including everyone...oh wait.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)

      This makes the erroneous assumption that only those things are worthy of attention of government that a large percentage of the public agrees with.

      Until you decide that its perfectly alright to ignore the majority, its hard to justify paying any attention to the minority. Otherwise everyone gets what they want, both majorities and minorities.

      If only there were some sort of principle that could be used to veto both majorities and minorities..

      • by stenvar (2789879)

        Until you decide that its perfectly alright to ignore the majority, its hard to justify paying any attention to the minority. Otherwise everyone gets what they want, both majorities and minorities.

        "Paying attention" to what political minorities isn't the same as giving in to their every demand. Of course, you need to "pay attention" to minorities, in particular when it comes to injustices. And the demands of minorities frequently override the will of majority, via all three branches of government.

        In short,

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          You call my view of government insane, yet all I am doing is pointing out the lack of guiding principles that regulate the governments power over both majorities and minorities. You use words like "injustice", a nebulous term that conveniently allows you to make no principled stand at all. That such a term can and is used by multiple sides of the same issues should clue you in as to how wishy-washy it is.
          • by stenvar (2789879)

            I'm not making a "principled stand". I'm just telling you a simple fact about our form of government: "paying attention" to minority views is an essential and fundamental part of it.

            You set up a false dichotomy between "paying attention to minority views" and "ignoring the majority", and frankly, that is insane.

            • by Rockoon (1252108)

              You set up a false dichotomy between "paying attention to minority views" and "ignoring the majority"

              No I didn't. If you go back and read it again, the dichotomy that you just set up doesnt even include what I was talking about, which was that both majority and minority would get what it wants when you pay attention to the minority without a guiding principle that culls from both Majority and Minority demands.

              So here you are accusing me of what you are ultimately guilty of, because in your world the only two cases are Majority wins and Minority wins, and you have assigned one of them to me..

              How nice o

              • by stenvar (2789879)

                So you deny that you wrote this sentence?

                Until you decide that its perfectly alright to ignore the majority, its hard to justify paying any attention to the minority.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      This makes the erroneous assumption that only those things are worthy of attention of government that a large percentage of the public agrees with... If 25000 people bother to petition the White House about some issue, the president's staff should damned well pay attention and consider it.

      I suggest a compromise. 10,000 votes plus 25% of a random sampling.

    • by HJED (1304957)
      They could start by limiting responses to people who live in the US? It's not that hard to enter a random zip code...
    • by photon317 (208409)

      I agree with your general sentiment (that government isn't about serving only the the majority - the needs of smaller subgroups should be valued as well).

      However, the *Federal* government should, for the most part, only be concerning itself with large-scale issues in the whole nation's interest. While some of those issues might be valid and come from a small subgroup of concerned citizens spread across the map, you don't want to devolve things to a state where small localized groups (e.g. 44,0000 people in

    • by operagost (62405)
      Yeah, right. I'm still waiting for the President to answer ANY of the difficult ones that are a bit less frivolous... like deporting Piers Morgan, legalizing marijuana, and classifying the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.
    • In Britain, the equivalent e-petition thing requires 75000 signatures (of 62 million: works out to about 15 times the public response), but that guarantees the issue will be debated in parliament, instead of just triggering an acknowledgement.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @02:57PM (#42465133)

    Far from fringe ideas are being ignored already. Anything that does not agree with the current political line gets a BS answer. They had the guy who runs the TSA reply to a petition asking for it to be disbanded or scaled back. I think that pretty much says it all.

    No matter how you count votes or check for support they will ignore it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What did you expect? It's a propaganda site. People get to pretend they have a voice, the government pretends to listen, everybody is happy. Only a very foolish government would give honest answers when the people disagree with them.

    • by berashith (222128)

      yup. Just like the thermostat in office buildings that goes nowhere, this gives people the feeling that they have some sort of say or control, and pacifies them while allowing the government the right to pretend that they arent just ignoring the population to the benefit of those in power. Fun game.

      • by sohmc (595388)

        "We the People" is probably the stupidest and most successful placebo button any politician has ever created. While I didn't vote for Obama the first time around, I would have voted for him the second time around IF instead of creating an "official response" they actually got some lemming on congress to run with it, regardless of whether he agreed with the petition or not. (He can always veto the bill if it ever got to him.)

        That would have been a step in the right direction. But no, being the political c

        • I would have voted for him the second time around IF instead of creating an "official response" they actually got some lemming on congress to run with it, regardless of whether he agreed with the petition or not.

          Members of Congress are not employees of the President, so its not as if the White House could direct them to do this even if it made sense.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      They had the guy who runs the TSA reply to a petition asking for it to be disbanded or scaled back. I think that pretty much says it all

      They had the "drug czar" answer a petition asking why marijuana could not be regulated like alcohol. This was a petition where 75,000 people signed, and they got an answer from someone who is satutorily prohibited from agreeing with the petition. Alcohol was not mentioned once. I think *that* pretty much says it all.

    • The Americans have a much better approach to dissent than the Chinese do. Instead of all that expensive suppression of speech, just let people say whatever they want... and then ignore the shit out of them.

  • Nothing says democratic process and representation like randomly having your vote count.
    • by alexgieg (948359)

      Nothing says democratic process and representation like randomly having your vote count.

      As opposed to it being worth less and less in both absolute and relative terms as the voting population increases?

      • This is an issue only because Congress does not increase the number of Representatives, which is within its power.
        • by alexgieg (948359)

          This is an issue only because Congress does not increase the number of Representatives, which is within its power.

          It'd be a fake improvement. 'N' people would elect one representative, but then that representative own vote would be worth less and less in both absolute and relative terms as the representative population increases following the increase in the general voting population.

          • It is not about the representative's power, it is about the voter's power. When your vote counts for only one 700,000th, as it does today, then the representative does not care about you. When your vote is, say, one 30,000th, then the representative cares very much about you. A district of only 30,000 means that anyone can run and win, even without any party support. It places all of the power in the voter's hands, and removes it from the special interests. A large body of representatives, who are loyal to
    • But we have been doing just that for a very long time – their called juries – randomly selected citizens executing policy. Mind you – there in the judicial branch not the executive branch, but.

      So here is one idea that I have been kicking around. We have the direct democracy in action with California’s petition system. Currently, anyone with sufficient motivation can get one onto the ballot. This can lead to a long confusing, and contradictory to vote on. I would like to see a citize

  • I've only voted on a very few of these, and mainly they come through my twitter feed. So the ones I am seeing is already selected by a peer group. I have no interest in visiting the WtP site just to get the chance to vote on something I am not personally invested in. Hell I leave half the mod points I get here on /. unused simply because if something is interesting enough I'll usually comment on it instead of mod. Anyone who is interested in hanging around on WtP just to vote on random topics is NOT someone
    • by Antipater (2053064) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @03:25PM (#42465477)
      Yeah, who wants to periodically show up to a government-approved site to cast a vote on how the country should be run? That's not how democracy works!
      • by Jonah Hex (651948)
        I have yet to see anything suggesting that the site plays a part in the actual democratic process. Sure we can get a response to a petition but does it mean anything? I feel I get more bang for my buck (time) by emailing one of my representatives or VOTING than I do spending time on the WtP site. - HEX
    • by Rockoon (1252108)

      I have no interest in visiting the WtP site just to get the chance to vote on something I am not personally invested in.

      Thats one hell of a fallacy. You are personally vested in all actions of the government unless you have somehow managed to pay zero taxes.

      The idea that its only $1 from my taxes is the biggest problem we have, because its thousands different micro-payments. Sure, its hard to be motivated to lobby against each $1-per-person program, but thats far removed from the idea of not being invested in it.

      • by Jonah Hex (651948)
        I vote where it counts, in the voting booth. I also occasionally spread the word about things I'm interested in politically, and yes I've "voted" on the WtP site. However it may show current trends or poll numbers or special interests, WtP isn't how we actually decide anything in government. So I should be concerned I'm not wasting more time on WtP when I could be reading about the issues or communicating with others on issues I'm passionate about? WtP seems like more "bread and circus" than actual tools of
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The novelty of joke petitions will wane over time. Until then, the White House staff can just answer them with: "We reviewed the proposal, but the President will not be pursuing the construction of a Death Star this term. Thank you for your interest."

    If you acknowledge the clowns, tell them they are moderately cute, but neither clever nor disruptive, they will get bored and go away.

  • ...an unbiased WTP population? Given two major political factions, couldn't the better-funded one hold massive "Sign up for WTP!" drives among its adherents and pack the vote? Random sampling won't get an unbiased sample from a biased population.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      On the other hand if the site were actually used as a way to let the population influence the government dialog, rather than a feel-good PR site (ooh, a member of the political elite brushed off my suggestion personally!) then it would be in everyone's best interests to sign up so their opinion can be considered. If you can't be bothered to even sign up to take an occasional random email poll about the direction your country is headed, then you have zero standing to complain about it.

    • Unless one of the two major political factions is seriously pushing for the secession of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and others, then that wouldn't really interfere with the point of the idea, which is to sift the real petitions from the joke-bandwagons.
  • As I've been saying ever since my first story [in 2008] advocating this algorithm, the only site I'm aware of that currently implements random-sample voting correctly, is HotOrNot

    It's understandable why you may have failed to consider this notion, but perhaps the reason that, in 4 years, the only group to take you seriously has been an idiotic vanity website is because it's a stupid fucking idea.

    • by Animats (122034)

      As I've been saying ever since my first story [in 2008] advocating this algorithm, the only site I'm aware of that currently implements random-sample voting correctly, is HotOrNot

      It's understandable why you may have failed to consider this notion, but perhaps the reason that, in 4 years, the only group to take you seriously has been an idiotic vanity website is because it's a stupid fucking idea.

      It worked for Zuckerberg. Remember that scene in The Social Network where he has a "who's hotter" site? He needs the formula for the algorithm that turns those decisions into an ordered ranking. (That's how chess rankings are computed. It means more to beat a high-rated opponent than a low-rated one.)

      But what this article proposes is more like a human-powered spam filter. Or like ReCaptcha, which. underneath, is a random-sample voting system used to assist OCR systems that are processing scanned books. (

      • It worked for Zuckerberg. Remember that scene in The Social Network where he has a "who's hotter" site?

        No; I don't watch many movies, partially as a standing boycott of the **AA, partially because IMO there hasn't been very much put out lately that's worth watching.

        He needs the formula for the algorithm that turns those decisions into an ordered ranking. (That's how chess rankings are computed. It means more to beat a high-rated opponent than a low-rated one.)

        OK, so that indicates that the algorithm may be useful for "hot or not" websites and chess rankings. It does not, however, indicate that said algorithm would be useful for any purpose other than vanity polls; I find the fact that, according to the writer, no one but HotOrNot has used his method in 4 years pretty damning evidence in regards to its

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @03:14PM (#42465361) Journal
    There will be some N number of registered users. When a proposal comes through a sub set of users who have earned "points" will give them on the proposals. And the creators of the petition that gets lots of "points" will get points to bestow up on the next set of proposals. A well known nerdy website follows such a system.

    We can improve it even more by allowing the points to be positive or negative, and classifying these into categories, like "informative" "insightful" or "flame" or "troll".

    • [snip: thinly veiled slashdot as government proposal].

      Cue the group-think that down-mods shit they're uncomfortable with even if right, and promotes pandering statements they like even if they're wrong. E.g.: Your post.

      I've got a better idea: Why don't we just draft bills and propose them in the standard way rather than taking the fruitless petition route? After all, both are only designed to give you the illusion of empowerment and promote complacency.

      Note to the clueless: You don't answer rhetorical questions; The answer is tho point I'm making.

      • I've got a better idea: Why don't we just draft bills and propose them in the standard way rather than taking the fruitless petition route?

        Because, we're not members of Congress, who are the only people who can introduce bills. Petitioning government is the "standard way" for citizens who aren't in government to propose changes to government policy.

        Note to the clueless: You don't answer rhetorical questions; The answer is tho point I'm making.

        Sometimes, you answer rhetorical questions when the framing

  • Remember the joke Judge Dredd poll a while ago? Happened just as the new Dredd movie came out...odd coincidence.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nothing is better at showing the absurdity of something than using it to be absurd. That's the point of the Death Star petition. It's absurd because the whole concept of an online democratic petition is absurd. Our Founding Fathers who were far, far, far more intelligent, well-read, and thoughtful than 99.9% of US citizens now alive knew the absurdity of direct democracy which is why we have a Representative Republic.

    • Our Founding Fathers who were far, far, far more intelligent, well-read, and thoughtful than 99.9% of US citizens now alive new the absurdity of direct democracy which is why we have a Representative Republic.

      So well-read and thoughtful that many of them were slave-holders, and they wrote slavery into the Constitution, thought the vote should only go to white male land-owners, passed the blatantly unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts [earlyamerica.com]...

      Yes, the Constitution was a step forward, hooray USA. But let's lo

  • We the People is a system to:
    (1) provide a low-cost venue with increased public visibility for individual citizen requests to the White House which might otherwise come in the form of individual email, individual paper mail, etc., and
    (2) reduce the cost of reading, reviewing, and issuing even boilerplate acknowledgements to those requests by creating a simple significance threshold that must be reached before that occurs.

    WTP is a good deal for both citizens and the government, because serious ideas pres

  • We the People isn't a joke because of all the stupid petitions. It is a joke because the petition creators think the White House/Congress actually listens to the people.

    The way you have your voice heard is to vote someone out of office, cross your fingers and tell yourself "This time things will be different. We won't get fooled again."

    People have been able to petition the govt. for a redress of grievances since the founding of the republic (See: First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution).

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @04:14PM (#42466065)

    As skeptical as I am about the effectiveness of the US government, I do think the White House staffers who set up We the People understand the democratic process a hell of a lot better than Bennett does.

    The presence of a silly Death Star petition doesn't worry me. What worries me is the ability of well-organized groups to introduce severe sampling bias to the system Bennett proposes.

    • by Bryansix (761547)
      Exactly. Take a divisive issue like Gun control. Just because your initial sample of 100 people decided that they thought allowing reciprocity for concealed carry permit owners was a bad idea doesn't mean that the issue lacks public support.
  • Sounds like we need to start a petition to get this algorithm implemented.

  • Just allow people to downvote them in addition to upvoting them. Then even controversial proposals will not show up with a ton of upvotes and 0 downvotes.
  • A petition and a vote are two different things and the only one confused over the difference is the author of this pointless tirade. Words have meaning.

  • Many States do public policy polling already. It does give them some good information to act on. However, they are always done on the cheap side of things. Many want to see these results with +-1% margin of error, but that costs millions. They'd rather just spend 50k and get maybe +-5% - 10%, but then anything that's close is meaningless.

    The proposed methodology for petitions is flawed. You can't improve the reliability of a petition, and any attempt at using them for anything other than "Is their interest

  • ...but why does this matter?
    It's been shown that this whole petition-the-white-house nonsese site is simply a pastiche to make people 'feel' they're doing something important.

    AFAIK, not a SINGLE issue has ever received a serious, considered answer (other than "we've thought about it, thanks, but we'll do it our way"), much less actually changed policy.

    Really, I'm amazed how gullible people who believe in "hope" and "change" are to respond so much to very, very simple manipulation.

  • The point of petitions is to allow an organized group to make a point. Finding out what the statistical majority of people want is not the goal. We already have a process for doing that, it's call an election. These petitions are there so people that may not be a majority can still organize and make their collective viewpoint on a topic known.

    4chan did have a point with this petition. It was not meaningless. It's sad that people can't see that. They were showing the intrinsic weakness in this type of system

  • It will be interesting to see how experts on gun issues could be allocated. In my experience, those who are experts tend to have a bias towards the right to keep and bear arms, towards the option of personal ownership. Those who are against guns and personal ownership are often quite uneducated on the subject, so anti-gun gun experts will be fairly rare.

    For example, a petition to stop restricting possession of sound suppressors (a.k.a., "silencers"), and remove suppressor barrel threading from any definitio

  • I should be particularly interested in what he has to say because of his thoroughly-demonstrated grasp of cause and effect, and the law of unintended consequences, right? ... Nevermind.

    I know theoretically the "this person's ideas have been really awful so far" argument is not a persuasive rebuttal, but it sure does save a lot of time.

  • The entire premise of the longwinded submission is moot anyway, since the site very obviously exists as a honeypot of public opinion solely for the benefit of the Obama administration. If you haven't noticed all the overflowing petitions that got simply " poo-pooed" with condescension rather than a serious answer, consideration or action, you really haven't taken a look at the thing or it's legitimacy. I would even suggest that names of people are added to databases, categorized by their concerns for future

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk

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