[EM] Voting on matters of pure fact

Arnold B. Urken aurken at choicelogic.com
Fri Apr 20 15:08:33 PDT 2001


I have been following this list with interest and would like to point
out that there is a literature (going back to Condorcet) about the
effects of a voting method on the group probability of making a correct
choice. (See my "The Condorcet-Jefferson Connection and the Origins of
Social Choice Theory" in Public Choice, 1991.)  I have done simulations
of the effects of one person, one vote, approval, and other methods on
group judgmental accuracy.

In juries, jurors prefer a choice because it is a better fit of the
facts. Of course, their subjective or performance-based competencies
could be factored into computing the collective outcome. The
Shapley-Grofman theorem does this.

Anyone interested in this?


Anthony Simmons wrote:

> >> From: Blake Cretney
> >> Subject: [EM] Social Utility
> [snip]
> >> But let's say you have a group of people voting on whether
> >> the universe will always expand, or will eventually
> >> contract.  This is an objective question.  The correct
> >> answer is independent of the will of the voters, and to
> >> answer it, the voters have to make educated guesses about
> >> the world around them.  Any answer will only be a guess,
> >> but we would want the method to pick the guess most likely
> >> to be right, based on the votes.  It isn't as clear that
> >> utility measures would be useful in this kind of election.
> Here's a nifty complication:  If we were to vote on a matter
> of objective fact, what would we really be voting on?  On
> whether a particular fact happens to be true?  Or whether we
> should take a particular action -- officially announcing that
> a fact is true.  These aren't necessarily the same thing.  In
> the latter case, I may have reasons other than objective fact
> for voting the way I do.  I'm sure if we thought hard enough,
> we could come up with a hypothetical situation in which, for
> example, legislators might vote to modify the science
> curriculum in Kansas for reasons not entirely confined to
> science in Kansas.  Hypothetically.  In such a case, social
> utility determines perceived fact.  Though this could also be
> considered a question of making a decision about the
> curriculum rather than just a matter of fact.
> It's a pretty commonly heard adage that we can't vote on
> matters of objective fact.  Well, obviously, we can, but the
> result carries no weight.
> Yes, we do sometimes have to vote on matters of pure fact,
> but not really.  For example, climatologists might be asked
> to vote on whether CO2 production is turning the whole planet
> into a Devonian swamp.  But we would only do that if it were
> necessary to make a decision of some sort.  It might be
> whether to stop using fossil fuels and start building psychic
> reactors.  Or it might even be an implied election -- in
> which there is no formal vote, but simply a recognition of
> the relative abundance of opinions -- that influences a
> personal decision, such as whether to buy an electric scooter
> or a sport-utility-amphibious-armored-vehicle.
> But to the extent that there is a social decision to abide by
> an election outcome in any meaninful sense, doesn't there
> have to be a consequent action of some sort?  Even if the
> question being voted on is nothing more than the "sense of
> Congress" clause of HB1189, which only expresses an opinion",
> the whole point of that is to influence.
> It's an interesting question -- is it meaningful to vote on a
> pure matter of objective fact?  Whatever the answer to that
> question, I think a more practical question is:  does it
> affect the choice of election method.
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