Tipping points and beliefs – the 10% solution

From the Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute

SCNARC visualization

In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reached 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green). Image credit: SCNARC/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. “In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks.”

The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled “Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities.”

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks. One of the networks had each person connect to every other person in the network. The second model included certain individuals who were connected to a large number of people, making them opinion hubs or leaders. The final model gave every person in the model roughly the same number of connections. The initial state of each of the models was a sea of traditional-view holders. Each of these individuals held a view, but were also, importantly, open minded to other views.

Once the networks were built, the scientists then “sprinkled” in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.

“In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models “talked” to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

“As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change,” Sreenivasan said. “People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn’t change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10.”

The research has broad implications for understanding how opinion spreads. “There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion,” said Associate Professor of Physics and co-author of the paper Gyorgy Korniss. “Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village.”

The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples. They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican.

The research was funded by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) through SCNARC, part of the Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance (NS-CTA), the Army Research Office (ARO), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The research is part of a much larger body of work taking place under SCNARC at Rensselaer. The center joins researchers from a broad spectrum of fields – including sociology, physics, computer science, and engineering – in exploring social cognitive networks. The center studies the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures are altered by technology. The goal of the center is to develop a deeper understanding of networks and a firm scientific basis for the newly arising field of network science. More information on the launch of SCNARC can be found at http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2721&setappvar=page(1)

Szymanski, Sreenivasan, and Korniss were joined in the research by Professor of Mathematics Chjan Lim, and graduate students Jierui Xie (first author) and Weituo Zhang.

119 thoughts on “Tipping points and beliefs – the 10% solution

  1. So what happens with two groups of 10% with mutuall exclusive ideas exist?
    That is the normal scenario.

  2. Seems to me that ten percent leaves room for other equally committed, and opposed, minorities of ten percent or more. Hmm?

  3. There is something odd here, or perhaps I miss the point. If an opinion below ten percent popularity has no chance of growing to a majority how does it ever get to the ten percent (tipping point) level where it inevitably become a majority opinion?

    To suggest that every opinion that reached ten percent will inevitably become a majority opinion is counterintuitive. There are many political parties in European parliaments that seem to be stuck in the ten to twenty percent range. Like Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, will each of these splinter parties have their 15 minutes of majority?

    Population growth computer models have been around for decades. Maybe it is just too early in the morning, but I just don’t see what this model adds.

  4. “There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion,”

    Um… we’ve noticed…
    Now; is there really an UNDO?

  5. It is pretty bold, even for a press release, to say, “… when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will _always_ be adopted by the majority of the society.”
    Well, at least they are interested in comparing their shiny new computer model with some nasty old historical data.
    And they have a pronounceable acronym: Snark.

  6. “In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models “talked” to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.”

    I’d say this part is absolutely correct. Related phenomena include peer pressure and appeal to authority.

    In a nutshell it is exactly why the AGW cult is always, without fail, approaching the subject from the starting point of a ‘consensus’. Whether by accident or by design, they are trying to exploit this human foible to its advantage.

    Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, this ‘argument advantage’ was also prominent in several very famous totalitarian regimes. It was the cornerstone of their ability to maintain order and control the masses. This is the first thing about AGW politics that caught my intention.

  7. Ok, similar interactions probably lead to the direction a flock of birds or sheep go in. So the real mechanism arises from the fact most people don’t do their own thinking. In the agw situation when the name of the hypothesis kept changing as predictions failed and the inner workings of the movement was revealed in the climategate affair, the momentum began to swing the other way. Yeah, it works, global warming fell off the radar of more than 50% of the pop. No chance of tipping back now.

  8. Apprently the “tipping” point was 350ppm/v…and atmospheric concentrations of CO2 when the org with the same name was setup, was about 380ppm/v…so…so…we’re doomed, right? I dunno, doom, was a great game, cheat codes and all, in the ’90’s.

  9. This is presumably how the CAGW meme spread in the first place and how the sceptic meme is spreading now. Little ice age aside, are we doomed to swing from one view to the other for evermore?

  10. I’m reminded by this article that Hitler came to power in this exact way, with his party starting as a fringe organization and only marginally successful for 15 years until…. So, while the example given was how dictators could fall, so too dictators may rise.

    A thought provoking article …

  11. Probably because the minority are so violent in putting over their beliefs the majority let them get on with it for a quiet life.

  12. Hmmmmmm.

    “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”

    An interesting study on a trigger point for influence, indeed, but the quoted text seems a bit strong. Still, keep up the good work, WUWT, and maintain the polarisation. If the researchers are right, it is only blogs like yours that have prevented the adoption of CAGW as a world-wide religion!

  13. When I was young, and firms had lunch breaks, I used to amuse myself by trying to ‘steer’ my group of colleagues during the usual stroll around after eating. I found that being on the outside of a group of 6-8 people had no effect when I peeled off towards, say, the canal. But if I had just one person outside me, then the whole group would follow once I edged the outsider left or right. It was not necessary to be in the middle of the group, let alone to try and shove them all.
    But another aspect is that if in a debating situation it is likely that that there will be a call for compromise then it pays to set out one’s own view as extremely as possible: then the compromise should favour you.

  14. “It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority”

    Wow, they sound confident, it must be true :)

  15. Models. Yawn.

    If they want to make such absolute statements, they need to show a pile of actual facts with no exceptions to the supposed rule.

    A more likely rule: A 0.1% opinion will become the sole permitted opinion if the 0.1% controls the media. If the group doesn’t control the media, it can include 99.9% of the population without ever being mentioned, let alone adopted.

  16. I see a problem with the premise of this study. If, as stated, “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas”, how can the population ever get the 10 percent or greater required to spread the new ideas to the majority?

  17. Modeling human and social behavior is somewhat less reliable than modeling physical processes like the climate.
    But this research is based on the influence of what it calls-
    “committed agents who consistently proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to influence.”
    These results emerge from a population who are capable of changing their viewpoint being influenced by 10% who are incapable of responding to any outside influence.

    In the field of climate science there are over 90% of scientists who are extremely unlikely to change their viewpoint without direct physical evidence that the AGW effect is being negated by something else.
    The small number of scientists who proselytize the opposing opinion and are immune to the influence of the physical evidence that has convinced the >90% fail to reach the 10% tipping point.
    It is unlikely that the climate contrarian viewpoint is going to capture the zeitgeist anytime soon.

  18. “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director.

    Is it me or is this nonsensical? If there is no visible spread in a time comparable to the age of the universe, how does it get to above 10% and then “take off like wildfire”?

    Have these researchers come to the amazing conclusion that the more people who hold a view, the more the view is likely to spread? And they get paid for that?

  19. Okay, so what happens when more than 10% of True Believers know the climate is still marching to its own tune and more than 10% of True Believers know that CO2 is evil and will cook us all?

    I suspect subgroups will form that comprise less than 10% of one group and each will hold their banner high and throw sheep dung at the other.

    Maybe we should offer the climate blogosubsphere as a convenient study object.

  20. “……If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief…..”

    GIGO, as they say. How about something more like:
    …If that person also held this new belief, the listener then thinks “Good grief, I’m surrounded by idiots, but they have the power of job/no job over me, so I’d better keep a low profile, or maybe pretend to go along with it if they put me on the spot”…

    Climate models are oversimplifed to the point of uselessness, as, I fear, is this bit of network modelling as well.

  21. About that moon landing…
    http://articles.cnn.com/2009-07-17/tech/moon.landing.hoax_1_moon-landing-apollo-astronauts-bill-kaysing?_s=PM:TECH

    From that link…
    “I do know the moon landings were faked,” said crusading filmmaker Bart Sibrel, whose aggressive interview tactics once provoked Aldrin to punch him in the face. “I’d bet my life on it.”

    Sibrel may seem crazy, but he has company. A 1999 Gallup poll found that a scant 6 percent of Americans doubted the Apollo 11 moon landing happened, and there is anecdotal evidence that the ranks of such conspiracy theorists, fueled by innuendo-filled documentaries and the Internet, are growing.

    Twenty-five percent of respondents to a survey in the British magazine Engineering & Technology said they do not believe humans landed on the moon. A handful of Web sites and blogs circulate suspicions about NASA’s “hoax.”

    And a Google search this week for “Apollo moon landing hoax” yielded more than 1.5 billion results.
    ================================================================
    So when will “moon landing is a fake” become the majority opinion? Personally I don’t think it will, but according to the models… (/SCNARC)

  22. and since about 15% of the US population now openly admit to being atheists that means, according to the theory…..

  23. Australian Greens primary vote: a steady 11% We have passed the tipping point Down Under, if you couldn’t tell already. Anyone who isn’t in Australia should get your permits ready, we’re looking to buy $50 billion worth of hot air from overseas. I’m sure it will be as secure a trading environment as Brussels or Chicago.

  24. It’s a bit of a worry that the Army Research Laboratory is interested in funding research on how to manipulate public opinion. Roll over Orwell. These are the same idiots who did LSD experiments and god knows what else to soldiers in the 1970’s.

    “There are clearly situations in which it helps to know how to efficiently spread some opinion or how to suppress a developing opinion,” said Associate Professor of Physics and co-author of the paper Gyorgy Korniss. “Some examples might be the need to quickly convince a town to move before a hurricane or spread new information on the prevention of disease in a rural village.”

    Yeah, right. The road to hell is paved with, well, intentions, good or otherwise. It might also be useful to help convince rural villagers to board trains bound for concentration camps. Or that we need to surrender our civl liberties to a global autocracy in order to “tackle carbon pollution.”

    I hope useful idiot Gyorgy sleeps well at night.

    Being a True Believer is the same as being a brown shirt. IMO.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

  25. Published the first of April? Perhaps the publication date is a typo. Anyway, absolutes nail it as poppycock. Anthropomorphising models seem over the top also. They seem to be saying they built a model to give them a predetermined solution, and then they found it interesting that the calculations ended up showing a tipping point of only 10%. Of course, it would seem arbitrary that they were ever able to reach the tipping point, given the astronomically low probability of reaching it. Of course, Army Intelligence funded it. ;-) I recall an Air Force study considering “true” teleportation.

  26. JimboW 4:44 is on the right track. These researchers should run their models such that each person needs to hear the new idea at least four times before they even remember it is a new idea. then they need to discuss it with a “knowledgeable” source before adopting it.

    Then the model needs idiots who will believe anything (5%) and stone heads that will believe nothing (5%).

  27. People generally operate under two seemingly opposing dynamics: to get ahead, and to get along.

    The subject that one person is inflexible about, if its in disagreement with his broader group, is generally the subject that doesn’t come up in lunchtime conversation, in the interest of “getting along.”. When it does come up, that person generally tries to be persuasive rather that dictatorial, because local group membership is usually more important than conversion of the locals to that person’s broader worldview.

    It is when doubts arise in someone’s mind from outside, from elsewhere, that the sole contrarian is sought out (usually in private), and at that point the lone holdout often becomes two holdouts. And so it grows.

    Once an opinion is changed from one side to the other, it doesn’t feel like a flip-flop between two equal and opposing views. Instead it feels like one has transcended from a somewhat naive and childish view to a broader and more maturer one. That person can acknowledge still-valid points from his past, but he sees them now from a larger perspective.

    Which explains the commitment to that view. From the “higher” perspective, one can see where one’s opponents are coming from, one can understand their point of view, but they don’t yet understand yours. So you’re patient with them, tolerant even, but committed to your own knowing that sooner or later they’ll transcend those younger worldviews also.

  28. … the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

    How does this differ from the (old school) observation: “Yhe aggressor sets the rules”?

    .

  29. Antony Jay and Jonanthan Lynn are doing their bit in influencing opinion about CAGW. Their new play, Yes Prime Minister, at the Apollo Theatre in London, UK is simply hilarious and takes a massive swipe at the global warming fiasco, with a wonderful poke at the machinations of Government to keep it going and be seen to “be doing something”.
    If you are within striking distance of London – get yourself a ticket.

  30. Friends:

    The research (sic) is merely a computerised formulation of demonstrably untrue assertions.

    The report says;
    “To reach their conclusion, the scientists developed computer models of various types of social networks.”
    But an ability to describe an idea using a computer model is not an indication that the idea is correct.

    And, as several have pointed out, this so-called research is demonstrated to be wrong by its own conclusions.

    For example this;
    ““When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer.”

    If that were true then, for example, Christianity, Bhudism and Islam would not exist because they each started with a single individual.

    And this,
    “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

    If that were always true then, for example, any political party that has more than 10% support should grow, but several do not and some decline.

    Models which provide indications that are denied by empirical data are faulty models that provide no useful predictions. Of course, some of their predictions may agree with reality because chance works that way.

    Science consists of attempts to find information which indicates faults in existing models of reality then refining or replacing a model so it better represents reality.

    Pseudoscience consists of attempts to find information which concurs with predictions of existing models then assuming the found information supports the model. But some predictions of almost any model may agree with reality because chance works that way.

    The report says;
    “The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples.”

    Such comparisons can only be pseudoscience because the predictions of their model do not concur with observed reality (e.g. movements founded by individuals have changed and do change the world, and political parties with more than 10% support do not always spread “like wildfire”).

    In other words, if the “researchers” were scientists then they would be rejecting or amending their models and not “looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples.”

    Richard

  31. So this explains what is happening in Washington! I prefer the old way – you know, the one where people talked and reached consensus.

  32. What I didn’t see in the research is where there is more than one group in a population that is > 10% but that holds an unchangeable belief. In any case, this groupthink effect can be good or bad, depending if the majority is being moved from truth or away from it. After all, phrenology used to be a serious subject.

  33. This is nonsense for the reasons amply stated above–if less than 10% can’t get traction and over 10% must get traction, then there will never be crossover above and below 10% and we will forever be locked into one dominant unchanging system.

    And what about where more than one group has over 10% (a situation that pretty much always prevails)? They both inevitably win? Does one win quicker and then cede the field? Or do they both achieve total unchallenged dominance at the same time? Whether the first situation or the second, how does it play out in real time?

  34. I’ll echo the obvious question…the normal mode in American politics (and all over the world I presume) is for one issue with two mutually exclusive resolutions to have 30+% of the population believing each alternative with hopeless commitment.

    On economics, when the US National debt becomes a problem, 1/3 of the country believes, and is unswayable in that belief, that the only solution is to tax the rich into oblivion to pay for social justice programs. Another third believe and are unshakable in that belief that the only solution is to cut spending for all those bleeding heart social programs and tighten our belts, plus lower taxes to help business. Neither idea has a super-minority base and neither idea can be reconciled with the other. What does the model say about that?

  35. Seems like it all boils down to their model for persuasion. If a listener talks to two consecutive “true believers”, then their persuaded? How accurate is that scenario? Any evidence given to indicate that it mimics real life?

  36. It is important to note that these are not experimental results but only MODEL results. It is about a computer model designed in a certain way. For instance, people are all alike (no ethnic or social differences among them), the proportions of the various opinions and degrees of belief are set in advance, and (perhaps the most important) a person changes from one opinion to the opposite after encountering one true believer and just another one person both with the opposite opinion.

    It is quite probable that slightly modified details in the model would change the results, perhaps dramatically. And also, in all this the “opinion” is completely subjective and freely adopted, such as liking or not liking a pop singer, using or not using a new fashion, and so on. Objective facts apparently do not count: if the opinion is about something objective, would new facts alter the situation? Would the situation be altered if “true believers” or others are or are not able to produce verifiable and replicable evidence in favor of their views?

    Experiments can be conducted on these issues, but the report is all about computer models. No reality is implied.

  37. The ‘science’ behind social networking theory has been seriously called into question. Other studies have claimed that obesity and divorce are contagious (like smallpox), based on the same types of erroneous logic displayed in this piece.

    Anyone who played around with automaton ‘bugs’ in computer programming back in the 1970’s will recognize the technique they are reporting….often used in graphic studies of population dynamics. The results are entirely dependent on the ‘rules’ set by the programmer, even though the results can be quite surprising sometimes.

  38. Allenj has an excellent point: what if multiple (and opposing) subgroups which have reached unshakable 10%? I suppose the issue rests on the definition of “unshakable.” May I suggest the term ‘cult?’

  39. Too many appearances of “always” and “never” for me to put too much faith (>%10 faith) in their modelling.

  40. Oh dear, guys, learn to read!

    There is nothing contradictory in the fact that any opinion held by under 10% of the population would take approx. the age of the universe to reach the tipping point, and the fact that opinions held by more than 10% of the population spread throughout the population.

    It simply means that all opinions currently held by a majority of the population were formed in the big bang.

    This is obviously the first evidence for a “conservation of opinion” law.

  41. So, with just a $16.75m grant from the US Army, which probably posed the question: “How can we get these Iraqis to stop blowing themselves up in our presence?; this group with two laptops, one female, one WASP-like man, two young men and no documentation in sight have achieved this great feat since Oct 2009. Not bad. Imagine what they’d have done if they had also received some stimulus money. My opinion is formed from clicking the link above and observing a photograph. Pass it on.

  42. The whole thing smells of:

    a). Appeal to authority
    b). Determinism
    c). Group Think
    d). Collectivism
    e). All of the above

    And not to mention the headline: “Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas”. Scientists “discover” a tipping point. Really? Where? Oh…in a computer model.

    So let’s announce our “discovery” and then confer with folks who might know something about human interaction to “confirm” the “facts” we discovered with our model.

    Sorry, but puhleeeeease.

  43. This is obviously a very simplistic model, which does reveal the existence of tipping points in opinion spread. That the speed of spread is not proportional to the size of the proselytizing group because of the non-linearity of networks..

    Other similar work has been done with the agents having a varied degree of persuadability and the influence of media input also included with two opposing opinions in play –

    http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/9/1/11.html

    Pretty graphs of how a population might polarize, split, or even vary around a consensus.

  44. I don’t believe it. Offhand I can think of at least a half dozen 10% minority beliefs that have remained minority beliefs for years to centuries. Some of these minority beliefs:

    JFK shot by CIA and Oswald framed for it.

    911 an inside job by the U.S. gov’t.

    Obama born in Kenya.

    Apollo moon landings faked.

    UFOs with beings from other planets in them fly around in the sky and the U.S. gov’t knows about them and has made contact with them.

    Crop circles made by aliens from another world.

    AIDS not caused by HIV.

    Atheists comprise 10% of general population 200 years ago and same today.

    10% of senior scientists (national academy members today) believe in God, 20% are agnostic, and 70% are positive athiests. The ratio has remained steady since at least 1930 among senior scientists. Among all scientists about 40% believe in God which also hasn’t changed in at least a couple of centuries.

    The list goes on and on. I hope no taxpayer funding was involved in this bit of junk science.

  45. I don’t see any real world applicability. If you’ve ten percent committed believers you presumably at least 10 percent of committed non-believers. Makes no sense to me.

  46. I’d say there are a couple of missing factors here. In order to get the 10% to tip and become the accepted norm there has to be another mechanism at work, or another agency. As the report says –

    “In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models “talked” to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.”

    Therein lies a part of the key. If the group attempting to change the public perception presents its arguments as “popular” and has control of the mass media or education, you are able to shape the thinking by a process of ‘drip feed.’ Think Hollywood. Sometime in the 1970s Hollywood began creating ‘Doomsday’ movies, all of them with a similar theme and message – “Capitalist Megalomaniacs/Mad Scientists/rogue military/human activity has triggered/will trigger/does trigger, catastrophe.” Suddenly the 1% group thought that sees us heading that way has reached an international audience and – bingo – you have a majority opinion based on clever graphics, slick and very careful presentation of very selective information.

    Extend that to the teacher in a classroom full of 5 – 7 year olds, telling them their parents lifestyle is “destroying the planet” and you have laid the foundations for at least 10% of these kids to grow up as Green Activists. Dr Goebels laid down the maxim, which the left wing of the political spectrum has put to excellent use in undermining our present society, that “tell a lie big enough and no one will question it. Tell it often enough and it becomes the new truth.”

    I suggest that what this study has not taken into account is the influence of the educators and the media – those are what determines which 10% opinion becomes the “majority” view.

  47. What happens after the 10% tipping point and the minority opinion becomes the majority opinion, which is then subsequently proved to be wrong?

    Why, that sounds just like a bubble, doesn’t it?

  48. I’d say the reason for uncritical acceptance of environmentalism and multi-culturalism is because schools have been indoctrinating students for 40 years.

    These models, like much economics, are junk if they don’t model basic psychology.

  49. Was there no one in the development process or review of this study that either had the logic of a three year old or didn’t have a PHD?
    This study is so inbred it boggles the mind. What about money? Add that in. How about sex?

    Holy excrement Batman, the inmates are running the asylum.

  50. izen says:
    July 27, 2011 at 4:18 am

    These results emerge from a population who are capable of changing their viewpoint being influenced by 10% who are incapable of responding to any outside influence.

    In the field of climate science there are over 90% of scientists who are extremely unlikely to change their viewpoint without direct physical evidence that the AGW effect is being negated by something else.
    Nice try. You’ve jumped from the population, meaning all people, to a specific category, “climate scientists”, many of whose views on CAGW are influenced by concerns about funding, about career, an I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine policy, as well as the herd instinct and not wanting to rock the boat. See the difference?
    It is simply not in their best interests to threaten the CAGW mindset in any way.

  51. obviously it worked………

    First they convinced everyone that the “normal/average/zero” line is right at the top of every temperature reconstruction……….

  52. Interesting concept but needs more reality. Too many real world examples contradict the models conclusions.

    Models all the way down.

  53. conclusions based on models without empirical data…hahaha.

    Dave Springer highlights some minority beliefs that remained minority beliefs. But, why stop there? There are lots of much more obvious examples. Take as an example any religious order (judaism, catholicism, eastern orthodox, islam, protestant… the list goes on). even within religions there are flavors and sects. None of these sects should ever spring up (from <10% of the population) to begin with. how about politics? under the authors model, we should all believe the same thing. sure, one could postulate random generation of new ideas, but what is the probability that 10% of the population comes up with the same new idea at the same time?

    maybe 10% is the cutoff for the widespread *awareness*, diffusion, and consideration, of a particular idea, sure i'll buy that. but translating consideration into adoption and committment well, no way.

  54. The case for multiple 10% groups would be an obvious followup study, because multiple groups firmly set in conflicting opinions is the hallmark of almost every society.

    Making everyone work together for their own good (er, I mean, “for the common good”) has always been the goal of dictators and kings, who determine what “good” is.

    A free society pulls in all kinds of directions.

  55. Dave Springer says:
    July 27, 2011 at 6:49 am
    I don’t believe it. Offhand I can think of at least a half dozen 10% minority beliefs that have remained minority beliefs for years to centuries. …

    Add committed advocates. Liberal athiests are active now. Your comment about athiests implies that scientists make up a large %age of the sample. They are sparse. Their footprint is usually limited to other scientists and to university settings. They have saturated their footprint.

  56. Apologies for leaving the /sarc tag off my previous post.

    I am not a scientist by trade, but a very interested observer. I would argue that we as human beings have to be “scientists” to a certain extent in order to live properly. Every day we make decisions based on our perceptions and what we know. When we don’t know, we ask questions and look for answers. Some people accept the authority of others unquestioningly as the source of their answers (I am not one of those people). It seems, and I say seems, to me that this model assumes that most people will follow an opinion if it is simply repeated more than once. There doesn’t seem to be any thought process or free will taken into consideration. Those things perhaps cannot be modeled? If they can then they should.

    I do not mean to completely berate the folks doing this study, but I get so tired of seeing these proclamations and announcements of “discoveries” and find out these “facts” are simply more computer model fodder. “Discovery” automatically implies a fact of reality that is discovered. Computer models are not facts of reality.

  57. “used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. ”

    And there was me, just taken receipt of my bulk order of Airfix modelling glue! Oh well… back to online searches for a cheaper supplier!

    P.S. I am sorry guys! All I seem to post these days are sarcastic comments but blame the warmists, not me, for their poor efforts. Is this really all they can offer up, another computer based H.S. graph? Social Cognitive fer heck sake!

    I remember once, a long time ago, my brother in law telling his 3 year old child “You had to learn to have a social conscience”. I must admit to smiling the next morning when the father found his golf clubs buried at the bottom of the garden!

    Who makes this “Social Cognitive” crap up? Oh! I remember! It was back in my younger days during Thatchers years? All the toss pots that could not get a real job went back to be social lecturers at college! Heck, after a hard morning of electrical engineering at least we had one lesson that was not marked up for the diploma so we could get a short nap!

    By the way, in the quote at the beginning of my post, where I posted the quote, it was written, “analytical methods”. Should that have “sic” after it? I was always more mathematically driven than English Lit! Oh well, back to the model of the Lancaster bomber!

  58. Where is the Mule when we need him?

    More than 10% of the worlds population is communist. So when will the change take place.

    By the way it only takes one person to be correct and all will change eventually.

  59. Some people might object to this article being posted here, but it really is perfectly suited to a ‘global warming’ website.

    We have a sensational headline and a strong claim in the opening paragraph:

    “Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”

    And it isnt until you wade to the bottom of the article that you learn that this claim is completely false. These ‘scientists’ have not found out anything about the population, as the headline claims. Instead, these ‘scientists’ have supposed something about the population, and they have built a computer model that embodies their supppositions. And the results of that model are now beiong presented as objective, ‘scientific’ fact about the real world.

    This is a perfect analog to ‘climate science’, which is a computer model driven exercise, the results of which are taken as fact about the real world, observations be damned.

    This report states:

    “The researchers are now looking for partners within the social sciences and other fields to compare their computational models to historical examples. ”

    This is the sort of thing that must be done before making model based claims about the real world.

  60. In the history of selling an idea, probably the dumbest mistake (thanks, AlGore!) was to proclaim “the debate is over”. Until then, whatever debate there was had simply flown under the radar of a great many folks, most especially those of the Liberal or Democratic persuasion. That was my “tipping point” towards skepticism.

  61. This study is basically worthless in my opinion. It could only be of importance if the 10% true believers were trying to convert a poplulation of people with no opinion of one way or the other. Let’s apply this to the AGW scam…. fully more than 10% truely believed man is primarily responsible for global warming but yet the numbers who now truly believe that is steadily dropping. I guess the authors would like to suggest that having 10% true believers is more important than having 40+% true believers so the 10%ers win out everytime?

  62. Was there any room in this study to decide whether or not a belief or idea had anything at all to do with truth? I personally believe, that what ever the belief or idea may be, truth in the end will win out.

    If a belief or idea is false it really does not matter if 100% of the population believes it. It is still false.

  63. Let’s consider a practical application.

    I’ll invite 8 of my friends to join my new political party. Since I have an unshakeable belief that I am the most qualified person in the group, that opinion will quickly become the majority belief and I will become the leader. Then I’ll invite enough additional people to double the size of the group and wait for our joint belief to, inevitably, become the majority opinion again. Once I repeat that process about 30 times, I’ll be elected ruler of the world. QED.

    Don’t yell at me, it’s their model. I just did the math.

  64. Actually I’m amused by this…

    What the study shows is far overshadowed by what they’ve missed, but apparently they’ve missed the fact that they’ve missed anything.

    For example, if we’re talking about a relatively harmless idea in a population of relative peers, this model is most likely very accurate. If we’re talking about “teens” and a particular recording artist, then if 10% like them, they’re likely to push a large part of the remaining group toward that artist. We’ve all seen this, surely, how else to even remotely explain the (admittedly temporary) popularity of utter crap?

    What the model seems to be completely oblivious to is multiple groups of 10+%, such as religions or political opinions.

    The real problem here is not that the research or model is bunk, but that the assumptions and overall conclusions are. This model is probably great for marketing campaigns aimed at a clearly defined target market, but is essentially completely useless at anything actually important to society.

    And the obvious comparison to “climate models”, well, obvious to “skeptics” is not so obvious to a lot of people. It all comes down to assumptions, starting conditions, and exactly what you’re attempting to get from a given model. Models don’t take into account unknown influences, because, well, they’re unknown and thus not included in the model.

  65. “As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski”

    Sooo, let me guess, and I’m just spit-balling here people: world events piqued sombody’s interest. They looked out and asked themselves, “how could this happen?” Built a model and away they went? Brilliant!! JJ (above comment at 8:14am) has it right.

    On the other hand though (and OT), IMO this administration had better pay attention to this model due to the fact that if our politicians don’t get their act together Egypt’s revolution will look like a Sunday picnic compared to what could happen in the US.

  66. The analysis is incomplete and has arrived at only an initial observation, not a conclusion of any value. Much as “Computer Generated Models for Climate Forecasting” give tempting “bits” and “pieces” during data analysis, so too has Rensselaer Polytechnic arrived at a “gee-wiz” moment for Uncle Sam; no doubt it comes at a moment when funding for further research is being requested. The “physics” of the Pendellum Analogy is so much better at describing the change in human systems. Get the impression –appologies if wrong– that Rensselaer is reinventing another very expensive Brand New Wheel. Hummmmm…

  67. @- Bruce Cobb says:
    July 27, 2011 at 7:12 am
    “Nice try. You’ve jumped from the population, meaning all people, to a specific category, “climate scientists”, many of whose views on CAGW are influenced by concerns about funding, about career, an I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine policy, as well as the herd instinct and not wanting to rock the boat. See the difference? ”

    Yes, the jump was intentional and the difference is what I was trying to highlight.

    The ‘population’ in this context was the virtual, modeled population of 90% with easy-to-change minds and 10% dogmatics.
    I was making the comparison with the real ‘population’ of climate scientists who do not have easy to change minds. No doubt the reasons you cite are pertinent. I would like to think that as scientists they would also give greater weight to objective data which is why I consider it unlikely they would be persuaded by anything less than the reversal of recent warming. A couple of decades returning to the temperatures we ‘enjoyed’ in the 1980s is probably required before climate scientists would abandon the AGW theory.

    Perhaps a stubborn 10% would refuse to abandon the theory even in the face contradicting physical events – thats the nature of dogmatism!

  68. An earlier study reported on Climate Depot (?) identified 6 key Senators who, when voting together, either determine or create enough other voters to assure passage of the bill – said to be 100%. How much of what we do is determined by a select minority (with authority status, I’m sure)? I guess we only have to look at clothing fashion as an example.

    The amount of necessary minority opinion, and who holds it, clearly is important, otherwise all hyped music, movies and political movements must inevitably work. The principal that there is a social “tipping” point, i.e. that the undecided or unsure look to their associates for advice, is hardly new, but its numerical analysis here is interesting.

    Here’s a test: report that 11% of the blogosphere is contributing to the WUWT tip jar and see what happens ….

  69. steveta_uk – nice one!

    Watch carefully: once the percentage of supporting comments for this paper reaches the tipping point the rest of us sceptics will simply fold . . . or not, and if we don’t that’ll show once again that we are mentally ill . . . COD doubters/deniers!

    Amazing rubbish . . obviously thrown out there to test its own thesis . . . . and there’s a professor involved somewhere . . . . I used to think they were brilliant and wise . . .now I think at least 10 percent of them are idiots . . .

  70. When 10% of the people have an unshakeable belief in something, what happens when that belief is adopted by 90% of the population? Do the that last remaining hardline 10% start the pendulum swinging back?

  71. izen says:
    July 27, 2011 at 8:56 am
    I would like to think that as scientists they would also give greater weight to objective data which is why I consider it unlikely they would be persuaded by anything less than the reversal of recent warming.
    They haven’t shown much, if any interest in objective data so far, unless it reinforces CAGW, so why would they suddenly start doing so?
    The only thing that will convince them to abandon the CAGW hyper-myth gravy train would be if the funding for said train dries up. Until then, they will simply deny the existence of any reversal by cherry picking their data, much of which is bogus anyway.

  72. “If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.”

    Well at least there is no danger whatsoever of these researchers figuring out how to spread and suppress opinion. That’s good!

    They can’t model the listener who
    1. Considers the source (aggressive opinionated socialist)
    2. Seeks alternative viewpoints
    3. Examines several news stories to get more information
    4. Has a committed worldview
    5. Carries an opinion out to its logical conclusion to determine its usefulness and desirability (EX:
    Electic power generation at low rates is destroying the planet. So we need less electricity at a much higher cost and higher taxes…Oh wait!)

    I’d say a pluralistic, free society is pretty safe from these academics and their red sprinkle computer program, for now.

  73. I think all those who point out that there could be several 10% groups are missing the main word in the title “idea”. NOT belief. Beliefs don’t change because they are comforting and a lot of people don’t want to understand things and change their point of view.

    An idea will catch on but ideas need to be viewed separately from beliefs which are carved in stone. One of my favorite lines a co-worker came up with to describe wars over religion was that it was like “2 kids fighting over who’s imaginary friend was more real”.

    I think in the religious & pseudo religious realms like AGW the concept fails because ideas, no matter how correct, are shot down if they go against the belief. Now in the science realm (where the scientific method is really used) I can see it happening.

  74. The computer model appears to be a simple variation on the rules in Conway’s game of life –
    I had it on my Amstrad PCW wordprocessor in the late 1980s. You must have seen these “simulations” of cell multiplication. People accept or reject ideas for many reasons, including but not limited to self interest. It has also been argued that people feel a desire to be part of a “cause” or believe in something, and the details of the something may not be critical or proof based. There are also things called moral panics and urban legends, and cargo cults. People are way more complex than the model, and more interesting. See Socology texts, have actually looked at this.

  75. This study seems reasonable for a very limited set of conditions. Their model is based on the assumption that the modeled population contains only a fixed defined percentage of ‘true believers’, all of one semi-acceptable and/or semi-appealing opinion, and the remaining members do not hold strong opposing opinions. The authors apparently understand this limitation of their model as the above article states that: ”They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints.” This implies, at least me, that they have not determined what happens when a ‘true believer’ of one opinion meets a ‘true believer’ of a different opposing opinion.

    The study is also simplistic in that it only considers the case where the opinions of the ‘true believers’ may be strong but those of the general population are not sufficiently strong to overcome some basic desire to get along. This whole thing appears to be an attempt to develop a rather simplistic/alternative model of Eric Hoffer’s thesis as stated in his book ‘The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements’. In that book (quoting from the wikipedia) “Hoffer argues that all mass movements such as fascism, communism, and religion spread by promising a glorious future. To be successful, these mass movements need the adherents to be willing to sacrifice themselves and others for the future goals. To do so, mass movements need to glorify the past and devalue the present. Mass movements appeal to frustrated people who are dissatisfied with their current state, but are capable of a strong belief in the future. As well, mass movements appeal to people who want to escape a flawed self by creating an imaginary self and joining a collective whole (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer).

    I would guess they published this to justify the initial funding and now seek additional funding in order to both keep their jobs and to continue their navel-gazing for a couple of more years.

  76. I think Charles MacKay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” got to that conclusion first – in 1841. And he did it without computer models.

  77. What they seem to have shown is that, for a model of human interaction where talking to two people with an opposing viewpoint immediately converts you, the critical initial size for injecting an opinion is 10%.

    This model bears no relationship to how humans actually make up their minds, and the model parameters appear to have been adjusted to produce a vaguely believable output.

    Where have we seen this technique for getting published and acquiring funding before?

  78. Zeke the Sneak says:
    July 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

    And a currently used fallacy: The “number” fallacy: “The people united will never be defeated”, where nobody realizes that those “people on the streets” usually are not more than the 1% of the population. This, in turn it is used as a pretext from minorities to rule over the more conservative, and more reasonable, majorities.
    At the end of the day “the people, united, will always be cheated”
    Knowledge, as information, it is as material as anything and can not be distributed or, worse, redistributed; knowledge comes from the “topos uranus” and reaches only who, through self-sacrifice and effort, can reach it, reaching a resonant frequency.
    Sorry buddies!: “Lo que natura non da Salamanca non presta” (“What nature does not give Salamanca- the school- does not lend”)

  79. izen says:
    July 27, 2011 at 4:18 am
    “Modeling human and social behavior is somewhat less reliable than modeling physical processes like the climate.”

    Thanks, you made my day. :-D

  80. It would appear that these folks have inadvertently designed a computer model to illuminate and verify the concept of “preference falsification”

    http://www.powells.com/biblio/9780674707580?&PID=27627


    Preference falsification, according to the economist Timur Kuran, is the act of misrepresenting one’s wants under perceived social pressures. It happens frequently in everyday life, such as when we tell the host of a dinner party that we are enjoying the food when we actually find it bland. In Private Truths, Public Lies Kuran argues convincingly that the phenomenon not only is ubiquitous but has huge social and political consequences. Drawing on diverse intellectual traditions, including those rooted in economics, psychology, sociology, and political science, Kuran provides a unified theory of how preference falsification shapes collective decisions, orients structural change, sustains social stability, distorts human knowledge, and conceals political possibilities.
    A common effect of preference falsification is the preservation of widely disliked structures. Another is the conferment of an aura of stability on structures vulnerable to sudden collapse. When the support of a policy, tradition, or regime is largely contrived, a minor event may activate a bandwagon that generates massive yet unanticipated change.

    In distorting public opinion, preference falsification also corrupts public discourse and, hence, human knowledge. So structures held in place by preference falsification may, if the condition lasts long enough, achieve increasingly genuine acceptance. The book demonstrates how human knowledge and social structures co-evolve in complex and imperfectly predictable ways, without any guarantee of social efficiency.”

    The book was written long before the rise of the IPCC, but the concept of aligning one’s public stances with the one’s perceived, often misperceived, version of the preferences of others offers the clearest explanation of whatever “consensus” actually exists in regard to AGW, and I would add, without any requirement of conspiracy.

  81. Mods;

    It appears my previous comment has been swallowed by the filter again.

    [Sorry, Dave, there’s nothing in the spam folder. ~dbs, mod.]

  82. This should, of course, encourage every pol who gets 10% in a poll or primary to claim, “Victory is at hand!”

    This is so wrong on so many levels. The 10% BIG BANG Theory.

    Wow.

  83. Dave Wendt says:
    July 27, 2011 at 2:06 pm
    Mods;

    It appears my previous comment has been swallowed by the filter again.

    [Sorry, Dave, there’s nothing in the spam folder. ~dbs, mod.]

    Sorry I jumped the gun. It hadn’t appeared as awaiting moderation, but popped up about a minute after I posted the above. Thanks for your prompt attention and the valuable contributions you guys all provide to making this site the very great thing that it is.

  84. Dedicated followers of fashion? I am wholly amused by the uptake of certain electronic products which seem to me to be no better in quality or function than others yet they rapidly become core to the market place and sell millions at high prices. It seems there are a lot of folks who want to be told what to buy (do?/think?) without spending any time at all investigating the consequences – or reading a little history to understand what has gone before.

    This is why I like WUWT so much – there seems to be a majority of commenters who are willing to at least stop and consider the alternatives and let us all know what they are thinking in clear mostly polite conversations. Thanks Anthony, Willis, Roy, etc.

    I just watched the Press Club speech by Vaclav Klaus in Australia yesterday – the journos were picking their jaws up off the floor. In true Aussie vernacular they “looked like a mob of stunned mullets”. Particularly the arrogant p*&%ck from the Financial Revue who tried to pin Vaclav down as saying that the Warmistas were “a communist conspiracy”. President Klaus handled it beautifully. The Fin Revue journo did not even have the grace to clap at the end and show some respect. There has been no further publicity about this that I have heard – complete MSM blackout in Australia. Don’t they realise that the dam will soon burst?

    However I despair that these “leaders of fashion” (the journos) won’t be held responsible for their part in the tragedy!

  85. Obviously the model is simplistic, but powerful nonetheless. I gather that they are trying to measure the influence of “singular ideas” rather than complex affiliations. Democrats and Republicans are affilations, composed of multiple ideas, some competing with one another, but often not diametrically opposed. This means that singular ideas can be adopted by the majority once 10% hold them to be true, but those singular ideas can even be somewhat or even almost totally contradictory, and still be held to be true. Which would help explain why so many contradictory ideas seem to be held by the majority, or even within an individual, at the same time. People are not rational, in other words, and they have the capacity to believe in ideas that contradict one another, without being driven “crazy” by the contradictions. This is what cognitive dissonance studies show as well.

    This would explain why even scientists can look at a field of data, and interpret them according to a consensus, rather than on the individual merits of each idea that has been affiliated with the core idea. Once the core idea reaches a certain level of commited adherents, even the rest of the ideas that have been incorporated into it get swept along. It also explains why it is so hard to chip away at a large all-encompassing idea like AGW by merely pointing out its evidentiary flaws and failures. As long as the central idea is held in place by a committed core of believers, it continues to be strong. It requires an over-equal core of committed skeptics to dislodge that idea. Or, perhaps skepticism is not enough, it would require a committed core of people believing in an equally all-embracing idea to dislodge it.

    I would suggest that the “all embracing idea” which needs a committed core, which could unseat AGW, is “Natural Climate Variation”, or NCV for short.

  86. In Australia we currently have a disastrous political situation in which a fringe element (“The Greens”) have obtained approximately 10% of the primary vote and now exert extremely disproportionate influence.

    (Am I guilty of confirmation bias here?)

  87. Gee, I wonder why the Army would fund such research? ;-)

    You know, I see they have scientific proof of this, but this reminds me of innovation diffusion models. Very slow start, rapid expansion, and then suddenly 100% of people hold the view. But what about the decay of the opinion? How quickly does the opinion decay? Is that uniform? I think that if your goals are short term (army, ahem ahem) not so important, but if you were really interested in the diffusion of opinion, how could you ignore the decay cycle?

  88. Nobody should be concerned about the results of this study, as it leaves out one important factor.
    Let’s start with a group who have no idea what two plus two equal.
    Take a small subsection and convince them the answere is seven.
    Let them loose in the crowd and, according to this experiment, soon everybody will think that two plus two equals seven.

    BUT then give them all an opportuinity to test that hypothesis individually, over and over in different conditions.
    Slowly first, then in an accellerating avalance, they will a converge on the correct answer.

    Men go crazy in herds, but come to their senses, individually.
    (from James MacKay, “Extraudinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, written far back in 1875 and still entirely valid.

  89. Lots of crucial IFs, even IIFs, here. Like, talking to two in a row with the opposed opinion is enough to flip someone. The end of the article referring to “polarized” situations is meant to cover the (usual) scene where there are >10% on different sides. So, very limited and artificial applicability.

    However, those who object to the growth rate of the <10% group "problem", that is the slow rate that holds in the model UNTIL it reaches 10%, at which point it accelerates.

  90. Uhuh.

    This is the sort of `study’ that confirms most scientists must be serious pot-heads.

    The Bear wanders back to his cave, to roll something, or other.

  91. Reading about this study leaves me even more tired than before of computer models, and moreso of the absolute faith modern society seems to place in them.

    We have raised a generation that believes what computers tell them without question, just as previous generations believed the Church. The operators have become the priests and prophets of this new religion, that worships the very machines we created. (Cue Father Brown and his hallowed halls)

    Hm. I’m a programmer. If the computers are the new gods, what does that make me? :)

  92. Now that AGW has been perceived as a bunch of bs, no amount of paint job/relabeling is going to win back the exodus. Heavy-handed political types and bureaucrats now operate with a public bent on revenge, which has an entirely different time-cycle and behavior.

  93. It is really great to see this empirically validated. I think that this discovery may have been made through the work of MKULTRA many years ago, as I have heard (but can’t say for certain) that it was found if people heard an authority figure say something in excess of three times, even with cognitive dissonance in place, it is hard to avoid believing that statement.

  94. Kip Hansen says:
    July 27, 2011 at 6:22 am

    “Anyone who played around with automaton ‘bugs’ in computer programming back in the 1970′s will recognize the technique they are reporting….often used in graphic studies of population dynamics. The results are entirely dependent on the ‘rules’ set by the programmer, even though the results can be quite surprising sometimes.”

    This is exactly correct. It is simply a result of the rules they chose.

    For example, there is an obvious asymmetry here. The ‘traditional’ view starts off with way more than 10% acceptance, and so seems to meet the criteria to “catch fire” and convince everyone. But it doesn’t. The ‘new’ view starts with 10% plus a smidge and it does “catch fire.” So, there must be a difference in the rules for adopting or maintaining views. Most likely, it is simply that the 10% of committed persons CANNOT change their view, but anyone else can be convinced of either view if they encounter the right combination of others (like two people in a row holding the opposite of your current view). Then, it’s easy to imagine a tipping point and a shift to the view bolstered by a critical number of unflappable supporters, when there are no unflappable opponents.

    So, in essence, the study assumes that the new view seems at least reasonable to everyone, while the traditional view is completely unreasonable to a dedicated minority. Like the view, “raping virgins cures aids.” One can hope that, “no it doesn’t” becomes the unflappable view of 10%+ of the population at some point, though it may take time. If we further assume that no more than a very small minority finds “no it doesn’t” to be completely unreasonable, then we only need to build that 10%+ group of committed “no it doesn’t” supporters to shift the whole society. BUT we NEED that 10%+ group of COMMITTED supporters.

    I think that may be the significance of the study.

  95. This does not seem to cover the dynamic when 10% of the population has one ‘unshakable’ belief and another 10% of the population is 100% sure that the exact opposite is true and there is no commonly accepted basis for resolving the difference. This may be analogous to the situation in Congress now.

  96. I just watched on YouTube the Vaclav Klaus talk mentioned by James Reid above. Highly recommended:

  97. Spector says:
    July 29, 2011 at 7:28 am

    This does not seem to cover the dynamic when 10% of the population has one ‘unshakable’ belief and another 10% of the population is 100% sure that the exact opposite is true and there is no commonly accepted basis for resolving the difference. This may be analogous to the situation in Congress now.

    Note the reference at the end to a forthcoming study/modelling of “polarized societies”:

    They are also looking to study how the percentage might change when input into a model where the society is polarized. Instead of simply holding one traditional view, the society would instead hold two opposing viewpoints. An example of this polarization would be Democrat versus Republican.

    I predict they will predict deadlock followed by blood in the streets.

  98. This study doesn’t consider the truth value of the competing views. What happens if one of the views is deemed ‘true’ and this is backed up by a ‘forcing.’ Like say, every ’round’ all of the ‘uncommitted’ persons, whatever their lightly held current view, have a .0001% chance of having an ‘epiphany’ and becoming committed to the ‘true’ view. Maybe we should also allow persons committed to an ‘untrue’ view to have epiphanies.

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