Joshua Becker

ANET Lab Seminar Series: Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker (University College London): Does deliberation improve group accuracy? It's an open question.

Abstract | Research on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ has consistently shown that one way to improve the accuracy of numeric estimates such as economic forecasting is by using the average estimate of multiple individual contributors, rather than relying on one single person. However, decades of lab experiments have produced contradictory results about whether and when communication between group members makes the resulting average more accurate or less accurate. Thus despite the existence of over 100k results on Google scholar using the “Delphi method” form of information exchange, we lack clear evidence that this method is actually better than unstructured discussion, or that any form of communication is better than none. This talk will explain contradictions in prior research by showing how emergent network centralization interacts with pre-communication estimate distribution such that communication sometimes increases accuracy and sometimes decreases accuracy. Using a formal model of estimate formation and experimental data, I will argue that the fixed effect paradigm—i.e. the assumption that any form of communication is always either helpful or harmful—must be replaced with a model that depends on the particular estimation task under consideration. Critically, however, I will conclude by discussing the limitations of this model for describing true deliberation and opening the floor for collaborative speculation and brainstorming on how we might finally resolve this puzzle. I will propose collaboration between belief-accuracy researchers so that we can reach consensus on this critical question.

Bio | Joshua Becker received a PhD in Communication from the University in Pennsylvania, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems and the Kellogg School of Management. Joshua’s research focuses on “collective intelligence,” or the ways in which group and organizational design impact performance on tasks such as innovation, decision making, and forecasting. Joshua's research has been published in Science, Management Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Harvard Business Review. In 2023 Joshua was named one of the Best 40 Under 40 business school professors by Poets & Quants. Prior to graduate school, Joshua worked professionally in mediation and communication training and has completed hundreds of mediation sessions including personal disputes, employer/employee conflict, and decision facilitation. Joshua currently volunteers as a neighbor mediator in London.