Another team, led by psychologists at the University of California and the University of Pennsylvania, is focused on asking questions in ways that minimize experts’ overconfidence and misjudgment, said Don Moore, a professor at Cal-Berkeley.

“Small wording changes in a question can have a huge effect” on how a person answers, Moore said.

Twardy said the George Mason study has already drawn more than 500 participants, but only about half are actively participating. The study continues to recruit people as some participants drop out over the four-year course of the study.

Participants come from all walks of life. While Twardy said he’d love to have, say, agronomists, on his team to help forecast European polices and responses to mad cow diseases and the cattle trade, the overriding principle is that people from various backgrounds can contribute to the crowd’s collective wisdom, so participation is not restricted by fields of expertise.

George Mason received a $2.2 million grant from IARPA to conduct the study. If the team remains in the competition for the full four years—weaker teams are at risk of being discontinued—the grant will be increased to $8.2 million.

Twardy expects to publish the results of his research and hopes it will ultimately help world leaders make more informed choices when they confront global crises.

“At some level, you cannot predict the future,” Twardy said. “But you can do a lot better than just asking an expert.”


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