A recent Princeton study found that the uninformed voter is a big fish in the political pond. “Why a democracy needs uninformed people,” crowed one headline. “Vote for apathy?” asked another. But the study, led by Princeton biology professor Iain Couzin, was not about voters. It was about fish.
Couzin’s decision-making experiments were performed with a schooling fish called the golden shiner. When “uninformed” fish — those not trained to go to any target — were introduced into a group, all the fish increasingly swam toward the majority-preferred target, giving the uninformed fish a crucial role in achieving democratic consensus by diluting the influence of strong minority factions. The findings were published in the journal Science on Dec. 16.
The analogy to humans was too fishy for some political scientists, including Larry Bartels, who just retired from Princeton. He penned a piece for a political science blog titled “Silly Science: Aquarium Democracy Edition.”
But Couzin had bigger fish to fry. “I think it’s always wonderful for people to take an interest in science,” he said.