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Group Think on the Bench?

Cass Sunstein, author of Designing Democracy, just finished a guest blogging gig at Lawrence Lessig’s blog where he discussed aggregating information and "the risks associated with echo chambers and self-insulation."

Here at the University of Chicago, we have something called the Chicago Judges Project, by which we tabulate and analyze thousands of votes of judges on federal courts of appeals. One of our key findings thus far is this: In many controversial areas (eg, affirmative action, campaign finance, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, environmental regulation, and more), Republican appointees show especially conservative voting patterns when they’re sitting on 3-judge panels that consist only of Republican appointees. So too for Democratic appointees: They’re far more liberal, in their voting patterns, when sitting with two fellow Democratic appointees, than when sitting on a panel with at least one Republican appointee. In other words, Republican appointees look more conservative when they sit only with fellow Republican appointees, and Democratic appointees look more liberal when they sit only with fellow Democratic appointees.

This is real-world evidence, we think, of group polarization: the process by which like-minded people, engaged in deliberation with one another, typically end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk. (So, for example, French people who distrust the US distrust the US even more after talking with one another.) Group polarization reflects a form of information aggregation, or at least opinion aggregation, that sometimes leads in unfortunate directions. It’s a big contrast to the price system, Wikipedia, and open source software. [ Cass Sunstein ] on Jul 18 05

Follow the LINK to all of Cass’s posts on lessig.org.

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