James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds came out in 2005. The basic insight is groups of people are often much more accurate than individuals. Not Born Yesterday accepts this finding, but chapter 5, “Who Knows Best,” punches back against overreading the result in all domains.
Wisdom of the Crowds came out in a decade when all sorts of cool psychology and neuroscience books were being published. Counterintuitive stuff that was entertaining sold (e.g., Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide). That was before the replication crisis, and it turned out that a lot of the counterintuitive results were one-off’s and not general results. The 2010’s became the decade of boring psychology due to a correction against this pattern.
In this chapter, Hugo Mercier starts coming through on his claim that we’re not that gullible. People go along with the crowd, but not unreasonably so. The famous experiments that show conformity are actually not as illuminating as they’ve been made out to be. People know very well which line is longer, they just admit that they conform in public. And even then, most people refuse to conform. Preschoolers are aware of expertise. They know that doctors know more about plants, while mechanics know more about how to fix a toy. They trust adult judgment in things adults presumably can understand, but not where their opinions shouldn’t be weighted (e.g., children see that the adult has no more information than they do).
Humans are OK at weighing expertise, and gauging a sense when majority opinion can likely be right (e.g., situations when errors are independent and random). When you tell people that the majority went along with a particularly charismatic person, they discount the majority consensus.