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CULTURAL COMPETENCE

Consensus analysis is based on a long and distinguished intellectual history on the power of collective wisdom, going back to a paper by the Marquis de Condorcet (1785) on the probability of a jury reaching a correct decision (Batchelder and Romney 1986) in legal cases as opposed to relying on the judgment of a single person. In 1907, Francis Galton attended a fair in Plymouth, England where 800 people guessed the weight of an ox. The ox weighed 1,198 pounds. The spread of guesses went from 1,074 to 1,293 pounds but the mean was 1,196 pounds (Galton 1907a, 1907b)—almost dead on.

And Robyn Dawes (1977) asked 25 male members of the faculty in psychology at the University of Oregon to rate the height of all other 24 colleagues using five scales, like those I discussed in chapter 11: semantic differential (from short to tall), Likert-like (extremely short to extremely tall), and so on. The first factor scores for the five scales— the score on the underlying variable with which all the scales were associated—correlated .98 with the actual height of the men. The title of Dawes’s article was ‘‘Suppose We Measured Height with Rating Scales Instead of Rulers?’’ Well, the answer is: As long as you take the average of a bunch of people on those scales, you can lose the rulers and do pretty well. (For a review of collective wisdom, see Surowiecki 2004.)

James Boster (1985, 1986) walked 58 Aguaruna Jivaro women (in Peru) through a garden that had 61 varieties of manioc. He asked the women waji mama aita? (‘‘What kind of manioc is this?’’) and calculated the likelihood that all possible pairs of women agreed on the name of a plant. Boster had planted the garden himself, so he knew the true identification of each plant. Sure enough, the more women agreed on the identification of a plant, the more likely they were to know what the plant actually was. In other words, people who know a lot about—are highly competent in—a cultural domain tend to agree

a

FIGURE 16.19a.

MDS of Pichataro term-frame data.

SOURCE: J. C. Young and L. Y. Garro, ''Variation in the Choice of Treatment in Two Mexican C Communities,'' Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 16, pp. 1453-63, figure 2,1982.

with each other about the content of the domain and people who know little tend to disagree.

 
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