Wisdom and Crowds Go to Hollywood

February 23, 2007 
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Wisdom of Crowds crowd loves to cite the ability of “prediction markets” to pick the Oscar winners. But this year, you don't need a prediction market to know which way the wind blows. All the major awards seem to be sure things, except perhaps Best Picture. Here, for example, are the prices on Best Actress nominees. You get 100 points if your choice wins. Here's what you pay.

Helen Mirren (The Queen) 94
Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal) 2
Penelope Cruz (Volver) 2
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) 4
Kate Winslet (Little Children) 1

In other words, people are willing to risk 94 points to win 6 on Ms. Mirren. If Judi Dench wins, her backers will get back 98 points of house money along with the two they paid.
Other consensus choices and current prices.

Director - Martin Scorsese (The Departed) 88
Supporting Actor - Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) 61 
Supporting Actress - Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) 76 
Actor - Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) 82 
Documentary - An Inconvenient Truth 85

On Best Picture, the crowd’s wisdom is less obvious. Since Picture and Director usually go to the same movie, The Departed has an edge, but not much of one considering the consensus on its director.

The Departed 44
Letters from Iwo Jima 7
The Queen 4
Babel 22
Little Miss Sunshine 22

Unfortunately, the major prediction marketplace for the Oscars, Hollywood Stock Exchange doesn’t have markets for the lesser categories— the ones that seem as arcane as baseball records. Best sound design in a foreign documentary by a left-handed shortstop on a Wednesday. But one English bookmaker does have some of these. For the record, and to see how wise the crowd turns out to be, are some of them with the equivalent prices. The numbers show that the crowd is not so nearly in agreement as it is on the major awards:

Animated Short Film - The Little Matchgirl 58 
Art Direction - The Prestige 40
Cinematography - Children Of Men 29
Costume Design - Marie Antoinette 38
Original Score - Babel 47
Visual Effects - Pirates Of The Caribbean DMC 80


I just hope Ellen DeGeneres is at the top of her game, because if the crowd is wise, there won’t be much suspense about the winners. In reminds me of March 1992. I was teaching a Monday night class, and the date I had scheduled the midterm turned out to be Oscar night (it was still on a Monday back them). As a final multiple-choice question, just for fun, I had put, “The winner for best picture in tonight’s Oscars will be . . .” and listed the five nominees.

I had intended the question to lighten things up. What a miscalculation. What happened was that several students, after turning in their tests, complained that the question was unfair. How could they possibly be expected to know what was going to happen in the future, and besides what did any of this have to do with the criminal justice system, and so on. I assured them that I had no intention of including it in their test score.

When I marked the exams the next day, it turned out that of the 35 multiple-choice questions, that was the only one that everybody in the class had gotten right.

The Wisdom of Crowds. The Silence of the Lambs.

1 comment:

eszter said...

As per my comment here, the idea of wisdom of crowds sure failed me in this recent "guess the contents of the coin jar" contest.