Financial & PM Websites & Internet Fora - Are They Specialized Information Repositories or Merely Sources of Groupthink?
I was browsing the world wide web the other day. I was catching up on all things FOA/FOFOA/Another and from memory I had a look at Victorthecleaner’s excellent website, Twoshortplanks and Screwtape.
Life is a bit short for assimilating all the chat which these sites produce, but it’s nice to dip in every now and then and skim and catch up with that which seems to come close to my own personal interests.
So what did I find that warrants a discussion on TFMR which is yet another PM forum blog?
How about this:
Quote from Jeanne d’Arc Wed 24 Oct 2012:
Anatomy of an internet-age pump and dump
In fact perhaps not just 'an' internet-age pump and dump, but possibly the internet-age pump and dump by which all future internet-age pumps and dumps will be measured. It was very nearly an act of genius, and would have been admirable in its scale were it not for the effects it had on ordinary people.
It was a crazy time. Here are just a few notable elements:
1. Talking bears: These slick, funny, and convincing tales of silver conspiracies were claimed by the mendacious, fantasist and anti-semitic Mr SilverGoldSilver (SGS), a point repeatedly challenged by Screwtape. They were in fact produced by Omid Malekan and/or the NIA [UPDATE: link removed as the NIA site carries viruses. Thanks to reader AL for alerting me to this] and pumped through a pre-existing arrangement with ZeroHedge. Regardless, they were hugely popular, and were among the first media to bring an old story about large Wall Street shorts in silver to a new and pliant audience in late 2010 and early 2011.
2. PM 'fanzines': Too numerous to name, but all of a sudden they were everywhere. TFMR, SGS, and many more, even the Screwtape Files, all came into existence not long before the metal pump. They complemented perfectly the older, 'war horses', such as KWN and Harvey Organ. Collectively they became the cult-like silverogosphere. ...
And on this article went .... discussing precious metals promotional internet coverage in a detailed, informative and also entertaining fashion. It's good stuff.
So let’s take a jump to another different source.
This time I went to TFMR website. I was already aware that there have been recent discussions about topic, subject focus, and outsiders have been accused of being trolls at times. Sometimes with obvious reason, and at other times with more weak proof of intention (in my humble opinion).
I found these contributions:
Quote from John Galt : Sept 17, 2013:
I hang out at this site a great deal, and while I don't agree with all of the opinions I read here I hold little to no animosity to most members of TFMR. No one is on my block list because I try listen to all opinions, and not fall easy victim to group think.
And this one
Quote fromDuckwomanloulou: Sept 4, 2011
The more amiability and espirit de corps amongst members of a policy-making in-group, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed towards out-groups (I. Janis, 1972)
This one was interesting:
Quote from Dr Durden: Sept 30, 2011:
There are different types of trolls, let’s face it. ..... If someone comes along and challenges the groupthink and is mildly abrasive, I have no issue with that. They will be checked by guys like xxx here and things will be fine. These "trolls" have a specific purpose in that they force you to question the pervasive herd mentality. It's normal and healthy and everyone should welcome it. Best way to deal with them is to challenge them right back.
And I would like to also include this one:
Quote from NW View: Sept 12, 2013:
Having a group thinking plan can backfire in a moment of time even with those who are educated and believe they see the way of escape. Do we remember the bug out bag for "Heaven's Gate" a doomsday cult? In 1997, 39 members committed mass suicide to reach an alien space craft, the comet Hale-Bopp. One second after death, they knew they had missed their ride.
I am not commenting on the posters of these fine posts, and I agree with much of what they said. But I have to say right here and now, that the main reason I go to these websites in the first place is because there is group think available there. Now at this stage I would like to query the possible inappropriate use of the word “groupthink”, and compare it with specialized knowledge bases. Because in all these specialized websites, and from the contributors of same, both are to be found, and it is up to the reader to take that which is suitable to his/her requirements, and disregard or chuckle at other items. I also accept the inter-specialist rivalry which exists between the different schools of thought on hard assets and hard currencies, which leads to unfair or over the top complaints between the various sites from time to time
So what exactly is groupthink? Here is what Oxford English Dictionaries has to offer:
Groupthink noun [mass noun] chiefly North American
- the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making:there’s always a danger of groupthink when two leaders are so alike
I think that is reasonably accurate.
Wikipedia adds more: Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the "ingroup" produces an "illusion of invulnerability" (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the "ingroup" significantly overrates their own abilities in decision-making, and significantly underrates the abilities of their opponents (the "outgroup").
Antecedent factors such as group cohesiveness, faulty group structure, and situational context (e.g., community panic) play into the likelihood of whether or not groupthink will impact the decision-making process.
Groupthink is a construct of social psychology, but has an extensive reach and influences literature in the fields of communication studies, political science, management, and organizational theory, as well as important aspects of deviant religious cult behaviour
Most of the initial research on groupthink was conducted by Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale University. Janis published an influential book in 1972, which was revised in 1982.
Ouch! Did the websites I frequent just get associated with "deviant religious cult behaviour"? I hope not, but in a distant way, that’s implied by the way that last Wikipedia paragraph is worded. No matter. I have a much thicker skin for things like that to deflect me from a significant line of thought. We continue to move onwards to the main issue.
At the moment there appears to be a suggested idea that it’s good to refer to experts, but experts can lead one astray and into foolish decisions if trusted too much. I think I will call what has been implied so far by all of the interesting contributors quoted above as groupthink can become “erroneous information”. I will add this: dismissing specialist advice as "groupthink" is an easy way to avoid taking good advice which may be unwelcome.
However at this point I would like to introduce the other side of this subject: deliberate misinformation. Let’s be a bit more direct and call it propaganda.
Meet Cass Sunstein. Here is a quote from Mr Sunstein:
I think it's a very firm part of human nature that if you surround yourself with like-minded people, you'll end up thinking more extreme versions of what you thought before.
... and I agree with that entirely.
Unfortunately in this paper Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule:
Here is the Abstract summary text: Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event. A recent example is the belief, widespread in some parts of the world, that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out not by Al Qaeda, but by Israel or the United States. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories may create serious risks, including risks of violence, and the existence of such theories raises significant challenges for policy and law. The first challenge is to understand the mechanisms by which conspiracy theories prosper; the second challenge is to understand how such theories might be undermined. Such theories typically spread as a result of identifiable cognitive blunders, operating in conjunction with informational and reputational influences. A distinctive feature of conspiracy theories is their self-sealing quality. Conspiracy theorists are not likely to be persuaded by an attempt to dispel their theories; they may even characterize that very attempt as further proof of the conspiracy. Because those who hold conspiracy theories typically suffer from a crippled epistemology, in accordance with which it is rational to hold such theories, the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups. Various policy dilemmas, such as the question whether it is better for government to rebut conspiracy theories or to ignore them, are explored in this light.
Mr Sunstein seems to think that anyone who thinks along with other groups must be made agree with his groupthink. So there is a problem. One man’s groupthink is another man’s specialized knowledge, is a third man’s misinformation, is a fourth man’s conspiracy theory to be attacked or subverted, is a fifth man’s sales infomercial!
It depends a lot on what you actually believe yourself, doesn’t it?
After all, there are a lot of people “out there”, political leaders included who casually say what people want to hear, not what they know to be true, and lie casually. The problem with “beliefs” is we try to form accurate ones from which we can then evaluate information to make good decisions in our lives. But we know there are dishonest SOBs out there who wish to mislead us into forming incorrect beliefs and thereby to make erroneous decisions which profit them at our personal and sometimes considerable cost.
I don’t want to disappear down a wormhole of suspicion and paranoia about all of this, but the investment world, which is primarily the world of money, together with the world of power must be the two places where this misinformation is at its thickest and foggiest. The links I provided can either lead one to a dark place of suspicion, or instead point the way towards a new world of enlightened evaluation of good information to improve one’s performance in life.
A middle way is to exercise reasonable doubt and apply tests of credibility across the board. So a personal process of verification of credentials must take place for every single information source, and due to willful misinformation, a constant vigilance is required to take notice of a formerly reliable source is drifting away from the necessary standards of accuracy and honesty. At the same time, the exotic lure of excessive paranoia must also be studiously evaluated and when appropriate, ignored. Thinking for oneself must also not consume too much time, and be done efficiently - leaving adequate time to the real decision making