Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Recently, John Hicks wrote about bee diseases in Vet Talk. Although his article is 'stingingly' clever, the health and well-being of bees is of concern lately because they are crucial to the pollination of fruit and vegetable crops. Check out this photo of a bee covered in pumpkin pollen (picture from http://www.freepicturesfreepictures.com/).

But pollination isn't the only thing that honey bees do well; they also have a remarkable voting system. Bees have been holding elections on where to build new hives each year for millions of years. Their success rate for choosing the most optimum site is 90% according to some entymologists, making our human democracy systems look inferior. Maybe there's something we can learn from them about how to choose the best candidate or party to form a government.

Honey bees use a form of 'range voting' also known as 'score voting'. According to a paper by Warren D. Smith (pdf) of Temple University, each spring, half of a honey bee hive breaks up and convenes in a swarm, usually in a nearby tree. At first maybe 1% of them are designated scouts. These scouts previously worked as food foragers so they have extensive search skills. They go and search out perhaps up to 20 sites within a wide radius, and come back to the swarm and report. The scouts communicate where the best site is and how good they think it is by using a dancing sign language. The more they repeat this dance, the more they convey their preference for a site. Then other scouts, seeing this dance, go and see the sites for themselves. Factions form and ultimately a decision is made. More often than not, they choose the best site for their hive.

Compare this to most human democracies where a two-party system dominates. How good can our decisions be with only two options to choose from? If we happen to elect a good leader, it's more often by chance than by design. So on election day, 8 Nov, think 'what would the bees do?' Consider all the choices and select what you think is the best. Dancing is optional.

4 comments:

BROKEN LADDER said...

Score voting is tops, as far as Bayesian regret figures are concerned.

Anonymous said...

My question is, if it's so good, and it's already used in the gymnastics world (providing they have good judges), then why are countries so slow to consider adopting this voter system?

Cathy said...

You know if I could rewrite that last paragraph, I would. I'm still coming to grips with what range voting is. Our current system is a single vote per person. Range voting means you get to vote for each person or party via a rating scale (like 0 - 9) and then whoever has the highest average score wins.

I think this makes perfect sense for governments. While MMP in New Zealand has evened out the playing field a bit, there is still a feeling that if you vote for a minor party, you are wasting your vote.

Cathy said...

Thanks for the comment and link, brokenladder. Maybe you have a view on why range voting isn't used in the USA elections?

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