Better decisions through randomness

I was asked to be on a committee to figure out who got into a prestigious university program. They told me that they had many times more QUALIFIED applicants than slots. I asked about the meaning of qualified; they said it meant that students could do the work and have a good chance success. So I suggested rock-paper-scissors or some sort of random number generator. Since they were all qualified, we were assured a good class. They could publish the odds ahead of time and make it fair and clear.

The committee was unimpressed. As happens in these things, they didn’t kick me off; they just never invited me back. But I was right. My offense was not being wrong, it was threatening the phony-baloney jobs of admissions committees. I am convinced you would get a BETTER class if you introduced randomness, since it would eliminate bias.  Dice have no prejudice and no memory. Have a threshold requirement to assure quality, but then take advantage of the beauty & simplicity of random chance.

Such a system also has the advantage of broadening the base of possible classes and it implicitly recognizes that current “experts” do not have the necessary knowledge to micro-manage future needs.

Beyond that, we should let no kids into college when they are 18. Let all who are interested go to open enrollment community colleges. They will then have time to work out what they want, what they are good at doing and where they want to be.  Some who were uninterested in college might find a passion there. Other who were pushed into academics may find more joy in other lines of work. Better all around.

I have thought about this before and wrote about it here. 

The reason I was thinking about this, BTW, was a new book about not fearing to fail, linked here.