Contest Vs Exam

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I talked about education this weekend with my friends. Two of them studied at Telecom Paris, where there were 8% of women in their year (and it was a « good one »). This is at least surprising, at worse problematic. A Brazilian friend also told us that the discrepancy between public and private education was even more alarming in her country. We next discussed possible solutions. One possibility consists in imposing quota. To set by law that the gender ratio should be 50-50 as is the case for some administrations in France. Another solution we discussed was the use of positive discrimination like it is the done in the UK.

These solutions all have their problems. One of my friend said that these solutions are discriminatory measures generating perverse effects. It sometimes may suggest that women are there not because of their skills but because they are women. While it is not THE best solution, it’s at least A pragmatic solution. The discussion then moved to the difference between exams and contests.

Credit: CC-BY http://clipart-library.com/competition-cliparts.html

We all agreed that a contest ranks people, which is by essence discriminatory. I proposed that a way to get rid of discrimination in the education system was to turn contests into exams. Contests work by classifying people, your grade or your ability to pass it does not matter. It is your ranking that matters, your performance compared to the others. I find this system deeply unfair for multiple reasons even if it is a way to select when you have a limited number of seats. But we could make the selection system fairer than it is today by replacing contests with exam.

Your grad or your skill is the only thing that matters in an exam. You do or do not pass an exam given a fix set of criteria. The ranking does not matter in an exam. But then how do you select? You may have already guessed my favourite pick: we could use sortition to randomly pick a finite number of people. I agree that it won’t immediately change the situation and solve the problem. But neither do quotas. And in this case there will be no doubt and no ranking. The selected people « deserved » their seats as they passed an exam, at the same time randomness will smooth the discrimination that was peaking in an engineer school like Telecom Paris.

What do you think about this solution? Put your comments below and thank you for reading!

P.S: Thank you Ali for correcting my far from perfect English!


Robustness for legitimacy

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Sortition needs to be robust against attacks for it to be legitimate. I discussed in my last post about two examples employing sortition. There is an obvious way to corrupt the draw in both case, it suffices to draw multiple times until you obtain the desired result. How can we prevent that? You can ask to have trusted witnesses, but this needs money and time. #MAVOIX used this methods to select its candidates. Another way is possible.

There is way to make everybody the witness of the drawing. For this to happen you need to know one thing first. Today’s computers generate random numbers in a pseudo-random fashion. They use complicated sequences from which it is hard to predict the n+1th number from the nth. In other words, once you have the seed (the nth number) the result of the draw becomes fully deterministic. It is thus feasible to say for instance that the draw will take place at noon one given day.

We can for instance, mix the ten last arrival time of the people to the draw to generate a seed. Then everybody has the same seed and can reproduce the entire draw. You could imagine ten people sequencing their arrival to produce a given seed. But in this scenario a single person naive would suffice to make the whole plan fail. This is a way to make the draw more robust, there an infinity of others, but it is important to think about one.

They are many other possible points of failure. Could you think of others? This is one of the reason why we should think about a system going from simple to more important decisions. The other types of problem will be the subject of my following posts!


In theory and in practice

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Sortition needs to be carefully controlled in practise. The strength and legitimacy of this procedure depends on how it is done. One could think that it is possible to simply generate a bunch of random numbers using a standard function on a computer. Things are more difficult than that. The people have the possibility to redo the draw until they have the result they want.


Logo from the ISN Neuroscience 2017 in Manchester

Many existing implementations of sortition rely on the trust put within the person who sort. For instance in a recent neuroscience conference sponsored abstracts were selected using sortition. The organizers used an excel spreadsheet to pick the selected abstract. Nobody complained, the conference was small and everybody trusted the organizers.

Another example is the convention of France Insoumise were they randomly pick 1000 participants for their convention. Already, this is a larger scale than the conference. The code was open-source and available on github. But here again nothing blocks the organizers to remove people they don’t want. Plus there was no advertisement, a way to be sure to have ONLY party-friendly people in the selected lot.

What are the options to guarantee the fairness and impartiality of sortition? I will provide some answers in my next post.


Fairness compared to queues and elections.

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The fairness feature attracted me first to sortition. Queues and votes may seem fair tools but they are not. Many things influence the result of a vote that are conscious or unconscious biases. Politics know for instance that the look a candidate can influence the outcome of an election. These biases are all but fair and in the worse case they have nothing to do with the qualification of a candidate.

Queues may seem fairer than votes. But there also many parameters influence the generation of a queue. The order of arrival depends on how early people were aware of this queue. The first to know are often to arrive. Plus both system could be compromised in many ways. A person can easily jump at the front of a queue, and it is costly to guarantee the lawfulness of an election. I will argue in a coming post that sortition can robustly and cheaply implements a selection system.



Stochocratie or Sortition?

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Stochocratie or stochocracy in English refers to a political sytem using randomness at its core. Stochos comes from the greek word meaning randomness. This word signifies a larger idea than sortition and point to a goal rather than a mean. This term describes a more radical position, an ideology. Stochocracy can look like it contradicts the word Democracy. As oppose to sortition that goes well with Democracy. And our democratic regimes might seems dysfunctional to many, yet they stand as the least dysfunctional system on earth.

It would be a foolish and headstrong idea to go against democracy that has a very positive connotation. This explains why I prefer the word sortition rather than stochocracy. Sortiton points toward a tool, as I said yesterday, but stochocracy points toward a goal. This focus on a tool provides a much more laid back approach to the problem. This calmer approach helps not only for my well being but also works in the interest of sortition. People adopt a tool far more easily than an ideology and it is far less risky to promote a tool rather than an ideology.

Sortition could be used both in French and in English. This has also its importance. I stumbled upon the blog of the kleroterians (see picture above) and I found many people motivated by the sortition idea. Yoram Gat started this blog with others motivated individuals in 2012. This beg for humility, it has worked on it for six years now, an considerable quantity of work went into it. And for me things just began less than two years ago! With this blog, I found people motivated by sortition and many come from the anglo-saxon world. It exemplifies another thing I like about  sortition: finding a common middle ground enjoyable for everybody.


Blogging and Discord resolutions

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I decided to write a post on sortition every day this coming year. The task seems daunting but they are few ways I could make it easier than it seems. The post will be written in English. Even if it is not my native language, I write more easily in English and I hope to make less mistakes in it (believe it or not). The reason might be that I wrote an entire PhD Thesis in English and I have used English for the last 8 years almost everyday. I am going to try to not put my political opinion (easier said than done), this would be harmful for me but also I think for my writing.

I will focus on the mean rather than the goal in my blog posts. This blog presents a tool and the different way of using it. We could draw a parallel with the hammer: how could we use a hammer? And I think it is partly the true power of sortition. I do not want people to have the same opinion as me. I want all opinions to be discussed equally and I do not believe it is the case today. While their could be opinions regarding the goal of something, there is not opinion when discussing about tools. Sure you can use a screwdriver with nails, but a hammer is better than the screwdriver for that.

I truly believe that sortition, as a way to do things, brings many interestings features that are absent from election. I am going to present and discuss (with you, future readers) what are the advantages and disavantages of using sortition for different kinds of event. The news will inspire the post and I am going to make this blog as lively as possible. Speaking of life,  apart from this blog I want to add one new member to the sortition discord everyday. The aim there will be to have live discussion around the topic of sortition.

What do you think? Any piece of advice for this project? Any encouragements (every day life could be a discouragement, not a real need for that :).


First come, first served?

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Image used to illustrate the sortition process at the convention France Insoumise

This English saying states that people who arrive first will have a priority access to a good or a service. This seems like the fairest way to distribute. But people who know first, for instance who have the easiest or fastest access to internet, have an edge. And this is by definition aristocratic and not democratic. The « Aristo », the first to know, have an advantage over the « Demos », the average person. It splitss people in two categories: the ones that know and the ones that don’t.

Could sortition offer an alternative? Using this method, attendants would be selected randomly among a list of candidates. This method could be applied in distinct situations. Three situations can be taken as examples: music festivals, scientific conferences or political meetings. In all cases, these events tend to re-occur years after years and have a limited number of seats available. Furthermore, the introduction of new people has a crucial importance, mostly in conferences and meetings. But if these events are a success, people attending the previous year will be the first to subscribe for the coming year. While it has a positive effect at the beginning giving momentum to the event. This would, after a while, notably diminishes the introduction of new people every year.

Sorting the attendance to a meeting needs to be carefully planned abd organized. Multiple points need to be taken into account: (1) attribute a unique identifier to each candidate (2) use a reproducible allotment. The second point guarantees the legitimity of the allotment. If it can be reproduce, for instance by using the same random seed, it has much more credibility. The first point guarantees that everyone has a chance. These are only two points that would deserve careful examination but they are surely more. What do you think?




Pourquoi je me suis mis à faire de la politique?

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Je crois au pouvoir de la parole pour guérir des extrémismes qui rendent les hommes fous. Vous penserez peut-être que je suis naïf. Mais je suis convaincu que les fous qui perpètrent attentats ou meurtres de masse seraient infiniment moins nombreux si on les avait écoutés. Sur la place de la République j’ai plusieurs fois été le témoin du pouvoir de la parole. Laissez-moi vous présenter un exemple qui m’a marqué. Un jeune homme en face d’une personne passablement imbibée qui vociférait: « Tu me cherches, tu veux te battre? ». Il faisait une fois et demi sa taille. Le jeune homme ne s’est pas démonté et il lui a simplement demandé: « Pourquoi? » alors l’homme saoul a déblatéré un discours à moitié incompréhensible et à moitié haineux. Le jeune homme l’a simplement écouté et l’homme saoul s’est calmé, non pas par la force mais par la simple écoute. C’est ce besoin que j’ai ressenti chez les gens à Nuit Debout. Le besoin d’être écoutés. Cet exemple ainsi que de nombreux autres m’ont convaincu du pouvoir apaisant de la parole et de l’écoute. Il n’y pas que la parole, l’action a aussi son importance.

Et pourquoi la stochocratie en particulier? Pour deux raisons simples. D’abord pour donner la parole à ceux qui ne l’ont jamais. Mieux vaut laisser parler un fou quelque minutes plutôt que de le voir aux infos après un massacre indicible. Parce que nombre de personnes que l’on n’écoute jamais détiennent des solutions auxquelles nous n’aurions jamais pensé: car Il y a plus de deux fois le nombre de bonnes idées dans deux têtes différentes. Ensuite pour concrétiser les paroles en acte sans passer par un système pyramidal. En effet, ces systèmes sont très efficaces pour rendre concrètes les choses « they get things done », le problème avec eux c’est qu’ils sont pyramidaux avec un chef décideur charismatique (le masculin est voulu ici). Je pense que la stochocratie offre cette alternative intéressante en proposant un leader intempérant et fluide (qui peut être remplacé) tout en lui conférant une identité humaine.

Crédit: Merci Nina pour la relecture 🙂


Un chercheur sur la sortition

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Lorsque la désignation d’une personne utilise le hasard on parle de sortition. Ce mot est à mettre en parallèle avec d’autres tels que l’élection, la filiation ou la qualification qui désignent d’autre modes de sélection. J’ai eu la chance de rencontrer recemment une personne préparant un doctorat sur le sujet lors d’un festival mettant en avant plusieurs initiatives pour montrer qu’il y avait beaucoup d’autres alternatives possibles au néo-libéralisme actuel. J’ai découvert cette personne en écoutant une émission sur le hasard et le rôle qu’il pouvait avoir en politique. Dans cette émission, il explique clairement la notion de sortition et il a notamment démontré lors de sa présentation comment la sortition était un outil de choix pour débattre de façon apaiser.


Utiliser la sortition pour désigner la personne qui modére une discussion

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Une discussion qui implique trois personnes ou plus avec des opinions divergentes  nécessite très rapidement un.e modèrateur.trice . Parce qu’il y aura toujours quelqu’un qui monopolisera la parole (le masculin est ici voulu). D’où cette nécessitée d’une personne pour distribuer la parole de façon équitable. Mais comment peut-on désigner la personne qui modère?

Pour désigner les personnes qui vont modérer une discussion il suffit de lancer une pièce. La personne qui lance la pièce est désignée arbitrairement. Pile c’est la première personne sur la gauche de la pièce qui modère; face c’est la deuxième.

Lorsque la personne qui modère refuse cette tâche, démissionne ou lorsque qu’un tiers ou plus des personnes lèvent le pouces on relance une désignation. La personne qui était désignée précédemment relance la pièce, ainsi le pouvoir tourne.

On peut aussi utiliser un dé pour avoir une liste plus longue. Si l’on est 6 la personne qui lance le dé initialement perd son importance. Dans ce cas c’est la énième personne sur la gauche du dé qui modère.