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Episode 644: How Much Does This Cow Weigh?

A friendship blossoms.
David Kestenbaum/NPR
A friendship blossoms.

This episode originally ran in 2015.

About one hundred years ago, a scientist and statistician named Francis Galston came upon an opportunity to test how well regular people were at answering a question. He was at a fair where lots of people were guessing the weight of an ox, so he decided to take the average of all their guesses and compare it to the correct answer.

What he found shocked him. The average of their guesses was almost exactly accurate. The crowd was off by just one pound.

This eerie phenomenon—this idea that the crowd is right—drives everything from the stock market to the price of orange juice.

So, we decided to test it for ourselves. We asked Planet Money listeners to guess the weight of a cow.

Spoiler: You can see the results here.

Music: "La Vie Paris" and "Happy Is As Happy Does."

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Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.
Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.
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