Louis Mittel writes:
The premise of the column this guy is starting is interesting: Noah Davis interviews a smart person and then interviews the smartest person that smart person knows and so on.
It reminded me of you mentioning survey design strategy of asking people about other people, like “How many people do you know named Stuart?” or “How many people do you know that have had an abortion?”
Ignoring the interview aspect of what this guy is doing, I think there’s some cool questions about the distribution/path behavior of smartest-person-I-know chains (say, seeded at random). Do they loop? If so, how long do they run before looping, how large are the loops? What parts of the population do the explore? Do you know of anything that’s been done on something like this?
My reply: Interesting question. It could be asked of any referral chain, for example asking a sequence of people, “Who’s the tallest person you know?” or “Who’s the best piano player you know” or “Who’s the weirdest person you know” or whatever. But let’s stick with the “who’s the smartest” chain.
In answer to Louis’s first question: yes, such a chain would have to loop, as there’s only a finite number of people. Some of the loops might be pretty short. For example, if you ask Stephen Hawking for the smartest person he knows, and then ask that next person, you’ll probably loop back to . . . Stephen Hawking. The distribution of lengths of the loops, that I have no idea.
I’m trying to think how one could measure the distribution of this sort of referral network.
P.S. All in all, the guy in the above-linked interview seemed reasonable, but I was struck by this one bit, where he writes of one of his early business experiences:
Our head of IT at the time was adamant that we should start an Internet Service Provider because it was hard to get onto the Internet if you weren’t at college, and ISPs were growing something like 1,000 percent a month. He tried to convince me to invest $10,000 to start an ISP in Cambridge. . . . I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. That was the end of my Internet foray. If I had listened to him, I would have been like Zuckerberg or something. I completely missed the boat back then.
Everything’s relative. The guy is rich, successful, can do anything he wants. But he thinks he missed the boat.
P.P.S. One thing that came up in comments is, can people refer to themselves? I assume not, otherwise all chains would eventually dead-end at Stephen Hawking, Scott Adams, and that albedo guy.