When will an initially unpopular idea win out?

"Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. 'When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,' said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski. 'Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.' The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E."

Article: http://scienceblog.com/46622/minority-rules-scientists-discover-tipping-point-for-the-spread-of-ideas/

Paper referenced (behind a paywall): http://pre.aps.org/abstract/PRE/v84/i1/e011130

To me, the description above is contradictory. How can less than 10% never win, but then sometimes it climbs above 10%, and then win, simultaneously implying climbing above 10% takes “the age of the universe”. Say what?

Best I can see is they’ve found the critical number, perhaps, but have no idea as to the mechanism that makes you reach that tipping point. This is good to know though if the numbers on atheism in the USA are correct. If there’s one thing the 'mericans do really well, it is spread their culture globally, so it’d be great if atheism would become their majority opinion.

This is the sort of codswallop slashdot are putting on their front page these days. Makes me want to cry.

So what happens when you have two opposing ideas represented in a population at a ratio of 80:20? Will the lesser eventually swamp the greater and then reverse so it oscillates periodically between 10:90 and 90:10?

Or is the whole thing just a case of typically bad science reporting? (Which would mean that bad science reporting must once have been at a 10% incidence…)


I doubt the rigour of this research.As one guy commented:

Their experiment -only- applies to populations where there are 10% people with a hard core belief and 90% who are open and have no real previous opinion.

The problem is the ‘degree’ of ‘hard core’ belief not the % of people in a cohort. One person can change a multitudes’ thoughts if s/he is determined to do so through techniques such as Hitler used. Some people can talk a lot of shit with great authority and indeed convince many…(try St Paul as an example) while others may speak great sense but do not have the chutzpah or power base to do so effectively.