The math of the madness of crowds.

Ten percent. That’s all it takes to start a mob or to sell a coup d’etat. ScienceBlog digs up the numbers we need to make a change. Once 10 percent accept a thing as a rock-solid fact, the rest of the population follows – ready or not:

“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, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. “In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks.”

The findings were published in the July 22, 2011, early online edition of the journal Physical Review E in an article titled “Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities.”

An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.

The fun part comes next – as the researchers study what happens when groups of equal size hold opposite viewpoints.

And here’s a thing to consider – this research? Funded by the Army… as part of its “network-centric warfare” focus.

[Hat tip to Mr. Goodstein.]

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