Over-Caution of Large Committees of Experts

Rune Midjord
Tomás Rodríguez-Barraquer
Justin Valasek

In this paper, we demonstrate that payoffs linked to a committee member's individual vote may explain over-cautious behavior in committees. A committee of experts must decide whether to approve or reject a proposed innovation on behalf of society. In addition to a payoff linked to the adequateness of the committee's decision, each expert receives a disesteem payoff if he/she voted in favor of an ill-fated innovation. An example is FDA committees, where committee members can be exposed to a disesteem (negative) payoff if they vote to pass a drug that proves to be fatal for some users. We show that no matter how small the disesteem payoffs are, information aggregation fails in large committees: under any majority rule, the committee rejects the innovation almost surely. We then show that this inefficiency can be mitigated by pre-vote information pooling, but only if the decision is take under unanimity: in the presence of disesteem payoffs, committee members will only vote efficiently if they are all responsible for the final decision.

December, 2013