Marie Claire has a fascinating short interview with psychologist Mark Thompson who was apparently hired by a big name internet dating website to work on ‘scientific matchmaking’ – but recently jumped ship when he became disillusioned with the industry.
Buyer beware: the guy has just written his own book on sex and relationships, although his comments on dating sites don’t seem to directly bear on his book promotion efforts.
Regardless, it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone give a sensible take on the limit of ‘scientific matchmaking’ as, since it has become popular, science news has regularly been bogged down by lots of poorly disguised PR fluff based on exaggerated findings or dodgy unpublished ‘statistics’.
MC: What made you leave e-dating?
MT: I hated the way we overpromised and underdelivered. Our studies showed that the odds of meeting someone online and dating him more than a month are roughly one in 10. So it’s great that all those people on the TV commercials met their spouses, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. No computer can accurately predict whom you should be with. The function of the math will make vastly more false predictions than accurate ones.
MC: But isn’t blind dating always hit or miss?
MT: Yes, but you don’t have to pay $30 a month to be set up by your friend. And you don’t go in believing that science is behind the match. There’s a different set of expectations. When diet companies show someone who lost a bunch of weight in six weeks, they have to say, “Results not typical.” I think eHarmony and other sites should do the same.
MC: Do you think online dating can be fixed?
MT: It really depends on people’s willingness to come back and tell us why each date didn’t work out so the system could get smarter. It would be like Netflix, which learns from your preferences to make better predictions for you.
Netflix for dates. Actually, it’s not such a bad idea. “If you liked this date, you might also like…” could actually come in useful you had the hots for the other person, but they weren’t so keen on you. Or just even if you’re not in it for the long-term thing perhaps.