Need a dose of humility? Look no further. As has happened often in its long history, in The Wall Street Journal's stock-picking contest, darts have outperformed human brains. (The record is 12-8.) Over the second half of 2005, six stocks selected carefully by Journal readers lost an average of 4.3%. Six stocks selected randomly, via a dart toss, advanced an average of 6.3%.

The reader picks included Altria (NYSE:MO), which did the best, gaining 16%. Boeing (NYSE:BA) rose 6.4%, Motley Fool Income Investor pick Merck (NYSE:MRK) climbed 3.3%, and Coach (NYSE:COH) fell 0.7%. The readers' worst pick was Valence Technology (NASDAQ:VLNC), down 45%.

The dart picks included Western Digital (NYSE:WDC), up 39%, but also United Natural Foods (NASDAQ:UNFI), down 13%.

One lesson you should not draw from this is to go out and buy yourself a dartboard. Instead, consider these thoughts:

  • A six-month contest is fairly meaningless. Great stocks can plunge temporarily over such short periods, while stinkers can experience brief and underserved surges. This is one reason why school stock contests aren't all they're cracked up to be. Students can learn the wrong lessons.

  • The human picks have an edge. Once the picks are announced in the newspaper, the stocks (which have obviously been selected with research and thought, since the humans want to do well) will receive some extra attention from readers. Some will likely buy the stocks, sending their prices higher than they'd otherwise be. Few readers are likely to rush out and snap up shares of dart picks.

The bottom line is that these contests are fun -- and not much else. It might be interesting, though, to revisit these contests after a longer period, such as five or 10 years. But even that's not fair, since any human with brains would likely have sold off most poor performers over long periods, instead of just holding on through the end of a contest. In a long-term contest, I suspect that human brains would prevail over darts -- perhaps even if the human brains just invested in a simple index fund.

If you're interested in seeing some more lists of well-researched stock picks and how well they've done, take advantage of a painless free trial of any of our newsletter services. At a glance, you'll be able to see a full list of our analysts' picks, along with how well they've been doing. You'll also be able to read all past issues. Our performance may surprise you.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.