Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 10:17 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 10:17 | SYDNEY

Prediction is tough...


Sam Roggeveen


26 August 2009 11:25

...particularly of the future.

This Philip Tetlock review essay (h/t Drezner) is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the prediction business. We've previously discussed on this blog Tetlock's research on the appalling success rate of predictions made by political experts, and he's in brilliant form again here, examining three new books that offer predictions of the world to come. Best quotes:

There is a paucity of evidence—peer-reviewed scientific evidence—that forecasters know how to deliver the goods: reliably accurate political, economic and technological predictions. In fact, when I have staged competitions, many forecasters fail to outperform the proverbial dart-throwing chimpanzee—and most cannot outperform extrapolation algorithms that simply predict “more of the same.”

Karl Marx hit the nail on the head when he quipped that, when the train of history hits a curve, the intellectuals fall off.

What experts think—where they fall along the Left-Right spectrum—is a weak predictor of accuracy. But how experts think is a surprisingly consistent predictor.

Appreciating the power of hindsight bias makes us think harder about how we think: if we can “explain” the past so easily and predict the future so poorly, perhaps we should reconsider how we go about doing both.

Both private- and public-sector prognosticators must master the same tightrope-walking act. They know they need to sound as though they are offering bold, fresh insights into the future not readily available off the street. And they know they cannot afford to be linked to flat-out mistakes. Accordingly, they have to appear to be going out on a limb without actually going out on one.