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Why Experts Often Get the Future Wrong

March 25, 2011

Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Are Next to Worthless, and You Can Do Better

From Booklist

“We humans have an apparently insatiable appetite for predictions about the future, but the “experts” to whom we turn for predictions often do an exceedingly poor job of forecasting. Why? Drawing upon the research of psychologist Philip Tetlock, whose 20-year study of expert predictions suggested that experts were about as accurate in predicting the future as dart-throwing monkeys, as well as insights from cognitive science, Ottawa journalist Gardner argues that the problem is not lousy experts so much as our deeply rooted human need for certainty. Wanting definite, unqualified answers about the future, we encourage experts to make bold, unconditional predictions that often turn out to be wrong; but we are quick to forgive and forget. (Recall, for example, the many predictioneers who forecast clear economic sailing through the fall of 2008). Like his earlier work, in which Gardner also explored the challenge of dealing with uncertainty (The Science of Fear, 2009), this selection urges (and demonstrates) a calm, rational perspective; a healthy skepticism; and an effort to make peace with life’s uncertainties. –Brendan Driscoll”

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