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(Not) predicting the future

Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world… are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys.

That’s what Louis Menand took away from Philip Tetlock’s new book (free chapter). He goes on:

People who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us… The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote.

This is exactly why I am interested in prediction markets - and those of you who dream of effective bottom-up approaches to development should also be. (Same goes for us working on scenarios and macro predictions.) This is especially true since diversity is so important to accurate decision making, as Scott Page and Lu Hung tell us:

A random group of intelligent problem solvers will outperform a group pf the best problem solvers.

Note: I have been familiar with Philip’s work for a while, but it was a talk by James Surowiecki on Friday that drew my attention to Page’s research on diversity and decision making - supposedly a book is forthcoming. Also, does anyone know if Philip Tetlock and Paul Tetlock are related? That would make sense to me.

Update: Philip Tetlock interview on TCS (via David Perry).