April 25, 2012 Leave a comment
I predict the general election will be close. But that’s it. Limited blogging today as I have to shortly run off to serve on the North Carolina Advisory Board of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Seriously. Anyway, I did enjoy this short piece by Paul Waldman (via Drum) on the fallibility of expert prediction (though I honestly think I’m better than most). I used to hate to make predictions, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it, as much like primetime network TV, I’m all about giving the people what they want . Waldman’s first points out this oft-mentioned feature of expert prediction:
U. Penn psychologist Philip Tetlock did a lengthy analysis of predictions in politics, and concluded that while most everyone is terrible at predictions, those who have one big idea that they apply to everything do far worse than those who incorporate a diversity of ideas and sources (the former are Isaiah Berlin’shedgehogs, the latter are foxes).
But the part that really resonated is this:
Knowing how dangerous predictions can be has led me to be careful about tossing them around willy-nilly, but I’ve also noticed something else: People like predictions. [emphasis in original] When I’ve made an emphatic one, it tends to get more links and tweets. Whenever I see friends or relatives whom I haven’t seen in a while, or meet someone who finds out what I do for a living, invariably I get asked what I think the outcome of the moment’s political conflict is going to be.
Indeed. My experience exactly. Whenever I’m asked to speak somewhere as an “expert,” the most common and enthusiastic questions almost always come down to prediction. If I can actually teach a little useful political science in making my prediction I’m happy with it, even if the prediction is totally wrong. I’m actually still proud of my prediction for McCain getting the nomination in 2008 when everyone was calling him done. That said, I’m sure that I’ve forgotten all my really wrong predictions.