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Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway | [Dan Gardner]

Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway

In Future Babble, award-winning journalist Dan Gardner presents landmark research debunking the whole expert prediction industry and explores our obsession with the future. The truth is that experts are about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys.
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Publisher's Summary

In Future Babble, award-winning journalist Dan Gardner presents landmark research debunking the whole expert prediction industry and explores our obsession with the future.

In 2008, as the price of oil surged above $140 a barrel, experts said it would soon hit $200; it then plunged to $30. In 1967, they said the USSR would be the world’s fastest-growing economy by 2000; by 2000, the USSR no longer existed. In 1911, it was pronounced that there would be no more wars in Europe—we all know how that turned out.

The truth is that experts are about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys. And yet, every day we ask them to predict the future—everything from the weather to the likelihood of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

Here is the first book to examine this phenomenon, showing why our brains yearn for certainty about the future, why we are attracted to those who predict it confidently, and why it’s so easy for us to ignore the trail of outrageously wrong forecasts. How good you are at predicting the future doesn’t depend on your education or experience. It depends on how you think: like a fox or like a hedgehog. Foxes know a little about a lot of things. They have doubts. They often sound wishy-washy. And you don’t see them on television much. On the other hand, hedgehogs know a lot about one thing. They are absolutely certain. They are confident. Almost every popular expert you can think of is a hedgehog. And they are experts at explaining away predictions they made that turned out to be wrong. For real insight into what is coming next, you need to consult foxes and think like one, too. Future Babble explains in detail what that means, and how you can tell foxes and hedgehogs apart.

n this example-packed, sometimes darkly hilarious audiobook, journalist Dan Gardner shows how seminal research by UC Berkeley professor Philip Tetlock proved that the more famous a pundit is, the more likely he is to be right about as often as a stopped watch. Gardner also draws on current research in cognitive psychology, political science, and behavioral economics in delivering this reassuring message: The future is always uncertain, but the end is not always near.

©2011 Dan Gardner (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp

What the Critics Say

“We can only hope that this brilliant book will shock the human race, and particularly the chattering expert class, into a condition of humility about proclamations about the future.” (John Mueller, political scientist, Ohio State University; author of Overblown)

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    Christopher Norwalk, CT, United States 08-24-11
    Christopher Norwalk, CT, United States 08-24-11 Member Since 2004
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    "Sobering and Informative"

    I'm a bit surprised at the other 2 reviews listed here and I fear they may have missed the point. In particular, judging a book based on what it "implies by omission" is inexplicably poor logic. Defending unfulfilled predictions based on the idea that they may one day come true is similarly difficult to digest.

    Dan Gardner points out in this book that expert predictions are wrong far, far more often than we'd like to think (equivalent to a monkey throwing darts) and yet people put far too much trust in those predictions time and time again. He does not recommend any particular course of action to remedy this (other than reasonable caution), but so what? He points out this error and points out that it continues to be made despite scads of evidence showing why we should consciously try to avoid making it. He shows why we make this mistake. He explains the science behind the book, which is solid.

    He does not imply (even by omission) that we should not plan for the future. He merely points out that using expert predictions has proven to be an ineffective tool for decision making. For example, we SHOULD develop and improve renewable, environmentally friendly energy sources because it makes perfect sense to do so, not because some "expert" predicts huge oil shortages.

    We all love to have answers and we all love to believe we have insider knowledge of what the future holds. This is a serious weakness that can be and is exploited by people time and time again. You are far better off with no answer at all than you are with a wrong answer. At least understanding that we don't know what the future holds is a reasonable position to take, and we can move forward ready for anything.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    Steve from MD 08-10-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Just plain babble"

    I wanted to like this book and thought I would correct the previous reviews. Unfortunately this is just bad science and not well researched. Some parts are accurate but lots suffer from the same problems he complains about. Yes predicting the future is difficult. However, anypne can selective cherry pick data to make a point. Yes there are lots of biases that may cause this problem. One which he does not seem to recoginize, despite talking about the origins early in the book is publication bias. People do not buy books that are about happy and cheerful outlooks. People want to read about disasters and problems. There are better books out there, I would pass on this one.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    Karen Springfield, OR, United States 05-04-11
    Karen Springfield, OR, United States 05-04-11 Member Since 2010
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    "Future Babble Babble"

    Besides being endlessly repetitious, I disagree with Gardner’s premise that expert predictions, especially those of what he terms“hedgehogs” who have a certainty about their predictions, are almost always wrong. Gardner’s reasoning lacks (1) an accurate frame of reference and (2) is completely non-scientifically supported. For example, Paul Ehrlich, predicted massive famines, resource depletion and environmental degradation as a result of overpopulation (and endless growth). Gardner emphatically claims, over and over, that Ehrlich was wrong, because his predictions of human and environmental catastrophes that were supposed to occur in the 1970’s didn’t happen.

    If you read Ehrlich carefully, he does not state with certainty that everything he predicts will come true in the 1970’s – only that it will come true, eventually. Simple logic will tell you that. The human population cannot continue expanding indefinitely. The earth is finite. Sooner or later, human numbers will outstrip both food supply and the ability of the earth to produce enough food. Sooner or later petroleum, copper, titanium, etc. are all going to run out, and it will not be possible to produce the products that depend on them, except at exorbitant cost. The more people, the less resources per capita and the bigger the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. This is not a recipe for a peaceful and stable future.

    Ehrlich’s message is really that we have to be aware that there are limits to growth and to our consumptive way of life. What Gardner does not state but implies through omission, is that we can blithely go on with whatever profligate agenda we have in mind, and something will always come along to mitigate our effects. I don’t personally believe this. Sooner or later the piper will have to be paid, and fundamentally Ehrlich is right.

    Gardner has his own ax to grind, and he does so ceaselessly. Perhaps his form of babble makes him the biggest hedgehog of them all.

    6 of 14 people found this review helpful
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