Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best [NOOK Book]


"Genuinely arresting . . . required reading for journalists, politicians, academics, and anyone who listens to them."
-Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

We are awash in predictions. In newspapers, blogs, and books; on radio and television. Every day experts tell us how the economy will perform next year, if housing sales will ...
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Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best

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"Genuinely arresting . . . required reading for journalists, politicians, academics, and anyone who listens to them."
-Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works

We are awash in predictions. In newspapers, blogs, and books; on radio and television. Every day experts tell us how the economy will perform next year, if housing sales will grow or shrink, and who will win the next election. Predictions are offered about the climate, food, technology, and the world our grandchildren will inhabit. And we can't get enough of it.

Drawing on research in cognitive psychology, political science, and behavioral economics, award-winning journalist Dan Gardner explores our obsession with the future. He shows how famous pundits, "hedgehogs" who stick to one big idea no matter how circumstances change, become expert at explaining away predictions that are wrong while "foxes," who are more equivocal in their judgments, are simply more accurate.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

"Everybody knows everything anyway," muttered old Jack Kerouac. Wrong: Nobody knows anything, writes Ottawa Citizen columnist Gardner (The Science of Fear, 2008), least of all the experts.

When it is possible to be wrong, people are wrong. There's no news in that. What is news is that nearly every expert prediction about the shape of future things is off the mark. By the accounts of the experts of the time, anyone born in the Great Depression was doomed to a life of want and scarcity, though instead they got peace and prosperity—indeed, writes the author, "there has never been a more fortunate generation." So why can't the pundits get it right? Gardner is strong on the observational but weaker on the whys and wherefores, relying on—yes—expert testimony that analyzes a body of "27,450 judgments about the future" to suggest that most forecasters are generally wrong, no matter what their politics, their relative pessimism or optimism or their experience. Those who succeed are "comfortable with complexity and uncertainty"—in other words, they're seasoned enough to qualify and hedge their predictions enough to escape criticism. Gardner takes a few jabs at such pundits as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who claims a 90 percent correct prediction rate (seeThe Predictioneer's Game, 2009), which Gardner heartily doubts. The author also revisits famed prognostications concerning peak oil and coming world famine. Yet, in the end, the book lacks hard data and phrases big questions to come up with the answers it seeks—just in the manner of your run-of-the-mill futurist.

Here's an expert prediction: This so-so book, despite its modest merits, will sink like a stone. Now watch it hit the bestseller lists.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101476093
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/17/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 892,332
  • File size: 340 KB

Meet the Author

Dan Gardner is a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and has received numerous awards, including the Michener Award and the Amnesty International Canada Media Award. He lives in Ottawa, Canada.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 Introduction 1

2 The Unpredictable World 29

3 In the Minds of Experts 58

4 The Experts Agree: Expect Much More of the Same 91

5 Unsettled by Uncertainty 118

6 Everyone Loves a Hedgehog 143

7 When Prophets Fail 193

8 The End Is Nigh 234

Notes 267

Bibliography 287

Index 295

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    Uninformative book

    I guess this book is exactly the sort of disappointment you would expect from a hedgehog obsessed with a single phenomenon bit without the education or erudition to do better than write a boring history of the common knowledge of failed predictions. I thought I was buying an expose of a phenomenon alongside a meaningful neurological explanation. What I got was an expose of the author's confusion of Wikipedia with having something worth saying. Do not waste your money on this book unless you don't yet have a firm grasp of the basics on the subject...and for that matter, I'm sure someone will fill you in on the basics without wasting your time with a history lesson.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2012

    Writing others' wrongs

    Good book about experts getting it wrong and why we keep getting suckered by them. Parody and psychology. Repeatedly tees off on Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the poster boy of bad prediction. A little overboard in spots(as when the author argues that the Second Coming won't happen because it hasn't), but well written entertaining and informative nevertheless.

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