Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best

Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best

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by Daniel Gardner
     
 

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An award-winning journalist uses landmark research to debunk the whole expert prediction industry, and explores the psychology of our obsession with future history.

In 2008, experts predicted gas would hit $20 a gallon; it peaked at $4.10. In 1967, they said the USSR would be the world's fastest-growing economy by 2000; by 2000, the USSR no longer

Overview

An award-winning journalist uses landmark research to debunk the whole expert prediction industry, and explores the psychology of our obsession with future history.

In 2008, experts predicted gas would hit $20 a gallon; it peaked at $4.10. In 1967, they said the USSR would be the world's fastest-growing economy by 2000; by 2000, the USSR no longer existed. In 1908, it was pronounced that there would be no more wars in Europe; we all know how that turned out. Face it, 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 terrorist attack. Future Babble 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.

In this fast-paced, example-packed, sometimes darkly hilarious book, 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 to discover something quite reassuring: The future is always uncertain, but the end is not always near.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101476093
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/17/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
347 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Future Babble is genuinely arresting... required reading for journalists, politicians, academics and anyone who listens to them."
-Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought

"Well-researched, well-reasoned, and engagingly written. I'm not making any predictions, but 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, author of Overblown and Political Scientist, Ohio State University

"As Yogi Berra observed, 'it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.' In this brilliant and engaging book, Dan Gardner shows us how tough forecasting really is, and how easy it is to be convinced otherwise by a confident expert with a good story. This is must reading for anyone who cares about the future."
-Paul Slovic, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

"If you are paying a lot of money for forecasting services-be they crystal ball gazers or math modelers or something in between-put your orders on hold until you have had a chance to read this book-a rare mix of superb scholarship and zesty prose. You may want to cancel, or at least re-negotiate the price. For the rest of us who are just addicted to what experts are telling us everyday in every kind of media about what the future holds, Future Babble will show you how to be a bit smarter than what you usually hear."
-Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgement and Mitchell Professor of Organizational Behavior, Hass School of Business, University of California

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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Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.