"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.
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