Bioethics News

Degrees of Maybe: How We Can All Make Better Predictions

June 27, 2017

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Turn on the TV, and you’ll find no shortage of people who claim to know what’s going to happen: who’s going to get picked for the NBA draft, who will win the next election, which stocks will go up or down.

These pundits and prognosticators all have an air of certainty. And why shouldn’t they? We, as the audience, like to hear the world’s complexity distilled into simple, pithy accounts. It doesn’t help that these commentators rarely pay a serious price when their predictions don’t pan out.

Lurking in the background are scores of ordinary people who do a much better job of predicting the future than the so-called experts. They’re the subject of the book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, co-authored by psychologist Phil Tetlock and journalist Dan Gardner.

For years, Tetlock and his team of non-experts — among them, a retired irrigation specialist and former ballroom dancer — competed against the government’s top intelligence officers in a forecasting tournament. The people tapping at their keyboards at their public libraries or in their homes while their kids played nearby did better on questions about whether Greece would leave the Eurozone or whether Russia would invade Ukraine — questions that were literally all over the map.

Tetlock discovered important ways these “superforecasters” differed from the rest of us. They’re not all members of Mensa or polymaths. Their feats of prediction are more attainable than that: They view prediction as a skill that can be cultivated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.