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Don’t Trust the Experts

They can be in their own self-induced echo chamber.

I’ve been reading the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Crawling through the book might be a more apt description of my reading pace.

However, today I read the quote below. The author goes on later in the book to state that these “experts” make wonderful television guests as they pontificate on what is going to happen. They just are not that accurate in their predictions.

A word to the wise: Be more of a skeptical consumer of predictions in the future.

“The average expert was a horrific forecaster. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, academic degrees, and even (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting, bad at long-term forecasting, and bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that some future event was impossible or nearly impossible, it nonetheless occurred 15 percent of the time. When they declared a sure thing, it failed to transpire more than one-quarter of the time. The Danish proverb that warns ‘It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,’ was right. Dilettantes who were pitted against the experts were no more clairvoyant, but at least they were less likely to call future events either impossible or sure things, leaving them with fewer laugh-out-loud errors to atone for—if, that was, the experts had believed in atonement. Many experts never admitted systematic flaws in their judgment, even in the face of their results. When they succeeded, it was completely on their own merits—their expertise clearly enabled them to figure out the world. When they missed wildly, it was always a near miss; they had certainly understood the situation, they insisted, and if just one little thing had gone differently, they would have nailed it. Or, like Ehrlich, their understanding was correct; the timeline was just a bit off. Victories were total victories, and defeats were always just a touch of bad luck away from having been victories too. Experts remained undefeated while losing constantly. ‘There is often a curiously inverse relationship,’ Tetlock concluded, ‘between how well forecasters thought they were doing and how well they did.’”
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.