Would You Rather Be Popular or Accurate?

That is, if you were a political pundit, would your rather be popular or accurate? To answer this question we need to review research done by Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology and political science. In 1987 he started collecting predictions from a broad array of experts in academia and government on a wide variety of topics in domestic politics, economics, and international relations. He asked theses experts to make predictions on a periodic basis about major events. This study spanned more than fifteen years and was published in his 2005 book, Expert Political Judgment. Regardless of their backgrounds, these experts did barely better than random chance, and had done even worse than rudimentary statistical methods at predicting future political events. About 15 percent of the events they predicted to have no chance of occurring, happened, and about 25% of those they said were absolutely sure things failed to occur. At this point you might have decided against a career as a pundit, but remember many pundits manage to make a living, and some pundits make a very good living.

Tetlock was able to classify his pundits into two classes that he called hedgehogs and foxes, The Greek poet Archilochus had written, “The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Hedgehogs believe in Big Ideas, in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and underlie most every interaction in society. Hedgehogs tend to be specialized, stalwart, stubborn, order-seeking, confident, and ideological. These are all traits that make hedgehogs weaker forecasters.

On the other hand, foxes are scrappy creatures who believe in many little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches towards a problem. Foxes are multidisciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerant of complexity, cautious and empirical. These are all traits that make foxes better forecasters. “Better” is used in a relative context as the overall performance was quite poor.

So, would you rather be a fox or a hedgehog? Hedgehogs tend to be much more popular on TV talk shows as they are strong spoken and sure in their beliefs. They tend not to equivocate, even though the issues are complex and they are quite likely to be wrong. This is likely a contributing factor to the polarization of society. In his 1970 book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler predicted future technology would lead to the polarization of society. This is one of the mechanisms by which the polarization occurs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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