Can Pundits Actually Prognosticate? Answer: Mostly, No

from the nice to see some lookback dept

I’ve discussed in the past how loath the tech industry often is to ever look back at analyst “predictions.” The big research firms come out with all sorts of ridiculous predictions, and no one ever goes back and figures out how accurate they were. It seems that the same thing is frequently true with political prognosticators, so it’s interesting to see a Hamilton College public policy class analyze the predictions of 26 political pundits over the period of 15 months (September 2007 to December 2008) and measure how good the pundits were. It turns out most were “no better than a coin toss.” I’m not entirely convinced of the methodology, since it seems to make use of some subjective analysis from the description, but for the politically minded, it’s at least interesting to note that the most “accurate” pundits all fall on the left of the traditional political spectrum, while the least successful tended to fall on the right. I do wonder how much of that has to do with the timing (the period covered the financial decline and the Presidential election). It would be interesting to see a similar test run during a different period of time as well. I wonder if a similar analysis, say, prior to the election of a Republican president, would have turned up the opposite results. In other words: was there a fundamental quality in the predictions, or was it just that “the winning team” looks smarter in retrospect? Either way, it’s still great that people are going back and looking at how well some of these prognosticators did.

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I always figured that if an “expert” was correct more than 50% of the time, then it was a win. It is easy for experts to get distracted by some detail and miss the big picture which is why it is much easier to be wrong than right. I watched Bill Gates pretty closely when he was still running Microsoft, and it looked to me that he was right a little over half the time. But that was enough to make him a billionaire.


Unskilled and Unaware

I strongly suspect one of the major pitfalls of ‘professional journalism’ is exactly that they are trained in journalism. They then think this training grants them expertise in nearly all other areas of life. I would love to see a world in which journalism was only offered as a secondary major, and journalists reported on their primary fields.

There is a fascinating paper (pdf) here:

It shows how people tend to vastly overestimate their abilities in an area they are unskilled. If you’ve never read it you should.

Of course seeing as how I’m unskilled in the field of journalism, it’s entirely possible I’ve fallen into my own trap.


Re: Unskilled and Unaware

I strongly suspect one of the major pitfalls of ‘professional journalism’ is exactly that they are trained in journalism. They then think this training grants them expertise in nearly all other areas of life.

This is so true it hurts.

We need to remember that almost all reporters are generalists, which means they’re relying on ‘sources’ to feed them information. Just about anything you read from mainstream sources should be treated as a press release. Because it usually is.

Ron Rezendessays:

For those who didn't know....

Loath or Loathe?

Loath is an adjective meaning “unwilling.” It ends with a hard th and rhymes with growth or both.

Loathe is a verb meaning “to hate intensely.” It ends with a soft th like the sound in smooth or breathe.

Examples: He was loath to admit that he was included in the deal.
(He was unwilling)

Alex loathes spiders.
(Hates them intensely)

Copyright?1997-2006 English Plus, All rights reserved.

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