Dice. Coins. Roulette wheels. Monkeys throwing darts. Slips of paper in a hat. Eenie meenie miney mo. These are all methods of picking alternatives that would outperform the vast majority of political pundits.
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It’s an American tradition: In the final weeks before an election, the airwaves are saturated with pundits and their bold predictions. This time around, they might be forecasting a decade of tea-party dominance, or the imminent comeback of the Democrats or a return to recession in the face of political deadlock. And as these pundits rattle off their reasons, they sound as if they know what they’re talking about.
Do they? Philip Tetlock. a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley,looked at some history.
How did the experts do? When it came to predicting the likelihood of an outcome, the vast majority performed worse than random chance. In other words, they would have done better picking their answers blindly out of a hat. Liberals, moderates and conservatives were all equally ineffective.
What’s most disturbing about Mr. Tetlock’s study is that the failures of the pundit class don’t seem to matter. We rely on talking heads more than ever, even though the vast majority of them aren’t worth their paychecks. Our political discourse is driven in large part by people whose opinions are less accurate than a coin toss.