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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Test your talking head: experts as good as chimps with darts

A nice column on the problem with our tendency to trust experts to provide predictions (on the war, economy, etc) on radio and broadcast news programs.
The expert on experts is Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His 2005 book, “Expert Political Judgment,” is based on two decades of tracking some 82,000 predictions by 284 experts. The experts’ forecasts were tracked both on the subjects of their specialties and on subjects that they knew little about.

The result? The predictions of experts were, on average, only a tiny bit better than random guesses — the equivalent of a chimpanzee throwing darts at a board.
Indeed, the only consistent predictor was fame — and it was an inverse relationship. The more famous experts did worse than unknown ones. That had to do with a fault in the media. Talent bookers for television shows and reporters tended to call up experts who provided strong, coherent points of view, who saw things in blacks and whites. [emphasis mine]

Moldy's rule on talking heads: if you recognize them, then they're more likely than average to be wrong.  Turn off your TV.

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