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Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Hardcover – July 25, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0691123028 ISBN-10: 0691123020 Edition: 4th Printing
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order
Winner of the 2006 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association
Winner of the 2006 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association
Winner of the 2006 Robert E. Lane Award, Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association

"It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock's new book . . . that people who make prediction their business--people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables--are no better than the rest of us. When they're wrong, they're rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. . . . It would be nice if there were fewer partisans on television disguised as "analysts" and "experts". . . . But the best lesson of Tetlock's book may be the one that he seems most reluctant to draw: Think for yourself."--Louis Menand, The New Yorker

"The definitive work on this question. . . . Tetlock systematically collected a vast number of individual forecasts about political and economic events, made by recognised experts over a period of more than 20 years. He showed that these forecasts were not very much better than making predictions by chance, and also that experts performed only slightly better than the average person who was casually informed about the subject in hand."--Gavyn Davies, Financial Times

"Before anyone turns an ear to the panels of pundits, they might do well to obtain a copy of Phillip Tetlock's new book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? The Berkeley psychiatrist has apparently made a 20-year study of predictions by the sorts who appear as experts on TV and get quoted in newspapers and found that they are no better than the rest of us at prognostication."--Jim Coyle, Toronto Star

"Tetlock uses science and policy to brilliantly explore what constitutes good judgment in predicting future events and to examine why experts are often wrong in their forecasts."--Choice

"[This] book . . . Marshals powerful evidence to make [its] case. Expert Political Judgment . . . Summarizes the results of a truly amazing research project. . . . The question that screams out from the data is why the world keeps believing that "experts" exist at all."--Geoffrey Colvin, Fortune

"Philip Tetlock has just produced a study which suggests we should view expertise in political forecasting--by academics or intelligence analysts, independent pundits, journalists or institutional specialists--with the same skepticism that the well-informed now apply to stockmarket forecasting. . . . It is the scientific spirit with which he tackled his project that is the most notable thing about his book, but the findings of his inquiry are important and, for both reasons, everyone seriously concerned with forecasting, political risk, strategic analysis and public policy debate would do well to read the book."--Paul Monk, Australian Financial Review

"Phillip E. Tetlock does a remarkable job . . . applying the high-end statistical and methodological tools of social science to the alchemistic world of the political prognosticator. The result is a fascinating blend of science and storytelling, in the the best sense of both words."--William D. Crano, PsysCRITIQUES

"Mr. Tetlock's analysis is about political judgment but equally relevant to economic and commercial assessments."--John Kay, Financial Times

"Why do most political experts prove to be wrong most of time? For an answer, you might want to browse through a very fascinating study by Philip Tetlock . . . who in Expert Political Judgment contends that there is no direct correlation between the intelligence and knowledge of the political expert and the quality of his or her forecasts. If you want to know whether this or that pundit is making a correct prediction, don't ask yourself what he or she is thinking--but how he or she is thinking."--Leon Hadar, Business Times

From the Inside Flap

"This book is a major contribution to our thinking about political judgment. Philip Tetlock formulates coding rules by which to categorize the observations of individuals, and arrives at several interesting hypotheses. He lays out the many strategies that experts use to avoid learning from surprising real-world events."--Deborah W. Larson, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is a marvelous book--fascinating and important. It provides a stimulating and often profound discussion, not only of what sort of people tend to be better predictors than others, but of what we mean by good judgment and the nature of objectivity. It examines the tensions between holding to beliefs that have served us well and responding rapidly to new information. Unusual in its breadth and reach, the subtlety and sophistication of its analysis, and the fair-mindedness of the alternative perspectives it provides, it is a must-read for all those interested in how political judgments are formed."--Robert Jervis, Columbia University

"This book is a landmark in both content and style of argument. It is a major advance in our understanding of expert judgment in the vitally important and almost impossible task of political and strategic forecasting. Tetlock also offers a unique example of even-handed social science. This may be the first book I have seen in which the arguments and objections of opponents are presented with as much care as the author's own position."--Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 4th Printing edition (July 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691123020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691123028
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,093,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Frank Stech on January 5, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tetlock shows conclusively two key points: First, the best experts in making political estimates and forecasts are no more accurate than fairly simple mathematical models of their estimative processes. This is yet another confirmation of what Robyn Dawes termed "the robust beauty of simple linear models." The inability of human experts to out-perform models based on their expertise has been demonstrated in over one hundred fields of expertise over fifty years of research; one of the most robust findings in social science. Political experts are no exception.

Secondly, Tetlock demonstrates that experts who know something about a number of related topics (foxes) predict better than experts who know a great deal about one thing (hedgehogs). Generalist knowledge adds to accuracy.

Tetlock's survey of this research is clear, crisp, and compelling. His work has direct application to world affairs. For example he is presenting his findings to a conference of Intelligence Community leaders next week (Jan 2007) at the invitation of the Director of National Intelligence.

"Expert Political Judgment" is recommended to anyone who depends on political experts, which is pretty much all of us. Tetlock helps the non-experts to know more about what the experts know, how they know it, and how much good it does them in making predictions.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on September 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is a rather dry description of good research into the forecasting abilities of people who are regarded as political experts. It is unusually fair and unbiased.

His most important finding about what distinguishes the worst from the not-so-bad is that those on the hedgehog end of Isaiah Berlin's spectrum (who derive predictions from a single grand vision) are wrong more often than those near the fox end (who use many different ideas). He convinced me that that finding is approximately right, but leaves me with questions.

Does the correlation persist at the fox end of the spectrum, or do the most fox-like subjects show some diminished accuracy?

How do we reconcile his evidence that humans with more complex thinking do better than simplistic humans, but simple autoregressive models beat all humans? That seems to suggest there's something imperfect in using the hedgehog-fox spectrum. Maybe a better spectrum would use evidence on how much data influences their worldviews?

Another interesting finding is that optimists tend to be more accurate than pessimists. I'd like to know how broad a set of domains this applies to. It certainly doesn't apply to predicting software shipment dates. Does it apply mainly to domains where experts depend on media attention?

To what extent can different ways of selecting experts change the results? Tetlock probably chose subjects that resemble those who most people regard as experts, but there must be ways of selecting experts which produce better forecasts. It seems unlikely they can match <a href="[...]">prediction markets</a>, but there are situations where we probably can't avoid relying on experts.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By T. Coyne on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As both a consultant and an investment manager I have spent a lot of years studying decision theory. One limitation in a lot of the work I encountered was its heavy reliance on lab studies using students. You were never quite sure if the conclusions applied in the "real world." This outstanding book puts that concern to rest. It is by far the richest body of evidence I have encountered on decision making in real world situations. Anybody interested in decision making and decision theory will profit from reading it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Shapiro on October 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
Tetlock takes on an issue that transcends the social sciences. When should we trust experts (he focuses on political experts but I think (and I think he would agree) that his findings have broader applicability)? His carefully constructed tests indicate that on average experts are little better than the lay public and inferior to simple statistical models. Within the expert fields "foxes" are better than "hedgehogs." Generalists and flexible thinkers are better than ideologues and narrow specialists.

I tend to like this book in part because it reaffirms my prior beliefs. And it does so in a very careful way. Tetlock bends over backwards to test his own conclusions. A particularly insightful conclusion is that those who are most likely to get publicity for their predictions are also those who are least likely to be right.

Two mild criticisms. First, the book veers into the highly technical at times and is not really for the lay reader. It was perhaps not intended to be for an audience beyond academia but some of the attention it has gotten may have attracted a broader audience that may have to gloss over wide sections of the book. Second, in his conclusions, Tetlock attempts to broaden his already far-reaching argument to deal with conflicts between relativists and objectivists. This felt tacked on and too cursory to contribute in this area.

But as far as his treatment of experts goes, I wish that everyone could read this and treat them with a more cynical eye.
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