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Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? [Hardcover]

by Philip E. Tetlock
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 5, 2005 0691123020 978-0691123028 4th Printing

The intelligence failures surrounding the invasion of Iraq dramatically illustrate the necessity of developing standards for evaluating expert opinion. This book fills that need. Here, Philip E. Tetlock explores what constitutes good judgment in predicting future events, and looks at why experts are often wrong in their forecasts.

Tetlock first discusses arguments about whether the world is too complex for people to find the tools to understand political phenomena, let alone predict the future. He evaluates predictions from experts in different fields, comparing them to predictions by well-informed laity or those based on simple extrapolation from current trends. He goes on to analyze which styles of thinking are more successful in forecasting. Classifying thinking styles using Isaiah Berlin's prototypes of the fox and the hedgehog, Tetlock contends that the fox--the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events--is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems. He notes a perversely inverse relationship between the best scientific indicators of good judgement and the qualities that the media most prizes in pundits--the single-minded determination required to prevail in ideological combat.

Clearly written and impeccably researched, the book fills a huge void in the literature on evaluating expert opinion. It will appeal across many academic disciplines as well as to corporations seeking to develop standards for judging expert decision-making.

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2006 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, American Political Science Association
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 Robert E. Lane Award, Political Psychology Section of the American Political Science Association

"It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlocks 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 theyre wrong, theyre 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 Tetlocks 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, dont 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 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, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economic sciences

"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 just what one would expect from America's most influential political psychologist: Intelligent, important, and closely argued. Both science and policy are brilliantly illuminated by Tetlock's fascinating arguments."--Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 4th Printing edition (July 5, 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 (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic of Political Science & Cognitive Psychology 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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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Careful, Plodding, Objective September 22, 2006
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Decision Making Evidence March 10, 2006
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human expert - an oxymoron ? August 17, 2009
"The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing." - Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox.

Tetlock uses the Fox-Hedgehog thinking style framework from Berlin's classic essay to distinguish between top-down ideological Hedgehogs and the far more circumspect and integrative Foxes. After a long term study of predictive ability in the political sphere - Tetlock clearly shows the superiority of Foxes over Hedgehogs (more vulnerable to cognitive biases).

However, worryingly for experts/pundits/consultants everywhere, the study also reveals the inability of humans to outperform statistical and base rate extrapolation algorithms in the predictive arena in any complex process with stochastic elements (politics/finance/economics...)
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is an important book for it gives us an insight in how to evaluate the thousands of experts who are continually bombarding us with their predictions. Tetlock chooses the difficult and murky area of political judgment, and on it centers his analysis, though his basic conclusions relate to forecasting in other areas, such as business and finance. Roughly he takes Isaiah Berlin's distinction between the hedgegog who would know one big thing, and the fox, who knows many little things as basis of his analysis. As he sees it the Hedgehogs who base themselves on big theories are invariably wrong, while the foxes who tend be more open to the actual play of reality, have a far better record.

As he understands it the Hedgehogs go overboard in making Boom or Bust predictions. He provides empircal studies data to show how they are most often wrong, even more wrong by the way when they are predicting Disaster. Those who qualify their predictions the uses of 'perhaps' and 'however' and 'nonetheless' and 'possibly' have a far better chance of getting it right.

The irony of this however is that it is precisely the Hedgehogs who are rewarded, and receive greatest Media attention. They are never punished for being wrong, for few seem to follow and check on the accuracy of the prediction. The more accurate qualified assessments are given, on the other hand, more scanty space and attention. After all when we are uncertain about the future who wants to hear a prediction which itself says it is uncertain.

This is a very instructive book, although I wish at times its systems of classification were a bit less awkward.

On the whole though this is a highly recommended and important work, which can be of real help to most of us in understanding how to separate the ' wheat ' from the 'bull'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Brilliant research written up in a clear fashion. Important work that is quoted widely. Important implications for society and our politics
Published 1 month ago by David McKay
4.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
We all think about the world and everything else in terms of our mental models. This has its own limitations, but used properly we will still be able to understand and predict the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Vinayagamoorthy
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Expert Political Judgment
My son requested this for Christmas and seems satisfied with it, although he hasn't read it all. The book did arrive promptly and in good condition.
Published 3 months ago by Mary Ann Flack
5.0 out of 5 stars The education establishment promotes teaching "critical thinking", but...
This book is excellent at demonstrating that *expertise* should be the goal of education, and not "critical thinking". Read more
Published 6 months ago by W Stephens
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Tis hard to say any thing bad about Dr. Tetlock's work here. This is proving to be an excellence resource when looking at so called "experts" and bias. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Phillip F. Crenshaw
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking
The author goes to great lengths (perhaps too great) to consider alternatives conclusions to the ones he makes. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Leo T. Hogan
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable dedication to analyzing a difficult subject
This is a significant contribution to our understanding of the difficulties of public policy forecasting. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Experts aren't always idiots. Only the stubborn ones
Great research that shows that narrow-minded blowhards are wrong more often than not, and more often than non experts. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ranty
5.0 out of 5 stars Review by J. Colannino
"Expert political judgment" -- it sounds like an oxymoron, but only because it is. Philip E. Tetlock's groundbreaking research shows that experts are no better than the rest of us... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Joseph Colannino
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired, Important -- And Infuriating
This is a critical book for anyone one who depends on professional forecasters of "social" variables, and even more for anyone whose livelihood rests on making such forecasts. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Anne Mills
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