From Publishers Weekly
Gardner, a columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen (The Science of Fear), examines the misguided trust people place in media forecasters and "legions of experts" who make meaningless predictions about the future. He reviews the findings of psychologist Philip Tetlock, who had 284 experts from a range of disciplines make 27,450 predictions on political and economic trends, concluding they produced about the same results as random guesses. Biologist Paul Erhlich is one of his main targets. In 1968's The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted mass famines. In fact, Gardner points to America's "epidemic of obesity" and growing calorie intake worldwide. Gardner also probes economic and environmental worries, and warnings of wars, climate change, the Y2K hysteria, and the weather, which he says can be forecast with accuracy only at most two days out. Successful predictions are celebrated, Gardner says, while the wrong ones are forgotten. Yet he might have done well to remember more of those accurate predictions, and to focus more on Tetlock's conclusions about those experts who show greater accuracy and on how the public might recognize them. Instead, he writes off accurate predictions as "likely... a coincidence." (Mar. 17)
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We humans have an apparently insatiable appetite for predictions about the future, but the �experts� to whom we turn for predictions often do an exceedingly poor job of forecasting. Why? Drawing upon the research of psychologist Philip Tetlock, whose 20-year study of expert predictions suggested that experts were about as accurate in predicting the future as dart-throwing monkeys, as well as insights from cognitive science, Ottawa journalist Gardner argues that the problem is not lousy experts so much as our deeply rooted human need for certainty. Wanting definite, unqualified answers about the future, we encourage experts to make bold, unconditional predictions that often turn out to be wrong; but we are quick to forgive and forget. (Recall, for example, the many predictioneers who forecast clear economic sailing through the fall of 2008). Like his earlier work, in which Gardner also explored the challenge of dealing with uncertainty (The Science of Fear, 2009), this selection urges (and demonstrates) a calm, rational perspective; a healthy skepticism; and an effort to make peace with life�s uncertainties. --Brendan Driscoll
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