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Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction Paperback – September 13, 2016
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A New York Times Editors' Choice
A Washington Post Bestseller
A Hudson Booksellers Best Business Interest Book of 2015
Longlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
Winner of the Axiom Business Book Award in Business Theory (Gold Medal)
“A top choice [for best book of 2015] among the world’s biggest names in finance and economics... Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer, Deutsche Bank Chief U.S. Economist Joe LaVorgna, and Citigroup Vice Chairman Peter Orszag were among those giving it a thumbs-up.”
“The material in Superforecasting is new, and includes a compendium of best practices for prediction… The accuracy that ordinary people regularly attained through their meticulous application did amaze me… [It offers] us all an opportunity to understand and react more intelligently to the confusing world around us.”
—New York Times Book Review
"Tetlock's thesis is that politics and human affairs are not inscrutable mysteries. Instead, they are a bit like weather forecasting, where short-term predictions are possible and reasonably accurate... The techniques and habits of mind set out in this book are a gift to anyone who has to think about what the future might bring. In other words, to everyone."
"Tetlock’s work is fascinating and important, and he and Gardner have written it up here with verve."
—The Financial Times
“Superforecasting is the most important scientific study I’ve ever read on prediction.”
—Cass R. Sunstein, The Bloomberg View
"Just as modern medicine began when a farsighted few began to collect data and keep track of outcomes, to trust objective 'scoring' over their own intuitions, it's time now for similar demands to be made of the experts who lead public opinion. It's time for evidence-based forecasting."
—The Washington Post
"Superforecasting, by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, is one of the most interesting business and finance books published in 2015.”
—John Kay, The Financial Times
"One of Tetlock's key points is that these aren't innate skills: they can be both taught and learned... Tetlock's 'Ten Commandments For Aspiring Superforecasters' should probably have a place of honor in most business meeting rooms."
"The key to becoming a better forecaster, if not a super one, according to Tetlock is the same as any other endeavor: practice, practice, practice."
"In this captivating book, Tetlock argues that success is all about the approach: foresight is not a gift but rather a product of a particular way of thinking... In each chapter, the author augments his research with compelling interviews, anecdotes, and historical context, using accessible real-world examples to frame what could otherwise be dense subject matter. His writing is so engaging and his argument so tantalizing, readers will quickly be drawn into the challenge - in the appendix, the author provides a concise training manual to do just that. A must-read field guide for the intellectually curious."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred
"Tetlock and Gardner believe anyone can improve their forecasting ability by learning from the way they work. If that's true, people in business and finance who make an effort to do so have a lot to gain — and those who don't, much to lose."
—The Financial Post
"Superforecasting is a very good book. In fact it is essential reading — which I have never said in any of my previous MT reviews... It should be on every manager's and investor's reading list around the topics du jour of decision-making, prediction and behavioural economics."
"I've been hard on social science, even suggesting that 'social science' is an oxymoron. I noted, however, that social science has enormous potential, especially when it combines 'rigorous empiricism with a resistance to absolute answers.' The work of Philip Tetlock possesses these qualities."
"One of the best books I've read this year... Superforecasting is a must read book."
"Keen to show that not all forecasting is a flop, Tetlock has conducted a new experiment that shows how you can make good forecasts, ones that routinely improve on predictions made by even the most well-informed expert. The book is full of excellent advice — it is the best thing I have read on predictions, which is a subject I am keen on... Gardner has turned the research into readable examples and a flowing text, without losing rigour... This book shows that you can be better at forecasting."
—The Times of London
"We now expect every medicine to be tested before it is used. We ought to expect that everybody who aspires to high office is trained to understand why they are so likely to make mistakes forecasting complex events... Politics is harder than physics but Tetlock has shown that it doesn't have to be like astrology."
“Philip Tetlock is the world expert on a vital subject. Superforecasting is the wonderful story of how he and his research team got ordinary people to beat experts in a very serious game. It is also a manual for thinking clearly in an uncertain world. Read it.”
—Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow
“Superforecasting is a rare book that will make you smarter and wiser. One of the giants of behavioral science reveals how to improve at predicting the future.”
—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals
“The best way to know if an idea is right is to see if it predicts the future. But which ideas, which methods, which people have a track record of non-obvious predictions vindicated by the course of events? The answers will surprise you, and they have radical implications for politics, policy, journalism, education, and even epistemology—how we can best gain knowledge about the world. The casual style of Superforecasting belies the profundity of its message.”
—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature
“Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting is a common-sense guide to thinking about decision-making and the future by a man who knows this terrain like no one else.”
—Ian Bremmer, Bloomberg Business’ Best Books of 2015
“In this accessible and lively book, Tetlock and Gardner recognize the centrality of probabilistic thinking to sound forecasting. Whether you are a policymaker or anyone else who wants to approach decisions with great rigor, Superforecasting will serve as a highly useful guide.”
—Robert E. Rubin, Former U.S. Treasury Secretary
“How well can we predict the future, really? There is no better way to answer that question than to read this book. You will come away disillusioned about the ability of experts, but also enlightened about how the best forecasters do it—and maybe even hopeful about your own prospects.”
—Tyler Cowen, Director of the George Mason University Mercatus Center and author of Average Is Over
“For thousands of years, people have listened to those who foretold the future with confidence and little accountability. In this book, Tetlock and Gardner free us from our foolishness. Full of great stories and simple statistics, Superforecasting gives us a new way of thinking about the complexity of the world, the limitations of our minds, and why some people can consistently outpredict a dart-throwing chimp. Tetlock’s research has the potential to revolutionize foreign policy, economic policy, and your own day-to-day decisions.”
—Jonathan Haidt, New York University Stern School of Business, and author of The Righteous Mind
“[Superforecasting] shows that you can get information from a lot of different sources. Knowledge is all around us and it doesn’t have to come from the experts.”
—Joe LaVorgna, Bloomberg Business’ Best Books of 2015
“Good judgment and good forecasting are rare, but they turn out to be made of teachable skills. By forcing forecasters to compete, Tetlock discovered what the skills are and how they work, and this book teaches the ability to any interested reader.”
—Stewart Brand, President, The Long Now Foundation
“Philip Tetlock is renowned for demonstrating that most experts are no better than ‘dart-throwing monkeys’ at predicting elections, wars, economic collapses and other events. In his brilliant new book, Tetlock offers a much more hopeful message, based once again on his own ground-breaking research. He shows that certain people can forecast events with accuracy much better than chance—and so, perhaps, can the rest of us, if we emulate the critical thinking of these ‘superforecasters.’ The self-empowerment genre doesn’t get any smarter and more sophisticated than this.”
—John Horgan, Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology
“Superforecasting is the rare book that is both scholarly and engaging. The lessons are scientific, compelling, and enormously practical. Anyone who is in the forecasting business—and that’s all of us—should drop what they are doing and read it.”
—Michael J. Mauboussin, Head of Global Financial Strategies, Credit Suisse
“[Superforecasting] highlights the techniques and attributes of superforecasters—that is, those whose predictions have been demonstrated to be remarkably accurate—in a manner that’s both rigorous and readable. The lessons are directly relevant to business, finance, government, and politics.”
—Peter Orszag, Bloomberg Business’ Best Books of 2015
“There isn’t a social scientist in the world I admire more than Phil Tetlock.”
—Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist
“From the Oracle of Delphi to medieval astrologers to modern overconfident experts, forecasters have been either deluded or fraudulent. For the first time, Superforecasting reveals the secret of making honest, reliable, effective, useful judgments about the future.”
—Aaron Brown, Chief Risk Officer of AQR Capital Management and author of The Poker Face of Wall Street
“Socrates had the insight in ‘know thyself,’ Kahneman delivered the science in Thinking, Fast and Slow, and now Tetlock has something we can all apply in Superforecasting.”
—Juan Luis Perez, Global Head of UBS Group Research
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Philip E. Tetlock is the Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and holds appointments in the psychology and political science departments and the Wharton School of Business. He and his wife, Barbara Mellers, are the co-leaders of the Good Judgment Project, a multi-year forecasting study. He is also the author of Expert Political Judgment and (with Aaron Belkin) Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics.
Dan Gardner is a journalist and the author of Risk and Future Babble: Why Pundits are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best.
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The style is **extreme pop-science**. What do I mean with that? Far too many pages, plentiful descriptions of minute irrelevant details of individuals (so called human interest points - I guess that is what they teach in creative writing), never any figure or number (e.g. 67% is changed to two thirds), all difficult material removed or put in a footnote. And how come a book with two authors use the pronoun "I" all the time?
The researcher has run a forecasting tournament for several years. He has loads of data, but he does not provide any analysis in the book. He refers to his research in footnotes, but no explanation or description at all. Instead we get statements like 80% of superforecasters are more intelligent than average. What is wrong with running a regression to find out what characteristics are important? Why spend five chapters going through the characteristics of superforecasters? In the end, apparently, two characteristics stand out. (1) Continual updating of forecasts, (2) Being intelligent. That fact is told after around 200 pages of tedious writing. Wtf? I can reluctantly accept dumbing down the book, but it is inexcusable that the footnotes does not include some further help to the reader that wants more depth.
The author likes to give minute details of the superforcasters. Personally, I don't care that Brian likes Facebook updates of cats, that John is retired because he is sick and that he now likes to collect stuff or that Steve is and old colleague of the author that likes opera. Who reads and enjoy this written muzak? It goes on chapter after chapter. We "meet" 15-20 superforecasters.
There is a lot about the superforecasters in the book, but the title of the book is "Superforecasting". This is a seriously misleading title. It makes you believe that you will learn tools to become a great forecaster. You get some, mostly general, points in an eight page appendix. With the researcher's experience, I would have expected a lot of practical advice.
What is good about the book?
(1) The key message that experts are lousy forecasters and do not want accountability is very important, but that was already in the author's earlier book.
(2) Some useful anecdotes that you probably should pick up if you are teaching/presenting on the topic.
(3) Odd bits of information. I liked the discussion of how the German military used what we consider modern management already 100 years ago. As mentioned earlier, there are 50 pages of really good material in the book.
I bought the hard-cover edition. If you make notes with a normal pencil, be careful because it easily pierces the paper.
The book is worth two stars. If you are en educator and want a few anecdotes, read the book. Others should give it a pass. Instead sign up to the author's forecasting tournament. You learn more by trial and error learning. I signed up two years ago and it is a useful experience. You can also check the video features on edge.org. Then spend time reading better books. A few rigorous pop-science books:
* Another forecasting perspective is Steenbarger's Trading Psychology 2.0: From Best Practices to Best Processes (Wiley Trading). It is about trading in the market, but it covers many of the topics from a different perspective. Worth reading his earlier books too.
* And if you haven't read Thinking, Fast and Slow, that is a more important book (but also too fluffy for my linking).
* You should also read Taleb's The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: "On Robustness and Fragility" (Incerto), but don't buy his fluffy version of the same topic Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Incerto)
Hedgehogs tell tight, simple, clear stories that grab and hold audiences.
Hedgehogs are confident. We organise our thoughts around "Big Ideas" and then we squeeze complex problems into our preferred cause-effect templates. Let's face it--hedgehogs make good pundits. The problem is that hedgehogs make terrible forecasters.
I've noticed this myself. When predicting how the Supreme Court will decide a case, what a jury will decide, or how the public may respond to something, my forecasts are notoriously inaccurate.
Reading Forecasting may not change my tactics in giving interviews (why mess with success) but I think it will affect how I write in the future.
Concepts like Fermi estimates, outside vs. inside views, confirmation biases, and questioning basic, emotionally charged beliefs are not in my toolbox, but they will be now. If I am going to offer predictions I owe it to my readers to sharpen these skills.
Easy reading? Not really. However, worth the effort.
As someone who enjoys reading about topics like decision-making, forecasting, and behavioral economics, I too often find myself reluctantly concluding, “That was well-presented, but there is nothing here I have not heard before.” For a reader new to the subject, it is good that Superforecasting delves into the ideas of people like psychologist Daniel Kahneman, whose description of the biases in judgment that impede our ability to make good decisions and forecasts earned him a Nobel Prize in Economics, and Tetlock appropriately covers topics like these.
I was pleased, though, he also presented some interesting work I was not familiar with, such as the author’s own Expert Political Judgment project to study whether some people really are better predictors than others and, if so, how they differ from the less successful experts, and the Good Judgment Project that was part of an effort to improve intelligence estimating techniques funded by IARPA (the intelligence community’s equivalent of DARPA). I was also especially amused by a contest run in 1997 by the Financial Times at the suggestion of behavioral economist Richard Thaler. People were to guess a number between 0 and 100, and the winner would be the person whose guess comes closest to TWO-THIRDS of the average guess of all contestants. If thinking about this contest begins to make your head spin, read this book. If it sounds pretty simple to you, then you should DEFINITELY read this book; the answer will surprise you!
The history of science was also interesting and often surprising, such as the idea of randomized controlled trials, which are taken for granted today, not being used until after World War II. The book introduces us to people like meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the author of the classic paper asking whether the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas, and physician Archie Cochrane, an early advocate for randomized trials and a scientific approach to medical decisions who nonetheless was driven by his human biases to make a decision about his own health that subjected him to a mutilating surgery and could have cost him his life.
After studying and identifying a group of superforecasters and their characteristics, Tetlock asked the natural question: Are superforecasters born, or can we all become superforecasters? As a good scientist, he concludes he cannot answer that question with certainty, but he does lay down some habits of mind that are very likely (Give me a probability here, Phil!) to improve anyone’s ability to make predictions and improve the resulting decisions.
If your aim is to improve your own ability to make predictions, Tetlock will both give you valuable advice and explain how following that rather simple-sounding advice may be harder than you think. I predict you’ll find the book both enjoyable and informative.