The Art and Science of Prediction

eBook - 2015
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From one of the world's most highly regarded social scientists, a transformative book on the habits of mind that lead to the best predictions Everyone would benefit from seeing further into the future, whether buying stocks, crafting policy, launching a new product, or simply planning the week's meals. Unfortunately, people tend to be terrible forecasters. As Wharton professor Philip Tetlock showed in a landmark 2005 study, even experts' predictions are only slightly better than chance. However, an important and underreported conclusion of that study was that some experts do have real foresight, and Tetlock has spent the past decade trying to figure out why. What makes some people so good? And can this talent be taught? In Superforecasting, Tetlock and coauthor Dan Gardner offer a masterwork on prediction, drawing on decades of research and the results of a massive, government-funded forecasting tournament. The Good Judgment Project involves tens of thousands of ordinary people--including a Brooklyn filmmaker, a retired pipe installer, and a former ballroom dancer--who set out to forecast global events. Some of the volunteers have turned out to be astonishingly good. They've beaten other benchmarks, competitors, and prediction markets. They've even beaten the collective judgment of intelligence analysts with access to classified information. They are "superforecasters." In this groundbreaking and accessible book, Tetlock and Gardner show us how we can learn from this elite group. Weaving together stories of forecasting successes (the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound) and failures (the Bay of Pigs) and interviews with a range of high-level decision makers, from David Petraeus to Robert Rubin, they show that good forecasting doesn't require powerful computers or arcane methods. It involves gathering evidence from a variety of sources, thinking probabilistically, working in teams, keeping score, and being willing to admit error and change course. Superforecasting offers the first demonstrably effective way to improve our ability to predict the future--whether in business, finance, politics, international affairs, or daily life--and is destined to become a modern classic.
Publisher: [New York] : Crown/Archetype, 2015
ISBN: 9780771070532
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: Gardner, Dan 1968-


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IndyPL_SteveB Dec 26, 2019

Highly readable and fascinating non-fiction that might actually make you smarter. The book is about 100 times more interesting than I thought it would be. Great writing style and real insight into the ways humans think and predict.

We all do forecasting of some kind. What are the odds of me getting that promotion? How long will this car last? Is this the right college to attend? Many people do forecasting as a profession – people in weather, finance, insurance, military planning, business planning, and television guru-ism. Tetlock says that most of these people don’t do as well as they seem to, especially the TV gurus. They don’t often make predictions that can be tracked and judged.

Tetlock achieved some fame many years ago for a multi-year study he did on the accuracy of forecasters, summarized in his 2005 book, *Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?* *Superforecasting* is his attempt to continue his study and to find what characteristics make an above-average forecaster and what makes a “super” forecaster.

As the years of the study went on, Tetlock and his team were able to discover some basic principles for accurate predictions that were *teachable* and which improved scores for those predictors willing to make changes. Anyone in business or government should absolutely read this book for the insights it gives into the basic mistakes people make in predicting. But even for the rest of us, we can learn how not to be taken in by vague forecasts, by predictions intended to make a television figure seem decisive and smart, and by predictions intended to take your money.

Jul 29, 2019

The insights acquired by Tetlock and his partners in running a team of so-called "superforecasters" during a government-sponsored forecasting tournament are intriguing, but I came away from this book unsure of how to apply them in everyday life. What Tetlock learned is that it is possible to predict some future events with a high degree of accuracy. It takes intelligence, an understanding of probability, and an ability to sift through a variety of information sources and determine what is relevant and what is not. Accurate forecasting also requires an ability not to jump to conclusions, something at which the human mind excels. We are capable of deep analysis, but it's hard work and takes time. We often don't have time or don't want to spend the time, so we rely on intuition. Sadly, our intuition does not work well in our modern, complex world.

The types of predictions that Tetlock's superforecasters were asked to make involved geopolitical and economic events like terrorist attacks, wars, election outcomes, and market movements. Most of us, however, have no real need to learn how to predict such events. Most of us are not policy makers who have to determine how to allocate limited resources in anticipation of future events. In addition, these forecasts are, like weather forecasts, given in terms of probabilities. What does it mean to the average person that there's a 60% chance that an event will occur? What can we do with such information? In the case of weather, we can decide whether to bring an umbrella when we go out, but what do we do with a 60% chance of war? There may be some application in investing, but few of us are large investors. I rely on my fund manager to make smart investments. I don't have the time to track dozens or hundreds of companies when deciding where to put my investment dollars. Finally, artificial intelligence (AI) has taken off since this book was published, and I'm aware of AI companies that market themselves as computerized superforecasters (although they don't use that word).

Applicability aside, this is a fascinating look at how we can train ourselves to be more objective and better able to analyze information in order to make (and, crucially, update) accurate predictions. The writing, ably edited and simplified by journalist Dan Gardner, is good, although I did find the book dry at times. I think there is value in Tetlock's research, but I can't predict what impact his findings will have.

Jul 22, 2016

Very badly written. I would have preferred a more academic book that described the forecasting experiment better.

Sep 29, 2015

Back in 2011, the research agency, IARPA, set up a series of forecasting tournaments in an effort to distill down best practices. This wasn’t a tournament to guess the weather or something seemingly trivial. This was a contest to predict events on a global scale, questions with geopolitical import, like what would happen in Syria or N. Korea. Teams in the tournament were given reams of questions by IARPA and over time the accuracy of their answers was recorded and assessed. Author Philip Tetlock led the winning team in that tournament. Called “Good Judgment Project,” Tetlock’s team outclassed the competition with consistently reliable estimates of events. How did they do it?

Superforecasting is a book that dismantles what forms an effective strategy for making predictions and offers a road map for better policymaking and geo-political wrangling.

Tetlock’s book is wonderfully readable and accessible, and I think that it will appeal to everyone from data nerds to the average reader looking for a ‘gee-whiz’ kind of read. I also think it’s a very important book. Forecasting isn’t some niche science. It’s an important part of formulating public policy responses, conducting foreign affairs and military action, and making financial and economic decisions. Getting it wrong is costly, and everyone is affected. Let’s start getting it right.

Math-y talk and quantitative discussions are simply presented. Tetlock recounts the evidence and offers a view that nicely reflects or fits that evidence. Tetlock also provides personal stories of the individual superforecasters, and so the writing has a strong story-centric rhythm. The “Ten Commandments for Aspiring Superforecasters” at the back of the book was a fun addition/primer.

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