Monday, July 18, 2011

Bad News for Foxes?

My friend April Harding sent me this talk at the Long Now Foundation by Philip Tetlock, who has spent many years studying how well experts perform at predicting future events.  Tetlock's research shows that foxes are better than hedgehogs at predicting the future.* And interestingly, the less confident people are about their predictions, the more likely their predictions are to be accurate!  (Foxes also tend to be less confident than hedgehogs.)

This result makes many of us (myself included) happy, because we consider ourselves foxes.  The only problem, according to Tetlock, is that even foxes barely edge out simple mathematical algorithms** when it comes to accuracy.

* Isaiah Berlin famously defined hedgehogs as people who have one big idea through which they interpret everything they see.  Ideologues of all stripes are examples of hedgehogs.  Foxes, by contrast, bring an eclectic set of perspectives to bear on their interpretation of events and phenomena.

**For example, things will continue unchanged.  Or, things will continue to change at the same rate as in the recent past.