Prophesies, Predictions, and Forecasts“I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for 50 years. Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.”

– Wilbur Wright (1867-1912), U.S. inventor

“Economists, in particular, are treated with the reverence the ancient Greeks gave the Oracle of Delphi. But unlike the notoriously vague pronouncements that once issued from Delphi, economists’ predictions are concrete and precise. Their accuracy can be checked. And anyone who does that will quickly conclude that economists make lousy soothsayers.

… the sort of expert typically found in the media is precisely the sort of expert who is most likely to be wrong. This explains one of the most startling findings to emerge from Philip Tetlock’s (professor at the University of California at Berkeley) data; the bigger the media profile of an expert, the less accurate his predictions are … using Google hits as a simple way to measure the fame of each of his 284 experts, Tetlock found that the more famous the expert, the worse he did.

Pundits ‘forecast not because they know,’ wrote economist John Kenneth Galbraith, ‘but because they are asked.’ We could stop asking. But if we insist on asking — and we probably will, unfortunately — we must at least think carefully about what we are told.”

– Dan Gardner, Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail — and Why We Believe Them Anyway

“Expert wisdom usually turns out to be at best highly contested and ephemeral and at worst flat-out wrong… we live in a time of acute frustration with experts, even as many of us remain dependent on them and continue to heed their advice…we happen to be complex creatures living in a complex world, so why would we expect answers to any questions to be simple… in particular, the problems that lead us to turn to experts — how can we be healthy, wealthy and fulfilled; how can we get our businesses and nation to flourish — tend to be bound up in extraordinarily high levels of complexity.”

– David H. Freedman, Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When Not to Trust Them

“You have been a world-class sap for years. Why? For listening to the economic and political forecasts of experts. We in the media have been irresponsible fools for reporting those forecasts. And the experts themselves? Delusional egomaniacs — and maybe even con artists.

We desperately want to believe the world is not just a big game of dice, that things happen for good reasons and wise people can figure it all out. It may not be so; a school of researchers known as radical skeptics presents impressive evidence that the world is totally random, or at least that we humans are eternally unable to figure it out. But most of us can’t bear to believe that, so we cling to the notion of experts.”

– Geoffrey Colvin, “Ditch the ‘Experts’,” Fortune magazine

“None of us can predict with certainty the twists and turns our lives will take. Life is uncertain, the future unknown. This is neither good nor bad. It just is, like gravity. Yet the task remains: how to master our own fate, even so.”

– Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All