A Review of ‘Future Babble’ by Dan Gardner
This book has no plot, characters or narrative, but it is a serious attempt to understand why experts fail so miserably to provide accurate predictions. Why should we care? Well, it seems we crave to know the future. Therefore somewhere in our psyche we want to understand the complexity of the universe, it’s been hot-wired into our brains since the day some hairy arse ape decided to stand up. Yet evolution for all its mystery and diversity has thrown a curve ball through time, we expect to reason when there is none. As humans we like patterns, for instance the sun rises and sets every day which is a pattern, and throughout the evolution of man the brain has become accustomed to pattern recognition. In fact our brains are so tuned to order that we find randomness difficult to accept.
I chose to buy this book after reading a couple of chapters, partly because I was interested in the psychology of why we believe experts, and also to learn what conclusions can be deduced from Dan Gardner’s findings. I found the conclusions illuminating, but the proposition wasn’t tested scientifically in my opinion. Most of the experts were from western civilisations so the sampling was flawed, but it is still a valid conjecture based on how experts make assumptions about the future of such things as, the oil price, stock markets, population demographics, the collapse of political regimes, climate change and much more, yet they make the wrong assumptions.
Are you a hedgehog or a fox? Dan Gardner uses the metaphor most experts are hedgehogs because there usually over confident and ‘they are more likely to declare outcomes ‘certain or impossible’ could they be wrong? Never!’ The analogy is lost on me, other than hedgehogs are prickly and foxes cuddly. Whereas the foxes, are individuals that are willing to admit when they are wrong and less likely to commit to predictions too far into the future.
Interestingly, a study of a group of scientific reviewers found that papers submitted before publication for peer review in academic journals were bias, even though the reviewers did not know they were being tested at the time of the study. So before you get on your soapbox, remember you’re more likely to be bias than you have brain cells.