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Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway [Paperback]

Dan Gardner
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 May 2011

In 2008, as the price of oil surged above $140 a barrel, experts said it would soon hit $200; a few months later it plunged to $30. In 1967, they said the USSR would be the world's fastest-growing economy by 2000, the USSR no longer existed. In 1908, it was pronounced that there would be no more wars in Europe; we all know how that turned out. Face it, experts are about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys. And yet every day we ask them to predict the future - everything from the weather to the likelihood of a terrorist attack. Future Babble is the first book to examine this phenomenon, showing why our brains yearn for certainty about the future, why we are attracted to those who predict the future confidently, and why it's so easy for us to ignore the trail of outrageously wrong forecasts.

In this fast-paced, example-packed, sometimes darkly funny book, Dan Gardner shows how seminal research by professor Philip Tetlock proved that the more famous a pundit is, the more likely they are to be right about as often as a stopped watch. Gardner also draws on current research in cognitive psychology, political science, and behavioral economics to discover something quite reassuring: The future is always uncertain, but the end is not always near.

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Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway + Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Virgin Books (5 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753522365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753522363
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Future Babble is genuinely arresting...required reading for journalists, politicians, academics and anyone who listens to them." (Steven Pinker)

"In this brilliant and engaging book, Dan Gardner shows us how tough forecasting really is, and how easy it is to be convinced otherwise by a confident expert with a good story. This is must reading for anyone who cares about the future." (Paul Slovic, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon)

"Well-researched, well-reasoned, and engagingly written." (John Mueller, author of Overblown and Political Scientist, Ohio State University)

"A rare mix of superb scholarship and zesty prose." (Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgement and Mitchell Professor of Organizational Behavior, Hass School of Business, University of California)

"It is a tour de force, absolutely outstanding" (Matt Ridley)

Book Description

Bestselling author of Risk, Dan Gardner returns with a fascinating and accessible book that uses landmark research to debunk the whole expert prediction industry, exploring the psychology of our obsession with the future

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Gardner's "Future Babble" is a much needed antitode to the endless stream of nonsense that we hear from pundits who claim to be able to predict the future. Broadly speaking, Gardner distinguishes between two types of experts: Hedgehogs, who know a given subject extremely well, are very confident about their predictions and are almost always wrong, often spectacularly so; and Foxes, whose opinions about the future recognize the difficulties and complexity of forecasting and are nuanced accordingly. The Foxes are only a bit more apt to be on target than the Hedgehogs, but they will at least acknowledge their errors, recognize the limitations of their art and adjust their opinions to account for new facts. They are also routinley ignored because they are boring.

Unfortunately, people crave certainty, so they lionize experts who make bold, articulate predictions about what will happen five, ten, fifteen, even fifty years from now, a proposition that is inherently suspect when you consider that chaos theory shows that even small changes in initial assumptions will dramatically change long-term outcomes. Fortunately for the experts and their livelihood, listeners do an incredibly poor job of holding experts accountable for their gross errors. We remember the rare hits and ignore the many, many misses, a point that Gardner illustrates elelgantly and repeatedly.

With wit and broad knowledge of his subjects, Gardner skewers numerous still famous "experts" who have routinely been wrong about things like the price of oil, the scarcity or abundance of commodities, population growth, Y2K, the collapse or persistence of the Soviet Union, and a host of other problems.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but dry 30 Oct 2011
By Mozza
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I came to this book having read Dan Gardner's excellent previous one, Risk. The purpose of this one is to explain that the so called "experts" who occupy most of the space in mainstream media are very seldom right, despite their claims to be so. This is basically because the commentators attractive to news editors are the ones who can express neatly packaged certain, dogmatic, opinions because they don't deviate from their own overarching theory about their topic - and are therefore often wrong. The more considered experts, who are only willing to give much broader, qualified (i.e. boring) views are shunted to the sidelines. And, as other reviewers have said, while that point is both interesting and important, it can be summed up fairly quickly and isn't really all that surprising. So in the end, the book is left making that same point again and again in different ways with pages and pages of very dry examples. As a consequence its modest 268 pages feel like very heavy weather indeed and while the concept is fascinating, it just isn't fuel enough for a whole book. The subject is, if anything, more a footnote to the broader issue of the pre-packaging of news.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do we need experts predicting the future? 20 Jun 2011
Clearly critical thinking is in shortage. We all seek refuge in expert opinions in our deeply human search for making sense out of the surrounding chaos. And yet we are proved again and again that experts' predictions of the future are wrong and they fail spectacularly, often in direct contrast to their publicly expressed invincibility. Part of it is the role itself - our expectation from an expert to be authoritarian, doubtless in their arguments and fearless in their convictions. Like a superhero that will lead us though murky waters of uncertainty into a dry land of the organized universe that can be explained in simple terms. The doubt is a bigger crime than being proved wrong. Part of it is that we are searching for the convenient truths, something that we already believe in anyway and simply want to get an affirmation from the authority figure. We instinctively hear what we want to hear, sinking into a comfortable self-congratulatory bliss. And the more people share the same thoughts and experts eloquently annihilate our inner doubts, the better. We can't be all wrong, can we?

This is one of those books that will stop you in the tracks and make you wonder - aren't we asking for it? Aren't we creating an everlasting demand for false prophets to relieve us from making our own conclusions? To surpass our inner voice of discontent, doubt and uncertainty? Does everything need to be black and white and fit our preconceived maps?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crystal balls 9 Aug 2011
I must confess that I picked up `Future Babble' with some scepticism. I mean, the so-called `expert' predictions you read in so many areas of the media are just so frequently and hilariously wrong, surely no one takes them seriously any more, do they? And the latest bout of economic misery has just gone to demonstrate to everyone that - even with billions resting on the outcome and hundreds of millions being spent on the best modelling software and the greatest mathematical brains - we'd do just as well by reading the tea leaves or interpreting the flight of birds. What else is there still to say? I was concerned that Gardner was setting up a straw man to knock over. Still, his previous book, `Risk', was so good that I thought I would give this follow up a try.

In a sense, I was right. The one downside of this book is that there isn't honestly a lot here that's new. If you've come across the work of Philip Tetlock, in particular, then you can pretty much guess most of Gardner's thesis.

This, though, is beside the point. The great virtue of Gardner's work is that he is wonderfully clear, persuasive and entertaining. Following Tetlock, he argues that there are two basic thinking styles. As the famous quote has it `the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. When called upon to make predictions, experts, says Gardner, behave either like foxes or hedgehogs. Foxes, knowing many things, tend to make cautious predictions hedging them around with qualifications. They don't attach great certainty to them and, if they are wrong, they accept the fact and see what can be learned. Hedgehogs, however, knowing one big thing are absolutely certain about their predictions.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Why the future is unpredictable, and how we make fools out of...
One (in the eye?) for SF writers, Futurists and those of us trying to work out which way to vote in the Scottish Referendum. A well written, insightful read.
Published 10 days ago by M. H. PAGE
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but did not keep me going
This looks like it is a good book. No, it IS a good book. Based on facts, insightful, challenging and at the same time promotes alternative thinking. Read more
Published 7 months ago by lidram
4.0 out of 5 stars Why do expert predictions fail and why do we believe in them anyway?
Why do expert predictions fail and why do we believe in them anyway?

The human brain finds the world too complicated to understand it. Read more
Published on 23 July 2012 by M. Hillmann
5.0 out of 5 stars He's done it again!
Dan Gardner is just too damn good! Risk was an excellent read with lucid arguments and meticulous research and this is as good. Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2012 by smudge
5.0 out of 5 stars Take everything with a bucket of salt!
An entertaining and insightful look at the complete futility of professional fortune-telling, with a particular focus on oil and financial markets. Read more
Published on 6 July 2011 by R. WEST-SOLEY
4.0 out of 5 stars "The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits,...
Fed up of the doom and gloom? In this book Dan Gardner does a great job of bursting the bubble of authority given by the popular media to economic, social and environmental... Read more
Published on 17 Jun 2011 by Brian Delaney
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me think differently about the information I'm exposed to

A fascinating book that explains why human beings crave certainty about the future and why we're suckers for people (Experts) who make predictions about what... Read more
Published on 15 Jun 2011 by Andrew Lloyd Gordon
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