Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Superforecasters: Foxes vs. Hedgehogs

You can't go anywhere, watch anything, or read any article these days without hearing from an expert or pundit predicting the future.  Should we pay much attention to those forecasters?  Well, according to research by Philip Tetlock and his fellow scholars at the Good Judgment Project, we might want to remain skeptical of such predictions.   They have found that many experts are not very accurate in their predictions.  On other hand, they discovered some folks who they term "superforecasters."  Who are these folks?  Here's an excerpt from a BBC story on Tetlock's research:

Roberts cites the Isaiah Berlin essay “The Fox and the Hedgehog” – a comparison often used by Tetlock himself – which divides thinkers into those “hedgehogs'” narrowly invested in a single topic and “foxes” with a wider, if shallower, range of experience. “Foxes” like him, Robert says, tend to be better forecasters. “They don't get attached to one particular narrative” and are able to adapt their viewpoints to incorporate any new information, unlike “hedgehog” thinkers, who often force new information into a pre-existing mental framework, or discard it if it seems to contradict their initial view.

In short, the problem with many experts is that they are hedgehogs.  They have deep expertise in a narrow domain, but as a result, they also have a lot of biases.   They have a strong attachment to certain pre-existing beliefs.  The foxes are more open-minded.  What else characterizes the superforecasters?
1.  An ability to ask good questions
2.  An ability to assimilate new information, even if it contradicts their initial view
3.  An ability to use the scientific method to pose and test hypotheses
4.  A reliance on data and not just intuition
5.  A willingness to acknowledge their own lack of knowledge in certain areas 

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