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Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe them Anyway
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Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe them Anyway

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  491 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews

"Genuinely arresting . . . required reading for journalists, politicians, academics, and anyone who listens to them."
-Steven Pinker, author of "How the Mind Works"

We are awash in predictions. In newspapers, blogs, and books; on radio and television. Every day experts tell us how the economy will perform next year, if housing sales will grow or shrink, and who will win

Kindle Edition
Published (first published January 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,258)
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Jul 31, 2012 Trevor rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-theory
No, had to stop before this one even got started. I need to do something to control my blood pressure, and listening to idiots being smartarses isn't it. If you need to find out the meaning of hindsight bias, well, this is as good a book as any other. The guy 'demolishes' predictions made by experts and thus shows the need to be skeptical - if not actually cynical. The problem is that he predictions he chooses to demolish are all a bit bizarre. There is the right wing prediction that there would ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Cara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed in part because I hate the fact that people (everyone on cable news) make stupid predictions all the time and are never held to account for their massive BS. The first part of the book mostly discussed various major predictions and how they had failed, and this got boring pretty fast. The second part explored more why people make bad predictions and why they stick to them even when they're proved wrong (resolving cognitive dissonance), and this was much more interesting. Nothing ground ...more
This was okay, but read about a third or more of the way through it, and it was basically repeating the same idea over and over, can't imagine it adds anything more somewhere near the end. Ironically, I think the author makes statements way outside his expertise when he starts talking about how everything can be explained by Darwinian evolution and what life was like for primitive man - which can be generalized to such a degree that it becomes about as accurate as basing your theories of humanit ...more
Cary Hillebrand
Mar 24, 2016 Cary Hillebrand rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After being absorbed in George Friedman's book on predicting how the 21st century may unfold (See below "The Next 100 Years ...") it is a sobering read to see how Dan Gardner demonstrates that "experts" invariably miss the mark, and do it to an outrageous degree. Mr. Gardner offers the following interesting observation: "No matter how clever we are, no matter how sophisticated our thinking, the brain that we use to make predictions is flawed and the world is fundamentally unpredictable". Reasons ...more
Mar 21, 2015 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a psychology book, first and foremost, if you don't consider psychology much of a science, then don't bother reading it. The cover and sub title will lead you to believe this book is a political book, and politics do have a starring role but as examples rather than as some stand on the issues. The book itself tries very hard, and is mostly successful (in this moderate's humble opinion), in not taking sides.

I will warn any partisan to stay away from this book. It will make your blood
Apr 02, 2016 djcb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book can be considered as a long introduction to Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction; the latter book is about trying to find people / techniques to make the best possible predictions of future socio-econo-political events, while this book is mostly a cautionary tale about people being really bad at predicting, and the book has many examples of people being very confident yet spectacularly wrong.

Gardner discusses many of the classic predictions (that typically didn't pan ou
Zac Scy
Jun 26, 2016 Zac Scy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thinking
After having read "Superforecasting" by Tetlock & Gardner I wanted to delve deeper.

While I found this a wortwhile read there was a lot of repetition, if you're looking for a supplement and some expansion on "foxes & hedgehogs" then I suggest you give it a go.

Otherwise, most of it is already covered in "Superforecasting".
Marco den Ouden
Aug 02, 2014 Marco den Ouden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All through history people have been consumed by doom and gloom predictions about the future. Remember the Y2K scare? The media is wont to call on experts for analysis and predictions about the impact of current events. But expert predictions are usually wrong. And the media is more likely to play up predictions of disaster than not. After all, bad news sells.

It doesn't matter whether the pundits are left-wing or right-wing, leftists like Paul Ehrlich predicting the end of the world because of
Jul 26, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I fundamentally agree with the premise of this book, which (as the book will tell you) can be a dangerous thing in terms of critical assessment. For people not already familiar with Tetlock's work on foxes and hedgehogs, and not well-versed in cognitive biases, this is a pretty good introduction to the idea of the fundamental unpredictability of complex systems.

Gardner starts out strong, explaining how easy it would be to just show us a bunch of examples that agree with his thesis, and he even e
Michael Bacarella
The author really helps you feel like you're in on the joke when he makes fun of smart people for being so dumb at predicting the future. So that's entertaining!

The intellectual value of the book is that it's a good and wet (as opposed to dry?) survey of cognitive biases. Hopefully by (re-)visiting them I'll become better at learning to recognize and correct for them in my own thinking. Sometimes though this has lead to a few moments of despair where I've overcoming the defects of our minds seem
Aug 22, 2015 Jkhickel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On the very day that I finished this book (February 9, 2014), the New York Times had a lead article called "The End of Snow?", predicting that there would be no Winter Olympics in the near future because there would be no more snow. You know what's going to happen to the author of that article (not to mention the New York Times) when his prediction turns out to be idiotic and wrong?


Dan Gardner proves that there are no consequences for bad predictions. In fact, some famous purveyors of ri
Mike Smith
Jul 28, 2011 Mike Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A follow-up to his book on the psychology of risk, Dan Gardner tackles a related subject: predicting the future (after all, risk management is about deciding what to do when you're not sure how the future will turn out). It turns out that most so-called experts are only right about future developments in their fields about half the time, and yet we continue to ask them for their predictions and to believe them. And the more certain they are, the less accurate and the more respected they are!

Feb 20, 2012 Mat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a longitudinal test, "experts" were found to have the same chance at predicting the future as a dart-throwing chimp. This book explains why - and why we believe them.

Here are a few standout quotes from it:

terrorist attack? Didn’t see it coming? Let’s imagine more
shocking terrorist attacks. Economic disaster? Big
surprise, wasn’t it? So let’s imagine more economic

Tell clients what they
and all informed people believe to be true and they will be
pleased. We all enjoy having our b
Jun 09, 2011 Alina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This fascinating, extremely valuable book looks at forecasts from economists, historians, social scientists, biologists, and sundry other "experts," mostly from the beginning of the 20th century onward. It explores the track record of these forecasters (laughably bad), how they react when their expectations prove wrong (they spin and rationalize), and why we keep asking them to predict the future regardless (we hate uncertainty).

The author points out that when it comes to complex, chaotic phenom
One of the first things I've learned from this fascinating book is that the more you know, the less you know. You can not base the future on the past. The reason for this is that there are too many variables, the future is not linear. Too many things can cause hiccups in the reasoning. I learned that the economic and political experts who make forecasts for the future are rarely right, which leaves me to wonder if half of them predict something positive for the future, and the other half predict ...more
I read this work just after reading his 'The Science of Fear' (also published as 'Risk'). Many of the ideas and most of the methodologies have been carried over from this earlier work. For that I reason I've given this book 4 rather than 5 stars but it is a brilliant piece of work which cuts across ideological frontiers to offer some honest analysis of what futurism generally gets right...just about nothing. Which ties it closely to the earlier 'The Science of Fear'.

At the end of the book he of
Randy Mcdonald
Dan Gardner's Why Expert Predictions Fail - and Why We Believe Them Anyway is one of those books that points out the obvious that needed explanation, pointing to an issue--here, the tendency of futurologists of all kinds to make predictions which turn out false but whose opinions and methods are still valued--and explaining why this tendency exists.

The central problem Gardner deals with is this. I like to know about what will happen in the future, you like to know what will happen, we all want t
Jenny Brown
May 31, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An insightful look at the psychological reasons why people are so swayed by expert forecasts even though they are almost always wrong. The author documents the way that experts use selective memory to forget their many failures in prediction or construct elaborate narratives to turn failure into near-success.

He argues convincingly that people turn to forecasts because of their difficulty in living with not knowing and that the more forcefully a position is stated the more people are likely to b
May 23, 2011 Jonas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Guardian says: "compelling storytelling backed up by hard facts gleaned by specialist research" and I fully agree. Gardner begins his chapters with anecdotes. In essence, these are stories about failed predictions in a variety of fields, such as oil prices, food security, or economic competition between countries. He then turns to psychology for explanations why "experts" are so often overconfident about their predictions, and why these experts are believed.

Do we have evidence that expert pr

Its remarkable how inept we, as a species, are at predicting anything beyond whether or not we will suceed in a crossing the street. The academic Philip Tetlock went to great trouble to verify this ineptness with regard to political predictions. The inaccuracy of economic forecasts has apparently been noted several times in academic studies. Oddly enough, we seem to enjoy listening to predictions, particularly predictions of gloomy outcomes, no matter how often we've been burned in the past. Th

Jonathan Lu
This is a book that could have been summed up in a 35 paragraph op-ed, let alone an entire novel. The first half of the book is dedicated to the inaccuracy of past predictions about the future (in a highly I told you so tone), invoking examples of oil price prediction, superstition (Y2K, 2012), military might, and geopolitics. The 2nd half of the book delves into the human psyche of why we are so attracted to future prediction, rather than introspection. A few scientific studies are cited that s ...more
Aug 16, 2012 rabbitprincess rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: news junkies
Recommended to rabbitprincess by: the Ottawa Citizen
Dan Gardner is a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen and one of my favourites. He's skeptical, logical and writes well. All of these characteristics are in evidence in this book, which takes a cold hard look at the realm of predictions. Not the fortune-teller kind, but the kind made by experts and talking heads on the various current affairs shows: "What will the unemployment rate be next year?" "What do the climate models suggest our planet will look like two decades from now?" "Where's the price ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Daryl Weade
Mar 31, 2014 Daryl Weade rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: futurism
A really interesting read on the challenges of forecasting trends. Lots of history of individuals who have failed and why, most of which focused on the fox and hedgehog idea. Hedgehogs are silos of expertise and focus too much on their speciality, where foxes learn across many areas and apply more shallow aspects of each. A great read that changed and challenged my view of futurism.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I felt like this had a little too much anecdote and took too long to get to the support for its ideas. But it seems interesting and I might give it another look later. One non-relevant thing that caught my eye was its comment about Jimmy Carter's moral equivalent of war speech. In Tam Lin Janet makes a comment in her journal about how hunting was the moral equivalent of war. She could just as well have borrowed that from William James, but I wonder if Dean wasn't thinking of this speech. Though ...more
Feb 21, 2011 Sias rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting insight into the human habit of wishing to know what lies in the future, and why we (under the selective guidance of the media) choose to be thrilled by the predictions of the so-called "experts".
In a study of how accurate experts are in their predictions, the unexpected is discovered - the opinions of experts regularly consulted by the mass media is less accurate the flip of a coin. On the other hand, some experts are quite accurate in their predictions, but seldom consulted.
To m
Feb 09, 2012 Frith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Future Babble is a good read for people who are interested in science but not in the field (of science) themselves. Focusing on predictions and how we deal with them mentally, it does the job of showing -at a layman level- why our predictions tend to suck so much, yet we rarely talk about it.

For people involved in scientific programs however, the book loses steam at around page 100, when the author (Dan Gardner) has made his point and basically starts to throw things in that might have preferabl
Aug 15, 2013 Chip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You suck at predictions, and so do the pundits you follow. You effortlessly forget their many failures while hyping their hits. You misapprehend causality, misread with hindsight, overestimate skill, underestimate luck and generally get things ass-backward, nearly all of the time. You do this without awareness because you need to live in a world that is knowable, and therefore to a certain degree predictable. That experts turn out to be no better than coin-flipping monkeys (and sometimes worse) ...more
Katie D'Angelo
It's an interesting book and definitely has made me think differently. I believe i now possess a better critical analysis of 'experts' and public commentary on potential future occurrences, whether market related, economic, agriculture, or other. I personally enjoyed the use and reference to foxes and hedgehogs throughout the book to tie things together and aide in understanding.

The downfall of the book for me is the same criticism I have of most books of this type of theory/analysis...they mak
Anthony Fox
Apr 18, 2012 Anthony Fox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 curveball through time, we expect to reason ...more
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Dan Gardner is a journalist, author, and lecturer.

Trained in law (LL.B., Osgoode Hall Law School, class of ’92) and history (M.A., York University, ’95), Dan first worked as a policy advisor to the Premier of Ontario. In 1997, he joined the Ottawa Citizen. In the years that followed, he travelled widely, researching long features about drugs, criminal justice, torture and other challenging issues.
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“The forms rationalization can take are limited only by human creativity, and we are a very creative species.” 1 likes
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