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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  583 Ratings  ·  90 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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Jul 31, 2012 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
May 22, 2014 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
Zac Scy
May 21, 2016 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".
Steven Kopp
Good: Convincingly showed how "expert prediction" is often wrong, and why. Called a lot of people out on their bad predictions, and their bad rationalizations for why they got them wrong.
Bad: Once the schadenfreude wore off Gardner just felt like the same kind of pompous expert he was mocking.
Ugly: In some ways this book was an eye opener for just how self-defeating modern sociology can be. The basic premise was this: 1) The world is super complex. 2) Our brains didn't evolve to understand and
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and funny, this book delves into the world of expert predictions and human folly. It makes for an introspective view of the people I listen to in regards to current and future world events, and how I probably judge them more for their confidence and charm than their accuracy. Hindsight, confidence bias, memory; it all plays a part in how successful each expert and their adherents believe they are. Best quote: "Not one of them mentions that if they were as accurate as they are confide ...more
Excellent reading, if for no other reason than to remind me that I've been listening way too much to the babble of TV and YouTube pundits lately.
Marko Hristov
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book, must read!
Must read for everyone.
Robert Narojek
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent - shows how all the predictions can be questioned :) and almost always are wrong
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
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
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 ...more
Alex Jones
This was really interesting and I'm glad I read it, but did become a bit too repetitive. This was written before shock unpredicted results of Brexit and Trump, but has a wealth of examples of 'experts' failing to make accurate predictions and the reasons for the difficulty in doing so. The book was interesting and compellingly argued, but was lacking in some considerations of when prediction was possible and instead repeated a few examples many, many times. Certainly interesting, but could have ...more
Feb 08, 2012 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
May 22, 2011 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
Oct 16, 2010 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.
May 23, 2011 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

Mar 30, 2016 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
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
Mar 21, 2015 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
Mike Smith
Jul 28, 2011 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!

Jun 25, 2015 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
Cary Hillebrand
Mar 24, 2016 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
Jenny Brown
May 31, 2011 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
Jan 25, 2014 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
Marco den Ouden
Aug 02, 2014 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
Feb 21, 2011 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
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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.
More about Dan Gardner

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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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