There is a science and an art to prediction. Computers can handle the science really well. Put some factors in an algorithm and a well-programmed computer can tell you all the possible next steps but as to which of those possibilities will lead to the best outcome for some potential scenario you have created, even IBM’s supercomputer Watson would fail. That’s because “best” is subjective – it’s a conclusion only humans can come to when they weigh certain qualities and determine which one is more meaningful. Art is still best produced by human thought.
SuperForecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction is an intriguing look at how we make predictions, whether accurate measurements actually helps us make better judgments, and discusses how to make the leap from simple forecasting to super forecasting. As it says in the book, assuming a person has the minimum requirements of intelligence, numeracy and knowledge of the world, what matters most is how a person thinks. The kind of thinking that produces superior judgment doesn’t come without effort and the single factor that super-forecasters have is their commitment to self-improvement. There is a fascinating section in the book that shows how medical advances were made, not necessarily by the brightest doctors, but by doctors who doubted whether they were indeed doing their best and sought out methods of improving the care they could offer their patients. A doctor who assumes no liability, and says that the patients who die under his care would have died anyway, doesn’t seek out new ways to treat them. That’s not a doctor you want to have but it’s the way many have thought throughout our history. There are those who we give the power to make decisions for us and who are lax with that responsibility. Take for example, Galen who was a second-century physician to Roman emperors. He treated his patients with a concoction and said, “All who drink of this treatment recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die. it is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases.” We laugh about his words now but how many forecasters do something similar?
According to the book, for super-forecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded. Only this commitment to constantly look for newer better ways of arriving at the best decision produces the best decision.
The authors Tetlock and Gardner wrote this book from the background of years of research in the science and art of making predictions and the results of Tetlock’s Good Judgment Project which pooled thousands of ordinary, thinking people who used the information around them to forecast global events. The participants were volunteers who, just like us, read or watched the news and were able to make predictions that were closer to actual events than many other forecasting groups and computer algorithms. What made these volunteers superforecasters? And are there tips from the Good Judgment Project that can help you become a super-forecaster in your own life? What assumptions have you made and relaxed about that if you put your thinking cap on and looked for a better solution, you might improve your life drastically?
SuperForecasting isn’t your typical short Non-Fiction Self-Help read but the pages are packed with very interesting anecdotes, some historical, some as recent as the polls of the 2016 presidential election. While there might be more than your basic reference to equations and graphs, you don’t need to be a math major to appreciate the content of the book. I gave it 4.5/5 stars for its content, appeal and utility.
- Title: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
- Author: Phillip E Tetlock; Dan Gardner
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 340
Note: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging For Books in order to complete this review.
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