Here’s Proof That Most Pundits Don’t Know What They’re Talking About


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Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman takes down pundits (as well as financial advisors, amateur investors, and pretty much everyone) in his book Thinking, Fast And Slow.See, all of these people are prone to cognitive biases.

Pundits in particular are prone to “the illusion of skill”, where a little bit of expertise makes them extremely overconfident. Thus they make aggressive predictions and refuse to adapt to new information.

The bad track record of pundits was established by psychologist Philip Tetlock, as described by Kahneman:

Tetlock interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends.” He asked them to assess the probabilities that certain events would occur in the not too distant future, both in areas of the world in which they specialised and in regions about which they had less knowledge … Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic producer poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.

Pundits were worse than random distribution at assigning the probability of events.

What’s more, Tetlock found that more famous forecasters were even more likely to be overconfident and thus wrong.

Naturally these pundits rarely admit defeat, but rather that they were “off only on timing” or “very nearly right.” 

This discourse will be familiar to anyone who followed the feud between statistician Nate Silver and various pundits, as Silver called a near-90 per cent likelihood that Obama won re-election while some pundits eyeballed it at 50-50 or worse.

Philosopher Nassim Taleb also hates pundits.

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