Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why I Detest All Media Pundits

The below article is interesting and it is why I have been telling people to tune out opinion radio, TV, and other media outlets. It is because they are inaccurate; the pundits are far less than 50% accurate in predicting the outcome of two possible scenarios. For instance, they cannot predict with 50% accuracy if inflation will go up or down next year or if unemployment will go up or down next year. Why, they are using their biased judgment and refuse to create accurate math models or use concrete science. This is why I prove everything for myself and do my homework without bias or outside interference. I am skeptical of any opinion, even if it agrees with my judgment. This is why I refuse to watch, listen, or read opinion news on political or economic issues. Face it; everyone has an agenda and that makes their opinions just a bunch of useless drivel. Sure, my opinions may agree with those of say Hannity, Beck, or Limbaugh, but more times than not how I derived at the same conclusion is vastly different. The bottom line, a 5 year old flipping a quarter can do a much better job prognosticating the future than the so called elitist pundits. And this explains why we are so polarized and do not have the ability to compromise – our brains have gone to mush.

“It’s an American tradition: In the final weeks before an election, the airwaves are saturated with pundits and their bold predictions. This time around, they might be forecasting a decade of tea-party dominance, or the imminent comeback of the Democrats or a return to recession in the face of political deadlock. And as these pundits rattle off their reasons, they sound as if they know what they’re talking about.

But do they? Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has spent 25 years trying to find out. He first got interested in the subject during the run-up to the 1984 presidential election, when dovish experts said Ronald Reagan’s tough talk to the Soviets was needlessly antagonizing them, while hawkish experts were convinced that the Soviets needed to be aggressively contained. Mr. Tetlock began to monitor their predictions, and a few years later, he came to a sobering conclusion: Everyone was wrong. Both hawks and doves failed to anticipate the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev and glasnost, even if the pundits now claimed to have seen it coming all along.

The dismal performance of the experts inspired Mr. Tetlock to turn his case study into an epic experimental project. He picked 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends,” including journalists, foreign policy specialists, economists and intelligence analysts, and began asking them to make predictions. Over the next two decades, he peppered them with questions: Would George Bush be re-elected? Would apartheid in South Africa end peacefully? Would Quebec secede from Canada? Would the dot-com bubble burst? In each case, the pundits rated the probability of several possible outcomes. By the end of the study, Mr. Tetlock had quantified 82,361 predictions.

How did the experts do? When it came to predicting the likelihood of an outcome, the vast majority performed worse than random chance. In other words, they would have done better picking their answers blindly out of a hat. Liberals, moderates and conservatives were all equally ineffective. Although 96% of the subjects had post-graduate training, Mr. Tetlock found, the fancy degrees were mostly useless when it came to forecasting.

The main reason for the inaccuracy has to do with overconfidence. Because the experts were convinced that they were right, they tended to ignore all the evidence suggesting they were wrong. This is known as confirmation bias, and it leads people to hold all sorts of erroneous opinions. Famous experts were especially prone to overconfidence, which is why they tended to do the worst. Unfortunately, we are blind to this blind spot: Most of the experts in the study claimed that they were dispassionately analyzing the evidence. In reality, they were indulging in selective ignorance, as they explained away dissonant facts and contradictory data. The end result, Mr. Tetlock says, is that the pundits became “prisoners of their preconceptions.” And their preconceptions were mostly worthless.

What’s most disturbing about Mr. Tetlock’s study is that the failures of the pundit class don’t seem to matter. We rely on talking heads more than ever, even though the vast majority of them aren’t worth their paychecks. Our political discourse is driven in large part by people whose opinions are less accurate than a coin toss.

Mr. Tetlock proposes forming a nonpartisan center to track the performance of experts, just as we track the batting averages of baseball players. In the meantime, he suggests that we learn to ignore those famous pundits who are full of bombastic convictions. “I’m always drawn to the experts on television who stumble a little on their words,” he adds. “For me, that’s a sign that they’re actually thinking about the question, and not just giving a canned answer. If an expert sounds too smooth, then you should probably change the channel.”

As Mr. Tetlock points out, the future is impossible to predict. Even with modern polling, we can barely anticipate the outcome of an election that is just a few days away. If a pundit looks far beyond that time horizon, to situations with a thousand variables and very little real information to back up a prediction, we should stop listening and get out a quarter.”

My Book: Is America Dying? (, Barnes and Noble)


  1. And I have been guilty in the more distant past of " ... rely[ing] on talking heads more than ever ..."

    Great read here, Patrick!!!! You sure put up significant schtuff.

  2. Yes Mrs AL, it is just so hard to decipher what is true and what is false from media reports.

  3. Hey There Patrick!

    This is reminiscent of the monkeys who do better picking stocks than the “experts” do.

    Nobody can predict the future for at least 3 main reasons: (1) Non-predictable human behavior (such as the attack on 9-11); (2) Inordinate human influence over other humans (such as vote-buying or other types of coercion or exercises of power); and (3) random natural events (catastrophic hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.). But I suspect that many vastly inaccurate predictions are due to the failure of some to simply acknowledge human behaviors that should be very predictable. It was predictable, for example, that Medicare costs would increase at astronomical rates because that’s what happens when you take away normal consumer-driven incentives. That’s why it’s predictable that Obamacare will only further drive up the costs of healthcare. I think the bigger problem is that we don’t hold pundits accountable for their failures that impact us as a nation. Where are the people today who got it so wrong on Medicare? Where are the people who spearheaded the “war on poverty?” Mr. Tetlock’s study would be much more useful if he would give us a list of these folks who got it so wrong and tell us what they’re doing now. My guess is they’re all still influencing policy if they’re not dead.

    I agree with you that we shouldn’t listen to pundits for their predictions or let them do our thinking for us. When I listen to the pundits it’s because they often reveal information that isn’t revealed by the mainstream media – information that I might otherwise never learn about because I don’t have the time or the resources to do the research. That’s one great thing about your blog, btw. The “Lowlights” keep me informed.

  4. Hi CW, Hope all is going okay in Texas. You make a good point, certainly people can gain information from listening to pundits without being influenced. Information is knowledge. And for all I know Tetlock's study is more propaganda because, as you point out, he did not list names and specific examples. The study did seem realistic to me, so I published it.