9 January 2015

If we must reject superstition...

...and dogma, and conspiracy theories... that leaves us with...Expert Opinion.  And if we reject that... "what are we left with? Nothing. And that's frightening."

I am about half way through Dan Gardner's book exposing the many falacies that give us comfort about the future.

If you are in the business of project management you know much of what is valued by the people paying your salary is your ability to forecast the future. This book will do a nice job of making you uncomfortable.  If you have already crossed over that bridge it might provide some nice stories that reinforce your belief that nothing is certain.

The author ranges from academic studies, particularly by Philip Tetlock, to Taleb, Tversky and Kahneman to random personal experience and historical anecdotes to liberally punctuate the narrative with engaging personal stories.  I am enjoying it but not 100% sure I recommend it to everyone. It's a bit slow to start, and at the end of the day I feel like all I am really getting is anecdotes to back up my own biases and preconceptions.

One frustration I have is that the counter examples of failed future-casting often seem off more via the author's own political or cultural lenses rather than objective facts. An argument he makes is that most forecasts about the future fall apart in the detail very quickly. I read several of his examples and see while details might be wring, the essence of these future forecasts from the 1970's is indeed in play today.  They aren't by my reckoning so wrong.

But that's the game, right. Selling controversy. The book is well written, and has plenty of good stories. Grab a free copy of a chapter from somewhere and test drive it. You may well like it. Alternately you might prefer to go check out the core of the academic source material by Tetlock.

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