Monthly Archives: November 2005

Everybody's an Expert: Putting Predictions to the Test

Philip Tetlock’s book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is it? received a fascinating review in the New Yorker. The implications are very fun to think about, and I think his thesis could be extended to any "expert" opinions in the entrepreneurial world too.

Some of the highlights:

  • In reviewing some 83k expert opinion predictions on trends, an astounding number were wrong.
  • The expert forecaster game decreases the important of accuracy. After all, the more novel the prediction the greater their cachet.
  • "We are not natural falsificationists: we would rather find more reasons for believing what we already believe than look for reasons that we might be wrong. In the terms of Karl Popper’s famous example, to verify our intuition that all swans are white we look for lots more white swans, when what we should really be looking for is one black swan."
  • "Experts violate a fundamental rule of probabilities by tending to find scenarios with more variables more likely. If a prediction needs two independent things to happen in order for it to be true, its probability is the product of the probability of each of the things it depends on. If there is a one-in-three chance of x and a one-in-four chance of y, the probability of both x and y occurring is one in twelve. But we often feel instinctively that if the two events “fit together” in some scenario the chance of both is greater, not less."
  • "Plausible detail makes us believers. When subjects were given a choice between an insurance policy that covered hospitalization for any reason and a policy that covered hospitalization for all accidents and diseases, they were willing to pay a higher premium for the second policy, because the added detail gave them a more vivid picture of the circumstances in which it might be needed."
  • "Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who “know one big thing,” aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who “do not get it,” and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible “ad hocery” that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess."

The Benefits of Talking to One's Self and the Wonderful Worlds of Recitation

Someday I will pore over the greatest speeches ever written, and steal all the best phrases.

Link: Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Benefits of Talking to One’s Self and the Wonderful Worlds of Recitation.

Recitation is ‘old school’ in some educational circles, but when the language, the music, and the content of what’s being recited is really remarkable, historic, or immortal, we think it’s a lofty goal. Great recitation is often accompanied by wonderful sound and gestural imagery. When we recite great words, we feel with the speaker, we feel heroic, and we feel like we’re there. When children are young, they may not grasp all the meaning and connotations, but usually get much more than they can express, and when they encounter the words again, they will be familiar.

Great words from the past are also an amazingly rich source of vocabulary, word history, allusions, and metaphorical thinking. Well chosen recitation is never mindless parroting, but rather a means for helping students to look beyond their own language, time, and circumstances, for recurring themes and essential truths.

Even William James, who cared very much about passion and interest in education, cautions us that "…learning things by heart is now probably somewhat too much despised."

Research Finds Twins to Be the Slower Siblings

If you have twin brothers, like I do, you can definitely appreciate this research! Actually, I don’t place a lot of stock in isolated data samples like this, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Link: Patterns: Research Finds Twins to Be the Slower Siblings – New York Times.

Researchers in Scotland have found that twins have substantially lower I.Q.’s than their singleton siblings, based on a sampling of more than 10,000 Scottish children born in the 1950’s.

Man Forced to Stand In Front of Post Office: "I Stole Mail"

This is hilarious. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Newman was charged for stealing mail and, right before he is dragged inside, he pleads to Kramer: "Kramer, tell the world my story."

Link: Justices Reject F.B.I. Translator’s Appeal on Termination – New York Times.

The justices also rejected an appeal of a sentence that a federal district judge in San Francisco issued to a man convicted of stealing from mailboxes. The judge, Vaughn R. Walker, ordered the man, Shawn Gementera, to stand in front of a Post Office building wearing a sandwich board with the inscription "I stole mail. This is my punishment."

The sentence, which Judge Walker said had "humiliation" as its purpose, followed a two-month jail sentence. Mr. Gementera was to stand for 100 hours, but Judge Walker reduced the sentence to 8 hours.

Harper's Set to Name Its Next Editor

The big three magazines in the world of ideas are the Atlantic, Harpers, and the New Yorker. I read 2 out of 3 regularly, and the third as much as I can. (Harper’s is the weakest of the three.I love seeing these young guys take over. The new editor Hodge is 38 years old. The editor of the New Republic is also in his 30’s I think (and super impressive).

Link: Harper’s Set to Name Its Next Editor – New York Times.

Give to Charities I Care About

I don’t need any more material objects except for more books.

So, for Christmas or my birthday, please consider giving to charities I care about on my behalf using my GiveList.

I encourage everyone to set up such a gift so we end this nonsense of giving gifts people don’t want/need/use and instead become "everyday philanthropists."

Are there charities that should be on my GiveList that aren’t? Leave a comment and let me know.

Now, Go Suck the Gas Pipe

My friend Ben Springwater at Williams College sent me this essay by a U of Virginia professor that bemoans the state of higher education. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you want to suck the gas pipe – my generation is a consumer culture yearning for entertainment. Oh the good ole’ days, this professor says, when students would have animated conversations about intellectual affairs. Now, they’re too busy surfing their "100 cable channels."

Being so culturally pessimistic is flip, and particularly condescending when coming from the ivory tower. But – but! – this essay does raise some points I’ve discussed on this blog. Incredibly, people still romanticize college and higher ed to an unrealistic degree. People still view it as a melting pot of ideas and the only time you’ll get pure intellectual stimulation for four years. This professor argues, with some merit, that you’re more likely to find students drinking beer to MTV than a novel idea that may challenge the status quo.

There are big problems with education and my generation, but such doomsayer pessimism is not the way to fix it.

Dick Hardt's Kick-Ass Presentation on Identity 2.0

Presentation skills are worthy of obessive study.

Go watch Dick Hardt’s awesome 7-8 presentation on identity 2.0. This is certainly an approach and it especially works for people who don’t rank high on the kinesthetic scale.

Also, the whole problem of how a trusted identity (read: reputation) is transported from the offline world to the online world is very interesting. The Identity 2.0 blog is a good starting point on this.

(Hat tip: Guy Kawasaki)

Two Ways of Looking at Childrearing

Ross Douthat has a great post on feminism, the workplace, and childrearing. He links to articles in the LA Times, American Prospects, and elsewhere that I’ll read when I have time. If you’re interested in this stuff (I am, like when I argued that motherhood as defined by feminists is mutually exclusive with womanhood) go read Ross’ post. It’s great.

Sex and Chess

Two funny articles in the NYT about chess.

1. Sex and Chess. Is She a Queen or a Pawn? – a site is ranking the hottest chess players in the world to drum up interest. #1 is a 16 year old in Australia. Anyone have her number?

2. Chess on TV? – More people would play chess if it could only get the same kind of attention on ESPN that poker has gotten….hmm….I’m sure gambling has something to do with it!