It was around the year 2002 that I was forced to write a letter to the editor of the Times of London. One of the paper’s columnists, a certain William Rees-Mogg, had written that “everyone knows” that Hillary Clinton will run for President of the United States in 2004. I protested that that statement was in error, for I didn’t know that and several persons of my acquaintance (like my butcher, my baker, and my candlestick maker) swore that they did not know that either.
The Times did not publish my letter, which was just as well, seeing that Rees-Mogg was correct, Ms. Clinton transgendering herself to run under the nom de ballot “John Kerry.”
It should be noted that Ress-Mogg, the peerless prognosticator, was no less than a life peer, having become Baron Rees-Mogg of Hinton Blewett in the County of Avon in 1988.
To be honest, though, one must admit that the Baron’s prognosticating skill was really less peerless than common. Recent books by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman* and the pair of Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson** cite the research of Philip Tetlock***, who gathered over 80,000 predictions from political and economic prognosticators. The results, to quote Kahneman, were “devastating”:
. . . people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys . . . .
I wonder if the Baron would like a banana.
*Thinking, Fast and Slow.
**Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts.
***Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?