Just eight days ago the 2023 motion picture Oscars were awarded. (That I have no idea who won what is irrelevant here.) Apparently, the Dodo was not the judge of the awards, as not everyone received a prize. (Actually, everything written so far is irrelevant to the point that I hope to make shortly.)
What did spur me into writing this was an article in the Guardian on the Wednesday after the Sunday awards ceremony, the headline of which was:
Oscars 2024: who might be in the running for next year’s awards?(1)
Was I wrong in thinking that with over 360 days to go a prognostication about next year’s Oscar race was just a wee bit premature?
Then again, it just might have been that I was worn down by the aftereffects of the run-up to the National Hockey League’s trade deadline, which was Friday, Mar 3, 2023 3:00 PM ET. For weeks—nay, months—before the deadline, sports sites specializing in hockey news were filled with hints, rumors, and speculations about which teams would trade which players to whichever other teams. I’m sorry now that I didn’t catalogue some of the actual ruminations, but many went like this:
Which 12 teams should look to acquire player X?
6 players that team Y might acquire.
I was eagerly waiting for a headline that read:
WHICH 31 TEAMS MIGHT TRADE FOR PLAYER Z?(2)
The speculations about individual players were interesting—and almost totally wrong. Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes was, everybody knew (as the team made clear), going somewhere. Prognosticators at one point had him just inches away from becoming a member of the Los Angeles Kings. When that fever broke, thoughts turned to his joining the Edmonton Oilers (if the Oilers couldn’t pry Erik Karlsson loose from the San Jose Sharks and his big contract).
And how did things end up? The Oilers traded for Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators, and Chychrun amazingly landed in Ottawa. (Karlsson remained in California.)
I could go on and on about what the hockey experts got wrong or didn’t see coming (Vladimir Tarasenko to the Rangers, anyone? James van Riemsdyk not getting traded by Philadelphia, leading to the general manager's getting fired?).
But the real nuttiness in the fruitcake baked by the experts was how—after it all played out—the speculators wrote columns or aired podcasts on why things didn’t happen. They strutted around as mavens of after-the-fact facts.
Op-ed columnists and TV’s talking heads build followings by making bold, confident predictions about politics and the economy. But rarely are their predictions analyzed for accuracy.
Now, five Hamilton College seniors led by public policy professor P. Gary Wyckoff have analyzed the predictions of 26 prognosticators between September 2007 and December 2008. Their findings? Anyone can make as accurate a prediction as most of them if just by flipping a coin.(3)
Actually, I have seen other studies that have come to the same conclusion: Experts are really dumbasses who should have the decency to shut up.
Just this afternoon I read in the Atlantic the following:
Back in the 2008 presidential campaign, when the GOP nominee, John McCain, forgot how many houses he owned, the pundit Mark Halperin became infamous for a prediction: “My hunch is this is going to end up being one of the worst moments in the entire campaign for one of the candidates, but it’s Barack Obama.”(4)
Writer David A. Graham goes on:
That became a notoriously bad take, but Halperin is unchastened. “You are about to increase the odds that Donald Trump will win another four years in the White House,” he wrote in italics on his Substack [about Trump’s impending indictment]. “You could in fact be increasing his chances of winning dramatically, maybe even decisively.”
To sum up the smarts of the experts, there was the quick take on the present economic scene offered in a recent New York Times newsletter:
Economists expected inflation and rates to stay low for years. They were wrong.
Okay—time to confess. How good am I as a prognosticator? Years ago, slate.com had a readers’ forum (they called it an “affray”) on “The Sopranos.” I was an active participant (before a friend advised me to stop, as I was getting too worked up about the wrongheadedness of others). But before leaving, I posted a list of ten crazy off-the-wall predictions about the characters. And lo and behold, one of them actually came true: Paulie Walnuts would find out he’s adopted (Season 6, Episode 4).
So, there it is—on the record. I am a 10% believable prognosticator. Take the other 90% of what I say with a grain of salt.
(2) The NHL has 32 teams.