Monday, December 31, 2012

Quote of the Day: The Illusions of Pundits

People who spend their time, earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than non-specialists.

Those who know more forecast very slightly better than those who know less. But those with the most knowledge are often less reliable. The reason is that the person who acquires more knowledge develops an enhanced illusion of her skill and becomes unrealistically overconfident. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quick,” Tetlock writes. (Philip E. Tetlock, University of Pennsylvania in 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?—Prudent Investor) “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are better than journalists or attentive readers of the The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations”. The more famous of the forecaster, Tetlock discovered, the more flamboyant the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” he writes, “were more confident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”
The above quote is from 2002 Nobel laureate psychologist and professor Daniel Kahneman in his insightful book Thinking, Fast and Slow p.219

There are many reasons not to trust pundits, aside from overconfidence, which essentially oversimplifies human action.

I believe that the substantial chunk of “expert errors” emerge from the influences of conflict-of-interest relations, particularly the principal-agent problem, where “experts” tend to promote the interests of employers, sponsors, donors, grant providers and or even political agents (perhaps through implicit ambition to be part of the political institution) whom are sources of the self-interests of such pundits.

Forecasting inaccuracies may also be linked to the rigid application of ideology and or on the overreliance on math models (scientism).

Add to this the desperate desire by “experts” to attain social acceptance via social signaling.  Such would include making extreme (media attracting) projections or providing the veneer of expertise on what truly is about populism—forecasting based on what is popular, or as I previously wrote 
For many, thus, expertise signify more as social signaling (posturing or seeking social acceptance) and or “telling people what they want to hear” but predicated on certain technically based paradigms which produces an aura of supposed superiority rather than representative of the true domain knowledge.
Dr. Kahneman suggests that to determine “true expertise” from merely displays of the “illusions of validity”, one should identify conditions where pundits have excelled in “an environment that is sufficiently regular to be predictable” and from their having “to learn these regularities through prolonged practice” (p 240). In short, in an unpredictable world, expert opinion should be less trusted.

However by simply associating expertise with “regularity” and “prolonged practice” seems to contradict logically his earlier critique of pattern seeking behavior (which is about the human psychological propensity to seek regularity or constancy through patterns while at the same time underestimating the role of randomness). The nuance will be on the marginal efforts applied by practitioners via  “prolonged practice” in dealing with such regularities. 

The point is despite being able to minimize the influences of “expert or non-expert” intuition on decision making that may result to lesser degree of judgmental errors, behavioral economics/finance will not lead to omniscience or come close to solving the knowledge problem: a complex society will always be subject to irregularities and unpredictability from the dynamic and intricate feedback mechanism of human action and of environmental changes. Dr. Kahneman acknowledges this: "Errors of prediction are inevitable, because the world is unpredictable" (p. 220)

Nevertheless the best way to acquire “expertise” is primarily through investing in oneself

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