I Understand Probability Theory; What's YOUR Super Power?

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Philip Tetlock on Superforecas... Noah Smith on Whether Economic...

Why does it seem that pundits' and politicians' predictions are always right? How can you assess the accuracy of a probabilistic prediction? This week, EconTalk host Russ Roberts sat down with Superforecasting author Phillip Tetlock, and their conversation ranged over these topics and more.

Let us know your reaction to this week's episode, and let's continue our conversation here. As always, we love to hear from you!

1. As Tetlock told Russ about his earliest forecasting tournaments about the Soviet Union, he noted how different the predictions of liberals and conservatives was. Still, he explains, none of them foresaw the rise of Mikhail Gorbechev or the collapse of the USSR, describing an "outcome-irrelevant learning situation." What does he mean by this? What sorts of outcome-irrelevant learning situations have you found yourself in and/or witness to? How might they have turned out differently?


2. Tetlock and his team felt that President Obama was underconfident in his decision to go after Osama bin Laden. To what extent do you agree? How does this example illustrate the dangers of both over- and under-confidence?

3. What is the "cloning problem" in group decision-making settings? Have you ever fallen victim to clones? How can you really know if and when this problem is mitigated?

Bonus: Superforecasting was one of Bryan Caplan's (of EconLog) favorite books of the year. (See here and here.) Have you read it, and do you agree with Bryan?

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COMMENTS (1 to date)
William writes:

Q: I Understand Probability Theory; What's YOUR Super Power?

A: If I dedicate myself to a single cause for my entire life, work very, very hard; and get very, very lucky; I can reach the grand height of being an average person. That's my superpower!

1. "outcome-irrelevant learning situation" - Tetlock's word: people learn whatever they want to learn from history. I saw this everyday with my church going family. If their prayers are answered, it's God's blessings. if it is not, well; God is still a kind and benevolent God.

2. I think his point was, if there was 10 independent assessment based on 10 different evidence that there is 70% probability Osama is there, then the "Venn Diagram" thinking is that the event is probably 80-90% probably. Or in law movies they will call it "preponderance of circumstantial evidence". A finger print on the murder weapon may have 70% probability of being the murderer (or the last person who used the kitchen knife). But if the same person have motive and access and seen by a witness; then the odds of him not being guilty is lower.

3. Groupthink is prevalent in any business meetings. The Dilbert rules apply. If you have the answer on how to fix it, you can be a billionaire by selling them to the world.

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