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Friday, November 05, 2010

Top pundits: How can they consistently score higher than chance at being wrong?

They could start by striving to be the Big Expert everyone wants to quote in their paper or book for their show- and then believing their own hype.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist David Warren comments on the value (?) of punditry in predicting outcomes in the recent American election:

A piece in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend went right to the point, of pundits and their predictions. Jonah Lehrer cited a study done by a California psychologist, over a quarter century, of 284 pundits predicting political and economic trends. He did not concern himself with little things, only with big and simple ones, where the writer could be right or wrong, unambiguously -- so that results could be quantified. It came down to scoring 82,361 yes/no propositions.

As a pundit myself, let me claim I could have guessed the result. When making predictions, pundits scored significantly below random. That is to say, they would have done much better had they just flipped a coin, in each case, instead of trying to reason their way to an answer.

The good news is, anyone who took the consensus of the pundits, and assumed the exact opposite of their prediction in each and every case, would have scored significantly better than a random result.

For more, go here.

Sharon Begley for Newsweek suggests that if we can't shut pundits up, we can at least identify factors that are strongly correlated with being wrong:

At first, Tetlock's ongoing study of 82,361 predictions by 284 pundits (most but not all of them American) came up empty. He initially looked at whether accuracy was related to having a Ph.D., being an economist or political scientist rather than a blowhard journalist, having policy experience or access to classified information, or being a realist or neocon, liberal or conservative. The answers were no on all counts. The best predictor, in a backward sort of way, was fame: the more feted by the media, the worse a pundit's accuracy. And therein lay Tetlock's first clue. The media's preferred pundits are forceful, confident and decisive, not tentative and balanced.

[ ... ]

The media, of course, eat this up. Bold, decisive assertions make better sound bites; bombast, swagger and certainty make for better TV. As a result, the marketplace of ideas does not punish poor punditry. Few of us even remember who got what wrong. We are instead impressed by credentials, affiliation, fame and even looks—traits that have no bearing on a pundit's accuracy.
It's a good thing that the legacy media that inflate these balloons are on the way out.

It is all just so Darwin, isn't it? Much certainty, little evidence. Who would have guessed that predicting the future and postdicting the past could be practically indistinguishable?

Are pundits beating the odds - by scoring own goals - a legitimate argument for chance creation of information? No, because there is too little chance involved.

Warren is no fan of Darwin, and here are some of his articles on why not:

Coffee!! Oh, so now Darwinism explains why you think SHE'S beautiful? Where's my rolling pin?

Evolutionary psychology: David Warren on beautiful women
Darwinism and popular culture: Real biology vs. Darwinism

Human evolution: More on the Ida? I dunno ... files

Oppose Darwinism as scientific fraud? Well then, no birthday cake for YOU, David!

Don't you feel better already, knowing that your innards are accidental globs of goo?

Darwinists complain about the use of machine metaphors for intricate cellular machinery and processes.

That might give the impression that all that stuff was designed. Which is bad for business.

Here are British physicist David Tyler's comments:
Are machine-information metaphors bad for science?

According to Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry, the widespread use of machine-information metaphors is unfortunate and misleading. They complain about textbooks that develop metaphors to a considerable level of detail. As an example, they cite Alberts, who is often quoted for his analogy between a cell and a "miniature factory, complete with assembly lines, messengers, transport vehicles, etc." Another machine metaphor they dislike is that of the genome as a "blueprint", notably in the hype surrounding the Human Genome Project. Whilst these analogies are widely held within the scientific community and by educators, the main target of Pigliucci and Boudry's paper appears to be intelligent design:

"The analogy between living organisms and man-made machines has proven a persuasive rhetorical tool of the ID movement. In fact, for all the technical lingo and mathematical 'demonstrations', in much of their public presentations it is clear that ID theorists actually expect the analogies to do the argumentative work for them. In Darwin's Black Box, Behe takes Alberts' machine analogy to its extreme, describing the living cell as a complicated factory containing cargo-delivery systems, scanner machines, transportation systems and a library full of blueprints."

For more, go here.

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Very Weak Anthropic Principle: Is this the Principle going, going gone?

Friends tell me that British theistic evolutionist* Denis Alexander of the Faraday Institute spoke at Baylor University recently on the "Very Weak Anthropic Principle."

I've heard of the Anthropic Principle, which essentially means that the universe appears fine-tuned for intelligent life.

I've also heard of the Weak Anthropic Principle, namely,
The weak anthropic principle states that the ways that the universe might be observed to be is limited by the fact that observation requires the existence of observers. It is impossible to observe a universe that does not permit the existence of observers; only a universe that permits the existence of observers could be observed.
So what's the Very Weak Anthropic Principle, I wonder? The observers are a buzz of neurons that have evolved in such a way that they imagine that a self exists and is observing? Or?

Anyway, if neo-Darwinists take Dr. Alexander seriously, won't he get rolled no matter what he says - if it isn't strict materialist Darwinism? Anyone remember Michael Reiss?

I am not picking up much on the 'Net.

* God indeed dun it, but there is almost no evidence for that fact.

Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy:

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