I heard about Nick Kristof’s column on prediction yesterday, but I didn’t actually read it. (Because, you know, reading takes up valuable time.) But Mrs. Curious Capitalist points me to this important excerpt:
[I]t turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.
What? You don’t think he’s writing about me? Actually, he sort of is. He’s discussing Philip Tetlock‘s research on the reliability of expert predictions:
[T]he only consistent predictor was fame — and it was an inverse relationship. The more famous experts did worse than unknown ones. That had to do with a fault in the media. Talent bookers for television shows and reporters tended to call up experts who provided strong, coherent points of view, who saw things in blacks and whites. People who shouted — like, yes, Jim Cramer!
Mr. Tetlock called experts such as these the “hedgehogs,” after a famous distinction by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (my favorite philosopher) between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.
I don’t know that Kristof has classified Cramer correctly. If Cramer’s a hedgehog, it’s a hedgehog with only short-term memory. He shouts, but he’s entirely capable of shouting one thing one week and the complete opposite the next. But the general point is of course right: You get a lot more traction in today’s media landscape by being predictable and unreasonable than by being thoughtful and pragmatic. And thoughtful and pragmatic is sort of what I do. Or try to (see, I’m definitely prone to self-doubt). Well, at least I get things right! Sort of. Sometimes. Except when I’m wrong.
Which brings me to an important question: How the heck am I supposed to go about promoting this book of mine? Is it time to go hedgehog and start shouting, “Financial markets suck!”?
Update: Ian Bremmer and Preston Keat, in their new book The Fat Tail: The Power of Political Knowledge for Strategic Investing (which I’m reading right now because Ian is stopping by in a couple of hours), have this to say about hedgehogs and foxes:
Tetlock argues that foxes, who tend to be more tolerant of counterarguments and see the bigger picture, make better risk analysts. But risk analysis is contextual. In some cases, the simplicity of hedgehog analysis yields better results; in others, the complexity of fox analysis produces a more accurate forecast. When it comes to communicating the analysis, the hedgehog approach is sometimes better suited for reaching decision makers and cutting through existing cultural and organizational biases.
In other words, Financial markets suck!