Samuel’s Travels is back on Substack

Dearest subscribers of Samuel’s Travels,

A long time it’s been indeed, the years have passed and I hope I find you all wiser for them.

I don’t know if anyone here even remembers me, though I hope these words may reignite whatever dying embers of affections lie deep within your bellies.

I have been writing again for the last year or so on substack, you can find me here https://samsgoodstuff.substack.com/

I’ll share some of the most recent post below, and if those embers sudden burst into fires, then please follow the link above and join me on the next journey.

Predicting if dinner will be good

Can you predict the future? According to SuperForecastingwhich I read over Christmas, those equipped with the right mindset and techniques can do a reasonably good job.

In fact I wolfed down the book because – even though the authors were quite explicit that this would not be the case – I remained convinced by its end I would be able to tell you anything that is going to happen in the next few years.

Unsurprisingly I have now reached the end and am immediately little more able to answer a question like Will the Tories still be in power in 2024? Or even more simple ones such as Will I be wearing matching socks tomorrow?

What I have learnt though are some techniques that can help us in thinking about such things.

I have also learnt that there is already an industry of fortune tellers, whose names carry far and wide and who command quite a price for their powers. They are called political pundits, and they appear in parliaments, White Houses and televisions the world over to provide predictions. We pay huge amounts of value to what they may say is about to happen to the economy, yet it turns out no-one is measuring how often they’re right. When Superforecasting analyses a handful of the best known, their record often appears to fall short.

In the 1968 global best seller The Population Bomb, Stanford Professor Paul R. Ehrlick wrote that nothing could prevent famines in which hundreds of millions of people would die throughout the 1970s, going on to say “by the year 2000 the United Kingdom will simply be a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people, of little or no concern to the other 5–7 billion people of a sick world.”

It’s tempting to dismiss this as having been entirely wrong, though it turns out the art of measuring predictions is ducedly complex. As Superforecasting spells out repeatedly, the future (and therefore how history shapes out) is uncertain. It could be that Ehrlick was largely correct and in the 1960s this outcome could have occurred, however the chance phenomena of the green agricultural revolution in the 1970s plus a huge decline in birth rates meant that we narrowly avoided it. In a parallel universe, we may all be dying of starvation.

A good forecaster therefore would have weighted all the factors that could lead to Ehrlick’s outcome and all those against, and give a percentage chance by which we can assess their prediction. Unfortunately though there is no redemption for Ehrlick here as he actually did do this exact thing; “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000, and give 10 to one that the life of the average Briton would be of a distinctly lower quality than it is today.”

How did he get so wrong? The book (and this post from one of the authors) would suggest that it’s because he’s a hedgehog. That’s not a Q-Anon style conspiracy to say he’s literally a hedgehog and that’s why he can’t make predictions, but instead it makes part of a metaphor for two types of thinkers. Those who define their world view using a single ideology (in Ehrlick’s case, anti-capitalism and anti-growth) are considered hedgehogs, where as those who incorporate differing views and calibrate them against what occurs in reality are instead foxes. Ehrlick was blinded by the ideals he was committed to, so couldn’t register the trends that were opposing it.

A hedgehog is more likely to pepper their speech with “moreover,” “furthermore” and declare things as “impossible” or “certain,” where as a fox will say “however,” “although” and “on the other hand.” A fox changes its views in light of the facts, while a hedgehog clings to its view in spite of them. Here is Ehrlick on 60 minutes this month at age 90, again predicting the apocalypse.

Why is he so popular then? Why did his book become a bestseller and his recent interview receive millions of viewers? Why is it that almost all of our popular pundits are hedgehogs, despite foxes being the ones who make better predictions?

for the rest of the post click here

About Sam

Hi I'm Sam and I write here exclusively at Samuel's Travels. Exclusively as by and large no-one wants me writing anywhere else. Please enjoy yourself while reading.
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