• Hindsight bias and making predictions

    This op-ed does not contain any useful predictions. Peter Bergen does a fine job of showing why in retrospect we should have been able to predict that “[i]t was only a matter of time” before lethal violence directed at individuals who dare to depict the Prophet of Islam “would happen in the United States.” The thing about retrospection, though, is that it’s way too easy. If Bergen mentioned this evident inevitability a week ago, or perhaps back when social media were exploding with support for Charlie Hebdo, I would be among the first to praise him and stand in awe of his abilities as a judge of what is evitable or not. As it stands, though, that entire piece looks like a massive exercise in hindsight bias.

    Hindsight bias is when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, compared to the estimates of subjects who must guess without advance knowledge.  Hindsight bias is sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.

    Every study into this effect has found that human subjects tend to hugely overestimate the apriori predictability of some given catastrophe if they know that it has in fact transpired. There is an obvious fix for this bias: Write down your predictions in advance. If Bergen did this at some point, he is too modest to make mention of it.

    By way of contrast and for the sake of providing a non-cautionary example, here is what a true prediction looks like:

    [A] repetition of the Charlie Hebdo attack in the UK is bound to happen. Maajid Nawaz, the chairman of the Quilliam Foundation and a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, said that a similar attack is “inevitable in Britain. There’s not more extremism in France than anywhere else. In Britain, you have [people] like Jihadi John. There is a crisis in the whole of Europe. We are reaching a crisis level of emergency.”

    That prediction was committed to print around a day after the original Charlie Hebdo shooting, rather than a day after the events which the author claims to be inevitable in hindsight. Kudos to Nawaz for having the fortitude to make his predictions in advance, and fie upon Bergen for withholding his well-honed sense of inevitability until after the fact.

    EDIT: Damn it all, I forgot to include a photo to spice up this rant. Here you go:

    Category: Free ExpressionPhilosophyPolitics

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.