Magazine article USA TODAY

Experts Reluctant to Admit They Were Wrong

Magazine article USA TODAY

Experts Reluctant to Admit They Were Wrong

Article excerpt

How do political experts react when their predictions--about election results or the fate of countries or other important issues--turn out to be completely wrong? They don't worry about it. Most shrug off their errors, claiming that they were "almost" right and that their understanding of the situation was basically sound.

A study by Philip Tetlock, Harold Burtt Professor of Psychology and Political Science, Ohio State University, Columbus, involved asking media, government, and academic experts to predict political situations--such as the fate of the Soviet Union in 1988--and then re-interviewing the experts after the situation was resolved. The results revealed that experts were often overconfident in their initial predictions, sometimes massively so. Those who said they were 80% confident in their predictions ended up being right only about half the time.

The results suggest that political leaders and others may have a hard time learning from history--or at least learning lessons that don't fit their existing beliefs and ideologies, Tetlock argues. When experts are wrong, they interpret events to fit their preconceived notions, rather than change their notions to fit reality. …

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