Tonight I happened to catch the end of the Golden Globes press event, on which two of the stupidest people in the world read the names of the award winners. The real show was canceled because the actors agreed not to cross the writers’ picket line. Anyway, in addition to reading the lists of nominees and then announcing the winners, the presenters of the show also treated us to some analysis and commentary along the way. A low point was reached when immediately before the host opened the envelope to read the winner of the “best picture” award, he asked the resident expert to predict the winner. The pointlessness of that prediction made me think of the pointlessness of nearly all predictions.
Forecasting is important. If you’re thinking of buying a house, it’s good to have an idea of what the housing market is going to do in your area and whether mortgage rates are going to rise or fall in the immediate future. If you’re trying to choose which company to work for, it’s important to try to figure out what the fortunes are of the companies you’re considering. Sports fans are interested in whether their favorite team is going to get better or worse next season. I’m all for forecasting. What I’m sick of is predictions.
For the past couple of weeks we’ve seen every political pundit in the world make an ass of themselves predicting what would happen in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. Now that the NFL playoffs are under way, we are forced to watch football pundits predict what’s going to happen in a game we’re about to watch, and then to listen to them make more predictions about the rest of the game during halftime. In the technology industry, we’re being bombarded with predictions of what Steve Jobs is going to announce in his Macworld keynote on Tuesday.
The sad thing is that nearly all of these predictions are utter and complete self indulgence. People make predictions so that they can pat themselves on the back if they’re right, and pretend like they were right if they were wrong. If predictions do have any utility, it’s in the evidence cited to substantiate a prediction. The prediction still won’t be enlightening, but at least the discussion of the prediction will be. All too often, that evidence is left undiscussed by the experts or “experts” making the predictions.
Please, let’s have more forecasting, but I’ve had it with the predictions. That said, I forecast that this blog post will not have a measurable effect on the number of predictions that people make.