Apr 5, 2021
Phillip Tetlock is an expert on expertise, but of a different kind to the late K. Anders Ericsson. While Ericsson's work focused on experts within "kind" domains (as defined by Range author David Epstein) such as music and chess, where feedback is near-immediate and clear and the rules are known to all and stated at the outset, Tetlock is interested in those who specialise in "wicked" domains, such as economics and politics. These are fields in which we can't run experiments or train for specific, recurring situations; where the rules are unknown; and where the situation at hand is not bounded, but can be influenced by a myriad of unpredictable forces.
The author's most important finding is that cognitive style plays a major role in deciding who is good or bad at predicting world events. He reaches for Isaiah Berlin's concept of the Hedgehog and the Fox: "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Hedgehogs tend to view the world through their particular favourite lens, basking in the power and glory of their pet theory. Foxes, on the other hand, are much patchier in their choice of models, and continuously second-guess themselves as they piece together a tentative view of the many ways things could unfold. While it seems that hedgehogs would make good political leaders (and are much more charismatic), foxes outperform them on prediction tasks to a stunning degree - or perhaps we should say, hedgehogs perform so terribly that foxes have an easy win.
Tetlock has published another book on the topic of expert predictions in the political and economic arena called Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, which is aimed at a general audience. Expert Political Judgement is an earlier work, written for academics, and therefore deeply concerned with methodology and epistemology, and more willing to discuss probability theory and mathematical modelling. The full details of this are not amenable to sharing via audio, but the approach does provide a reassuring amound of skepticism to his own conclusions.
Enjoy the episode.
Expertise (in "kind" environments): 18. Bounce by Matthew Syed; 20. Genius Explained by Michael Howe; 22. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle; 24. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell; 49. The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
Breadth of learning (characteristic of "foxes"): 97. The Polymath by Waqas Ahmed; 98. Range by David Epstein
Moral hazard of people who talk too much (generally scathing about economists): 84. Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb