Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe

Predictions and Punts: A Retrospective Scoring of this Column

| May 29, 2020

It has been nearly four and a half years since I began writing this column, which works out at roughly 240,000 words altogether. As these will be my last words in these pages, it’s time to look back and take stock. If part of your job is to be a pundit then, as the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Philip Tetlock argues in “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction,” you need to keep score.

As Tetlock had a dig at me in that book — which was published in 2015, before I began writing for the Sunday Times of London and then The Globe — this is also a good opportunity to settle a score. Tetlock was of course quite right about most public intellectuals (a term that always makes me think of public convenience). They seldom hold themselves to account. Nor do they get fired if their predictions are consistently wrong, so long as they are entertaining enough to engage readers’ eyeballs.

However, since I set up an advisory firm nine years ago, my approach has been different — out of necessity, as fund managers differ from newspaper editors in their attitude to predictions. Not only do they notice when you’re wrong, because one or more financial indicators make that clear; they also let you know about it (with grim relish, usually). If you’re wrong too often, it’s goodbye.

So at the beginning of each year we at Greenmantle make predictions about the year ahead, and at the end of the year we see (and tell our clients) how we did. Each December we also rate every predictive statement we have made in the previous twelve months, rating them either True, False or Not Proven. In recent years, we have also forced ourselves to attach probabilities to our predictions (not easy when so much lies in the realm of uncertainty rather than calculable risk). We have, in short, tried to be superforecasters. And with some success.

Now it’s time to apply the same retrospective scoring to this column.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ferguson, Niall.“Predictions and Punts: A Retrospective Scoring of this Column.” The Boston Globe, May 29, 2020.

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