When is a guess not a guess?

Posted: Tue, 22 January 2013 | permalink | 2 Comments

… when it’s a “prediction”.

In the 4th January edition of the Guardian Weekly , the front page story, entitled “Meet the world’s new boomers”1 contained this little gem:

Back in 2006, [PricewaterhouseCoopers] made some forecasts about what the global economy might look like in 2050, and it has now updated the predictions in the light of the financial crisis and its aftermath.

Delightful. They made some forecasts about what the global economy might look like. Given that they clearly didn’t include any impact of the GFC in their forecasts, it clearly wasn’t a particularly accurate forecast.

Y’know what an inaccurate prediction is called? Guesswork. Let’s call a spade a spade here. I see this all the time, and it’s starting to shit me. People making predictions and forecasts and projections hither and yon, and they’re almost always complete bollocks, and they never get called on it. I read the Greater Fool blog now and then, and that blog is chock full of examples of people making predictions which have very little chance of being in any way accurate.

While Dr Ben Goldacre and others are making inroads into requiring full disclosure in clinical trials, I’m not aware of anyone taking a similar stand against charlatans making dodgy-as-hell predictions over and over again, with the sole purpose of getting attention, without any responsibility for the accuracy of those predictions.

Is anyone aware of anyone doing work in this area, or do I need to register badpredictions.net and start calling out dodginess?


From: Andreas Tille
2013-01-23 00:53

Beeing grown up in the former GDR I do not give anything about forecasts lasting longer than three years (even these are really vague.) If in 1988 somebody would have told me that my country will not exist any more in three years and I will be able to travel all around the world (now using Debian travel ;-)) I would have called him crazy. Now I call those people making predictions for > three years.

From: dhardy
2013-01-24 21:30

True, but when it comes down to it: 1) any prediction (not based entirely on guesses or entirely within the domain of a fully known system) requires a model 2) any model has its unknowns, which can only be guessed at

Publishing the models would help the modeler improve them assuming he/she is interested in feedback, but in my opinion the problem here lies with the journalists who decided to publish the predictions without criticising them.

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