What I’ve been reading

1. Larissa MacFarquhar, Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help.  Profiles of people who are obsessed with helping others.  That is a wonderful premise for a book, somehow for my taste it didn’t run quite deep enough.  Still, many people will like this one a great deal.

2. Nicholas Stargardt, The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945.  I read only about a fifth of this one.  I thought it was a very high quality treatment of how German citizens perceived WWII, and also quite readable.  It didn’t match my interests at the moment, but I am happy to recommend it.

3. J.M. Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz, The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy.  A running dialogue between Coetzee and a psychotherapist, some of it is interesting.  Some of it.  But after the early sections on the dangers of storytelling, I got bored.  Surely at some point empiricial psychology deserved a mention.

4. Harry G. Frankfurt, On Inequality.  A very short book, but longer than the blurb I wrote for it: “Economic equality is one of today’s most overrated ideas, and Harry G. Frankfurt’s highly compelling book explains exactly why.”

5. Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.  What makes some people very good at forecasting?  Self-recommending, here is a good Q&A with Tetlock.  The real question of course is why isn’t everyone working on this?


That Q&A with Tetlock is good, apart from the utterly bizarre part where Horgan asks him about "self-fulfilling predictions", as good an example of questioning by word association as I have ever seen!

I was one of the "Superforecasters" and just wanted to note that I became aware of this study three years ago because of a mention on MR. It piqued my interest and so I signed up. After a little less than a year of forecasting I received an email asking if I'd consider joining the superforecaster cohort.

Now that I've met many of the others I can affirm some of what has been published elsewhere, namely that the defining characteristic of all of them (and myself also I suppose) is the instinctive urge to seek evidence that tests pre-existing beliefs rather than what supports those beliefs. It's really just application of the scientific method, and I'm amazed that so many find this to be so difficult.

Thanks to MR for pointing me in this direction, it's definitely been an interesting experience!

Someone actually advanced the theory at the first "superforecaster conference" that the reason Tetlock's team outperformed the other prediction teams was because readers of Marginal Revolution were intellectually superior to other participants.

Although there are exceptions it's true most superforecasters are quite well-educated. That said, in my life I've run into many people with a similar education level who are very subject to confirmation bias.

LOL, that's pretty hilarious! (And stupid, of course). I also ended up as a "superforecaster" after reading about the proposed project here on MR. But come on, "intellectually superior"? I visit this blog mostly for linkages and the level of commentary here is perfectly mediocre.

Re: "why isn’t everyone working on this?", the Hansonian answer is that people don't care as much about accurate predictions as they say they do.

Coetzee too lazy to write books anymore? Not inspired by the relatively less dramatic social landscape of Australia?

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