Louis Menand reviews the book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” by Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at Berkeley. His research asserts

that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us.

In fact, Tetlock says that the best known experts are worse than the average person on the street in making predictions. As Menand writes,

The experts’ trouble in Tetlock’s study is exactly the trouble that all human beings have: we fall in love with our hunches, and we really, really hate to be wrong.

Just like the other psychological study that found that staunch Democrats and Republications rationalize facts away that contradict their position, Tetlock found that well-known predictors did the same, plus they also gave information supporting their position more leeway, a double whammy on predicting.

I wonder how this applies to teachers' expectations on which students will perform well in the classroom, to instructors' theoretical positions in designing curricula, and to researchers' defense of their theories.

LiveScience reports on a study, "Both Democrats and Republicans Adept at Ignoring Facts." A study found that, whether Democrat or Republican, those who have strong beliefs do not listen to facts that contradict their position.

The study points to a total lack of reason in political decision-making.


The brain imaging revealed a consistent pattern. Both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.

"The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data," Westen said.

These findings are likely true not only of politics but of any emotionally charged subject or simply of any subject that one takes for granted. These findings also explain why it is so difficult for students in composition courses to tackle topics, such as abortion or religion, if they hold strong opinions about them. I wonder how students (or anyone) can be led to use reason in emotionally charged topics. Should we just avoid such topics? Or find ways to de-emotionalize them and re-reasonize them?