Freakonomics Poll: When It Comes to Predictions, Whom Do You Trust?

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Folly of Prediction,” is built around the premise that humans love to predict the future, but are generally terrible at it. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

There are a host of professions built around predicting some future outcome: from predicting the score of a sports match, to forecasting the weather for the weekend, to being able to tell what the stock market is going to do tomorrow. But is anyone actually good at it?

From your experience, which experts do you trust for predictions?

View Results

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COMMENTS: 41


  1. bsod says:

    there was no check box for myself

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  2. Chris says:

    Where is the “non of the above” option?

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  3. Rami says:

    Myself!!!

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  4. caleb b says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 12
  5. Adam says:

    Does anyone find it comical that the most chosen answer is a profession that predicts natural events? All other options are man made topics/events in one way or another…

    I chose None of the Above. Since the question is “Who do you trust?” on predictions, I don’t actually trust any of them. I’ve been setup for disappointment by all, and no one gets it right every time. I accept that and instead use forecasts as a guide rather than fact. Experts in various fields are often great to use as a guide on what not to do (not always, but in some cases, yes). Stock market predictions are the perfect example of this. Recently, if you do the exact opposite of what the majority says about the market, you’ll make quick money. Anyone recall economists claiming 15, 20 even close to 30% unemployment numbers back in late 2008/2009? Or the Dow going to zero? I know these are extremes, but in times of crisis, there are people who buy-in to these extremes.

    Or what about sports experts touting teams going to the World Series or Super Bowl, in the first week of the season? I know we all do it, but how many of us get it right? I think a great study for Levitt would be the March Madness Basketball predictions. With the number of games played and the incredibly large number of people who participate, might this be useful in a study on the folly of sports predictions? I know controls would need to be setup, but the results would be very interesting.

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  6. Caleb b says:

    Better than Sports Experts? Sports Bookies!

    As Mary pointed in the Folly of Prediction podcast post, the people who are best at predictions are those with skin in the game.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1
  7. Vince Skolny says:

    I rather suspect the individuals that trust their meteorologists live in the desert.

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  8. Mike Stewart says:

    Too bad Freakonomics wasn’t on there!

    Then I would have the choice NOT to select Freakonomics as a reliable predictor of the future!

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  9. Joshua Northey says:

    Meteorologists are by far the best out of those. I bike 12 miles a day for a commute and so need to pay close attention to the forecast, and it is pretty much always spot on.

    The others are pretty much just talking out of their *** most of the time. Particularly the bottom three. Economists at least have a field of expertise and small areas they can speak sensibly about despite their field’s infancy.

    Most sports and stock analysts are so poor I will mute them when they are on. Political pundits might as well be throwing darts 95% of the time. Anything they can tell me with any degree of certainty I already knew. I love watching political pundits breathlessly report on political goings on that are completely irrelevant. For instance it was clear Obama had won the nomination (barring some unexpected event) long before pundits were willing to even broach the subject. Too much money to be made pretending it was an issue in need of further prediction/punditry for another several months.

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  10. Mike B says:

    Can you redo the poll with a category for Nate Silver? He’s actually done a pretty good job at all of the above.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  11. cannon says:

    Whom do you trust?

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  12. Scott from Ohio says:

    The options are not mutually exclusive. We should either be able to choose more than one, or the question should be reworded as “who do you trust most?” rather than simply “who do you trust?”

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  13. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I have flown small aircraft for years. I can tell you that one’s LIFE depends on meteorologists. Of your choices, meteorology is the only science. As such, not only can they tell you their weather prediction, but they even publish their scores. And they will tell you what percentages you should assign to their prognostications. This is all the difference.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1
  14. Joshua Connelly says:

    Ron Paul and Peter Schiff, they predicted the housing market bubble and pop years before Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac were household names.

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  15. Casey says:

    I’m guessing that meteorologists are ranked the highest as they have the shortest time horizon in their predictions. There may also be some natural restraints in the prediction (say, no snow in July) that aren’t present in other categories (stocks can go to zero).

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  16. Roger says:

    I am more inclined to trust one who is less inclined to make predictions.

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  17. Bart Gragg | Blue Collar University says:

    Wait! Wait! Wait! People ACTUALLY voted for Meteorologists? They must be from Phoenix where you can’t go wrong with “It’s sunny and hot!”

    Anywhere else meteorologists are a study in how not to get it right.

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  18. Joseph Amauri says:

    Well… today most of us say “none of the above” because we all read books like freakonomics, the black swan (from taleb) and the upsidedown of irrationality (from dan ariely). All those books state in loud voice: specialists suck at predicting, get over it.

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  19. Bruce Myers says:

    I have been tracking the weather forecast accuracy for 4 TV stations in West Michigan since early this year. The 7th and 8th day advance temperature forecast accuracy is between 50% – 60%. http://weather.brucemyers.com/

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  20. Eric M. Jones. says:

    For a really good discussion of meteorology, Google:

    How Valid Are T.V. Weather Forecasts?
    Freakonomics
    04/21/2008

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  21. Gorbachev says:

    As my good friend, Ron, repeatedly liked to tell me, “Doveryai, no proveryai” or “Trust, but verify!”

    The thing to do is to listen to the facts presented to support the argument, then check them out and see if you come to the same conclusions. If so, then you can trust (give credence to) the predictions, because now you are of the same mind. If no facts are supplied to support the argument, then how can you understand the argument? Anybody can talk, but not everybody has science (i.e. knowledge).

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  22. DaveyNC says:

    I guess I trust meteorologists to get the weather right about 3 days out. Beyond that, nope, and that 3rd day is a stretch.

    None of the rest of them are worth a toot.

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  23. George Ronczy says:

    Some insurance professionals can be correct a reasonable amount of the time with their predictions, proving numbers are large enough and that conditions don’t change too much. However, that’s two pretty big ifs.

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  24. Definitely not the economists. I’ve been tracking their accuracy in forecasting interest rates for years, and they are simply miles away.

    See http://weathermaneconomics.blogspot.com/2011/06/asx-debut-at-1.html?m=1

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  25. jimmsans says:

    Who do ‘none of the above’ voters trust? Spouse? Parents? Boss?
    We all have to trust someone.
    I think the best 6th option should have been ‘other’ not ‘none’ .

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  26. Deb Seed says:

    I’ve been struck way too many times recently by how much time on 24/7 media is filled with prediction and speculation, in what seems complete disregard of the mood being created and the observer effect. More directly, an almost complete lack of grounding, examples, debate about why you would reach such a conclusion and what would offset it and almost no follow up on the accuracy of your last prediction.

    Not so true of Public Radio and TV, thank goodness and whatever vestige of sanity we can generate.

    What seems most important and keenly missing are:
    a context where people in public life can make mistakes, own them and share learning from them
    a get-to-the moon level commitment to study, create, speculate about, design – what actually works? Where do we see a balance of economic thrusts and the engines of freedom that is generative? I’m hoping what I caught of Michael Mandelbaum and Tom Friedman discussing How We Can Come Back indicates that they’re looking.

    Bottom line, where are the ideas that will bring what we know and are learning to the world we are generating so that looking squarely at resources and populations we can transform vast waste and violence rather than leaving them addressed by fruitless squabbles?

    This morning it sseemed to me that we need a really good King – or certainly Queen. Possibly Empress or Emperor though that job may be too big for the human ego to manage with integrity. There have been some really good Kings and Queens.

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  27. JSN says:

    When I was in grad school I took classes with meteorology grad students at a time when statistical forecasting methods were being developed. They told me that if you said the weather tomorrow will be the same as today the odds were five to six out of seven that would be correct. That was fifty years ago and predictions improved much since then.

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  28. Spencer says:

    I would probably have to trust economists the most. But is some actually predict an event correctly I would say they got lucky.

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    • spencer says:

      It also depends on how the news sounds that day. Generally news with a optomistic tone, the markets are more likely to do better. The opposite is also true. There is always an over-reaction as well to every event that happens which seems to have amplified recently. This is when you get the big market swings.

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  29. PreemptivePlacebo says:

    As change becomes more extreme it becomes more difficult to predict.

    The rate of change for all of those examples, weather, the stock market, politics, sports, and the economy, continue to accelerate. They are becoming more extreme and harder to pin down.

    That’s why Fox News has Maria Molina doing the weather. Who cares if she’s right or wrong. I trust her because she is fair and balanced.

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  30. Svend Waldorff says:

    Just heard your podcast after the general elections in Denmark, where we had loads of predictions and forecast.
    A TV-commentator said he would eat his old hat if a certain party (LA) managed to get into Parlaiment.

    Well, they did, and he did eat his hat on live tv:

    http://www.b.dk/nationalt/her-spiser-qvortrup-sin-hat#

    Old straw hat in a redwine and tomatoe sauce with risotto.

    Could it be the beginning of a trend….?

    Cheers

    Svend

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  31. Frode Grøtheim says:

    Knowing a bit of the research I voted only for meteorologist. The way I thought about the question was weather I felt the profession generally knew what they were talking about or not. Obviously weather forecasts are wrong all the time, but they are a lot better than chance. In these other cases I felt the experts tended to be not much better than chance or people who read the newspaper.

    I would really like to the check out the research on economists more though. I seem to recall some research suggesting school of economic thought didn’t explain much of the variation in prediction success among economists. I find that hard to believe in the current situation. Perhaps that’s true in more normal economic times, but not in this crisis, which is easily the largest since the Great Depression. One study of US pundits found that Paul Krugman was exceptionally accurate and the best forecaster in the sample. It could be random, but there are wildly varying models of the crisis we are in, making very different predictions. If economists were serious about being scientific they should be looking to falsify their pet theories at this moment. There is evidence in abundance strongly suggesting certain economic models are false.

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  32. Explodicle says:

    Prediction markets!

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  33. sceptical anthropologist says:

    Predictive (social) science is not about predicting reality, but making reality as one wants it to be. Better to just go along for the ride.

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