Witches to Be Held Accountable for Bad Predictions; Why Only Them?

In Romania, life has gotten even harder for practicing witches, as spelled out in a recent A.P. article:

A month after Romanian authorities began taxing them for their trade, the country’s soothsayers and fortune tellers are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even prison if their predictions don’t come true.

Fines or prison if a prediction fails to come true?

Witches argue they shouldn’t be blamed for the failure of their tools. “They can’t condemn witches, they should condemn the cards,” Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press by telephone. … Sometimes, she argued, people don’t provide their real identities, dates of birth or other personal details, which could skew a seer’s predictions. “What about when the client gives false details about themselves? We can’t be blamed for that.”

Seems like a sensible argument. But if I were Queen Witch (for a day), I might frame my argument a bit differently: As soon as the government starts to punish all fortune-tellers — including macroeconomists, financial analysts, government officials, sports pundits and the like — for their wayward predictions, I will gladly join the throng. Until then: no deal.

InTrade is an example of a prediction market that punishes bad predictions. Unfortunately, participation is voluntary. Wouldn’t it be nifty if anyone who made a prediction that other people use to make important decisions about their lives could be held accountable when their predictions turn out to be wrong? Should there maybe be a “prediction tax” for macroeconomists, financial analysts, sports pundits and the rest?

(Let’s do give credit, meanwhile, where credit is due: at the start of the most recent NFL season, Peter King of Sports Illustrated predicted that Green Bay would meet Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Sadly for me, his prediction of a Pittsburgh victory didn’t work out.)

And no, it is of course not a new thing to punish “witches” during tough times. Here’s a pair of related graphics from SuperFreakonomics Illustrated:

Below, a 16th-century account of a witch burning in Schiltach, Germany. The woman in question “was burned and thirty-six items were read out loud that she confessed to. Most shameful, horrible, and damaging things, how she caused mischief and harm to animals and people. For eighteen years she was working with the Devil, and her own mother herself had taught her”:

James Birchall

This sounds eerily like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its note that a decrease in piracy has lead to an increase in global temperature.

Though maybe they have it backwards where really it's the warming temperatures that have lead to the observed decrease in piracy.

Ian Callum

Soak the witch policies don't work.


Re #21: "...the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its note that a decrease in piracy has lead to an increase in global temperature."

But according to news reports, piracy is on the rise again, yet (global - whatever you easterners may be experiencing locally) temperatures aren't dropping. Which should teach you something about the predictions of ANY deity, even a noodly one :-)

David Chowes, New York City

Simple! Anyone can make a prediction and they might be right or wrong. But, to claim supernatural powers as the basis and due to these extra-psychic gifts... Well, the person is either delusional or a fraud or is involved in the stock market.

Rick Matz

Economists should be accountable!


That's because modern pirates aren't doing it right. No parrots, no peg legs, not even a hint of Yarrr. Why would you expect temperatures to fall, with pirates like that?

Mojo Bone

I predicted last August that this would be a big year for snow; no supernatural powers were involved, but I believe events have proven me correct, even though my prognostication was based on a single wooly worm. It was the only one I saw this year, but the little sucker had a brown stripe wide enough to make his head and tail look like little black dots. Besides, it's always a big year for snow, somewhere. If your back is sore from shoveling, don't blame me, it was the worm's fault.


Blame the cards?

Now, now; a good craftsperson never blames their tools.

Bill McGonigle

@Rick Matz #25 - I don't know about accountable, but certainly their reputations ought to precede them. Yet, I don't readily find a resource that scores economists' predictions.

BTW, maybe we can get a witch to be National Intelligence Director.


I think we're confused here about what a Witch is. That's okay, it wouldn't be the first time. Wiccan Ministers began as healers who offered herbal remedies to sick people. That is, until Christian male doctors became prominent and did not want the competition, and began spreading rumors about local female healers being in league with the devil.

These days, true Wiccan Ministers are not even that easy to track down. They do not proselytize, and they certainly don't farm themselves out to the general public as psychics.


Methinks the witches doth protest too much.



I have read a lot of funny speculations about corralation of lower temperatures and trials against witches. There is a simple explanation: Low temperature used to mean poor supply of food resulting in hunger, famine and unstable social conditions... which was the reason for most witch trials.


If someone pays you to provide a useful prediction for their lives and it turns out to be incorrect, maybe the witch should give back a small percentage of the money. I would disagree with anything much further, because it is a "prediction" and not professed to be infallible. If it were that would be another story.

Tracy W

Everyone makes predictions about the future, because that's the basis on which we make decisions, and we can only make decisions about the future. We're held accountable by life.
As for holding other people accountable when you make decisions based on their predictions, you're free to sign a contract with them based on that, if you can agree terms.