Every forecast or guess has one refreshing quality: one will be right and the rest will be wrong.
What’s the difference between a forecast and a guess? On one level, the answer is “none”: the future is unknown and even the most informed forecast is still a guess. The evidence for this is the remarkable number of informed forecasts that prove to be as completely off-base as the wildest guesses.
On another level, there is a big difference between an informed forecast and a guess–if the informed forecast has the consequential system dynamics right. The world is complicated and discerning the consequential dynamics in the tangle of complexity is difficult.
Context and perspective matter. So do incentives. To take one example of many, war planners in the Vietnam era looked at war from the perspective of “scientific metrics” that focused on collecting data on the efficacy of sorties and combat missions. This resulted in the infamous “body counts.”
The larger context was that war could be productively distilled down to metrics, costs and attrition: the enemy was presumed to be a rational player who will give up when the pain and cost become too high.
Planners slouching in comfortable offices have many incentives to “go along to get along”: and veering off into dynamics that can’t be conveniently measured and questioning the entire foundation of the war’s planning and execution will get you sent to bureaucratic Siberia. “Getting with the program” will get you kudos and promotion.
Hmm, which will most people choose? The Pentagon Papers circulated among hundreds of senior officials, and parts of the report circulated among thousands of lower-ranking employees. Only one person took the risks of sharing the report with the American public.
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