2003 January 02 Thursday
Richard Posner On The Predictions Of Public Intellectuals

This is the season for yearly predictions by pundits. It seems appropriate to look at the whole phenomenon of predictions and the poor quality of so many of them. In a review he wrote of Richard Posner's Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline Denis Dutton explains Posner's views of why so many public intellectuals repeatedly make inaccurate predictions without getting called on it.

Why do such modest consequences attach to bum predictions by public intellectuals? Posner suggest that in the first place, public intellectuals’ forecasts are, unlike scientific hypotheses, not intended to be tested. Public intellectuals usually appear in print and on TV screens as representatives of an ideology or stereotyped position—conservatism, welfare liberalism, feminist victimology, libertarianism, and so forth. By representing a position they create public solidarity with it, confirming prejudices of that segment of the audience that already agrees with them. This affects the attitude toward public intellectuals of their ideological confreres: like-minded academics will tend to rally around each other—you’ll not see fellow environmentalists criticizing Paul Ehrlich no matter how daft his forecasts (even when the predictions are alarmist and wrong enough to damage the Green movement). A second reason, as mentioned earlier, is that there is no system by which the predictions of public intellectuals can be collected in one place and evaluated. And finally, Posner adds that the lack of scorekeeping shows that the views of public intellectuals are just not important to most people anyway.

Dutton's entire review is an excellent read that discourses knowledgeably on Posner's book while also pointing out problems in criticisms made by other reviewers. The review makes me want to read the whole book.

(thanks to Dave Ings for the link)

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 January 02 02:59 PM 


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