"Future Babble is genuinely arresting... required reading for journalists, politicians, academics and anyone who listens to them."
— Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
In 2008, as the price of oil surged above $140 a barrel, experts said it would soon hit $200; a few months later it plunged to $30. In 1967, they said the USSR would have one of the fastest-growing economies in the year 2000; in 2000, the USSR did not exist. In 1911, it was pronounced that there would be no more wars in Europe; we all know how that turned out. Face it, experts are about as accurate as dart-throwing monkeys. And yet every day we ask them to predict the future — everything from the weather to the likelihood of a catastrophic terrorist attack. Future Babble is the first book to examine this phenomenon, showing why our brains yearn for certainty about the future, why we are attracted to those who predict it confidently, and why it's so easy for us to ignore the trail of outrageously wrong forecasts.
In this fast-paced, example-packed, sometimes darkly hilarious book, journalist Dan Gardner shows how seminal research by UC Berkeley professor Philip Tetlock proved that pundits who are more famous are less accurate — and the average expert is no more accurate than a flipped coin. Gardner also draws on current research in cognitive psychology, political science, and behavioral economics to discover something quite reassuring: The future is always uncertain, but the end is not always near.
“An excellent work ... a cheery corrective to modern paranoia.”
— The Economist
In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Gardner explores a new way of thinking about the decisions we make.
We are the safest and healthiest human beings who ever lived, and yet irrational fear is growing, with deadly consequences — such as the 1,595 Americans killed when they made the mistake of switching from planes to cars after September 11. In part, this irrationality is caused by those — politicians, activists, and the media — who promote fear for their own gain. Culture also matters. But a more fundamental cause is human psychology.
Working with risk science pioneer Paul Slovic, author Dan Gardner sets out to explain in a compulsively readable fashion just what that statement above means as to how we make decisions and run our lives. We learn that the brain has not one but two systems to analyze risk. One is primitive, unconscious, and intuitive. The other is conscious and rational. The two systems often agree, but occasionally they come to very different conclusions. When that happens, we can find ourselves worrying about what the statistics tell us is a trivial threat — terrorism, child abduction, cancer caused by chemical pollution — or shrugging off serious risks like obesity and smoking.
Gladwell told us about “the black box” of our brains; Gardner takes us inside, helping us to understand how to deconstruct the information we’re bombarded with and respond more logically and adaptively to our world. Risk is cutting-edge reading.