Way back in 2005, Peter van Loan was an opposition MP. Like other Conservatives, he was appalled at the government's excessive power, its sleazy and deceitful behaviour, and its belittling of Parliament's critical role in our system of government. And then, it happened: an "extraordinary closure motion to shut down debate."
In a few weeks -- which is to say, I'm not sure exactly when, but soon -- I'll be taking a leave of absence from the Ottawa Citizen. It will be a long one: 18 months.
I'm writing a book. Or more precisely, I am co-writing a book. My colleague will be Phil Tetlock, the esteemed psychologist at the Wharton School, who is, as I'm sure many of you know, the man behind the biggest and most famous study of expert predictions ever conducted.
The book Phil and I will write is about forecasting, but it's different than anything that's been done on the subject. As Phil likes to say, there's been enough cursing of the cognitive darkness. In a huge, new research program, Phil is putting his extraordinary talents to the lighting of candles. The goal is to develop simple, practical tools for improving foresight. And it appears he has done it: Preliminary results are truly impressive.
No, Phil's techniques do not turn people into oracles and gurus. And no, neither of us thinks that it's possible to know what China's economy will look like in 20 years or who will win the presidential election of 2016. And yes, we still think gurus and oracles, and the people who take their predictions seriously, are pretty silly. But we do think modest improvement in subjective forecasting accuracy is possible. That may sound, well, modest. But in so many ways, even a modest increase in foresight is a very big deal. And best of all, this ain't snake oil. Phil's work is being put to just about the most severe scientific test imaginable, and it's looking better every day. (More background here.)
The next 18 months will be demanding. And a heck of a lot of fun. We're going to look at forecasting in intelligence, technology, finance, and other fields. We'll talk to some amazing people. And in addition to Phil's main work, we'll be doing some ancillary experiments: I already feel like a ten-year-old with a new chemistry set filled with things that go boom.
I'll still be on Twitter, and occasionally updating this website, but my output will decline precipitously. Or at least it should. If it doesn't, drop me an email and tell me to get back to writing the book.
Incredible as it may seem, the following email is a response to this column.
You cite marijuana second in your list of causes of mayhem in America? Unbelievably preposterous, and I am not even a smoker.
Where did you get that? You talk about empty noise? I suspect you are a proponent of the 40-plus-year drug war, the futility of which boggles the mind (witness Mexico).
But do keep on defending the status quo, where a person cannot smoke marijuana in the privacy of their own home on pain of prosecution, while a pregnant woman can visit a liquor store and load up on tequila.
Idiotic, but typical of Postmedia editorial policy..
Here's a revealing email exchange. (It was prompted by this column.)
Emailer: "Every time I read some of your leftist hogwash I think to myself... he has finally reached the nexus of assholery ...but then I realize ... you are still evolving"
Me: "The argument I make about excessive centralization is exactly the same argument conservatives, including Stephen Harper, made about the Chretien government. Except now it's "leftist hogwash." Strange, isn't it?"
Emailer: "If what you say is true...where is your article from back then condemning Chretien when he was enacting excessive centralization ...you were around ...odds are you didn't object to the Liberal policies ..prove me wrong...strange isn't it."
Me: "Actually, no. It's not strange. Here's me making exactly the same criticism of Jean Chretien: http://www.dangardner.ca/index.php/articles/item/148-letat-cest-jean
And here's an up-dated reference: http://www.dangardner.ca/index.php/articles/item/151-stephen-harper-condemns-stephen-harper I have been consistent. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have not. Period."
Emailer: "The only thing consistent in your articles is chronic Harper bashing...I am sure Stevie Wicary will be pleased to put you up in Havana after Harper wins his next majority and your boy Mulclair is sent packing."
So this person set a precise test to determine whether I am impartial. When I showed clear evidence that I met the test, he ignored the test and evidence -- a good demonstration of how fierce partisans use reason and evidence only as tools in the service of partisan or ideological conclusions which can be overturned by neither reason nor evidence.