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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 19:10 | SYDNEY

Why prediction is useful, sort of

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28 June 2011 16:01

Over at Core Economics (an Ozblog you should add to your list of favourites), Joshua Gans has an interesting post on a recurring theme here on The Interpreter: predictions.

I agree with Gans that consumers of political and economic punditry don't place too much weight on predictions, treating them basically as entertainment. But although such predictions are invariably wrong, they do contain important information.

James Fallows recently featured on his blog a series of French illustrations from 1910 imagining the world of the year 2000. One example: 

As a prediction, it is laughably inaccurate, but as Fallows says, it does tell you something about the mindset of the illustrators, and their circumstances; we know what was imaginable to them, and what seemed impossible. We can also gauge something about their tastes and maybe even their political biases.

I've always felt that popular science fiction such as Star Trek tells you more about the times in which it is made than the times in which it is set. That observation can probably be extended to take in predictions of any kind — they're unreliable as a guide to the future, but they tell you a lot about the person making the call, and the times they are living through.

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