Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Predicting the Unpredictable

I am fascinated by predictions. Thankfully in today's 24 news cycle, predictions abound. Part of what is so fascinating about all of these predictions is how often they are wrong. And not just wrong, but wildly wrong. What is so fascinating about this, is that, more often than not, those making the predictions have little basis on which to make their supposed predictions. This in turn helps to explain why they are so often wildly wrong.

The ones most often associated with wrong predictions are meteorologists. However I don't think we give them enough credit for their knowledge base, the complexity of predicting the weather, and how we often do not understand what it is they are predicting. For example a 40% chance of rain prediction does not mean that it is 40% likely to rain, but that given the current model, it rains 40% of the time. Which means it is pretty likely that it will rain.

On a personal note, this past brutal winter in Baltimore, I 'discovered' on the internet a meteorologist who was hands down, the best at predicting snowfall. He did not always get it right, but he was more right than most. So when there was snow predicted, guess who I turned to...

Having just completed the NFL draft, I often wonder: why do we not evaluate the predictions of the 'experts' two, three, five years down the road? It is one thing to predict whether or not someone will be drafted, it is another to predict whether or not they are an NFL talent. Teams live and die by getting these predictions right. Why don't we ask the same of the on-air talent who make the same predictions? It would at least help us to know who is really worth listening to.

In Jewish tradition our ancestors turned to prophets and sages for their advice and predictions. One of the most well known was Jonah, who was greatly concerned not that his predictions of doom and gloom would come true to the Ninevites, but that instead they would listen and heed his warning. Thus resulting in a 'failed' prophecy. Most prophets did not want their predictions to come to fruition, save for those during and after the Babylonian Exile.

What they wanted was for the people to heed their words and do instead what was right in the eyes of God. They were not in it for their own glory, but instead for the betterment of Israel.

So too we should ask ourselves, are those whose predictions we follow really in the business of helping make society better or are they in it for their own glory? Often you can tell the difference based on how accurate their predictions really are.

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