Pundit Shaming


Your tumblr of the day. My favorite is Jennifer Rubin, who actually wrote the following words a week or so before the election:

Four years ago the Republican Party was in danger of losing status as a national party, pundits said. It was too white, too southern and too old. The GOP still has a long way to go with minority voters, but after President’s Obama four years in office the Republican presidential ticket is appealing to women, voters in blue state strongholds and independents… The race remains close, but Obama has presided over the Democratic Party’s shrinkage demographically, politically and geographically. The only question is whether Romney can capi­tal­ize and make it past the 270 electoral vote marker.

So again: what are the actual consequences of either being completely delusional or lying for a living? If you work for the Washington Post (see Krauthammer/Will etc.) there are no consequences at all. You just carry on. Edward Tenner doubts this will ever change:

The inaccuracy of pundits, right and left, should be no surprise. Six years ago, the prizewinning book Expert Political Judgement, by the psychologist Philip E. Tetlock, revealed that the media systematically reward passionate and articulate consistency in experts over less flashy but more holistic approaches.

The best strategy for both political and economic forecasters may not be to weigh all factors, but rather to issue bold statements that will be remembered as genius if confirmed and forgotten if wrong (especially because experienced pundits sometimes show their brilliance best in explaining away their previous errors). Didn't Walter Lippmann, the commentary superstar of the 1930s, believe, on the basis of one 1933 speech, that "Herr Hitler" would pursue revision of the Treaty of Versailles through the peaceful auspices of the League of Nations, calling him "the authentic voice of a genuinely civilized people"? The dilemma of experts and pundits is that the kind of firm and controversial statements that the market desires from them are the very sort that are most likely to make them incorrect.

(Screen-shot from the most recent Simpsons)