Enjoying the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals?
Almost as entertaining is looking back at the pre-season predictions of the baseball "experts."
ESPN bills itself as "the worldwide leader in sports," and it's a rare media success story these days, flush enough with cash to hire Nate Silver away from The New York Times. Back in March, the ESPN web site published the predictions of 43 baseball "experts" on the 2013 season. The experts included some former players such as Nomar Garciaparra and Curt Schilling, along with longtime baseball journalists such as Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian.
Not a single one of ESPN's 43 predictions had either the Red Sox or the Cardinals in the World Series.
Sports Illustrated magazine, home of the world-famous swimsuit issue, offered its own team of seven experts, with their own predictions. "SI.com's baseball experts fill you in on everything you need to get ready for 2013," the magazine promised. Alas, not a single one of Sports Illustrated's seven "baseball experts" picked either the Red Sox or the Cardinals to make it to the World Series.
The Baseball America Web site has its own team of ten editors, with their own predictions. Not a single one of them picked the Red Sox to go to the World Series, and only one of them, Jim Callis, called the Cardinals.
So, of the 60 baseball "experts" in total, not a single one of them picked the Red Sox to win the American League pennant. Only one of the 60 picked the Cardinals to win the National League pennant.
You would have been better off throwing darts at a dartboard than you would have been listening to the baseball "experts." The Wall Street Journal used to demonstrate this in a regular column in which stocks picked by throwing darts randomly often outperformed the selections of Wall Street professionals who were even more highly compensated than ESPN journalists.
Complex systems are hard to predict.
That doesn't mean we should ignore all experts. But it does mean we should routinely treat their predictions with the skepticism they deserve. This goes for predictions from experts preferred by the political left, who warn that the sea level rise from global warming is going to leave us all under water, and for predictions from experts preferred by the political right, who warn that the future cost of entitlement programs is going to leave us all under water.
It doesn't mean we shouldn't plan for the future, whether on entitlements, or the threat of global warming. But what planning we do should take into account the possibility that the experts will be wrong.
It's not just a point about baseball; it's a point about humility in forecasting and the implications for public policy. If you listened to the baseball "experts," maybe you made the mistake of not buying season tickets to the Red Sox or the Cardinals this year, or buying them for some other team that ended up losing. That wouldn't have been a huge mistake, in the great scheme of things. At least compared to other expert-led or –advised ventures that have gone awry.