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March 07, 2002

The Value of Inaccurate Predictions:

The Value of Inaccurate Predictions: There's been an outbreak of tedious partisan sniping on many of the sites I like to read, so I am switching back to books, and Internet-free activities such as swilling booze at French Consulate parties. First, though, this Opinion Journal comment from today caught my eye:

Of course, only time will tell if Podhoretz is right when he predicts a growing "antiwar" movement. And if his prediction turns out to be wrong, his call for vigilance may deserve some of the credit.
Now, for stupid partisan fun, substitute "Podhoretz" and "a growing 'antiwar' movement" with, say, "Chomsky" and "genocide in Afghanistan." Or maybe "Garret Hardin" and "mass starvation." Or "that dude who's always wrong about the environment" and "destruction of the ecosystem." Or "smokestack industry in L.A." and "collapse of the Southland economy due to tough emissions standards." You could waste whole minutes doing this.

Two banal points: 1) This is an easy way to measure partisan sympathy for sky-is-falling types who happen to be on the "right" side of any given issue. 2) It's also correct, to a degree – people who make alarmist predictions help grab the attention of those who might be in the position to prevent those alarmist things from happening. People like me spend a lot of energy poking fun at ridiculous predictions and boys who cry wolf, but not enough dispensing credit to those who galvanize public opinion about issues that actually matter. We need our environmentalists and musicologists and geopolitical grumps and even commie-hunters – through their zeal, they gather vital information about things we might well be missing, or on the verge of ruining. But I'd bet they are much better at this than at making predictions and prescribing policies. It's an important distinction to keep track of.

Posted by at March 7, 2002 11:32 PM
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