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I predict that most predictions will be wrong.

By Curt_Anderson
November 5, 2021 12:33 pm
Category: Philosophy
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“'It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future'” is attributed to a baseball-playing philosopher, Yogi Berra

How often have you seen a headline and news story like this?

Hiring grows in U.S. as employers add 531,000 jobs, beating expectations
The economy added 531,000 jobs in October, blowing past economists' predictions of 450,000, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent from 4.8 percent.

The above headline appeared this morning. Last month the headlines were like this, "September’s jobs report sorely misses expectations".

Economists are nothing if not numbers and data guys. Every month these acknowledged experts pour over surveys of employers and employment agencies, government reports and all other available sources of information. Yet their ability as prognosticators doesn't seem much better than an average person's guesswork.

Predicting the US employment report is a very narrow and short-term prediction. They only have to concern themselves with what's already happened in the United States for the past month. After all, the monthly federal jobs report is a report of people who have already been hired.

The other predictions that are regularly in the headlines are predictions about the global climate. Many of these climate predictions, especially the most dire ones, are supposed to come to pass long after many of us are dead. Given my skepticism about predictions in general, I tend to shrug when I hear about climate predictions for the next century.

That I don't set my hair on fire about climate change predictions doesn't mean that I don't believe we should be less dependent on fossil fuels, make better use of wind and solar power, reduce methane emissions from livestock by eating less meat and conserve energy by insulating. I believe in all those conservation methods and more for a variety of very good reason unrelated to anybody's predictions.

I just have my doubts about the predictive abilities of the predictors. Donald Rumsfeld famously spoke about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Rumsfeld was wrong about a lot of things, that is to say he was lousy at predictions. But he was right about our limits to know what he know and don't know.

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  1. by Donna on November 5, 2021 4:10 pm
    You should familiarize yourself with the science that's measuring how quickly the Arctic ice is melting.

  2. by Curt_Anderson on November 5, 2021 4:21 pm
    I didn't commit the ice melt measurements to memory, but I am aware of them.

    I don't have a problem with measurements of things that have already happened. I have a problem with measuring the future, especially with unquestioned specificity.

  3. by Donna on November 6, 2021 7:15 am
    Well so far, our scientists predictions about global warming have been accurate. Part of the reason for that is the computers they're using for the modeling are vastly more powerful than the computers that were used when I was a computer programmer.

    We probably don't need computers to see where all of this is going, though.

    Not only is atmospheric CO2 still rising, the rate of increase is also rising. 350 ppm was supposed to be the threshold we couldn't pass without causing a catastrophic rise in warming. We're at 412 ppm now with no end in sight. The warming itself is causing more warming, which is why we're seeing an increase in the rate. The dark land and sea exposed by the melting of the ice is absorbing much more of the sun's energy than when those areas were covered with ice, which reflected much of the sun's energy back out into space.

    Actually it doesn't require computers anymore to see where all of this is going. It only requires simple arithmetic.

    We now have the technology to remove carbon from the air, but there's a lot of air, and we're still unnecessarily dumping too much carbon into our atmosphere. So removing carbon from the air is like removing water from a leaking boat. It only buys us a little more time.

    To my knowledge, we have no method for removing a much more potent greenhouse gas, methane, from the air, though. As the ice in Arctic tundra melts and exposes the earth, more and more methane is released into our atmosphere.

    We're at the point now where it doesn't require advanced science to see that the future of our civilization is in serious jeopardy because of global warming.

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