Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Keeping track of bad predictions

Last month I suggested that someone keep track of the things that are baselessly attributed to Israel that end up being false. Another idea is to keep track of all the predictions that were made about Israel that end up being false. He starts by reminding us about a letter signed by all these professors of Middle Eastern Studies that claimed that Israel will exploit the Iraq war to expel the Palestinians.

The interesting this is that these people are "experts" on the middle east. They teach this stuff. That means that they have participated collectively in god-knows how many teach-ins, and lectured to countless students and the press about what will definitely happen - and they were wrong. Somehow I'd bet that false predictions don't count against social scientists in the same way they would count against a real scientist. If a real scientist, say a biologist, would publish a prediction about what will happen when you perform a given experiment, and it just doesn't happen, that is the end of his reputation. That is the scientific method. You don't put something forth as the expected result unless you have some evidence that suggests your prediction will be borne out. How do people get away with this? How do their collegues ignore this (and I know they do)?

To the extent that it was just a guess, then anything could have been a guess. They could have just as easily said that If the US invades Iraq, then Israel would take the opportunity to give all the Palestinians lots of money. That guess would have been just as valid, but it would not have been the hate-filled, anti-Israel propaganda that they were going for.

The only out that these people have is to make the unfalsifiable claim that by their letter they actually prevented it. That too is bad science.

Someone ought to keep score, just to remind us of how little we can actually trust people who make these baseless statements day in, day out, and help shape public opinion and even public policy. Half the people at the anti-war marches who were well meaning, must have been there because they listened to people who are completely clueless and uninterested in making real predicitons about the actual state of affairs, and just want to spew their anti-Americanism and antisemitism or whatever. They were all duped, and they should know that.