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2008 Grawemeyer winner

December 6, 2007

University of California, Berkeley, professor Philip Tetlock has won the 2008 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The prize is worth $200,000.

The December 3 Chronicle of Higher Education
has a brief piece that explains the rationale for the prize:

Predictions on political issues are frequently wrong, says Mr. Tetlock, which is unfortunate because lawmakers frequently rely on such analyses to shape policy. In a 20-year study of 27,000 predictions made by 284 “experts” cited in the news media, he found that, very often, the professionals were no more accurate in their crystal-ball gazing than ordinary people.

“In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area-study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of The New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations,” writes Mr. Tetlock in his 2005 book about the study, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? (Princeton).

Experts need to receive more training and be held publicly accountable for their advice, he argues in the book.

The university press release noted:

Award judges called the book “a landmark study that changes our understanding of the way experts perform when they make judgments about world politics.”

One of the members of the final selection committee outlined his support for Tetlock’s book in Tuesday’s local paper:

“It’s one of these really thorough, long-term projects,” [Professor Charles E.] Ziegler said. “He did a lot of interviews, spent a lot of time thinking it through. He was self-critical and balanced.”

In political science, many critics argue that it is not possible to be objective and scientific, yet Tetlock’s research shows “we can still strive for that,” Ziegler said.

And Tetlock’s observations have broad applications to decision-making and forecasting in many fields, Ziegler added.

The Louisville Courier Journal story by James Carroll also included this quote from the author about the irrationality of political discourse in the US:

“There seems to be a rather perverse, inverse relationship between what people find persuasive in political rhetoric and the qualities of reason that are conducive to accuracy in the political sphere,” he said. “There’s a trade-off between being persuasive and being right.”

The local paper also has a nice explanation of the way Tetlock casts experts as either foxes or hedgehogs.

Jacob Levy and Dan Drezner mentioned the prize on their blogs too.

Disclosure: I chair the Department Committee that overseas the administration of this prize.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.