The fox, the hedgehog, and media preference

Barry Ritholtz looks at a comment in an interview with Philip Tetlock in the post Experts, Crashes, Media, Skepticism about how to tell true expertise.

The most important factor was not how much education or experience the experts had but how they thought. You know the famous line that [philosopher] Isaiah Berlin borrowed from a Greek poet, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”? The better forecasters were like Berlin’s foxes: self-critical, eclectic thinkers who were willing to update their beliefs when faced with contrary evidence, were doubtful of grand schemes and were rather modest about their predictive ability. The less successful forecasters were like hedgehogs: They tended to have one big, beautiful idea that they loved to stretch, sometimes to the breaking point. They tended to be articulate and very persuasive as to why their idea explained everything. The media often love hedgehogs./blockquote>

What it appears Tetlock is saying is that ideologues tend to be more attractive to those seeking answers. The ‘media’ is looking for a definitive conclusion without qualifications or hesitancy.

On the other hand, better results in a ‘scientific’ vein often come from the non-ideologues or those who are self critical and carefully consider the limits of what they know and how they know it.

The key is in the manner of thinking, not in the mass of knowledge. A manner of thinking is more difficult to learn than a mass of facts as facts are easily found if your manner of thinking is such as to help you expose them.

Those looking for teachers who will accurately portray reality should look for teachers who are experts with the attributes Tetlock describes. A way to do this is to look for those who engage in logical fallacies and do not address the issues with an appropriate consideration for the measures supporting their point of view.

See also Tutorials on logic and argument: Fallacies and Constructing a Logical Argument – these will give you a structure for measuring arguments presented in a debate.

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