Sunday, January 01, 2006

the glass is misty...

Those favouring the Iraq war generally respond to particular crises in the course of the occupation with a wait and see formulation. Never mind this week’s head chopping/ city razing/ car bombing extravaganza. Let’s take the long view, stand in solidarity with, make the necessary sacrifices..etc, etc, etc. It’s the process that matters.

Nick appears to have reversed that formula this week.

Tetlock finished his work during the Iraq crisis in which intelligence agencies failed to predict that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction worthy of the name. Liberal doves would have had every reason to be satisfied had not they completely failed to predict the success of the Iraqi elections.

Pray tell, Nick. Successful at what? Would he consider an election anywhere else a success if it confirmed the power of a party that spent its previous time in office running torture jails and official death squads? Or was the point of the whole exercise simply to run a head count? This as part of an article on the impossibility of predicting future events. It looks like decentism has entered its dice man phase.

What’s the significance of this? I suppose that if you’re response to Iraq is basically “more of the same” then there has to be a point at which you detach yourself from the ongoing debacle, and preferably a point which doesn’t underline what a miserable folly the whole thing was. It looks to me as if the election was the point at which Nick has decided to bail out of Iraq and look to cheerlead for conquests new.

Of course, in basing his piece round the assertion that most predictions prove to be false, he’s lesft a few hostages in print. No doubt we’ll get round to shooting them directly.

Rioja Kid

minor update, by bruschettaboy

The phrase "liberal doves" probably requires gloss here too; in Nick Cohen's columns, it is often used with the non-obvious meaning of "George Galloway and RESPECT" and I think it might be that meaning which is intended this week too as I don't remember any sense in which "liberal doves" predicted a failure of the Iraqi elections and in which they were a success.

Note a small example of the Decent TARDIS at work (a device possessed by Nick, Dave, Norman Geras and others which allows small but crucial adjustments to be made to history when Decent politics requires it). "Intelligence agencies" fucked up the Iraqi WMD estimates? Not quite sure of that. Seem to remember that the intelligence agencies presented a quite balanced case which was then presented with an entirely misleading spin by the politicians. Seem to remember that Lord Butler did not find otherwise, not that it would have mattered if he did since the evidence is in plain sight.


Blogger Matthew said...

Given it's a column about how hard it is to make predictions, and it ends with that JMK quote on when the facts change, changing your mind (As an aside, what is it with Nick recently? Last week the old crystalised fruits story, this week the most known of all Keynes' quotes), one would have thought the perfect example would be Nick's predictions on the 2001 Afghanistan war, and his 180 degree change of opinion when they all turned out to be wrong.

1/01/2006 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to be missing the point that Iraq has had three free democratic votes in the last year, all of them were successful. Contrary to what you predicted, Iraq is a democracy - Nick Cohen was right.

1/02/2006 01:11:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Successful in what sense, chuck? You appear to have entirely failed to respond to Rioja Kid's argument. Are you NC in disguise?

1/02/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim Worstall is good on The Shorter Nick Cohen.
There's a better consideration of Tetlock in The New Yorker. I haven't read Tetlock (yet -- he sounds interesting, and does the sort of psychology I like), so I'll play the New Yorker reviewer, Louis Menand, against Cohen. Our Nick:

In Isaiah Berlin's division of intellectuals between the darting foxes who 'know many little things' and the solid ideological hedgehogs who 'know one big thing well', Tetlock says the foxes won hands down.

And Menand:

Tetlock did not find, in his sample, any significant correlation between how experts think and what their politics are. His hedgehogs were liberal as well as conservative, and the same with his foxes. (Hedgehogs were, of course, more likely to be extreme politically, whether rightist or leftist.) He also did not find that his foxes scored higher because they were more cautious—that their appreciation of complexity made them less likely to offer firm predictions. Unlike hedgehogs, who actually performed worse in areas in which they specialized, foxes enjoyed a modest benefit from expertise. Hedgehogs routinely over-predicted: twenty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs claimed were impossible or nearly impossible came to pass, versus ten per cent for the foxes. More than thirty per cent of the outcomes that hedgehogs thought were sure or near-sure did not, against twenty per cent for foxes.
The upside of being a hedgehog, though, is that when you’re right you can be really and spectacularly right. Great scientists, for example, are often hedgehogs.

I know which reading strikes me as the more credible. And Menand draws a better moral too:

But the best lesson of Tetlock’s book may be the one that he seems most reluctant to draw: Think for yourself.

1/02/2006 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a sort of afterthought, Nick's view on foxes vs hedgehogs demonstrates to me that he is unquestionably a hedgehog.

1/02/2006 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Worstall said...

Might be worth noting about the crystalized fruit story.

I pointed out to Nick that I’d used ita year beore to which he responded, he knew, and as far as he could work it out we’d both nicked it from SIAW.

Which is true.

1/03/2006 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

And the Economst, and Waitrose Food illustrated, etc

1/03/2006 01:05:00 PM  

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