The Seer-Sucker Theory

The Seer-Sucker Theory may still be as valid as it ever was.*

Read all about it:

The Seer-Sucker Theory: The Value of Experts in Forecasting,” J. Scott Armstrong [pictured here], Technology Review, June/July, 1980, 16-24. Armstrong writes:

“People are willing to pay heavily for expert advice. Economists are consulted to tell us how the economy will change, stock analysts are paid large salaries to forecast the earnings of various companies, and political experts command large fees to tell our leaders what the future holds. The available evidence, however, implies that this money is poorly spent. But because few people pay attention to this evidence, I have come up with what I call the ‘seersucker theory’: ‘No matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, suckers will pay for the existence of seers.’

“One would expect experts to have reliable information for predicting change and to be able to utilize the information effectively. However, expertise beyond a minimal level is of little value in forecasting change. This conclusion is both surprising and useful, and its implication is clear: Don’t hire the best expert, hire the cheapest expert….”

J. Scott Armstrong is himself an expert. His professed field of expertise is marketing (he is or was a professor of marketing). These days his expertise is on display in the lucrative professional field of climate-change denial.

*This statement itself constitutes an example of expert analysis.

BONUS (possibly not related): Seersucker Thursday

Improbable Research