Imagine if every time a pundit appeared on television or anywhere else in the media their punditry batting average (PBA) were listed in an easily visible little box – e.g., next to or right beneath that with which they punditize, their dome.*
Like a baseball player’s batting average, this statistic would give the listener/reader some idea as to how veracious the person they’re listening to/reading is. And statisticians qua fact checkers could pare these numbers into ever more interesting and meaningful determinants. We could see then whether our time and brains are better served listening to, I don’t know, Paul Krugman or David Brooks – to take two leading punditicians – pontificate on international trade patterns.
My prediction is that if numbers like this were readily available, people would stand a better chance of realizing the futility of listening to these humans and instead would start frequenting blogs and other internet sites where the truth factor (PBA) is likely much higher.
There are though at least two problems with this idea: 1) sophisticated quantitative methods are often both under-utilized after their successes have been proved or over-utilized after their weaknesses exposed; and 2) determining the accuracy of many predictions in the field of punditry would take years. Someone who predicted the Arab Spring after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Nasser years would have been considered a myopic fool in the 70s and a prescient genius six months ago.
* This post was inspired by this Freakonomics podcast. As is sometimes alluded to elsewhere, there are lots of problems with the Freakonomics method of always trying to go for the counter-intuitive explanation of things; nevertheless, they usually raise quite thinkable points.