Predictor Accuracy: the Hedgehog vs. the Fox

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Ellen Goodman:

[…] The closed-minded hedgehogs are those who know &#8221-one big thing&#8221- and relate everything to that single, central vision. The open-minded foxes &#8221-know many little things&#8221- and accept ambiguity and contradictions. […] It&#8217-s no surprise that foxes are better at forecasting than hedgehogs. […] How then do we cultivate good judgment? Most Americans are probably hybrid creatures. In a fox-like moment, Tetlock advises that we listen to our own ambivalence as &#8221-we struggle to strike the right balance between preserving our existing worldview and rethinking core assumptions.&#8221- […]

Hal Finney:

[…] One of the psychological measures or metrics which Tetlock found was well correlated with expert accuracy goes back to a distinction introduced by Isaiah Berlin in his book, The Hedgehog and the Fox. I haven&#8217-t read that book, but based on Tetlock&#8217-s presentation, Berlin distinguished between two cognitive styles to which he gave these colorful names. The hedgehog is said to know one thing and know it well. He sees events and trends in terms of his big idea, and aggressively extends it into new realms. Hedgehogs tend to be confident in the applicability of their fundamental concepts and impatient with those who &#8220-do not get it&#8221-. Foxes in contrast know many small things which they bring to bear in their analyses in a dynamical and flexible way. They tend to be uncertain and flexible, &#8220-on the other hand&#8221- types who are skeptical about their own predictive ability and in fact about the whole enterprise of making predictions in such an intractable realm. […]

Daniel Drezner:

A hedgehog is a person who sees international affairs to be ultimately determined by a single bottom-line force: balance-of-power considerations, or the clash of civilizations, or globalization and the spread of free markets. A hedgehog is the kind of person who holds a great-man theory of history, according to which the Cold War does not end if there is no Ronald Reagan. Or he or she might adhere to the “actor-dispensability thesis,” according to which Soviet Communism was doomed no matter what. Whatever it is, the big idea, and that idea alone, dictates the probable outcome of events. For the hedgehog, therefore, predictions that fail are only “off on timing,” or are “almost right,” derailed by an unforeseeable accident. There are always little swerves in the short run, but the long run irons them out.

Foxes, on the other hand, don’t see a single determining explanation in history. They tend, Tetlock says, “to see the world as a shifting mixture of self-fulfilling and self-negating prophecies: self-fulfilling ones in which success breeds success, and failure, failure but only up to a point, and then self-negating prophecies kick in as people recognize that things have gone too far.”

I wanted to go back to this 2005 book from Philip Tetlock (Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?) because I have been thinking of the big issue of last Tuesday (Should a betting exchange be a content provider, too?). My answer is: A betting exchange has no business being a content provider&#8230- except if the betting exchange can and will develop some very special content that the traditional media can’t or won’t provide, and that is of high strategic interest. You&#8217-ll spot that that&#8217-s the kind of twisted answers that the foxes would give. And I am wondering whether one could say that the hedgehog thinking (read it, the bad thinking) is in fact represented in the two other camps:

  1. those who think that the betting exchanges have no business being content providers-
  2. those who think that the betting exchanges should also be content providers.

The answer to this dilemma is, of course, &#8230- and if Mike Linksvayer is reading this blog post, he has already divined where I want to lead my readers with all this &#8230- the answer is, of course, innovation.


2 thoughts on “Predictor Accuracy: the Hedgehog vs. the Fox

  1. Robin Hanson said:

    The quote you attribute to me is actually by Hal Finney.

  2. Chris. F. Masse said:

    Oops. Sorry. Corrected.

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