The Art of the Social Science Soothsayer
One of the features of the social sciences is that they predict the behavior of entities, that is, humans, one of whose most salient features is their ability and interest in hearing the forecasts. One of the reasons why the social sciences seem to be poor in prediction is the prevalence in the social world of self-defeating forecasts of catastrophe. The social sciences do have contributions to make in improving our ability to forecast. Of the various high probability outcomes that soothsayers forecast, the most common one is the condition of no change. A soothsayer who practiced optimism would have a pretty good batting average. Various writers use the terms “prediction” and “forecasting” in different ways but if one accepts that formulation of forecasting, then prediction might seem no part of it, and the failures of public figures, journalists, and social scientists when they try to act as soothsayers is irrelevant.