Why do people continue to listen to bad prognosticators? Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, a website that explores and corrects many misconceptions in space science, explains why astrology is believed by so many people despite having no basis in scientific fact. Astrologers rely on people’s tendency to remember the hits while forgetting the misses. It is not just astrologers that take advantage of selective memory, but also anyone in the business of predicion. It takes special effort to draw one’s attention to the misses before one loses trust in their chosen method of forecasting the future.
Bill Maher recently drew attention to all the failed predictions made by the members of neocon think tanks (namely The Heritage Foundation and the Project for the New American Century), asking why they are still in the business of making predictions. It seems there needs to be many high profile failures on record before one loses trust in the policies that these poorly prognosticating think tanks promote. There are signs that this threshold in wrongness has finally been reached as some members of the Bush administration seemed to be willing to adopt a drastic change in strategy.
Of course any such reversal on previously held positions will be seen as flip flopping on the war and one cannot have that, unless one redefines what one means by “strategy” and performs some Soviet-style revision of history concerning the “stay the course” mantra. (Jon Stewart also tackled this sudden policy shift back in August.) Such chaotic thinking is no better than when the Republicans last used astrology to make decisions.