Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for September 9th, 2017

The imaginary map

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Crude methods of forecasting—after the current picture has been corrected for abnormalities—are not likely to lead into the errors of spurious verisimilitude and spurious detailing—the two greatest vices of the statistician. Once you have a formula and an electronic computer, there is an awful temptation to squeeze the lemon until it is dry and to present a picture of the future which through its very precision and verisimilitude carries conviction. Yet a man who uses an imaginary map, thinking it a true one, is likely to be worse off than someone with no map at all; for he will fail to inquire wherever he can, to observe every detail on his way, and to search continuously with all his senses and all his intelligence for indications of where he should go.

The person who makes the forecasts may still have a precise appreciation of the assumptions on which they are based. But the person who uses the forecasts may have no idea at all that the whole edifice, as is often the case, stands and falls with one single, unverifiable assumption. He is impressed by the thoroughness of the job done, by the fact that everything seems to “add up,” and so forth. If the forecasts were presented quite artlessly, at it were, on the back of an envelope, he would have a much better chance of appreciating their tenuous character and the fact that, forecasts or no forecasts, someone has to take an entrepreneurial decision about the unknown future.

E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

Written by nevalalee

September 9, 2017 at 7:01 am

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