Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Holding Pundits Accountable?

In the wake of two recent high-profile pundit "op-eds"--the Pollack/O'Hanlon NY Times piece on Iraq and the Kagan/Daalder Washington Post piece on a concert of democracies in the Washington Post--there have been a renewed interest in the question as to how foreign policy experts are credentialed--as well as the extent to which experts are willing to get ahead of any consensus.

Joel Klein notes in the current issue of Time that most Americans supported the Iraq war at the beginning--meaning most politicians supported it--meaning that most foreign policy experts were going to support it if they wanted to not be cut out of the herd of acceptable commentators. This points to the trend that Anatol Lieven complained about earlier this year in the American Conservative:

In the case of the non-debate on NATO membership of Ukraine, once the leaders of both the Republicans and Democrats had committed themselves to this, no Washington expert who hoped for a job in the next administration—i.e. most of them —was going to raise his or her voice in protest. This is the way that most of the Washington think-tank world works.

So what is to be done? Justin Logan wrote yesterday: :

The best way to correct the situation is by developing a predictions database, where experts can weigh-in on specific, falsifiable claims about the future, putting their reputations on the line.

Predicting the future is hard, and if nothing else, pundits are experts at explaining why their failed predictions are somebody else’s fault. It may be the case that even the best experts rarely make accurate predictions of important events. But the only way to better our predictions in the future is to learn not just who gets things right, but why. Putting our reputations where our mouths are would teach us a great deal.

But I don't think we'll see this happen anytime soon.

Willing to subject yourself to the same scrutiny?
TWR readers may remember my "Going Down Memory Lane" series back in March, starting with this first post.
For the more prominent pundits, a dedicated blogger or, more realistically, a consortium of bloggers could do an issue/time matrix of each individual's quotes. I think you will find many of them shading their opinions with the imminence of the war in Iraq, the initial military and public relations success, and the post-war change in US fortunes. That would be just as revealing as the run-of-the-mill "I supported the war, I'm now against it" conversions. I dare say that Pundit Responsibility in Cyberspace, or PRIC for short, would be a fine name for such an undertaking.

Incidentally, I don't think that the Bush administration did much harm by taking its eyes off North Korea. Pyonyang appears to be a status quo regime that now has what it needs, which is a nuclear potential that is just short of an actual short- to mid-term threat. But that's just my thumb talking
I was in favor of a predictions inventory when this came up here some months ago and I still think it could be useful, but there is a danger that if pundits are evaluated on their predictions, beltway thinking will collapse into short-termism, since few in the audience will be willing to wait for medium-term (let alone long-term) predictions to come true. The real need, as Nick observes, is for people to get the "why" correct and to anticipate trends rather than just events.
PRIC -- got to love it!
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