We can therefore distinguish as follows:

  1. Full predictability (in principle) exists only in the absence of human freedom, i.e. in "sub-human” nature. The limitations of predictability are purely limitations of knowledge and technique.

  2. Relative predictability exists with regard to the behaviour pattern of very large numbers of people doing "normal” things (routine).

  3. Relatively full predictability exists with regard to human actions controlled by a plan which eliminates freedom, e.g. railway timetable.

  4. Individual decisions by individuals are in principle unpredictable.

small-is-beautifulp. 194

[insert joke about rail replacement bus service]

tl;dr: "Past Performance Is No Guarantee of Future Results"

Once again, we need to have a look at the metaphysical basis of such claims. What is the meaning of a "good mathematical fit”? Simply that a sequence of quantitative changes in the past has been elegantly described in precise mathematical language. But the fact that I—or the machine—have been able to describe this sequence so exactly by no means establishes a presumption that the pattern will continue. It could continue only if (a) there were no human freedom and (b) there was no possibility of any change in the causes that have given rise to the observed pattern.

small-is-beautifulp. 196

tl;dr: "Interrogate the data and make it confess" — CW "All models are wrong but some are harmful" — misquote of George Box

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.

small-is-beautifulp. 196

Some people imagine that it would be possible and helpful to set up a machine for long-range forecasting into which current "news" could be fed continuously and which, in response, would produce continual revisions of some long-term forecasts. No doubt, this would be possible; but would it be helpful? Each item of “news” has to be judged for its long-term relevance, and a sound judgement is generally not possible immediately.

small-is-beautifulp. 200

documented attempt in if-then for the vietnam war

see also, the "domain experts" that Dataminr hires. hearsay abounds of these mythical creatures that roam the hallways of Dataminr, and who are the artificial artificial intelligence behind the AI that is their product.

If I hold a rather negative opinion about the usefulness of “automation'’ in matters of economic forecasting and the like, I do not underestimate the value of electronic computers and similar apparatus for other tasks, like solving mathematical problems or programming production runs. These latter tasks belong to the exact sciences or their applications. Their subject matter is non-human, or perhaps I should say, sub-human. Their very exactitude is a sign of the absence of human freedom, the absence of choice, responsibility, and dignity. As soon as human freedom enters, we are in an entirely different world where there is great danger in any proliferation of mechanical devices. The tendencies which attempt to obliterate the distinction should be resisted with the utmost determination. Great damage to human dignity has resulted from the misguided attempt of the social sciences to adopt and imitate the methods of the natural sciences. Economics, and even more so applied economics, is not an exact science; it is in fact, or ought to be, something much greater: a branch of wisdom.

small-is-beautifulp. 201

What moves biology is diversity, change, fluidity, the fact that nothing is set, and that there are no rules and no laws. The effort of trying to produce something equivalent to Newtonian physics in biology has failed over and over, and yet we stubbornly keep coming back and attempting to impose these laws of nature that don't exist onto nature that is crying back to us about how wrong we are. You see it over and over again in biotechnology. It doesn't deliver on its promises, ever. And yet, we stubbornly continue to expect those laws to rule the biological world, when they don’t.

Life is an Outlaw: A Biologist Challenges the Central Doctrine


if-then Lepore, Jill. 2020. If Then: How Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. Liveright Publishing. ↩︎ 1

small-is-beautiful Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich. 2001. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mattered. Random House. ↩︎ 1 2 3 4 5