We Who Are Also Wrong
The Washington Post, in what is possibly the most unforgivable hit piece against the war critics masquerading as a "news piece", is saying that war critics aren't vindicated by the complete and utter disaster going underway in Eye-Rack because, um, some of them might not have predicted accurately how the events would unfold. Imagine what the Post would print if WMDs were found, a Jeffersonian democracy was founded right after The Fall of the Statue, and a neoconservative economic paradise had flourished in the Arab heartland, in other words, if we were actually wrong about the war:
Antiwar liberals last week got to savor the four most satisfying words in the English language: "I told you so."
This was after a declassified National Intelligence Estimate asserted that the war in Iraq was creating more terrorists than it was eliminating. For millions of people who opposed President Bush's mission in Iraq from the start, this was proof positive that they had been right all along. Yes, they told themselves, we saw this disaster coming.
Only . . . that isn't quite true.
One of the most systematic errors in human perception is what psychologists call hindsight bias -- the feeling, after an event happens, that we knew all along it was going to happen. Across a wide spectrum of issues, from politics to the vagaries of the stock market, experiments show that once people know something, they readily believe they knew it all along.
This is not to say that no one predicted the war in Iraq would go badly, or that the insurgency would last so long. Many did. But where people might once have called such scenarios possible, or even likely, many will now be certain that they had known for sure that this was the only possible outcome.
"Liberals' assertion that they 'knew all along' that the war in Iraq would go badly are guilty of the hindsight bias," agreed Hal Arkes, a psychologist at Ohio State University, who has studied the hindsight bias and how to overcome it. "This is not to say that they didn't always think that the war was a bad idea."
He added: "It is to say that after it was apparent that the war was going badly, they assert that they would have assigned a higher probability to that outcome than they really would have assigned beforehand."
The hindsight bias plays an important role in public debate, because it gives people a false sense of certainty. When people convince themselves that they knew something would happen, what they effectively ignore is how much that outcome may have been unpredictable.
In place of accuracy, what the hindsight bias seems to offer is a form of comfort. It is easy to be confident about the past, because one cannot be proved wrong.
But have heart, gentle liberal, there is a way to disabuse yourself of this so-called "hindsight bias":
Indeed, research by both Fischhoff and Arkes show that people can fight the hindsight bias only when they honestly and systematically try to explain how different outcomes are possible. Such self-doubt is the exact opposite of how modern politics works: In the age of the blogosphere, certitude is king.
At its core, in other words, the hindsight bias is a form of overconfidence. Clearly acknowledging how you might be wrong is the only weapon against the error, Fischhoff said, but that is one thing politicians hate to do.
Okay, I'll bite. How was I wrong about the Eye-Rack war. . .
Well, I did predict that removing Saddam Hussein would create a power vacuum where the three ethno-sectarian groups would jockey for control of the country, but that was pretty simplistic. I ignored the fact that the Kurds would want to break away, the Shiites would align with Iran and would not allow a separate Kurdistan, that the armies would come in the form of splintered sectarian militias created by John Negroponte while he was ambassador to that country in a failed bid to create a "controlled chaos".
I also didn't predict that the Iraq KIA count would be so low, thanks to the advances of modern wartime medicine where 90 percent of the wounded survive. Otherwise we'd be talking about 5,000 deaths.
Finally, I also seriously misjudged how the Bush administration could be so utterly wrong about Saddam's weaponsofmassdestruction. I mean, I know the UN inpectors were not finding any weapons or weapons program that would pose a serious threat to this country, but I thought Saddam must have had something tucked away in his sleeve, if I were to believe 2 percent of all the boogieman stories that were out there. That he literally had nothing contrary to conventional wisdom has made me reconsider my predictions. From now on, I'll believe the opposite of what the Bushies and their enabler have to say about anything ever again.
Update: Tim Blair from Road To Surfdom makes a statement about the bullshit article that should be framed and displayed at every art gallery:
I’m just looking through the scientific literature for studies on the phenomenon of wrong-about-fucking-everything bias.