Books by William A. Sherden

Released: Nov. 28, 1997

A series of acute essays on the strange pseudoscience of predicting the future. Sherden, himself a consultant to companies like AT&T, here exposes the art of prediction as a skill not far removed from the (usually) smaller knack of the lucky guess. His targets begin with the relatively straightforward (weather forecasting) and move on to the globally devious (economics). Where cloudy skies are concerned, as he reminds us, forecasters are rarely trustworthy; to announce that ``the weather tomorrow will be like the weather today'' is statistically more accurate than even Al Roker's most carefully considered opinion. With economic forecasting, prediction seems much less reliable. A 1985 study by the Economist reported that sanitation workers actually tied for first place with heads of multinational firms as diviners of England's economic growth. Where economic forecasters are concerned, though they generate about $100 billion a year in consulting fees, Sherden compares their techniques to those of an ancient tribe worshiping the bull and the deer. He asserts that the efficacy of the forecasters hasn't improved, though some of their technology has. (Kodak and IBM, he notes, have dissolved their in-house economics departments; Microsoft shuns economists altogether.) But Sherden saves his best salvos for trend-predicters like Faith Popcorn, who charges $20,000 for a year's subscription to her monthly newsletter. He analyzes her most famous prophecy, regarding yuppie ``cocooning,'' and concludes that it simply didn't happen: From 1989 to 1994, restaurants saw a 25 percent increase in revenues, movie ticket sales rose 20 percent, and vacationing increased by 21 percent, contradicting the notion that Americans stayed home. He finishes off with a strongly worded discussion of false prophecies—from Manifest Destiny to the Nazi myth of the Aryan master race—that have cost nations human lives. Valuable support for anyone who instinctively rejects Nostradamus. Read full book review >