History vs. Future

The esteemed Zenpundit and I have begun a discussion on comparative methodologies for historians and futurists that looks promising. See Mark’s “original post”:http://zenpundit.com/?p=2701 and “my comment”:http://zenpundit.com/?p=2701#comment-7116 that sparked his “detailed reply”:http://zenpundit.com/?p=2702 which “I then analyzed”:http://zenpundit.com/?p=2702#comment-7279.

Please join the conversation over at Zenpundit. There are many CA community members that have a better grasp on this stuff than I. I would especially like to hear “Adam’s”:http://risk.typepad.com take.

*ADDENDUM*: Since Mark’s comments field ate my HTML I will post my comment below the fold, where it might be a little more easier to digest.

[originally posted here]


Great post. First off I would like to qualify my original comment and emphasize that I _did_ notice your use of the term “complementary.” I wasn’t challenging your conclusions but was trying to draw a distinction between your wish of how things _should_ be (one that I share, I might add) and how things actually are (at least with respect to my personal experience.)

I share the sense that the methodologies are complementary. What my comment called for was an analytical comparison of the various methodologies to establish if any actual functional compatibility exists. I went through your post and pulled out some methodological keywords that you use to describe futurism and history. I separated them further into two categories: quantitative and qualitative. This may be considered “heuristic bias,” but I would like to use this dichotomy as I think it is the faultline between historians and social scientists.


computer modeling
prediction markets

decision trees



causal explanation
primary/secondary material
“discrete facts”

A brief glance shows a gap in the qualitative quantitative area reflected in your comment that “History is a craft, not a science.” However, futurism is also about the “craft” of qualitative analysis as well, so the two are not necessary diametric. One common aspect of both fields is the philosophic, specifically the epistimelogical consequences (once again I would like to do a double-take at the term “discrete facts”) and the eternal quest to pare down “bias”:http://cominganarchy.com/2007/09/15/be-bias-aware/. This is an area that I think could be explored more. If you know any good journal articles about this let me know.

Moving on, I would like to challenge one of your statements: “The problem with futurists is that their predictions are all too frequently in error.”

Error denotes precision. Futurists are in the forecasting business _not_ the prediction business. If a futurist constructs a number of variant scenarios, none of which exactly fit the present conditions, but are able to be used to inform decision-making, where is the error? The fact that the scenarios could be drawn upon for guidance makes the futurist a success. Qualifying uncertainty is a key aspect of forecasting, one that is often overlooked by the public. Hey, we all can’t be fans of Sherman Kent.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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