In Part 1 of this essay, I showed that I was able to do a far better job of predicting the future than did the most famous of overrated seers, Nostradamus.
Today, In Part 2, I am going to tell you how I did it.
If you have not read Part 1 of this essay, I urge you, in the strongest terms, to read Part 1 (link) before reading Part 2.
Techniques That I Did NOT Use
In Part 1, I listed, but did not explain, some standard predicting techniques used by mentalists and magic performers. I did not use any of those methods (nor did I describe how they worked). Nor did I do any of the following:
- I did not make any prediction after the event had already occurred or had already been reported, nor did I base any prediction upon "inside information."
- I did not make massive numbers of predictions. Unlike Nostradamus, who made hundreds of predictions and whose followers have scoured them for a handful of hits, I have made only about 40 predictions, most of which were hits (and many were better hits than Nostradamus got).
- I took no deliberate action to cause any predicted event to come about.
- I made no open-ended predictions that might happen any time, maybe in the next centuries. All of my predictions were limited to events that would or would not take place before 1 January 2013.
As you might imagine, other self-proclaimed seers, including Nostradamus, have used one or more of these four methods; but I did not.
It has been brought to my attention that certain investigating agencies have tried to make predictions based upon game theory and statistical analysis. Although it is possible to combine my methods with computations of mathematical correlation or rigorous Bayesian prediction, my methods did not get into heavy-duty mathematics. It was unnecessary to quantify any potential outcomes or perform any computations.
Nine Principal Techniques I DID Use
Instead, all of my predictions relied upon one or more of the techniques that I lay out in this essay. The techniques themselves overlap to some degree, and nearly all of my predictions used multiple techniques in concert to achieve amazing results.
I will discuss each of these techniques in some detail. Then, I will illustrate how I used those very techniques to craft a successful (seemingly miraculous) prediction. But before I do that...
Let's Get a Few Things Out of the Way
Here are a few housekeeping matters before I delve into the details.
First: Any predictions of the future involve some degree of luck. There is never an iron-clad guarantee that any prediction will come true, in whole or in part. Nevertheless, it is possible to make predictions such that the amount of luck required is surprisingly small.
Secondly: Besides a bit of luck, making successful predictions depends upon a big dose of psychology. For example, part of the reason my predictions may have seemed so amazing was because of all of my shameless puffery (all of it intentional) when describing them. By my repeated suggestions that you might not believe what I'm about to tell you, or that what you are about to see may seem spooky or impossible, I try to steer you into the mindset that some pretty astonishing forces must be at work, even though I told you up front that such was not so. Even the title of my essay is puffery.
Thirdly: I mentioned that the predictions were published, but I did not say where they were published. The predictions were published at the website for the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Fourthly: Most of the predictions are still available for viewing on the Internet. Randi's forum was taken over by International Skeptics (link) a few years ago, and the predictions for 2012 (by Brown) are there.
James Randi, whose photograph graces Part 2 this essay, was one of the foremost investigators of supernatural, paranormal, psychic, or occult phenomena. His stage name was "The Amazing Randi."
Widely recognized as the man who took up the mantle of the great Harry Houdini, Randi set about trying to find whether any of these mysterious powers touted by various wonder-workers had any validity to them. He offered a one million dollar prize to anyone who could perform a supernatural, paranormal, psychic, or occult feat and/or phenomenon under controlled conditions.
Nobody ever won the prize.
Nobody ever even came close to winning the prize.
Randi busted dowsers, homeopaths, so-called psychic investigators, among others. He wasn't fooled by magicians' seeing-while-blindfolded methods, nor childish “human magnet” stunts, nor by someone moving objects by blowing on them, nor by people performing card tricks. (Yes, some people actually tried to win the prize by performing card tricks.)
Lots of contestants made a go of it, but in the end, they were unable to do what they claimed they could do, once avenues for trickery were removed. Those that did try for the prize, apparently confident of their own abilities, agreed that removing avenues for trickery would not affect their ability to perform the claimed feats, not in the slightest. They were wrong about their touted abilities, though nearly all were often loathe to admit it. A common complaint was that the test was somehow unfair, even though such objections were always raised after the test, not before (and an opportunity to make objections, pre-test, was always offered).
Some of the contestants backed out of the challenge when experimental controls were proposed. The purpose of the controls was not to interfere with any genuine ability (if it really did exist), but rather to stop a contestant from using magicians' methods or other trickery to achieve a miracle. The usual reasons for backing out given by these folks were often phrased in terms of pseudoscientific nonsense. One apparently common complaint was that Randi himself was somehow projecting negative "vibrations," which would interfere with the contestants' abilities to perform. In short, the contestants' claimed that their mysterious talents (which they could not prove) would vanish in the presence of other unseen factors (which they likewise could not prove).
James Randi was the author of "The Mask of Nostradamus," a book I deliberately avoided so that it would not contaminate the experiment that I was to perform. As far as I know, Randi personally was never aware of my little experiment. He died in October, 2020.
Technique Number One: Lie Through Your Teeth
It is important to recognize at the outset that each prediction is carefully constructed. As I will discuss below, predictions may go through multiple drafts prior to publication. The predictions are not impromptu suppositions, nor are they wild guesses. Rather, each prediction is crafted with at least one of the following nine techniques in mind; and most predictions apply several of these techniques.
The first and most obvious technique is the one I try to employ the least: good old fashioned dishonesty.
I don’t mean outright lying, though. In the predicting business, telling an outright lie is usually an unwise strategy. Flat falsehoods are often too easy to detect. Much more effective is to mislead by not telling the whole truth. This type of lie can be very difficult to spot. As with all of the other techniques, psychology is a part of it: by emphasizing the things that are true, and by ignoring the parts that are false or that would detract from the impression being created, it is possible to create an impression of honesty to camouflage less obvious dishonesty.
Through use of a partial-truth, a miss can look like a hit.
This can be illustrated though an extreme example. One of the predictions I made for 2012 was this: “The biggest crime of the year will take place in California, but the biggest crime will not be the crime that involves the greatest sum of money or that produces the most victims.” This prediction was a miss. Despite being the State with the largest population, California did not seem to be the location of the biggest crime of 2012. Although people may debate which crime was indeed the biggest, few would question that an enormous, grotesque crime was committed in at an elementary school at Sandy Hill, Connecticut, 14 December 2012.
To make that miss look like a hit, the prediction could be dishonestly reported as: “The biggest crime of the year will take place in a state beginning with the letter ‘C’”. One could even propound a phony-baloney justification for this dishonesty, saying something like: “The spirits told me that the State in question was ‘Kaa’-something, and I thought the spirits said ‘California’ instead of ‘Connecticut.’ In any event, the rest of the prediction was correct, and I did get the letter 'C' right.”
No. That prediction should count as a miss, not as a partial hit, once you know the whole story.
"Titanic oops" is another prediction that isn't quite legit. Although such a prediction was made, and although the two quoted words could fairly be said to be the "heart" of it, the actual prediction was quite a bit longer:
A titanic “Oops” bigger than any made so far by Rick Perry will dog a well-known person for several months.
The reference is to Rick Perry, a 2012 US presidential candidate, who famously said "Oops" on national television after forgetting his pre-planned answer to a question. This context of the prediction as a whole would suggest that the prediction was directed to a mistake by a famous person, not necessarily by a ship's captain. With this context, that prediction starts to look more like a miss, and arguably should not even count as a partial hit.
Note also that the word “titanic” was not capitalized in the original prediction. By abbreviating the prediction to “Titanic oops,” the word is capitalized (and properly so, because it starts a sentence), thereby deviously suggesting that it is a proper noun referring to the famous ocean liner, and not an adjective meaning “gigantic.”
My touted "missed by one letter" prediction may have seemed surprising, but that was in part because some of my dishonesty was very hard to spot.
As I presented it, the prediction seemed quite remarkable, but its remarkability was grounded upon it being grossly misleading:
I made it look like I had made a stunning prediction about the coincidental departures of two Hollywood players, and got three of the four initials correct. But that it not really what I did. Rather, I took two totally unrelated predictions and mapped them to the same event. The predictions were not made on the same day, and there was nothing tying them together into a single prediction. The false impression, which I created deliberately, is that I made both predictions as a single very specific prediction, and that was not the case.
You might have noticed that I did not give a date for this apparently single prediction. The reason for this omission should be clear. If I had mentioned that these two predictions were made on separate days, it would have given the game away. Here again, this is dishonesty by a failure to disclose pertinent facts.
As I will discuss further below, even if you take these predictions (the Hollywood players prediction and the initials prediction) as separate and distinct predictions, they still are both very solid hits. (Even if you don’t buy into the business about getting three of the four initials, the prediction about the coincidentally timed deaths was indeed a solid hit.) But these two predictions carry a lot more “punch” if they are shown joined together as one, rather than if they are presented separately.
Once again, there is some subtle psychology at work here. As James Randi used to point out, a less-than-perfect prediction can be more astonishing than a perfect prediction, because the absence of perfection psychologically implies (falsely) a lack of skullduggery. After all, if the prediction were really a trick, wouldn't the prediction be 100% on-the-nose, every time?
Some Nostradamus fans have been known to engage in this sort of dishonesty, mapping multiple unrelated predictions to a single event or series of events.
If by chance I had made a third prediction that also could be credibly mapped to that same event, I would have listed it as well, and that would have made the prediction (which would then be actually made up of three completely unrelated predictions, all mapped to the same event) seem even more astonishing! How could I possibly predict such a thing in such great detail??
Other techniques were used to craft the prediction(s) on this slide, and I will discuss them below. But plain old dishonesty is an unmistakable part of it.
Technique Number Two: Predict What Can’t Miss
As I say, I prefer not to rely upon dishonesty as a primary tool for predicting. It is possible to craft fantastic predictions without lying, by using the other techniques.
The next three techniques pertain to some kinds or categories of things to predict.
One good type of thing to predict is the prediction that “can’t miss.” This is not the same as predicting something that is highly predictable, such as the date and time of an upcoming eclipse. The knack is is to predict something that is almost certainly going to occur (though it hasn’t actually yet occurred), and present it in a way to make people think that it might never happen at all.
One way to do that is to include one or more “outs” in the event of a miss. A typical “out” is a legitimate-sounding excuse for what ought to be a dead-wrong miss. Thus, if such a prediction turns out to be right, it is a hit; but if the prediction turns out to be wrong, it should be treated as an "it doesn't count," rather than as a miss.
Here's one example of a successful "can’t miss" prediction.
On 4 January 2012, televangelist and pathetically putrid prophet Pat Robertson predicted that Barack Obama would not win the 2012 presidential election. Pat Robertson boasted that he could say such a thing with confidence because he was privy to some information passed to him by none other than the Almighty Himself. My prediction (in red) was made shortly after Pat Robertson’s public pronouncement. Pat Robertson would much later go on to say that Mitt Romney would win in 2012 and go on to be a two-term president, “[b]ecause the Lord told me.”
As everyone learned in November 2012, however, "Prophesy Pat" did not correctly identify the winner of that election, and he missed the number of Romney presidential terms by two.
But if we deconstruct my prediction, we can see that the prediction is virtually certain to be correct. Discounting the possibility of a disaster that would upset the apple cart, there are only two likely possible scenarios:
- Romney wins the election. The prediction would then be automatically correct. The prediction predicts something that WON’T happen, and if Romney were to win, it a certainty that the described events would never happen.
- Romney loses the election. In this case, the prediction would be automatically correct UNLESS Pat Robertson went on the air and admitted in front of his flock either that he doesn’t really hear the Almighty, or that the Almighty gave him bad advice (or both). Since these options would be tantamount to a confession that Pat really doesn’t have the first damn clue as to what the Almighty wants and that he (Pat) is essentially a shameless charlatan, it was almost certain that such a display of profoundly ethical candor and "coming clean" was highly unlikely to take place.
Pat Robertson’s actual "explanation" (shown in the slide above) is a sorry, stinking pile of incoherent denial. But he did not “come clean,” so the prediction was correct.
It is possible to add a can’t-miss aspect to another prediction, to make the prediction seem even more prescient. A prediction made today might, for example, recite an activity to be performed by Donald J Scheisskopf in the future, and then tack on the following can’t-miss addendum: "... and in the course of so doing, he will say something astonishingly stupid." If there is a hit on the main prediction, the can’t-miss addendum comes along for the ride.
Technique Number Three: Predict Things That Happen Every Few Years or So
So one really good thing to predict is something that can’t miss. Another really good thing to predict is something that just seems to happen with regularity.
If you follow the news, you may have noticed that some kinds of things keep happening over and over again. Sometimes they happen every year, or every couple of years or so. These things have happened before, and there is no reason they won’t happen again; so predict ‘em. I hasten to add, however, that it can be in very poor taste to predict specific inherently painful events that seem to repeat far too often, such as school shootings or regional famines.
My predictions for 2012 included quite a few "repeaters." Here is a list of some of them. All of these predictions were correct for 2012, but most would be correct in almost any year:
- “A longtime television series will come to an end.” In 2012, the beloved series “House” ended after nine seasons. Of course, long-lived and popular television series end almost every year. This prediction was almost a “can’t miss.”
- “A prominent celebrity comes out of the closet. This creates a stir for about a week, then nobody gives a darn.” Anderson Cooper fits the bill, here. The only edgy part of this prediction was the part about nobody giving a darn after about a week. Coming out was still regarded for some “reason” as a long-term scandalous event until we were well into the Millennium. Now most reasonable people think a celebrity’s sexual orientation is nobody’s business but that of the celebrity and the people directly affected, and the newsworthiness evaporates quickly. I will make no prediction concerning whether it will evaporate entirely within my lifetime.
- “A major scandal will surround a well-liked public figure.” Gee, take your pick. CIA Director David Petraeus’s scandal was one the biggest of 2012, although there were several other contenders.
“A controversy will surround an exhibit at a major museum.” In 2012, a Canadian politician got bent out of shape about a sex education exhibit at a science museum. Can’t we all remember several similar past incidents, usually involving sexuality or nudity in a museum exhibit?
If you read the news, you see things like these happening with some frequency, but usually not every day, every week, or every month. Every year or so, it seems there is a headline reporting an A-list actor doing something outrageous on video (which then goes viral), or a teacher getting caught teaching something totally bizarre to students, or some new and silly fad gaining popularity. If you are attuned to this sort of thing, you can predict things that you have seen repeating in the past.
Combined with at least one other technique that I will describe below, such predictions can be quite stunning when they hit.
Technique Number Four: Predict the Inevitable
To review: one really good thing to predict is something that can’t miss; and another really good thing to predict is something that just seems to happen with regularity. A third good thing to predict is an event that has to happen sooner or later, and the only real question is when.
The classic example of an inevitable event is: all people have to die sometime. As for myself, I try to stay away from such "Deadpool" predictions for specific people; but to illustrate the point, I will make mention of a prediction of one of my fellow predictors, who prognosticated that Dick Clark would die in 2012. Dick did indeed pass away in 2012, on 18 April. Despite his many gifts, and seeming much younger than his true years for much of his life, Dick Clark was not an immortal, and he had suffered numerous recent health problems. My fellow prognosticator predicted Dick Clark's number would be up in 2012, and indeed it was.
But deaths are not the only inevitabilities that can be predicted.
Many of my most startling predictions rely heavily upon predicting the inevitable.
One thing that is very powerful about this technique is that it seems to predict a lot, but it actually does not predict very much! Basically, the only thing being predicted is WHEN. If you catch some lucky timing, you can make a prediction that hits it out of the park.
My highly touted Canadian penny prediction is of this type.
Even before I made my prediction, the Canadian penny was doomed. It was only a matter of time. The only thing that the penny prediction actually predicts is that the penny’s official demise would begin in 2012.
At the time I made the prediction, there was no talk about discontinuing circulation of pennies in Canada. Even so, all of the pieces were in place, and I predicted the Canadian penny’s days would end in 2012, and indeed they did. I tried swinging for the fence, and I connected.
When I made my prediction, the penny was already teetering upon being uneconomical. There was the cost of the metal that went into the coin, of course, but there was more to it than that: costs of minting, costs of counting, costs of wrapping, costs of transport, costs of sorting… and most of the Canadian citizens didn’t think pennies served much practical purpose. Yeah, the Canadian penny was doomed.
All it would take for the prediction to come true would be for a federal politician, looking for a way to cut costs and avoid raising taxes, noticing how much it cost the Government to keep the penny in circulation. Elimination of uneconomical currency had happened in Canada’s recent past, when Canada stopped circulating dollar bills and started circulating one-dollar and two-dollar coins. Canada, being sensible, had a history of not keeping uneconomical currency in circulation. So getting rid of the penny was not an unthinkably improbable thing, at least not in Canada.
As for the prediction using language essentially identical to what the Government says it did, that was a bit of luck, but not as lucky as you might think. Canadians don’t always speak the way folks in the USA do. When the USA considered getting rid of its pennies, people talked about “retiring” or “discontinuing” or “eliminating” the penny. Such language struck me as a bit too abrupt for Canadian tastes, and a process of “phasing out” might be more marketable to a Canadian populace. So that is the wording I chose for my prediction.
At the time I made my prediction about Rachel Maddow, many others were already directing angry and insulting rhetoric at her on a fairly frequent basis. It did not take too much foresight to predict that someone would cross the line with both feet in 2012. As for Rachel Maddow taking the insult in stride, that is pretty much how she has taken insults in the past. I'd say that part of the prediction was a “can’t miss.”
The astronomical predictions are also predictions of events that would have to happen some time or other. At the time the predictions were made, new near-Earth asteroids and distant planets were being discovered with considerable frequency because of constantly improving methods of detection, and the these discoveries seemed to be reported with increasing frequency. Humankind's ability to detect such things seemed to be improving from month to month.
So, how long would it take before someone found an Earth-like planet? It seemed reasonable to guess that it might happen in 2012, and it did. Further, if such a planet were to be found, of course it would be presented to the public as having the “right” conditions for life. And of course those conditions would have to include the basics: temperature, gravity, atmosphere, etc. If the basic part of the prediction came to pass, those specific details in the prediction couldn’t miss!
A super-close asteroid flyby was also inevitable, and since no such flybys for 2012 had been predicted (in much the same ways astronomers predict eclipses or the coming of Halley's Comet by application of past observation and mathematics and physics), any such close flyby would by near-necessity be discoverable only on short notice. And such a thing had to happen sooner or later. I predicted sooner, and that prediction turned out to be correct. I would call this my luckiest prediction.
By the way, even if the penny thing and the astronomical events happened shortly after the expiration of 2012, some more shameless puffery on my part might make my misses sound like hits, e.g.,: “Oh, missed it by just a couple of months!” As it happened, I did not have to do such a thing for 2012.
Technique Number 5: Make Educated Guesses
Put simply, if you know what you are talking about and do your homework, you can be a better guesser.
Oddsmakers make predictions based upon their acquired knowledge, when they try to predict winners and point spreads. They’ll tell you: You have to do your homework in order to forecast intelligently.
The prediction of the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision is largely dependent upon this technique. It’s one thing to have a general understanding of how the Court operates. It is quite another thing to be aware of the Justices’ specific positions in previous cases, and to have read all of the briefs (and there were dozens of them). I had to do a lot of reading, but I was able to make several successful predictions about the Obamacare case as a result.
A contemporaneous prediction I made pertaining to the same Supreme Court case was: “At least one Supreme Court justice will suggest that, unless the US Constitution specifically authorizes the Congress to implement a national healthcare plan, the US Congress cannot do so, no matter what.” This prediction proved correct, but this was pretty close to a “can’t miss” prediction, because several parties and friend-of-the-court briefs were making that very argument, and very prominently. The prediction predicted only that at least one Supreme Court Justice would ask questions about it, and would indicate sympathy toward it. Hardly a longshot prediction.
Technique Number 6: Use Vague Language
Technique Numbers 6, 7, and 8 often work hand-in-hand-in-hand. Every prediction is crafted with these three techniques in mind. It is at this point that we get into the really dirty part of the prediction business. Every prediction has some ambiguity to it, and some predictions (but not all) are deliberately phrased so that the chances of a hit are greatly multiplied.
Some words or phrases have no single meaning, expanding the chances of a hit.
Also, vague language creates chances that predictions may be deemed hidden or coded or metaphorical.
Consider the prediction “Two major Hollywood players will depart within a day of each other.” The prediction intentionally uses the word “players,” not “actors.” In Hollywood lingo, a “player” is any Hollywood bigshot, whether an actor, producer, director, or whatever. And the prediction intentionally said “depart,” not “die.” If an actor and director had walked off a movie set within 24 hours of one another, that would serve as a hit just as well.
Use of initials is another form of vagueness. In my prediction, I used the initials “CD” and “JA.” The “CD” I had in mind when I made the prediction actually was Charles Durning. But who was “JA”? Believe it or not, I don’t remember! Maybe it was Julie Andrews. Or John Astin. Or Jane Alexander. Or Jessica Alba. Or Jason Alexander. Or J. J. Abrams. Or John Anderson. Or John Ashton. Or John Ashcroft. Or Judd Apatow. Or Jenny Agutter. Or Joss Acklund. Or John Amos. Or Joan Allen. Or Jennifer Aniston.
But I don’t remember for sure. I’m pretty sure it WASN’T Banker Joe Albritton, who died a few days before Charles Durning, though. Nevertheless, I could still claim a hit on all four initials, if I wanted to, and point to Charles Durning and Joe Albritton.
A wonderful technique for introducing and disguising vagueness is to write a prediction in a form of a poem or quatrain. Such a prediction has a psychological edge to it; it just seems fair to read a prediction poetically, because the prediction is written as a poem. Greater freedom of interpretation allows greater chances of a hit.
In Part 1, I showed a quatrain that I had written for 2002. A notable amount of the success of the 2002 quatrain was due to the interpretations that I offered. For example, when I learned that the DC sniper and his accomplice were found by law enforcement while asleep (a lucky wow!), I knew I had a huge hit on my hands if I could reasonably interpret that final nonsense line to make it appear as though I were clearly predicting a sniper. I thought my "Nostradamus did it first" pitch was a pretty good way to do that.
A quatrain that I wrote for 2012 was:
The call to arms is made, revoked,
And made again without a blink;
Can ugly be a leader's folk
When they see him on the brink?
A case can be made that there are two separate predictions here, and both of them were hits. The first two lines describe the activities of the National Rifle Association in response to the mass shootings in 2012, and the second two lines could be applied to the 2012 civil war in Syria.
But I bring up this quatrain because it ALSO includes a HIDDEN prediction. And this hidden prediction turned out to be a miss. The hidden prediction is found in the words “Can ugly be a leader's folk”. Such phraseology would seem awkward in prose, but it is less likely to be questioned in a poem; yet this particular awkward wording conceals a devilish secret.
The first letters of “Can ugly be a” are C-U-B-A, and this was intentional. C-U-B-A’s leader at the time was Fidel Castro, and if anything had occurred in Cuba that matched this prediction, then this hidden prediction could be pointed out and trumpeted as a jaw-dropping success. But because the prediction was a miss (as pertaining to Cuba), the hidden prediction was never pointed out, and the miss was never noticed!
Hidden predictions (which can be puns, anagrams, obscure references, etc.) can significantly help and will rarely hurt. They represent a way to boost one’s reputation as a predictor. If a prognostication containing a hidden prediction results in a hit, and if the hidden prediction hits as well, the hidden prediction can be pointed out as further proof of predictive ability.
Technique Number 7: Retrofit!
Simply put, a predictor may claim a hit for a prediction, even if the fulfilling events are nothing like what the predictor may have contemplated. And if a hit is different from what the predictor had in mind, the predictor simply applies Technique Number 1, and dishonestly takes credit for the hit, anyway.
Retrofitting is basically looking at an event and saying (with some facial credibility): “Yeah, I predicted that,” even though the predictor was just as surprised at the occurrence of the event as everyone else. The actually-occurring events may be quite different from what had been considered or imagined; but the predictor never tells anyone about that! Thus, there is a strong psychological impression created that the predictor did indeed have foresight.
“Titanic oops” involved retrofitting, and there were so many ways it could have been done! In addition to an actual shipwreck, the following scenarios were considered.
- A famous person (perhaps a politician in the 2012 presidential race) could make an enormous, embarrassing blunder. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot (Technique Number 3).
- The year 2012 was the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. It doesn’t take a seer to guess that there might be documentaries about the sinking, including a discussion of gross mistakes that have appeared in reports or movies about the events.
There were lots of chances for a hit with “titanic oops,” and the wreck of the Costa Concordia just happened to be close enough to take credit for the hit.
The more vague the language of the prediction, the better the chance of a hit. And yet, upon a first reading of a prediction, the vagueness may not be evident at all.
For example, one of the predictions for 2012 was: “A large tornado will rip through a metropolitan center.” True, tornadoes happen every year, but tornadoes whirling through metropolitan centers are considerably more rare. So this prediction could not be considered a “can’t miss.”
Even so, the prediction was another hit. On 3 April 2012, the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex got raked by no fewer than three large tornados (and many headlines from the day used the words “large tornadoes”).
Before marveling at the accuracy of the prediction, however, consider how little the prediction actually predicts. The prediction does not specify a country, or a state, or a region, or a city, nor does it indicate how big a community has to be in order to have a “metropolitan center," nor is there any indication of how big a tornado has to be in order to count as “large.” No month is predicted, no time of day, either. Perhaps one may indulge in a thought experiment: If one were to treat the prediction as 100 percent guaranteed to come true, of what use is this prediction?? It cannot serve as a reasonable basis for preparation for such a calamity, nor is it of any value as a warning.
Generally speaking, more specificity in a prediction makes it harder to get a hit. But in the case of the tornado prediction, there are only three fluidly defined elements: “tornado,” “large,” and “Metropolitan center” (for which words like “metro” or “metroplex” are close enough).
Taking note of what the prediction actually predicts is the basis for the next super-powerful predicting technique.
Technique Number 8: Do Web Searches
You make a vague prediction, with the intent of retrofitting the prediction to any event that seems to be within the ambit of the prediction. But how do you know whether an event has occurred that is close to what you predicted? Just turn to the Trusty Internet for assistance.
When crafting predictions, use words that can be entered into a search engine. Then, every week or month or so, just put those words into a search engine and see whether any potential hits pop up.
This single technique is the one that was the most helpful to me as a predictor.
One of the best things about this technique is that it often produces dozens of hits, and I selected the news reports that were the closest to my prediction, thereby making myself seem more prescient than I actually was.
An illustration of such a prediction I made for 2012 might be: “The number 2-1-8 or 2-8-1 will have some significance.” All I had to do was search for news reports that mentioned either number. It should be no surprise that it was easy to find a hit, and the hit I selected was a quote from the Speaker of the House, who referred to “218 Frogs,” (a phrase he apparently used on multiple occasions). Indeed, predicting a significant three-digit number might be too easy, and a more powerful prediction might use four or five digits.
Not only can a web search find hits for you, it can also find hits that are very close to the wording of the prediction, sometimes verbatim.
As for Scotty’s remains going into space, not all of the reports mentioned the words “final frontier” or “beaming up” or anything close; but a few did, and those are the ones to which I will direct your attention. The others simply get overlooked and pass unmentioned, as though they never existed.
Technique Number 9: Ignore the Misses
Many of my predictions were part-hit, and part-miss. Only a few were flat-out misses.
But I make no mention of misses. Instead, I stress only the hits.
If a prediction is successful in part and unsuccessful in part, I will stress the success.
Anything that is a miss usually gets played down or ignored completely. In some more devious instances, such as the “Missed By One Letter” bit, a miss is overtly acknowledged and is then promptly used to psychological advantage.
As a matter of psychology, most people would rather hear about successes than failures, anyway. Most are inclined to forgive minor goofs, if the main idea seems to have been predicted accurately.
When a predictor concentrates on the few hits and ignores the many more misses, that is a big “red flag” for skullduggery. Making one decent prediction in a group of hundreds (the Nostradamus method) is less impressive when one considers both the hits and the misses.
Speaking of misses, a number of important events from 2012 seemed to have evaded prediction: Hurricane Sandy, Benghazi!, Curiosity on Mars, superheroes winning at the box office, and so on. But these oversights can be simply excused with: A predictor cannot decide what to predict. This excuse is, of course, utter nonsense; but it seems to be readily accepted and is rarely challenged.
Putting It All Together: How a Real Prediction Was Crafted
Most predictions use more than one of these techniques to boost their chances of success. To illustrate, I shall describe how one prediction came to be.
In 2011 and previously, actor Alec Baldwin appeared on some talk shows and took a number of public stands on political issues. In 2012, an election would be held. So it occurred to me: is Alec Baldwin setting the stage to run for a political office? He seemed to be hinting at it, perhaps testing the waters. Anyway, it seemed like a reasonable, educated guess to me. So here was the first draft of the prediction:
Alec Baldwin will run for political office.
This was a good start. Yet the prediction seemed to me to be a bit too specific (even though it doesn’t say what political office might be involved), as well as too obvious (since others might say that he pretty clearly was testing the waters). To improve the prediction, I added some vagueness and added a few more details so that the prediction would not seem too vague. Here is my second draft of the prediction.
Alec Baldwin will consider entering politics, and will seek the advice of U.S. Senator Al Franken.
“Consider entering politics” is a much more open expression than “run for political office,” and carries with it a much greater chance of getting a hit. Baldwin would not actually have to run for office, he’d only have to make some sort of public pronouncement that he’d thought about it.
And Baldwin, being a frequent host on “Saturday Night Live,” would have an acquaintance with SNL actor/writer Al Franken, then serving as a US Senator from Minnesota. It just seemed natural (if not painfully obvious) that Alec Baldwin, if he were to think about a prominent public office, would talk to Al Franken.
But I was still not satisfied. I decided to add a little more vagueness, while still seeming to be specific.
A prominent entertainer will decide to pursue a new career, and will get advice from Al Franken.
This was the final, published prediction.
And guess what?
As this graphic says, this successful prediction combined several of the techniques that I have outlined.
Here’s a riddle for you: The above graphic says that I “ignored the parts [of the prediction] that weren’t quite accurate.” What parts of the prediction were not accurate? Unless those points are expressly pointed out, you might easily overlook them entirely! Which is, in the predicting business, part of the point; you want the prediction to seem more accurate than it actually is.
The way I found the Times story was by doing a web search. My key words were “Franken” and “advice” (or “advise”). Alec Baldwin’s name did not come up, but it wasn’t too long before a search produced a close-enough hit.
Oh, and by the way, the inaccurate part of the prediction is that actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus did not assume a new “career.” She was an actor previously, and her career did not change. She sought Franken’s advice not about a new career, but about a new role. Contrast this with the original idea I had in mind, in which entertainer Alec Baldwin considered going into politics; that would be a career change. Notably, I could try deceptively to apply some good old-fashioned puffery to obscure this inaccuracy, subtly saying something like: “And just as I predicted, Julia Louis-Dreyfus did seek the advice of Al Franken as part of her new job.”
A Thought Experiment
Back in Part 1, I asked you to remember your amazement. Can you remember it?
Now reflect: What is your prevailing emotion now that you know my methods?
Is it disappointment? Amusement? Satisfaction? Surprise? Easier than you thought? Harder than you thought? Let me know in the comments, if you wish.
ALSO, PLEASE REFRAIN FROM MAKING ANY PREDICTIONS OF YOUR OWN IN THE COMMENTS. I am not going to critique any efforts or offer any suggestions for improvement. You may have figure out how to be a better charlatan (assuming there can be such a thing) on your own. Besides, my essay isn't only about trying to impress other people; it's also about understanding and thinking critically so that others will be less likely to fool you.
Consider now a thought experiment. A person claims to be able to predict the future. Knowing what you know now, what objective controls would have to be in place to prevent trickery and make a compelling case for genuine foresight? How much specificity must a predictor have in order to be considered to have a truly mysterious talent in the first place? I submit that there is no easy answer to this question.
A Final Word to Educators
Those who put together materials for public education or critical thinking are welcome to contact me about use of my experience.
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