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What journalists, weather forecasters, and Han Solo get wrong about probability

Well, this is amazing:

political journalist probability

Ben Orlin/Math With Bad Drawings

It comes from Ben Orlin, proprietor of the wonderful Math With Bad Drawings blog, and it's part of a series of (not that bad!) drawings showing what probability means in different professions.

Sadly, as a journalist, I think Orlin gets his hit on me and my colleagues just right. Remember all the too-close-to-call garbage at the end of the 2012 election, when every serious poll in a more-than-sufficient number of swing states showed an Obama win? Sure you do. Journalists had two reasons for suggesting an obvious Obama win was actually far from certain and still in doubt: It made for a better story, and it wouldn't leave them looking foolish if they were proven wrong.

But it's not just journalism. Orlin takes aim at the implied probabilities weather forecasters have when predicting rain (note that there's real evidence that weather forecasters overestimate the chance of rain because they don't want to be yelled at if you get wet):

probability weather forecasters

Ben Orlin/Math With Bad Drawings

Investment bankers:

Ben Orlin/Math With bad Drawings

And reckless starship captains:

Ben Orlin/Math With Bad Drawings

There's more at Orlin's site, including charts for philosophers and local news anchors, as well as an excellent drawing showing how probability actually works.

Listen to Ezra Klein's forecasting on Vox's new podcast "The Weeds" with Matthew Yglesias and Sarah Kliff. Check out the first episode below where they discuss the 2016 presidential election and whether politics is opening up for outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. You can listen on Soundcloud and you can subscribe on iTunes.

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