The Illusion of Predictability: How Regression Statistics Mislead Experts
International Journal of Forecasting, Forthcoming
39 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2012
Date Written: October 26, 2011
Does the manner in which results are presented in empirical studies affect perceptions of the predictability of the outcomes? Noting the predominant role of linear regression analysis in empirical economics, we asked 257 academic economists to make probabilistic inferences given different presentations of the outputs of this statistical tool. Questions concerned the distribution of the dependent variable conditional on known values of the independent variable. Answers based on the presentation mode that is standard in the literature led to an illusion of predictability; outcomes were perceived to be more predictable than could be justified by the model. In particular, many respondents failed to take the error term into account. Adding graphs did not improve inferences. Paradoxically, when only graphs were provided (i.e., no regression statistics), respondents were more accurate. The implications of our study suggest, inter alia, the need to reconsider how to present empirical results and the possible provision of easy-to-use simulation tools that would enable readers of empirical papers to make accurate inferences.
Keywords: regression, presentation formats, probabilistic inference, prediction, graphics, uncertainty
JEL Classification: C01, C20, C53, Y10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation