The Seer-Sucker Theory: The Value of Experts in Forecasting

Technology Review, pp. 16-24, June/July 1980

7 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2005 Last revised: 4 Jan 2012

See all articles by J. Scott Armstrong

J. Scott Armstrong

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department

Abstract

People are willing to pay heavily for expert advice. Economists are consulted to tell us how the economy will change, stock analysts are paid large salaries to forecast the earnings of various companies, and political experts command large fees to tell our leaders what the future holds. The available evidence, however, implies that this money is poorly spent. But because few people pay attention to this evidence, I have come up with what I call the seersucker theory: No matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, suckers will pay for the existence of seers.

One would expect experts to have reliable information for predicting change and to be able to utilize the information effectively. However, expertise beyond a minimal level is of little value in fore casting change. This conclusion is both surprising and useful, and its implication is clear: Don't hire the best expert, hire the cheapest expert.

This is not to say that experts have no value they can contribute in many ways. One particularly useful role of the expert seems to be in assessing a current situation. And although estimates of current status play an important role in forecasting, I will deal only with the role of expertise in forecasting change.

Keywords: Forecasting value, forecasting, seer-sucker theory

Suggested Citation

Armstrong, J. Scott, The Seer-Sucker Theory: The Value of Experts in Forecasting. Technology Review, pp. 16-24, June/July 1980. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=648763

J. Scott Armstrong (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States
215-898-5087 (Phone)
215-898-2534 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/people/faculty/armstrong.cfm

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