SOC 87 Freshman Seminar Prof. Akos Rona-Tas
Tuesdays 10:30-12:20 SSB 414
Predicting the Future from Tarot Cards to Algorithms: A Sociological Introduction
No one can see the future, but everyone must try. We must predict the future every day. We brush teeth predicting fewer cavities, choose spouse anticipating happiness. Loan clerks, college admission officers, stockbrokers, and parole boards predict for a living, betting on future outcomes. We look at ways people try to peek into the future.
We will meet 5 times. Each time there are readings that you have to read before we meet (except for the first week). We will use these readings as jump-off points for our seminar discussions.
At the second seminar you will make three predictions:
1. The winner of the Grammy in a category of your choice (January 26),
2. The winner of the Super Bowl (February 2),
3. A company stock of your choice on February 10.
There is a 5-8 page final paper. You can choose from the following topics:
1. Compare and contrast two types of predictions (e.g., predicting earthquakes vs. the stock market, outcomes of sport events vs. illnesses). What makes them different? Which one is more likely to succeed and why?
2. What is self-fulfilling and self-frustrating prophecy? How do they work? What would be good examples of each? Why do they end up with opposite results?
3. Sometimes wrong or unfounded beliefs about the future can be beneficial. How so?
4. Watch the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968). The movie makes a series of predictions as the story unfolds. What predictions proved to be correct and incorrect?
5. Or you can propose a paper topic related to prediction.
Your grade will be determined 60% by your final paper and 40% by your class participation.
Final paper due: February 18, 4 pm.
The Curse and Use of Randomness: Superstition and Control
Whitson, Jennifer A. and Adam D. Galinsky. “Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception.” Science 322, 115 (2008) (online version at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/322/5898/115.full.pdf )
Damisch, Lysann, Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler. 2010. ”Keep Your Fingers Crossed!: How Superstition Improves Performance.” Psychological Science, 21(7) 1014 –1020 (online version at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/21/7/1014 )
And here is a nice blog by Ed Yong explaining these issues to a wider audience: http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2008/12/27/lacking-control-drives-false-conclusions-conspiracy-theories/
Same as It Ever Was: Predicting Nature
Cartlidge, Edwin. 2011. “Quake Experts to Be Tried for Manslaughter.” Science 332 (6034) :1135–1136 http://brightmouse.org/AmericanLandscape/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/1135.full_.pdf
Predicting the Social World
David, Paul A. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY." The American economic review 75.2 (1985): 332-337. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/1805621
Congressional Budget Office. 2013. CBO's Economic Forecasting Record: 2013 Update. January 17. http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43846
Homa, Ken. Nums: Why’s the Fed so bad at forecasting? http://kenhoma.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/nums-whys-the-fed-so-bad-at-forecasting/
Scherker, Amanda. 2014. “11 Visions of the Future That Were Utterly Wrong.” Huffington Post, January 3 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/visions-of-the-future_n_4520597.html?ir=World
Davis, Lauren. How Our Predictions for the Year 2000 Changed Throughout the 20th Century.” http://io9.com/5908600/how-our-predictions-for-the-year-2000-changed-throughout-the-20th-century
Predicting What You Do
Robert Merton. 1948. “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.” Antioch Review, 8/2 http://www.jstor.org/stable/40607393
Dawes, Robyn M., David Faust, and Paul E. Meehl. 1989, "Clinical versus actuarial judgment." Science 243.4899 : 1668-1674. http://apsychoserver.psych.arizona.edu/JJBAReprints/PSYC621/Dawes_Faust_Meehl_Clinical_vs_actuarial_assessments_1989.pdf
Sociology of the Future
Kerr, Ian and Jessica Earle. 2013. Prediction, Preemption and Presumption. How Big Data Threatens Big Picture Privacy. Stanford Law Review, September 3 http://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/privacy-and-big-data/prediction-preemption-presumption
Wakefield, Jane. 2011. When Algorithms Control the World.” BBC News, August 22, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14306146