SOC 87  Freshman Seminar                                                              Prof. Akos Rona-Tas

Tuesdays 10:30-12:20                                                                                   SSB 414

Office Hours:

T 5:00-5:50

Th 11:30-12:20

 

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.

 

SCHEDULE

 

January 14

The Curse and Use of Randomness: Superstition and Control

Readings:

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/

   

January 21

Same as It Ever Was: Predicting Nature

Readings:

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

Vandewege, Renny. Can We Really Trust 7-Day Weather Forecasts?  http://weather.aol.com/2013/05/09/can-we-really-trust-7-day-forecasts/

 

January 28

Predicting the Social World

Readings:

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

 

February 4

Predicting What You Do

Readings:

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

 

February 11

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