5 septiembre 2019

Notes on Advisors and Forecasters

Once upon a time there was a king who wanted to take his beloved queen to a day trip to a nearby lake, and so called an expert in weather who forecast a wonderful sunny day. On the way he met a farmer on his donkey, who upon seeing the king said that a raging storm was coming with pouring rains.

Published in El Cronista on September 03, 2019
The king ignored this warning, went to the lake and there was such a heavy downpour that he had to go back immediately soaking wet. Back at the palace, he fired the weatherman and summoned the farmer. He had the intention to hire him but then the farmer said that when his donkey had his ears drooping, it means with certainty that it will rain. So the King hired the donkey on the spot. And thus began the ancient practice of hiring asses to work in government and occupy its highest and most influential positions.

As if every disaster befalls us, survey takers got it wrong, advisors got it wrong, especially experts in economy and forecasters were wrong, except for some isolated and honorable exceptions. It seems a conspiracy, even when common mistakes actually spread like a plague, a virus indeed, where online communication played a significant part, social media and interconnection among those who failed in their assessment, leading to recalculation, revision, correction and adjustment until reaching standard conclusions that were absolutely far from reality.

In addition, there were trolls, described as a group of people who under unknown identities publish provocative, irrelevant, off-topic messages in an online community or discussion forum board, chat room, blog comments, with the main aim of upsetting or provoking users and readers into displaying negative emotional responses for different reasons, disrupting the normal conversation flow in a discussion, causing users to react in certain ways or against one another (sowing discord, hate and division).

Curiously enough, consultancy firms blamed citizens for the primaries’ results, and the survey method they themselves used over landline phones, forgetting that no one can be heard to invoke their own turpitude, or punish the messenger for their own actions. In fact, responses were unreliable, and the damage caused cannot be repaired today. It seems that nobody ensured that retribution was linked to efficiency, and this is an obligation related to the means used to achieve a given end, and not an obligation related to the ends desired.

For some observers, there was a number of acts of corruption involved, such as announcing fake results to influence the undecided, based on the maxim “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” (Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda). In politics there is always the underlying actual intention of manipulating voters.

This can be explained in part by the so-called “spiral of silence theory”, proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (Emeritus Professor at the University of Mainz) in her book The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion – Our Social Skin. There she analyzes public opinion as a way of social control where individuals adapt their conduct to prevailing attitudes about what is acceptable.

For Noelle-Neumann, public opinion is the skin that maintains cohesion in society. Neumann theorizes about society’s threat to isolate, marginalize, and even exclude those individuals who voice opinions contrary to those of the majority; public behavior is influenced by the perception about the climate of dominant, majority opinion.

When the social group gets polarized into two majority alternatives, the undecided or minority groups tend to side with those who have major supporters, turning to tactical voting in part. Individuals constantly observe the climate of opinion with a quasi-statistical sense, studying the gradual relation between their opinions and the public opinion, getting encouraged when they are close to the majority or uncomfortable or reactionary if they find out that they are part of some minority group.

The spiral of silence theory is based on the premise that most people fear isolation and when expressing their opinion, they first try to identify the ideas that are put forward in the scenario and then share the majority or consensual opinion. In this dilemma, the primary source of information will be the mass media, mainly the oral media (radio and TV) and in these past years Internet, blogs, social media, direct or indirect advertising campaigns.      

There is a huge transformation going on in the world of corporations, where they do business selectively with the help of consultants, advisors and forecasters, according to the technical and scientific bases used, the quality of diagnosis and the efficacy of conclusions.

In the public sphere, the aim is to reach out to those who may have influence and get their support or change public opinion to redirect it in their favor. In this regard, the use of trolls and social media have created a new form of intelligence at the service of electoral campaigns of questionable or virtually zero compatibility with democratic and republican principles enshrined in the National Constitution.

By Julian A. de Diego
Director of the postgraduate course on Human Resources at the School of Business at UCA.

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