The New York Times brings this story of an economist who has been predicting - disconcertingly accurately - the medals tally for the last few Olympics. (Via Freakonomics.) Daniel Johnson - the economist in question - is currently in the news for his predictions for the current Winter Olympics.

The strange thing about Daniel's predictions is not that they have a record of 94% accuracy with actual medal counts. It is his methology. Rather than basing his predictions on individual athletes, the events or even any knowledge of sport, he bases them on something far more removed.

According to NYT, "his forecast model predicts a country's Olympic performance using per-capita income (the economic output per person), the nation's population, its political structure, its climate and the home-field advantage for hosting the Games or living nearby."

It no doubt raises interesting questions about what success in the Olympics might be an indicator of. It even unearths counterintuitive findings, like this one : "Single-party regimes, traditionally Communist regimes, do much better than their democratic peers."

What I found particularly fascinating, however, was this summation of his method:

"It's just pure economics," Johnson says. "I know nothing about the athletes. And even if I did, I didn't include it."

That completely derailed me. In a world where endless data and information (and the ability to gather more of it) is at our fingertips, how many of us would dare to say "We probably knew it, but we didn't include it." I, for one, haven't opened my register on that one yet.

What's amazing about this is that contrary to our cherished beliefs, more information - especially more 'relevant' infomation - isn't always necessary or indispensable towards acquiring knowledge.

True, it is often information that seeks us out and makes itself comfortable in our already cluttered minds. We may not be able to do much to prevent that from happening.

But what I have discovered now is that we can turn the tables. All it takes is the self-belief to say, "I knew it, but I didn't include it." "I know it, but I won't include it."

[Original pic by janusz l]

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