Monday, June 6, 2016


I have heard several conversations about the coming presidential election.  I consider myself very ignorant of the issues and the personalities.  I almost never watch television, opting instead for streaming from Netflix, Amazon and Acorn.  Sometimes, I watch a TED talk or a video on YouTube.  I have not heard the actual voice of any of the candidates.

I am listening to "Fear Itself" by the historian Ira Katznelson and one of the advantages of doing so is that I can see that our country has gone through many debates, wars, mis-steps, and changes.  We have survived them all.  I am not pleading indifference but it does seem to me that no president, or judge, or legislator has enough power or foresight to control what happens or even to foresee many of the major issues that will emerge.  I recall when a common complaint was that people were not interested in the campaign and didn't take an interest in politics.  It seems to me that they are taking an interest this time.

The educational testing professor Vernon Cureton once advocated selecting 100 pennies, assigning heads to George Washington and tails to his opponent.  He said to toss them all and select the ones which showed heads and put the rest aside. Then, take those that did all right for the first election and use them over and over for subsequent contests, using only previously correct coins one each round.  His idea was to take those coins that successfully predicted all the presidents and use them to show who would win the next election.

It seems likely that 100 would be too small a starting group for any pennies to make it correctly through 40 some predictions.  If there are any left, I recommend not putting any strong reliance on the showing of the winning coins.  My idea is that Cureton's process will not produce good predicting coins but instead only a handful of coins that have no more reliable properties than those that got eliminated along the way.

You may have heard of a similar idea for explaining high levels of success of bosses and executives.  The idea is that some of the managers support action X and some oppose it.  None know beforehand whether it will be considered a success afterwards or not.  If the general opinion afterwards is that X worked well, those that supported the action will be considered forward-looking and insightful.  The next issue to emerge will sort the winning managers, much as the 2nd coin toss sorted the winners of toss 1.  The idea is that a winner of many issues managed, at least in part, by luck to be on the right side.

If we start with energetic, dedicated and intelligent people, it may be luck that differentiates among them.

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