The 50-50 Club

Why pundits love splitting the difference on their predictions.


It’s the great dilemma of modern punditry. The best way to get attention is to make a bold prediction: that Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear program, for instance, or that Mitt Romney (or Barack Obama) will win the U.S. presidential election. But get it wrong too many times, and there goes your credibility. So just do what the professionals do: Flip a coin and split the difference. With a 50 percent chance of getting it right, you’ll look like a genius if it comes to pass. If not … well, no one’s right all the time.

Max Boot
Senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Predicted in June 2010 that a “reasonable commitment of time and resources” would give a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan “certainly better than 50%” probability of success.

Jeffrey Goldberg
National correspondent, the Atlantic
Reported in September 2010 that key Israeli decision-makers and Arab and U.S. officials believed there was “a better than 50 percent chance” of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program by July 2011.

Bill Clinton
Former U.S. president
Told his annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2010 that “the chances are at least 50-50, perhaps better, that there will be an agreement” on Middle East peace in the near future.

Paul Krugman
New York Times economics columnist
In January 2011, predicted a 50 percent chance of Greece exiting the eurozone, and in July 2012 gave 50-50 odds as to whether the Germans would let the euro system collapse.

Nouriel Roubini
Chairman, Roubini Global Economics
In December 2011, said there was a 50 percent chance of a new U.S. recession. A month later, gave a “perfect storm” scenario of a U.S. double-dip, a Chinese economic collapse, and a fracturing of the eurozone a “close to 50 percent” chance.

Alexei Kudrin
Former Russian finance minister
At a May 2012 press conference, said there was a 50 percent chance of Russia slipping into a recession that could invite further protests against Vladimir Putin.

John Paulson
Billionaire hedge-fund manager
In July 2012, said there was a 50 percent chance of the eurozone breaking up as soon as this October.

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