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 MPIfG Podcasts



Akos Rona-Tas
The Problem of Seeing the Future: Some Lessons from Predicting the Natural World
Scholar in Residence Lectures Series 2018
"Predicting the Future: From Augurs to Algorithms"

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In recent years, the Western world has experienced a series of unexpected and highly consequential events, such as the 9/11 terror attacks, the 2008 financial collapse, the European refugee crisis, Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump, to name a few. These events were unanticipated by the general public, but also by most social scientists whose job would have been to foresee such events. One response has been to offer plausible ex post explanations for each instance and discover with hindsight what factors we should have looked at to make the right predictions. A second approach takes a much wider perspective and asks how we, and especially experts, make predictions and what broader consequences various predictive technologies carry. This line of research accepts that the future is fundamentally uncertain, and understands predictions as strategic devices.
In three lectures, Akos Rona-Tas will follow this second path. Each lecture will represent a different world of prediction and will be built around comparing three expert domains.
Lecture 1
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future, as physicist Niels Bohr is said to have remarked. The first lecture introduces the problem of prediction and the role of time in social action. We look at predictions of natural phenomena in three domains: earthquakes, the weather, and biomedicine. We discuss how the natural sciences have informed our understanding of society and human behavior and influenced the ways we make predictions in the social sciences.
Selected publications
  • Rona-Tas, A.:Path-Dependence and Capital Theory: Sociology of the Post-Communist Economic Transformation. In: East European Politics and Societies, 12, 1 (1998).

  • Guseva, A. and A. Rona-Tas: Uncertainty, Risk and Trust: Russian and American Credit Card Markets Compared. In: American Sociological Review 66, 5 (2001).

  • Rona-Tas, A. and S. Hiss: The Role of Ratings in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis: The Art of Corporate and the Science of Consumer Credit Rating. In: Research in the Sociology of Organizations 30A, 115-155 (2010).

  • Rona-Tas, A. and S. Hiss: Forecasting as Valuation: The Role of Ratings and Predictions in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the US. In: J. Beckert and P. Aspers, eds., The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in the Economy. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011.

  • Rona-Tas, A. and A. Guseva: Plastic Money: Constructing Markets for Credit Cards in Eight Postcommunist Societies. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA 2014.

    Akos Rona-Tas is the MPIfG Scholar in Residence in 2018. Rona-Tas is Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and a Research Associate at Met@risk, INRA, Paris. His general areas of interest include economic sociology, risk and uncertainty, rational choice theory, and statistical and survey methodology. Currently, he is working on credit card markets and consumer credit in emerging economies and risk analysis in food safety regulation.
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