This is the great thing about blogging – the times when other people pick up where you had left off and turbocharge the conversation with their own posts. Some of the best kind of P2P feedback around. Here Younghusband and Lexington Green carry the ball downfield in two different threads. Both posts should be read in full but here are snippets and links:
….A brief glance shows a gap in the qualitative area reflected in your comment that “History is a craft, not a science.” However, futurism is also about the “craft” of qualitative analysis as well, so the two are not necessary diametric. One common aspect of both fields is the philosophic, specifically the epistimelogical consequences (once again I would like to do a double-take at the term “discrete facts”) and the eternal quest to pare down bias. This is an area that I think could be explored more. If you know any good journal articles about this let me know.
Moving on, I would like to challenge one of your statements: “The problem with futurists is that their predictions are all too frequently in error.”
Error denotes precision. Futurists are in the forecasting business not the prediction business. If a futurist constructs a number of variant scenarios, none of which exactly fit the present conditions, but are able to be used to inform decision-making, where is the error? The fact that the scenarios could be drawn upon for guidance makes the futurist a success. Qualifying uncertainty is a key aspect of forecasting, one that is often overlooked by the public. Hey, we all can’t be fans of Sherman Kent
Younghusband is right – the best Futurism involves forecasting and work with intriguing scenarios of reasonable internal validity and the attempt to nail down hard predictions ( frequently demanded by journalists and politicians) often fails because the greater attempt at precision increases the probability of error. Scenarios are tools for guidance, they reduce our “surprise” through mental rehearsals and the extension of our anticipation of possibilities ( Taleb would say turning some black swans into gray ones).
Regarding “discrete facts”, it would have been more accurate for me to have written to say “primary source documentary evidence that is generally regarded as factual support for the narrative itself” by historians as opposed to “speculation” regarding motivations, plausibility, nuances inferred from the documents by the historian. Note that the content of the documents themselves may be decidedly non-factual or fantastic but for historians, what matters in terms of “fact” is that they represent evidence of what was considered at the time.
A good recent piece on this issue which Zen did not link to is Military Histories Old and New: A Reintroduction by the excellent military historian Robert M. Citino. Citino’s essay was published in the American Historical Review, the flagship journal of the American Historical Association, which modestly describes itself as the major historical journal in the United States. Hence, Citino’s article is a case for the defense, made by a very qualified military historian, in the main forum of the profession.
….Citino concludes his essay by virtually imploring the rest of the profession:
Despite these problems, which no doubt promise to be contentious, military historians today are doing enough good work, based on exciting and innovative approaches, to re-engage the attention of historians in any number of areas. My final advice to my professional colleagues and friends in the broader discipline? Try something genuinely daring, even countercultural, in terms of today’s academy. Read some military history.
There is something grotesquely wrong when the author of many numerous top-quality works feels he has to grovel before his peers. Unfortunately for him, he has to live and function in a shark-tank of political correctness and ideological hostility. I wish him well.
I wish Citino well too, however it’s a quest that I fear is straight out of Cervantes and this example cited by Lex demonstrates how parlous the state of affairs for military history in academia has become. More effectively than my post had done. Lex’s post has stirred some excellent feedback as well as a possible solution from Smitten Eagle in the comments section.