Not baseball, but worth reading

Alex Brissette passes along an article about a political scientist named Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and the world of game theory (or, as they prefer to call it, rational choice theory) which, if you think about it a bit, parallels the story of Bill James and sabermetrics minus the humor and plus real world consequences. It’s a tad old, but still interesting stuff:

If you listen to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and a lot of people don’t, he’ll claim that mathematics can tell you the future. In fact, the professor says that a computer model he built and has perfected over the last 25 years can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate. What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

Academics and policy wonks are probably pretty familiar with the whole debate about rational choice theory, such as it is. I’m kind of a moron, but I have a good friend who wrote a book about it, so the topic interests me. She’s sort of on the side of those calling this Bueno de Mesquita fellow a quack, however, which some may argue is like being one of those VORP-o-Phobics in the BBWAA. She’s nice, though, as I’m sure many RBI-worshipers are nice too, so I won’t get too bent out of shape about it.

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  1. Diesel said...

    I was totally going to buy that book until you said she liked RsBI. And then I was like, “Full list price AND RsBI? Talk to the hand, sister.”

  2. Glenn said...

    “…provided the basic input is accurate” is a euphamism for “provided all the assumptions of te model hold.” If rational choice taught us one thing is that not everyone’s rational.

    So you are correct mkd.

  3. pete said...

    In fairness to Mesquita, he would probably concede the point (that getting accurate input is the biggest issue).

    As someone who’s read a whole lot of over the top “Bill James knows all” articles over the years (and an equal number of his own pieces where he carefully qualifies his arguments), I would venture to say that someone as bright as Mesquita is probably well aware of the limitations of his models.

    Of course, an article in which Mesquita cautiously explains such limitations wouldn’t be quite as interesting as one calling him Nostradamus.

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