Ottawa Petfinder: The Constant Gasbag

The lists of the departed grow steadily at the Ottawa Petfinder, with photog Chris Mikula, videographer Scott “Sparky” Parker and city hack Mohammed Adam all snatching buyouts. The departure of Adam and Neco Cockburn (Frank #6) leaves the moribund pifflesheet even whiter than the Victoria Times-Colonist.

But unlike most colleagues who are quietly taking the money and hitting the bricks, jug-head columnist Dan Gardner broke the news on his website Feb. 20: “For years, the Ottawa Citizen has been shrinking — staff, budget, pages — and it’s about to shrink some more. I was told this week there would no longer be room for my column in what’s left. Hence, I am unemployed.”

Well, that’s one version of the tale. Others insist Gardner was told that in the exciting new world of the multi-platform Petfinder, his duties were about to change, including a requirement to start showing up in the newsroom, and he opted to stay in his bathrobe and take the buyout.

What is not in doubt is that Gardner had long annoyed Petfinder brass with his serial book leaves – for 2008’s Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, and 2010’s Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway. Worse, he’d come back from these sabbaticals only to offer up recycled bits of (and monomaniacal plugs for) the doorstoppers in his columns. Clearly, he had to go before he published again. Observe:

It’s a common phenomenon. And as I documented in a book several years ago, it can, taken to the extreme, firmly convince most people of what just ain’t so.
– February 28, 2012.

The explanation for this astonishingly dumb behaviour primarily lies in psychology, as I explained my book Future Babble.
– Nov. 9, 2011.

I wrote about this at length in my book Risk but it mostly comes down to basic psychology.
– Oct. 22, 2011.

I wrote about it in my 2008 book Risk.
– Oct. 12, 2011.

It was puzzling. Until I remembered that I wrote a book about the psychology of risk perception.
– June 8, 2011.

[Harvard psychologist Steven] Pinker is asked for recommended reading. He suggests a book called Future Babble, which is a fine book. It’s about the dismal record of expert predictions and the psychology that compels people to believe them anyway. It is also written by me. Which makes this paragraph shameless. But self-promotion aside, there’s a reason for mentioning my book.
– Dec. 29. 2010.

As I discuss in my new book, Future Babble, the results of this grand experiment couldn’t have been clearer: The average expert was about as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee.
– Oct. 22, 2010.

As I discuss in my new book, Future Babble, psychologists have amply demonstrated that people tend to be far too confident in their judgments.
– Oct. 13, 2010.

I write about this in my new book, Future Babble, about expert forecasts.
– Sept. 15, 2010.

For reasons that I discuss at length in my book, Risk, I believe that terrorism is nothing more than one item on a very long list of relatively modest threats we cope with in modern life.
– Sept. 1, 2010.

As luck would have it, I spent the better part of the past year researching a book about expert predictions…
– May 21, 2010.

A couple of years ago I published a book about risk perception that drew on four decades of research, mainly in psychology.
– May 7, 2010.

As I discuss in my forthcoming book (oh look, a plug!), demographic trends are far more predictable than most of the other trends used in forecasting.
– March 31, 2010.

Many factors drive these wildly discrepant attitudes. I wrote a book about them.
– March 10, 2010.

For the better part of the last year I’ve been writing a book about expert forecasts and much of that work consisted of going through archives and digging up old predictions.
– February 27, 2010.

As I discuss in my book Risk, heaps of research demonstrates that language influences risk perception.
– May 2, 2009.

I discuss many of the relevant psychological factors in my book Risk — now in paperback at fine bookstores everywhere — but two that are critical here are novelty and narrative.
– March 14, 2009.

This sort of feedback loop can be found wherever there is disproportionate fear. I documented many of them in my book.
– Dec. 12, 2008.

In conjunction with a book I published this year, I’ve been lecturing on risk and cognitive psychology to a wide array of audiences — everyone from corporate executives to public officials, policy analysts, politicians and people who just happened to be wandering around the science centre the day I was there.
– Sept. 24, 2008.

And so, without evidence, we were certain the terrorist threat was grave. And we became all the more certain as politicians, officials and the media pounded the same message relentlessly (as I discuss in my book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear).
– Sept. 12, 2008.

As I demonstrate in a certain book I shall not name lest this column be misconstrued as another shameless plug — it’s available at all fine bookstores, incidentally — this cognitive bias promotes nostalgia for the past and fear of the future.
– Aug. 8, 2008.

As I demonstrate in my new book, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, we have not one mind processing information and forming judgments. We have two. (That’s Risk, published in Canada by McClelland and Stewart. At fine bookstores everywhere.)
– June 20, 2008.

As I demonstrate in my book Risk, the media routinely give prominent play to research that comes to scary conclusions while downplaying or ignoring studies that find there’s nothing to worry about.
– May 28, 2008.

For my book, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, I interviewed American psychologist Paul Slovic, who was an expert witness for the U.S. government in a landmark lawsuit against Big Tobacco.
– April 30, 2008.

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