Warren Buffett on Simulation & Modeling

John Hunter shared some excerpts from Warren Buffett’s 2009 Letter to Shareholders. I particularly liked this one part where he reflects on the outcomes of economic modeling and forecasting:

Investors should be skeptical of history-based models. Constructed by a nerdy-sounding priesthood using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like, these models tend to look impressive. Too often, though, investors forget to examine the assumptions behind the symbols. Our advice: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.

I’d like to amend this: Beware of geeks bearing formulas who a) can’t tell you what every part of the derivation means, b) don’t know the model’s underlying assumptions, and c) don’t know what “threats to validity” are. (And if you’re the geek in question, be able to explain how your models and forecasts work!!)

Models can be a great way to capture the dynamics of social and technical systems, and simulations can help us explore how these systems will evolve over time – but how those models are initialized, and the simplifying assumptions they use to generate results, are just as important as the answers they propose.

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