Garland’s law of foresight journalism

Eric Garland Greatest Hits 6 Comments

ForesightGarland’s Law of Foresight Journalism is a well-researched theory that guides the actions of magazine and newspaper editors, as well as television producers, regarding their decisions to report on future studies, forecasts, scenarios or predictions of any sort.

The law shows the following phenomena in the media ecosystem:

  1. Every publication must produce a feature every eighteen months that either lionizes predictions about the future or attempts to show that foresight is totally impossible, and/or that experts in the field are total fraud. Extra points for doing both at the same time.
  2. When the publication in question is writing a piece about forecasting out, say, twenty-five years, it must totally ignore any similar pieces it has written about how stupid and fraudulent forecasting is a scant three years prior.
  3. When a journalist chooses sources about either foresight in general or forecasts about specific industries, he or she must choose either the most outrageous proponent of a wacky pet future, or a leader who will simply repeat the conventional wisdom of the industry at that time as if it is an insightful look at what’s next.
  4. Each article in a publication must be tabula rasa, meaning that the journalist writing about future studies must act as if he is the first explorer on the scene at Machu Picchu, and that nobody has ever written about foresight in the past. The journalist must not reference the past fifty years of the field, nor the development of a professional methodology that is applied in thousands of corporations and governments around the world. They should avoid communicating the reality that the vast majority of forecasting and scenario work is not especially sensational, but instead provides reliable return-on-investment by focusing leaders on reasonably certain future trends (aging Boomers, increasing demand for energy in Asia, sales of GPS chips, etc) and discussing in a rational way their implications for the organization.
  5. Each piece produced by the major media must underline that the proper way to see the world is in terms of their authority- and celebrity-worshipping, short-term, buzzword-driven twenty-four hour newscycle, and that the only reason to spend time thinking about foresight is to marvel at how exotic and optional it all is. After all, the current intellectual environment created by mass media is leading our institutions to phenomenal success. Why change?

If you stay in the field long enough, you will see the cycle repeat itself multiple times. Fun for the whole family.