Review Of 3 Books: Can The World Be Wrong?, Superforecasting, And Patterns Of Commoning

Nov. 18, 2015 3:36 PM ET
Hazel Henderson profile picture
Hazel Henderson


  • Review of Can the World Be Wrong? by Doug Miller, dealing with global polling beyond politics as usual.
  • Review relating Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner to polling work by Miller.
  • Review relating Patterns of Commoning edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich to the commons gathering wisdom explored by Miller and Tetlock and Gardner.

Can The World Be Wrong? Where Global Public Opinion Says We're Headed by Doug Miller, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK, 2016

Superforecasting: The Art And Science Of Prediction by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Crown, USA, 2015

Patterns Of Commoning, eds. David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Commons Strategies Group, Amherst, MA, USA, 2015

These three important books, Can The World Be Wrong?, Superforecasting, and Patterns of Commoning, focus on the global rise of grassroots citizenship, public opinion, social innovation and creativity, arguably the world's growing superpower. The worldwide rise of citizens demanding fuller participation in their governance and institutions is a potential force for positive change and more inclusive sustainable futures. These new forces are disrupting cultures, societies, legacy institutions and whole sectors of many economies. Ignored, denied or suppressed, these demands for inclusion can also turn rogue as we see in terrorist groups. However, these forces from the grassroots are overwhelmingly creative, and when their energies are tapped, their opinions sought and polled, their inventiveness, self-reliance and entrepreneurship can lead to social renewal and evolutionary change and progress.

In Can the World Be Wrong?, author Doug Miller, renowned global polling authority and founder of GlobeScan, documents his company's polling results over decades in many countries. GlobeScan's polls ask questions beyond the myopic "horse race" political polls that clutter our media. Miller lays out GlobeScan's polls on the key global issues of our time in chapters: "Where on Earth are we going?"; "A post-superpower world"; "Retreat from economic globalization"; "Toward a sustainable economy"; "A new social contract for business"; "The rise of the ethical consumer"; "War on terror to war on poverty?"; and "Whither the United Nations."

This kind of in-depth polling is scientifically impeccable and often produces startling results, tapping into deeply rooted human values, commonsense and sometimes wisdom. For example, Ethical Markets Media funded three GlobeScan surveys asking people in twelve countries (North, South, East and West) whether GDP was the best way to measure national progress or (in debate format) whether indicators of health, education and environment should be included. Large majorities in most countries agreed with adding these broader indicators (p. 60). These results informed the "Beyond GDP" conference held in the European Parliament in 2007 (

This data-packed book is a must-read for sociologists, politicians and marketers as well as business and government leaders in all countries.

Superforecasting is a similar look at the wisdom of crowds. Authors Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner devised methods of asking ordinary people to test their forecasting ability against professional forecasters and pundits. The commonsense of the non-professional won out consistently. I became personally intrigued and examined these methods, finding them excellent and revealing. My only criticism concerned the short-range, often trivial questions on which forecasts were elicited. Unlike the long-range globally relevant questions in GlobeScan's surveys, those posed in the Superforecasting experiments made the effort seem largely irrelevant. I hope that as more meaningful questions are posed, authors Tetlock and Gardner will find additional troves of grassroots wisdom.

Patterns of Commoning compiles original research on grassroots creativity, enterprise and organizational skills. Its editors David Bollier and Silke Helfrich are scholarly researchers of the growing importance of the global commons, all those riches and resources which are the common heritage of the human family. It turns out that humans have always managed their common property and resources by devising rules of behavior and customs. This contrasts with the prevailing view in economic texts that unless property is divided and privately owned, it will be over-exploited. This view was propagated by biologist Garrett Hardin in his influential article, "The Tragedy of the Commons" (Science, 1968) which is still widely cited. Actually, as political scientist Elinor Ostrom documented, this economic view was disproved in many societies. Biologist Garret Hardin, who invited me as a Regent's Lecturer to teach in his course at the University of California-Santa Barbara was also taken in by this erroneous economic theory, but this Tragedy of the Commons idea still persists.

Authors Bollier and Helfrich in Patterns of Commoning dispel this error in economics with many well-researched examples of how human societies create social rules and norms that allow them to manage their common resources wisely, equitably and for long-term sustainability. This enlightening volume opens up vistas of new potentials and possibilities for new cooperative organizations. Many are now emerging in the shareconomy such as couch surfing, tool sharing, barter clubs, crowdfunding and local cooperatives and currencies. Indeed, cooperative enterprises now employ more people on our planet than all the private for-profit companies combined, as revealed in the UN Year of the Cooperatives 2012.

This article was written by

Hazel Henderson profile picture
Hazel Henderson D.Sc.Hon., FRSA, is the founder of Ethical Markets Media, Certified B Corporation and producer of its TV series. She is a world-renowned futurist, evolutionary economist, a worldwide syndicated columnist, consultant on sustainable development, and author of The Axiom and Nautilus award-winning book Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy (2006) and eight other books. Her editorials appear in Wall Street International Magazine and many other media partners, including Other News, and her book reviews appear on Her articles have appeared in over 250 journals, including (in the USA) Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor; and Challenge, Mainichi (Japan), El Diario (Venezuela), World Economic Herald (China), LeMonde Diplomatique (France) and Australian Financial Review. Since becoming a full-time media executive in 2004, Hazel has stepped down from many of her board memberships, including Calvert Social Investment Fund (1982-2005), the Social Investment Forum and the Social Venture Network. She has been Regent's Lecturer at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Horace Albright Chair in Conservation at the University of California-Berkeley, and advised the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Science Foundation from 1974 to 1980. She remains on the International Council of the Instituto Ethos de Empresas e Responsabilidade Social, Sao Paulo, Brasil; serves on the Program Council of FORUM 2000, Prague, Czechoslovakia, founded by the late President Vaclav Havel; is a World Business Academy Fellow; an active member of the National Press Club (Washington DC), and a member of the Association for Evolutionary Economics. She is an Honorary Member of the Club of Rome. She shared the 1996 Global Citizen Award with Nobelist A. Perez Esquivel of Argentina. In 2007, she was elected a Fellow to Britain’s Royal Society of Arts, founded in 1754. She leads the Transforming Finance initiative, created the Green Transition Scoreboard®, co-developed with Calvert the GDP alternative renamed the Ethical Markets Quality of Life Indicators, co-organized the Beyond GDP conference for the European Commission, and funded three Beyond GDP surveys, finding strong support worldwide for ESG metrics in national accounting. In 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, she was honored as a "Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior" by Trust Across America. In 2012, she was honored with the Reuters Award for Outstanding Contribution to Development of ESG & Investing at TBLI Europe. In 2013, she was inducted into the International Society of Sustainability Professionals Hall of Fame.  Her 2014 monograph, Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age, published by ICAEW and Tomorrow’s Company, UK, is available for free download from

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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