Economists never do well at predicting, but now Gregory Burns at Emory University claims, “We have scientifically demonstrated that you can, to some extent, use neuroimaging in a group of people to predict cultural popularity.”
If Neuroeconomist Berns can do what he says he can, Simon Cowell will want his number. However, the Wall Street Journal‘s Eric Felten writes,
But the data isn’t quite the home run it’s advertised to be. The best that the neuroimaging could do was to match up with about a third of the songs in the study that went on to modest sales. “It’s not quite a hit predictor,” Mr. Berns admitted. (Emory’s science PR blog conveniently reserved that caveat for a few graphs into its presser.)
Felten explains that this isn’t the first time someone thought they could predict which pop songs would be hits. One of the founders of the algorithmic school of hit prediction, Mike McCready, thought his system to be foolproof, but had to admit to Businessweek, “We discovered we couldn’t make the bold kind of claims we were hoping we could make with this technology.”
Pelten figures brain-scan technology will go the way of algorithms.
Hit music isn’t any different than any other consumer desires or fads. As Mises wrote,
Under capitalism, material success depends on the appreciation of a man’s achievements on the part of the sovereign consumers. In this regard there is no difference between the services rendered by a manufacturer and those rendered by a producer, an actor or a playwright.
It is not the place for economists to predict. Mises explained that “forecasts about the course of economic affairs cannot be considered scientific,” and to ask “about the future of the market could not be realized, even if the economist were in a position to answer.”