The Duck of Minerva

Nate Silver and a Dart Throwing Chimp Walk Into a Bar. . .

9 November 2012

Since this is my first post, I want to thank Charli, Dan, and everyone else for giving me this opportunity to, well, spout off about whatever I want. They may regret it. To start, as someone of you might remember from a guest post that I did over the summer, one of the projects I am currently working on involves looking at the best ways to accurately forecast international political events such as whether Iran will test a nuclear weapon before 1 January 2014 or who will win the upcoming election in Sierra Leone.

In the wake of the stunningly accurate election models designed by many over the last several months (for a roundup on those that nailed it – and those that didn’t – go here), Jay Ulfelder just wrote a fascinating piece for titled “Why The World Can’t Have A Nate Silver.” I want to highlight it first and foremost because it is a good piece of work. In it, Jay outlines why it is so difficult to forecast international political events: we often lack excellent, or even above average, or even minimally acceptable data on the necessary “plausible predictors” (Jay’s phrase) to accurately forecast important events such as revolutions or wars. For those interested in Jay’s writing in general, he runs a great blog called Dart-Throwing Chimp.

The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is currently funding a forecasting tournament designed to reach the forecasting frontier – or do the best we can despite all of the real limitations that Jay identifies. My work on forecasting is part of this effort. I’m part of the Good Judgment Team run by Phil Tetlock and Barbara Mellers. We are using methods such as the wisdom of crowds, prediction markets, and teams, along with some forecasting algorithms, to try and build the best mousetrap possible. You can read a brief description of what we are doing, and some suggestions for how that might influence activities like the Global Trends project, here.

One of the things we need to make the project run, however, is forecasters. In the coming days, in addition to beginning to post more frequently on this and other topics, I will be putting out a call for forecasters. We are looking to recruit a new wave of people willing to (anonymously) put forward their best guesses on a litany of potential developments around the world. No professional expertise required.

In the meantime,  happy Friday everyone and you can follow me on twitter @mchorowitz.