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How Do Superforecasters Predict the Future? Very, Very Carefully.
Famous pundits virtually never make falsifiable forecasts.
Philip Tetlock is a political science writer and author of several books on psychology, political science and organizational behavior. His latest is titled Superforecasting.
Tetlock has served on the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley (1979-1995, assistant professor), the Ohio State University (the Burtt Endowed Chair in Psychology and Political Science, 1996-2001) and again at the University of California Berkeley (the Mitchell Endowed Chair at the Haas School of Business, 2002-2010). Since 2011, he has been the Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Philip Tetlock: We know virtually nothing about the forecasting track records of famous pundits because famous pundits virtually never make falsifiable forecasts. They say something might happen or could happen or may very well happen, but when I say something could happen, that doesn't mean a lot. I mean it could be that it could happen that we're all going to be vaporized by an asteroid in the next 24 hours, or it could be that the sun will rise tomorrow. "It could" subsumes an enormous range of possible probabilities. So if I say something could happen and it does happen, I can say to my readers, "Well, you know, I told you it could." And if I say something could happen and it doesn't happen, I can come back to my readers and say, "I just said it could." One of the interesting things about superforecasters is how opportunistic they are. Superforecasters think quite strategically about when it makes sense to invest effort in thinking. So if you wanted to predict the outcome of the presidential election in early October 2015, 2016 presidential election, how would you go about it if you were a superforecaster? A superforecaster wouldn't look carefully at the presidential debates, look into the eyes of the candidates and see which one looks more presidential. At some point in the process a superforecaster might do that, but a superforecaster would tend to start with more the outside view and gradually work in rather than start at the inside and work out. So they would ask very general questions initially like: Let's look at elections, all presidential elections since World War II; how likely is a Democrat or a Republican to win? Or they might say after one party has held the presidency for two terms, how likely is there to be a transition? Or they might say if economic growth is less than 2 percent three quarters before the presidential election, does that bode ill for the party that controls the presidency?
So they would start off with these more general estimates, these more outside view estimates and then they would gradually adjust in response to estimates about popularity polls of candidates, which are notoriously volatile at this stage of the process. But they would take them into account, but they would discount them considerably because they are so volatile and then they would adjust incrementally. So the best forecasters, I think, over the course of 2015, have somewhat lowered their probability estimate of Hillary Clinton being the next president of the United States. I think they started off significantly above 50 percent and there's been some significant hemorrhaging of those estimates, but nothing all that dramatic. I mean the interesting thing about superforecasters is they're very patient and they make granular belief updates. So they don't suddenly say, "Oh my God, the latest email scandal," or, "Is Biden going to come into the race?" or this or that, there are these little clues and it's not that they ignore them but they tend to respond very incrementally to them. So it may be the probability of Hillary Clinton becoming the next president of the United States moves from the 45 percent to 43 percent in response to an inspector general report in the State Department, that sort of thing. The best forecasters tend not to make it on to television. They’re not very attractive to the TV producers because they’re much more likely to say, "On the one hand; on the other hand." And then now we have to strike some sort of integrated balance and that apparently doesn't make very good television.
"Famous pundits virtually never make falsifiable forecasts." To abide by that simple axiom is to ensure oneself a terrific mode of self-preservation, whether you're Nate Silver or Jim Cramer or any of the other famous personalities making a living off of the science of prediction.
The science of prediction is of particular interest to University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock, a political scientist who has written a new book on the subject: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
In this video, Tetlock runs through the thought processes of professional media prediction-makers whose livelihoods depend not on being right, but on being right enough.
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.
- Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
- More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
- SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]<p>Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.</p><p>Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.</p>