Prediction isn’t a hopeless enterprise

It’s possible to get better at forecasting. Research offers some insights into the factors that make a difference to become a “super forecaster”.

Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania and several colleagues have been running a series of geopolitical forecasting tournaments to discover what helps people make better predictions.

Over the last six months, they have released three new papers analyzing 150,000 forecasts by 743 participants competing to predict 199 world events. One paper focuses solely on high-performing forecasters, another looks at the entire group and one makes the case for forecasting tournaments as a research tool.

“The main finding? Prediction isn’t a hopeless enterprise— the tournament participants did far better than blind chance”, says Walter Frick, an associate editor at Harvard Business Review.

“Think about a prediction with two possible outcomes, like who will win the Super Bowl. If you pick at random, you’ll be wrong half the time. But the best forecasters were consistently able to cut that error rate by more than half.”

Perhaps most notably, top predictors managed to improve over time, and several interventions on the part of the researchers improved accuracy. So the second finding is that it’s possible to get better at prediction, and the research offers some insights into the factors that make a difference.

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