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How forecasts of political events can be improved?

Posted January 21, 2015

Niels Bohr once said that ”Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” Bohr probably was speaking about physics, but it is probably even more difficult to predict political events. Moreover, previous studies reveal that forecasts of so called experts are usually outperformed by simple statistical models. These findings motivated U.S. intelligence community to organize a competition between research teams based at top-Universities. Scientists attempted to develop methods allowing to improve predictions of significant events around the globe.

Image credit: DELL via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image credit: DELL via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The best performing team was based at the University of Pensylvannia. They present their findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. ”We report findings from a geopolitical forecasting tournament that assessed the accuracy of more than 150,000 forecasts of 743 participants on 199 events occurring over 2 years,” authors of the study say.

They tried to find out, what personal qualities a good predictor of geopolitical events should possess and how ability to make good prognoses can be developed. Scholars led by psychologist Barbara Mellers recruited highly educated participants, whose possesed high understanding of politics. They had to predict outcomes of nearly 200 geopolitical events over the period of two years. Respondents were provided with different training and controlled their working style.

”We staked out a continuum with independent forecasters who worked alone at one end, and interdependent forecasters who worked in teams of approximately 15 people and interacted on a website at the other end. We also included a compromise level (crowd belief forecasters) in which forecasters worked alone, but had knowledge of others’ beliefs.”

Robust portrait of a reliable expert emerged over the two-year period. First of all, the most successful players were ranked higher in intelligence tests and had higher knowledge of political issues. In addition, they were open-minded. This means that they were able to ”evaluate arguments and evidence without undue bias from one’s own prior beliefs — and with recognition of the fallibility of one’s judgment.”

Researchers also found out that predictio quality was significantly improved by training in probabilistic reasoning and teamwork. Finally, those individuals who spent more time on deliberation were able to make more accurate forecasts. These results are robust and persons possessing these traits were able to solve different kind of questions over different period of time.

Article: Mellers, B., Stone, E., Atanasov, P., Rohrbaugh, N., Metz, S. E., Ungar, L., Bishop, M. M., Horowitz, M., Merkle, E., & Tetlock, P. (2015, January 12). The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis: Drivers of Prediction Accuracy in World Politics. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication. Source link.

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