Over at Edge, Tetlock discusses "expert political judgment", the controversy surrounding Nate Silver's presidential predictions, overconfidence, motivated cognition, black swans, the IARPA forecasting contest, and much else. A few choice bits:

There's a question that I've been asking myself for nearly three decades now and trying to get a research handle on, and that is why is the quality of public debate so low and why is it that the quality often seems to deteriorate the more important the stakes get?


Is world politics like a poker game? This is what, in a sense, we are exploring in the IARPA forecasting tournament. You can make a good case that history is different and it poses unique challenges. This is an empirical question of whether people can learn to become better at these types of tasks. We now have a significant amount of evidence on this, and the evidence is that people can learn to become better. It's a slow process. It requires a lot of hard work, but some of our forecasters have really risen to the challenge in a remarkable way and are generating forecasts that are far more accurate than I would have ever supposed possible from past research in this area.


One of the things I've discovered in my work on assessing the accuracy of probability judgment is that there is much more eagerness in participating in these exercises among people who are younger and lower in status in organizations than there is among people who are older and higher in status in organizations.


From a sociological point of view, it's a minor miracle that this forecasting tournament is even occurring. Government agencies are not supposed to sponsor exercises that have the potential to embarrass them.



If you think that the Eurozone is going to collapse–if you think it was a really bad idea to put into common currency economies at very different levels of competitiveness, like Greece and Germany (that was a fundamentally unsound macroeconomic thing to do and the Eurozone is doomed), that's a nice example of an emphatic but untestable hedgehog kind of statement. It may be true, but it's not very useful for our forecasting tournament.

To make a forecasting tournament work we have to translate that hedgehog like hunch into a testable proposition like will Greece leave the Eurozone or formally withdraw from the Eurozone by May 2013? Or will Portugal? You need to translate the abstract interesting issue into testable propositions and then you need to get lots of thoughtful people to make probability judgments in response to those testable proposition questions. You need to do that over, and over, and over again.


In our tournament, we've skimmed off the very best forecasters in the first year, the top two percent. We call them "super forecasters." They're working together in five teams of 12 each and they're doing very impressive work.


Another amazing and wonderful thing about this tournament is how many really smart, thoughtful people are willing to volunteer, essentially enormous amounts of time to make this successful. We offer them a token honorarium. We're paying them right now $150 or $250 a year for their participation. The ones who are really taking it seriously–it's way less the minimum wage. And they're some very thoughtful professionals who are participating in this. Some political scientists I know have had some disparaging things to say about the people who might participate in something like this and one phrase that comes to mind is "unemployed news junkies." I don't think that's a fair characterization of our forecasters. Certainly the most actively engaged of our forecasters are really pretty awesome. They're very skillful at finding information, synthesizing it, and applying it, and then updating the response to new information. And they're very rapid updaters.

(I confess to some feelings of pride, possibly unearned, on reading this last paragraph - as the top forecaster of a middle-ranked team.)

But actually, go read the whole thing.

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Is there any research on instrumental prediction in politics? In other words, while pundits are interesting, what about people in government who seem to be good at achieving their goals? Can anything worthwhile be learned from how they view the world?

people in government who seem to be good at achieving their goals

Goals in the sense of actually carrying out electoral promises, or in the sense of "get re-elected"?

In the sense of public policy changes that they seem to be in favor of.