The large-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine provides an interesting model of how governments, pundits, prediction markets, and the common folks would predict an imminent global catastrophe.
The Metaculus community successfully predicted that Russia will invade Ukraine:
- >50% at 2022-01-18 (1 month before the invasion)
- >75% at 2022-02-19 (5 days before)
If I remember correctly, GJP superforcasters were similarly successful, although they were a bit slower.
A somewhat funny example is an acquaintance of mine, whom I'll not name for privacy reasons. The guy was very motivated to make the right prediction, he has an excellent track record on Metaculus and a deep understanding of the Russian politics, and he is living in Russia. Nevertheless, he was confidently wrong until the day before the invasion.
On the other hand, there is Oleksiy Arestovych who predicted the war in 2019, including detailed and surprisingly correct predictions of the Russian military movements. Before that, he successfully predicted the Russian invasion of 2014.
According to Arestovych (who is a military adviser to the president of Ukraine), the Ukrainian leadership knew that Russia will invade, and knew the date of the invasion. But the leadership decided to keep it from the general public for military reasons (to prevent a mass panic that would paralyze preparations for the war) .
The NATO and the US leadership have issued many public warnings about the imminent war.
The general public
The warnings were mostly dismissed or even ridiculed by common people, in both Russia and Ukraine.
According to a poll conducted 3 days before the invasion, only 35% of Ukrainians believed that Russia will invade.
On the other hand, some top Ukrainian politicians and billionaires (and their families) left Ukraine well in advance, some - already in January, more than 1.5 months before the invasion. I think that the most likely explanation for that is a leaked insider info.
We could try to extrapolate the data to the case of an imminent global catastrophe. For example, an imminent large asteroid impact or a nuclear war.
- If prediction markets say that the global catastrophe will occur with a high probability, they're most likely right.
- If there are news that top politicians and billionaires are making survivalist preparations (e.g. buying nuclear bunkers), take it very seriously.
- If government officials claim that a global catastrophe is imminent, they are most likely right. If they claim that there is nothing to worry about (in spite of the #1 and #2), then they're lying (e.g. to prevent panic).
- Prediction markets are usually slow. If they've surpassed 50%, you might have only a few weeks to prepare. And if it's >75%, you might have only a few days.
- Pundits can be safely ignored, with the exception of the rare experts who have a verifiable good track record. Even the most qualified experts could be confidently wrong.