Friday, June 13, 2014

The best way to predict the future

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A small group of people have a surprising knack for correctly predicting the course of world events – and you could be one of them, says David Robson.  

Cast your mind back across the turbulent events of recent history. Did you foresee President Obama’s election before he was even elected as a Democratic candidate – or did you back Hillary Clinton? How about the Arab Spring – could you hear the revolution in the first tremors of dissatisfaction? And did you faithfully predict the recent Ukraine crisis?

If you answer yes to these questions, you could be a “super-forecaster”, someone who is able to foresee the outcome of world events with astonishing accuracy. This has nothing to do with the reading of tea leaves; nor do you have to be a seasoned political pundit. Some super-forecasters are just everyday people, from all walks of life, who happen to have astonishingly perceptive judgements.

Over the last few years, psychologists have found a series of “hidden” talents for extraordinary mental skills that can go unnoticed by the people harbouring them. There are “super-recognisers”, for instance, who can easily remember people’s faces, even if they had only met the person once, years before. Other gifted individuals include super-tasters, who have an intense perception of flavour and super memorisers who naturally recall events from almost every day of their lives.

Those talents might be largely down to our genes, whereas forecasting ability should, in theory, be down to experience and learned skill. Yet top political experts tend to perform very poorly at crystal ball gazing: Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania has found they do only slightly better than chance. “Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts,” is how one political scientist summarised the findings to the New York Times.

For the rest of the story: The best way to predict the future

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