Forecasting is a responsibility

Real world examples of the Parable of Predict-O-Matic show that trust in predictive accuracy has the power to shape world events. Accuracy brings trust, and trust brings power.

It’s therefore a bit surprising that more people don’t publish verifiable forecasts about major world events, along the lines of Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting. Even if they were guessing randomly, a lucky streak might bring fame and fortune. Publishing your forecasts would be like buying a lottery ticket.

The explanation is that society defends itself against this threat by demanding that forecasters earn the right to predict. Hence, society’s obsession with credentials, the struggle over who gets to grant them, and constant attempts to grab the right to predict by unlawful or deceptive means. By requiring that wannabe prognosticators earn a graduate degree before they’re taken seriously, and by limit their forecasting privileges to their field of expertise, we hope to cut down on the false positive rate.

No free advertising for lucky charlatans. Forecasting is a privilege, not a right.


Our credentialing system is bloated. Pundits get platforms without a credible track record of success. Feedback loops are inadequate. Ultimately, our system is supposed to rest on democratic accountability.

If citizens aren’t qualified to make forecasts, how are they qualified to choose between the experts making forecasts? If I’m not qualified to forecast which economic policy will be most beneficial, or how we should tackle Coronavirus, why am I qualified to vote at all? The point of debate is to understand the world, and we do this by doing our best to make sound mechanistic arguments that generate meaningful predictions.

If voting is a right, then forecasting is also a right.


There is no clear line between evaluating the opinions of experts, and asserting one’s own authority. If people don’t like the system by which experts are certified, they can invent their own informal process to ratify charlatans.

Experts and charlatans alike advance their careers by learning how to act like Very Serious People. If Very Serious People don’t do something as crass as making predictions, neither will experts nor charlatans, and it will be hard to tell them apart. We end up with a group of Very Serious People, all of whom have different audiences, none of whom will do what it takes to show us that those credentials mean something.

But when election season comes, we vote. Because voting is a responsibility.

I say to the certified experts of the world: voting is our responsibility. Forecasting is yours.

Show us that you understand your field.

Show us that we should listen to you.

Give us ways to compare the wisdom of the experts in your field. If high school teachers, baseball players, and chili cooks at the county fair can stand up to competition and testing, then so can you. Make your forecasting competitions fun, meaningful, and rewarding. It doesn’t have to hurt. It just has to help.

Forecasting is a responsibility.