Some people can really predict the future

Super forecasters

To clarify right from the start: THE FUTURE can never be predicted as a TOTAL WHOLE: The famous Laplace demon, according to which one can precisely predict every event, every "situation" of the future, if only one had all the data, is a purely theoretical construct from 19th century thinkers. That is good and logical. Because if the future were ABSOLUTELY known, there would be none! Everything would be a single present that never stops - evolution, change, change, innovation are therefore impossible.

Nevertheless, cognitive paths can be cut into the morning. The Canadian psychologist Philipp Tetlock has been dealing with the question of whether and how PROGNOSTIC COMPETENCE is created for more than 30 years. In 1987 he started his first major evaluation project: he asked 300 experts from business, politics and science to make forecasts over a period of twenty years. Tetlock collected 27,500 predictions in areas such as technology, politics, wars, economic development. In 2005 he moved in his book Expert Political Judgment a sober balance sheet: Experts are very bad forecasters. The more specialized an expert in his field, the worse his prognosis. And the MORE FAMOUS, the EVEN worse!

How can that be? Shouldn't wrong prognoses quickly ruin the reputation and sort out the respective experts from the public discourse - and thus make room for BETTER forecasters (a kind of self-evolution of the prediction)? No. Because the “magical paradox formula” applies: THE MORE MALPOROGNOSIS, THE GREATER THE DEMAND FOR FORECASTS! The financial crisis of 2009 by no means silenced the economic know-it-alls. On the contrary: all channels are teeming with “experts” who predict the sure end of the euro / prosperity / the crash of Europe / America / the rise / fall of the gold price / the crash / the further rise of the DAX. All of this is "true" if you wait long enough. And relies on fears.

Tetlock used the metaphor with the foxes and the hedgehogs to interpret his results - a comparison that goes back to Isajah Berlin and is supposed to differentiate our cognitive skills. “Hedgehogs” are mono specialists who “understand a lot about one thing and very little about all the others”. Foxes know a bit of everything and can link this knowledge. Foxes performed better than hedgehogs in Tetlock's prognosis study. But not MUCH better either ...

In the public eye, Tetlock's study was seen more as a swan song for predictions EVER: Either the world is too complex to say anything about the future, or those who try to are anyway too stupid. But Tetlock was never interested in such a principled judgment. He always asked himself: is there such a thing as prognostic competence? And how can you learn it? In 2011 he started a new study, the “Good Judgment Project”. This time he used the Internet and increased the number of participants to 20,000. Each participant can now correct their prognosis if they feel that things are changing. And it is no longer just experts and luminaries who take part.

An interesting development is emerging three years after the start of the project. There are actually people who can see the future better than others. The "super foxes" or OWLS that can turn their heads in all directions. But what makes these SUPERPROGNOSTICS different?