Jan 28, 2016
Predictions matter because they separate the signal from the noise. Anyone can make a vague proclamation that sometime in the future something good or bad will happen; it’s the people who put definitive dates and measurable claims on these statements that make it possible to evaluate whether they were actually right or wrong, and figure out what we should do next.
SuperForecasting makes a compelling case that tracking predictions is useful on both the individual and collective level. When we track a prediction we’re able to get feedback on whether we were right or wrong, and overtime we get better at making predictions. And it helps groups make better decisions by forcing disciplined thinking and avoiding unclear and confusing opinions and HiPPO.
Whenever you make a decision you’re making a prediction. These can be small predictions, like if I decide to leave at 7:30 I’ll make it to work on time, or big predictions, like if I attend a prestigious university I will be able to make a lot of money when I graduate. For Effective Altruists these decisions are often related to charitable giving, not just about what cause is the ‘best’ to give to, but also what is the marginal improvement you expect your donation to cause. I’m increasingly convinced that we need to do a better job as a community systematically tracking predictions around important topics.
If I give $3,000 to the Against Malaria Foundation, I’m predicting I will be able to save one life. Or, if I think that EAs should be making appeals based on equality or justice, instead of individual rights or outcomes, I’m predicting that this strategy, if implemented, will drive more donations than the other.
So we’re making predictions all the time, but the predictions sit in isolation from one another, in random posts in the various EA facebook groups and forums. And they lack the rigor of providing actual deadlines and numbers, for when/how we should assess the claims. This is a problem, because we’re missing out on the wealth of knowledge that would come from learning if/how these ideas actually worked.
I think this is low hanging fruit for us to improve EA. If we tracked predictions about the outcomes of campaigns, interventions, etc. we’d see a number of benefits.
Establish a strong track record of success for top performing charities
Provide guidance for decision makers. Predictions, from orgs and individuals, about EA campaigns, could help guide donations.
Elevate good forecasters, and boost effective ideas.
In particular EA orgs could make more explicit predictions about what the outcome of giving money would be. It was difficult to track down concrete predictions from notable EA Orgs for the Winter 2015 giving season, but two I found were from 80000 Hours, predicting 50 plan changes by 10/31/2016, and CFAR, with 1000 new alumni by 12/31/2016.
Some type of central repository of predictions being made about EA, where people can comment, provide their own predictions, and update their predictions as new evidence comes in. This could be as simple as a blog post or a more full fledged system/market. Prediction trackers have a long history, but with little successful adoption. I think that EA’s might be different because of the unique origins of the movement. Given the analytical culture of EAs, this could be uniquely well suited to our community.
I see three steps to doing this:
A simple forum where anyone can submit a declarative prediction about EA related events.
By December 31st, 2016 there will be 5,000 people signed up for the Giving What We Can pledge
Anyone can submit their predictions tied to this event
JohnSmith89 thinks there is a 20% probability this is true
After the deadline has past judges/people can vote on whether it actually happened, and you can see who successfully predicted it and with what accuracy.
JohnSmith89 has a score of .25 over ten predictions
With 75% confidence I’d say that by February 10th at least 15 people will have expressed interest in predictions about effective altruism.
For more info on predictions the esteemed Gwern has a lengthy post that goes into the nitty details of what makes a good prediction.
Check out PredictIt for a good example of a full fledged prediction market.