Aug 12, 2020 - Health

The superforecasting guide to accurately predicting the coronavirus

Illustration of a crystal ball with coronavirus inside of it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"Superforecasters" have shown an uncanny knack for accurately predicting major events, including the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The fact that we need to take action now to change the future course of the pandemic underscores the need for accurate predictions. Adopting the techniques of superforecasters could help us better anticipate the curves of this crisis.

How it works: Superforecasting brings together teams of individuals to collectively predict the likelihood of future events.

  • Prognosticators in the media will often hedge their predictions by using verbal terms such as "likely" or "probably." "But that creates confusion, because those words might mean something different for you or me, or from today or tomorrow," says Warren Hatch, the CEO of the superforecasting company Good Judgement.
  • Superforecasters use probabilities, which provide precision and accountability.
  • That accountability extends to superforecasters' willingness to revise their predictions as new data flows in, and to keep a rigorous record of those revisions.

"Too often experts make one-and-done forecasts," says Hatch, who adds this puts them at a disadvantage in a new and fast-changing situation like the pandemic.

By the numbers: As of Aug. 11, some of the superforecasting communities' predictions include...

Of note: Superforecasters accurately predicted early on that MLB would hold its first game between June 1 and July 31 (it was July 23), and that Disney World would reopen between July 1 and September 30 (it was July 11).

The bottom line: We depend on experts who often have a vested interest in their predictions. Superforecasting offers an empirically grounded alternative at a moment when the future feels more uncertain than ever.

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