Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics
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Predicting the Future in Science, Economics, and Politics

Edited by Frank Whelon Wayman, Paul R. Williamson, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Solomon Polachek

It is a puzzle that while academic research has increased in specialization, the important and complex problems facing humans urgently require a synthesis of understanding. This unique collaboration attempts to address such a problem by bringing together a host of prominent scholars from across the sciences to offer new insights into predicting the future. They demonstrate that long-term trends and short-term incentives need to be understood in order to adopt effective policies, or even to comprehend where we currently stand and the sort of future that awaits us.
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Chapter 9: Forecasting political developments with the help of financial markets

Gerald Schneider


It is a truism to say that forecasting political and economic trends continues to be a booming business (Sherden 1997). Within academia, however, many still conceive of prediction as a less noble task than explanation. The wide range of attitudes, between attraction and skepticism, leveled at professional forecasters can even be found among those who have transformed forecasting from an obscurantist business associated with astrology, crystal gazing, and “propheteering” into a key part of “normal science.” The example of Oskar Morgenstern, one of the founders of modern game theory, illustrates this ambivalence nicely. In one of the earliest treatises on economic forecasting he stated apodictically: “Economic prognosis is . . . impossible because of objective reasons” (Morgenstern 1928: 108, own translation). Yet, this co-founder of game theory and leading strategic analyst continued to publish on the topic and evaluated for instance the random walk thesis together with Nobel laureate Clive Granger (Granger and Morgenstern 1970). Nevertheless, the acceptance and popularity of prediction as an academic endeavor vary greatly across social scientific disciplines. While the combination of explanation and prediction is the natural way to do research in demography or econometrics, political scientists are generally still hesitant to engage in this seemingly dirty business. One of the traditional reasons for this unwillingness has been the inaccuracy of standard techniques like opinion polling to forecast specific developments such as election outcomes.

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