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GJ: How did you become interested in forecasting?
PS: I came across a then already three-year-old article about Superforecasting in the German popular science magazine P.M. in 2019, and that changed my life. The article introduced one of the Superforecasters and mentioned some of his successes and failures, which offered a fascinating insight into what was possible in forecasting. In the end there was the simple advice on how to become a Superforecaster: register on GJO and do a lot of quality and quantity work there. That’s what I did. I signed up because I wanted to become a Superforecaster—something that, as it immediately became clear, required a deeper level of understanding of the world than the one I had at the moment. GJO proved to be the perfect first few miles to start that journey.
Until December 2019, when I made the first formal forecast of my life on GJO, I’d only been half a forecaster at best. I considered myself more an analyst, and was not a too systematic one. I’d always been interested in what was going on in the world and had read far more than 100 autobiographies of secret agents, special forces operators, heads of state, etc. And I’d always considered myself a pragmatist and a “numbers guy,” attaching probabilities to everything. Those traits were, of course, helpful in my role as a military officer and in my studies toward what you would call a master’s degree in Educational Sciences and Psychology. Plus, in the past 20 years, I had worked as a financial adviser and insurance broker. So, lots of numbers and decades of doing analysis, but again, I was not a forecaster. Being a strong analyst or a good pragmatist is not yet the highest rank when it comes to dealing with reality, in my opinion. Systematic forecasting is. You need the analytic and probabilistic part as well. Understanding the present and the past is cool, but consistently and measurably predicting the future better than others, often including experts and people with access to classified information, is cooler. That old article in a magazine sent me on a path that I hadn’t even considered doable before.
GJ: Could you describe your journey through the GJO ranks to becoming a Superforecaster?
PS: I started on GJO with no specific knowledge or experience in forecasting, armed only with one primary thought, “Let’s face this challenge,” and one question in mind, “How do I become one of the best as quickly as possible?” As getting experience was an obvious starting point, I began working on many questions immediately. As anyone can see in my forecasting history, I wasn’t good at that point, so the first two or three months were a struggle to absorb as much as I could learn. One important step was reading Tetlock’s book Superforecasting.
Then came Covid-19, leading to shifting up some gears. I made my first forecast on what was then known as “Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCov)” on 3 February 2020 and, like many others, got hooked on forecasting the unprecedented influence this one small thing would come to have on everything in the world so quickly. It was the first hard lesson in how fragile and interconnected everything on earth really is. As an example, I remember a question about car sales in India back then. Covid-19 radically changed even that game. They sold no more cars at all for months. Suddenly many more questions had a base rate that didn’t fit anymore. What otherwise would have been easy extrapolations now contained tons of unknown unknowns. Not nice in the real world, but a nice lesson in flexibility.
Another huge step came when I took part in Tetlock’s small “GJP 2.0 Covid-19” study. That introduced me to the concept of going into forecasting “in blind mode,” meaning not being able to read what others had written or see their forecast numbers in the beginning. I fell in love with that setting. I had to be able to work totally on my own for the first two days of each question. And to stand a chance of scoring close to the top, I had to work on all questions for their entire duration. No matter how little I knew about the topics in the beginning. That’s when I formulated my current goal: To become the ultimate generalist—someone who is able to, on his own, outperform the crowd on all topics. I’m still working on that goal and most probably will never fully reach it, because the competition on GJI’s Supers platform is megastrong, but I took a first step then, and achieved it, at least to a large part, on open platforms by mid-2020 or so. By the end of that study in July 2020, I had earned my first payment for forecasting: $25 Amazon gift certificates for the “Top 10 initial forecast” and “Top 10 final forecast” each. It was nice for the ego, but more important was the flexibility I learned that helped me on the way to becoming a Superforecaster.
Around the middle of 2020, I first had contact with my mentor in forecasting, Superforecaster Anne Kilkenny. She’s a born teacher and mentor and has a heart of gold. I’ve tried to give back to the community what she gave to me ever since. A prime opportunity for that was a forum on GJO designed to generally exchange experiences not related to specific questions. It was a great opportunity to learn and teach. Then, in September 2020, I got the invitation to join the ranks as a “professional Superforecaster on probation,” and by 1 January 2021, I earned the status of a certified Good Judgment Inc Superforecaster. So, it’s no magic. It’s a bit of a science, a bit of an art form, and most importantly, it’s a skill that can be learned.
GJ: What has been the most rewarding part of being a GJ Superforecaster? The most difficult part?
PS: The most rewarding part of being a Pro Superforecaster is the skill that came with the learning process. You won’t find a more stimulating environment to keep your brain sharp than GJI. I work with academics, mainly medical doctors, all day long and am a member of Mensa, but GJI is truly unique in the sense of the mental sharpness to be found there.
Forecasting, in my opinion, is the next step or level up from analytical skills. Having to be flexible and open-minded in forecasting automatically leads to more flexibility and open-mindedness in everyday life. Having truly analyzed some things leads to the self-confidence to know some things—and to unlearn others. My most valuable personal lessons certainly came from some projects in 2022, working for GJI’s clients, and the University of Pennsylvania on forecasts about all aspects of major threats to humankind. Being tasked to work on incredibly important questions, together with the best forecasters in the world and elite subject matter experts, was indeed eye-opening. By the way, some of the results have been published by UPenn and the Forethought Foundation.
I’ll give you an everyday example. One day I visited a museum exhibition about how people dug salt in the Middle Ages. There was a question to engage visitors: “If all water on Earth evaporated immediately, how thick would the imagined remaining layer of salt distributed over all of the planet’s surface be on average?” After reading the question I did a quick Fermi estimate, which is one of the tremendously useful and easy ways of systematic thinking to be learned on your way to becoming a Superforecaster. Short version: make a few guesses on how much of the earth’s surface is covered with water, how deep it is on average, and what percent of salt there is in it on average. What looked totally fuzzy at first sight can easily be handled or at least approached this way. My result was only a few centimeters off target, which caused some jaws to drop. You can find a great explanation of that relatively simple technique in Tetlock’s book Superforecasting.
This was just a playful example of only one approach, but there are lots of things in the toolbox that help making better decisions in life. Automatically thinking about all possible outcomes and giving them realistic probabilities helps with practically every major decision.
As to the most difficult part of being a GJI Pro Superforecaster: It’s a lot of work, so you need a high level of motivation and quite some time to reach and maintain a certain level. Like in any other discipline, it’s hundreds or even thousands of hours to join a Champions League-level team in your field, and it takes daily or at least weekly effort to stay at that level long-term. So far, I’ve always managed to get even the most intense phases integrated into the rest of my life, but for a few months in 2022, it was close.
GJ: What are the top three tips you could offer to beginner forecasters on GJO?
PS: By starting on GJO, they’ve already made one of the wisest decisions on the way to becoming a top or “Super” forecaster. GJO is the exact opposite of an echo chamber. It allows you to work on topics you wouldn’t otherwise be doing research about, and this immensely broadens one’s horizon. And you get hard feedback that everyone can see forever in your Brier/median ratio and accuracy points. That way it’s impossible to cheat yourself by saying, “I knew it all along, or at least I guessed it.” While repetition is the mother of all skill, I’d say that adequate feedback is the father of it. So you’re in the perfect surrounding already: There are plenty of learning opportunities and a non-forgiving feedback mechanism.
You asked for three key tips to start with. These are my favorites:
“There are lots of things in the [Superforecasting] toolbox that help making better decisions in life. Automatically thinking about all possible outcomes and giving them realistic probabilities helps with practically every major decision.”Superforecaster Peter Stamp on decision-making tools
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