(Late) Predictions for 2015

I was supposed to institute a tradition of making predictions at the beginning of each year, then grading them at the end to test my calibration. Everything went according to plan last year – last January I made predictions for 2014 and then this January I scored them. I ended with “2015 predictions coming soon,” then totally forgot to do that.

So now that it’s June and predicting what will happen in 2015 is about 40% easier, I might as well get started. Acceptable confidence levels are 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 95%, and 99%, to make it easy to score. All predictions are about the state of the world on 12/31/2015:

World Events
1. US will not get involved in any new major war with death toll of > 100 US soldiers: 70%
2. North Korea’s government will survive the year without large civil war/revolt: 95%
3. Greece will not announce it’s leaving the Euro: 60%
3. Neither Russia nor Qatar will lose their World Cups: 80%
4. Ebola will kill fewer people in second half of 2015 than the in first half: 95%
5. No terrorist attack in the USA will kill > 100 people: 90%
6. Assad will remain President of Syria: 70%
7. Israel will not get in a large-scale war (ie >100 Israeli deaths) with any Arab state: 90%
8. Syria’s civil war will not end this year: 80%
9. ISIS will control less territory than it does right now: 70%
10. ISIS will continue to exist: 80%
11. Iran will reach a deal with the West on nuclear weapons: 80%
12. No major civil war in Middle Eastern country not currently experiencing a major civil war: 90%
13. Iraq’s situation not to get any worse (eg gov’t collapse, new rebellion): 60%
14. Obamacare will survive the year mostly intact: 60%
15. Hillary Clinton will be the top-polling Democratic Presidential candidate: 95%
16. Jeb Bush will be the top-polling Republican candidate: 50%
17. Trans-Pacific Partnership to pass at least mostly intact: 60%
18. US official unemployment rate will be less than 7% in Dec 2015: 95%
19. Bitcoin will end the year higher than $200: 95%
20. Oil will end the year greater than $60 a barrel: 50%

Personal Life
21. SSC will remain active: 95%
22. SSC will get fewer hits in the second half of 2015 than the first half: 60%
23. At least one SSC post in the second half of 2015 will get > 100,000 hits: 70%
24. Shireroth will remain active: 90%
25. I will remain at my same job through the end of 2015: 95%
26. There will be no further ramifications or lawsuits from either side over the flooding of my house: 80%
27. I will reach my savings target: 90%
28. I will get a score at >95th percentile for my year on PRITE: 50%
29. I will be involved in at least one published/accepted-to-publish research paper by the end of 2015: 60%
30. I will not break up with any of my current girlfriends: 80%
31. I will not get any new girlfriends: 50%
32. I will not finish [project]: 60%
33. I will attend NYC Solstice ritual: 80%
34. I will flake out of my plan to lead some kind of Solstice Ritual myself: 60%
35. I will be living in the house I’m currently trying to arrange to rent: 70%

These are all the things I could think of worth predicting; feel free to suggest others.

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211 Responses to (Late) Predictions for 2015

  1. pndpo says:

    The concept of smart people making reasoned predictions is really interesting. I want to know if some people are better at making predictions generally and what the mechanisms of prediction is. Is it a skill that can be learned?

    Thus, I’m making a little web app (it’s very rough right now) for calling predictions and tracking them in a similar vein to this post. It’s currently focused on tracking and predicting memes (the way Dawkins uses the word).

    I really don’t want to self-promote, so I’ll just humbly ask:
    Is anyone interested in this sort of thing?
    Also, does anyone already know of a good prediction tracking tool?

    If the response is positive, I’ll add a link. Let me know if I missed some comment guideline.

    (PS If anyone wants to contribute mechanistic ideas, it would be helpful. My goal is to include an economy of points that are determined by the accuracy of predictions. I also want to have externally and automatically determined judgements based on the signal of a prediction. It would be very cool to have a chart at the end of a year for yourself to see how well you did and get points based on that.)

    EDIT: This is not a real money prediction market ala Predictit (although I’m open to that).

    • Gudamor says:

      You might be interested in reading:

      It includes a portion on prediction websites, including “PredictionBook (PB) is a general-purpose free-form prediction site. PB is a site intended for personal use and small groups registering predictions; the hope was that LessWrongers would use it whenever they made predictions about things (as they ought to in order to keep their theories grounded in reality). It hasn’t seen much uptake, though not for the lack of my trying.”

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    What real-money prediction markets exist today? I see people in the comments talking about predictit. Can Americans use ipredict?

  3. grendelkhan says:

    The Falcon Heavy will attempt a launch/successfully launch by the end of the year. (Is this too nichey to be worth predicting? It seems like a big deal.)

  4. Arthur B. says:

    Would you like to bet on Bitcoin being lower than $200 at the end of the year? 95% implies 19:1 odds, but to make it worth your while, I’ll offer you 10:1 odds. Willing to bet any amount between $100 and $5,000 (against $1,000 to $50,000).

  5. Esquire says:

    The bitcoin prediction was the only one I found really jarring. I would probably put 70% on the same statement. Given historical volatility…. 95% seems aggressive.

    I hope you are betting your beliefs!

  6. Orborde says:

    What do you mean by “reach my savings target”?

  7. Phil Goetz says:

    100,000 hits on one post? I don’t see hit counts. How many do you get? My experience is comments ~ hits / 10, so I’d have thought you’re getting a few thousand hits.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have gotten >100,000 hits on “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, “Toxoplasma of Rage”, “Untitled” (sigh), and “And I Show You How Deep The Rabbit Hole Goes”. Then there’s a big gap and most other posts are closer to what you would expect with your formula.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        2 hypotheses: (1) Hits on the typical post are dominated by commenters waiting for replies; (2) The two most popular posts are popular because they are linked by distant foreigners who don’t comment, while the variation among typical posts is due to how widely they are linked in a broad community that knows of you but doesn’t directly follow, and they are uniformly likely to comment.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Maybe the horrendous commenting system (no notifications, you have to manually find replies to your comments) is actually an intentional WordPress feature for increasing hits.

  8. Pingback: Yes, Even Polyamorous Drug Users are Conservative | Dry Hyphen Olympics

  9. Michael vassar says:

    I’d love to have a prediction market here. Or just to see Alyssa Vance’s numbers on this list of predictions.

  10. onyomi says:

    Probability a nuclear weapon will be detonated somewhere in the world for purposes other than testing (war, terrorism, human error)?

    I guess 1% or maybe lower, but am curious if anyone thinks it’s higher.

    • John Schilling says:

      If the consensus is for a 5% chance of regime change in North Korea, that’s pretty much a 5% chance for nuclear war right there. The whole point of House Kim’s family atomics is to make regime change too bloody expensive for anyone to contemplate, but the regime is absolutely paranoid about foreign intervention and will see it even if it isn’t happening. The regular armed forces are pretty much defunct except for special-operations forces that are mostly useful offensively, which means that within a week of the first shots across the DMZ there’s likely at least a US or ROK brigade that’s broken through with a free shot at Pyongyang.

      There’s some debate among the professionals as to when, or if, the North would start nuking cities. But with a hostile army on their soil, they are going to nuke something, and there’s no realistic way to explain to them that the hostile army consists only of rebellious North Koreans and isn’t at least being covertly supported by the South. Which, almost certainly, it will be.

      India v. Pakistan also has probably a 5% chance per year of going nuclear, and certainly well above 1%.

      • Alraune says:

        “The House Kim family atomics” is a majestically appropriate turn of phrase and I congratulate you for it.

        • onyomi says:

          Good name for a band.

        • notes says:

          The meth must flow!

          Alas, no worms involved in its production for a still-closer analogy.

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh, now there’s an ugly alternate-history or science-fiction scenario for you: North Korea, in approximately its current form, has an absolute monopoly on some really useful sort of unobtanium…

  11. onyomi says:

    What about the probability you will stop being poly because you meet the woman of your dreams and she’s not okay with that? Or because you yourself decide it’s no longer for you? Or because you and one of your current girlfriends decide to become exclusive?

    What about the probability that, by the end of 2015, you are engaged to be married?

  12. Anyone care to give odds on a black swan? I’m going to define a black swan as an event which leads to searches for anyone, anywhere who predicted something like it.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      A worthy concept, but I’m not sure it could survive all the nitpicks about your choice of metaphor. The black swan, once found, was unmistakably black, and sfaik no one had predicted it, rather the opposite.

      • What I’m thinking is that people scavenged through punditry and fiction to find depictions of black POTUSes, the end of the Soviet Union, and terrorists flying airplanes into buildings.

        On the other hand, no one will be looking for predictions that the POTUS will be a Democrat or a Republican.

        • Deiseach says:

          But supposing the next POTUS is a Democritan* or a Republocrat?

          *And now I’m wondering what are the chances for a new third party running on the platform of adhering to the principles of Democritus – “Vote for us – the party of science, the party of reason, the party of the people, the party of laughter!”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To signal boost @houseboatonstyx, does the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner count as a black swan, or not?

        In other words, if you had predicted the black swan before her announcement, would she have counted as fulfilling the prediction?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Insufficient data. Try another example?

          I just checked the Wikipeds and apparently the point of a ‘black swan’ is that nobody could have seriously predicted it in the previous context of the question, and perhaps it was widely thought to be impossible, but later people can look back and find clues that were not put together at the time. And the result of the discovery is very important, breaking a lot of assumptions, perhaps even about possibility and likelihood.

          Perhaps the discovery of America was one, and the 9/11 attack, though neither of them were theoretically impossible. For something known to be impossible, rocks falling from the sky.

          ETA: As for prediction, I don’t think it should count if someone had said, “We need to be on watch for unknown unknowns; no one knows when the next black swan may turn up.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            9/11 shouldn’t be. They came awful close before with the garage bomb.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Insufficient data.”

            I think that’s sort of my point. I was agreeing that the most likely outcome of this kind of prediction is just an argument about what “counts.”

    • Bruno Coelho says:

      A terrorist attack in a unexpected place is a black swan.

  13. Nisan says:

    About the PRITE: I take it you’re in the 95th percentile among psychiatry residents in the US. Are your colleagues similarly high-caliber? If I wanted to see a psychiatrist, what could I do to find one who scores in the 95th percentile?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not in the 95th percentile. I aimed for that score last year, fell (slightly) short, and I’m going for it again albeit with lessened confidence.

      I have no idea how you would find somebody who’d scored at that level, but I doubt scores-as-resident predict ability-as-doctor very well.

  14. Luke Somers says:

    Why are lots and lots of people making predictions in this thread, *without* providing a confidence level?

  15. Ever An Anon says:

    Congratulations on (probably) getting a new place and your (50/50 shot at a) new girlfriend. You definitely deserve both.

    On a more selfish note I’m also very glad you’re confident that the blog will keep running, it’s always an interesting read comments included.

  16. Deiseach says:

    On “patron saints who are scientists and writers in research papers”, St Albert the Great is looking good. There are patrons of scientists and patrons of writers, but getting the combination is tough (St Thomas Aquinas is really theology, for example).

    So, especially if this is an accurate quote “In De Mineralibus Albert claims, “The aim of natural philosophy [science] is not to simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature”, and as the discoverer of arsenic* (er – well, yes ) it’s looking like Albertus Magnus for the invocation! 🙂


    Credit for the actual discovery of arsenic often goes to alchemist Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus, 1193-1280). He heated a common compound of arsenic, orpiment (As2S3), with soap. Nearly pure arsenic was formed in the process.

  17. kernly says:

    11. Iran will reach a deal with the West on nuclear weapons: 80%

    I think the likelihood of a “deal” is the likelihood that the US will simply back down on several substantive disputes… Obama really wants an Iran deal before he leaves office, and ironically folding in the negotiations would be amazingly good for the US because it’s the only way to forestall a geopolitical coup by the Russians. But will that really happen? The Americans have a recalcitrant streak, and I think they hold dearly the illusion that nuclearization can be forestalled forever… <50%, let's say 30%.

    Looking at the facts on the ground, the Iranians can't fold their hand. The threat of overwhelming military force from the US is the only thing that could make them, and the US is looking suuuuper reluctant right now. More to the point it didn't pull the trigger when it was right next door, with a Red president vs. a much less resilient nuclear program and a less advanced military deterrent.

    The potential for a deal which both sides immediately interpret differently, with the Iranians daring the US to do anything about it, is potentially very high. It's the question of whether the Iranians think that path is less risky/more profitable than just not signing a deal at all. They've already benefited from the "framework agreement" that was very much in that style. It gave Russia a pretext to loosen restrictions, which is all it was waiting for.

    The thing is it feels to me like if the US does not get a deal, it gets the blame this time, not the Iranians. I think they can play it straight, and will. So I'll stick with my prediction, though that scenario has a big potential to fuck it up.

    • Anthony says:

      Yeah – I’d put the odds of “a deal” pretty high – maybe 90% before Obama leaves office (though maybe not by end 2015). The odds of a deal that actually does significantly slow Iran’s nuclear program? Much lower. Maybe 20%.

  18. Deiseach says:

    Oooh, playing Cheat The Prophet is always fun! Let’s see what ones I have some shred of reason for having an opinion on:

    1. US will not get involved in any new major war with death toll of > 100 US soldiers: 70% – agree you probably won’t, the messes you are already entangled in are sufficient, and I don’t see Pakistan as gone sufficiently unstable yet
    2. North Korea’s government will survive the year without large civil war/revolt: 95% – Yeah. If anything, I’d say you’re being too cautious here even at 95%. Isn’t it wonderful how a regime can hold together harmoniously when the God-Emperor can have any threats executed with a snap of his fingers?
    3. Greece will not announce it’s leaving the Euro: 60% – Not sure on this one. The Greek economy seems even more buggered than ours was and they have no equivalent of Michael Noonan to make them all embrace hair-shirt austerity. Greece might decide to leave rather than be beholden to Germany, or be such a basket case, it’ll fall out the door whether it wants to leave or not. In fact, why don’t we help both our nations and Ireland will selflessly donate our Minister for Finance to Greece to help them be good little fiscally responsible Europeans when it comes to taking their medicine? No, really, don’t thank us.
    3. Neither Russia nor Qatar will lose their World Cups: 80% – Again, think you’re being over-cautious here. When FIFA is bought, it stays bought, dammit! And given the jokes in the Eurovision this year about the reason national juries voted for the Russian song, in spite of it being unpopular with the audiences at the show, being they didn’t want their country invaded by Putin – no, Russia will keep what they got.
    8. Syria’s civil war will not end this year: 80% – Unhappily, you’re probably right as well here. Why stop now?
    10. ISIS will continue to exist: 80% – Yes.
    13. Iraq’s situation not to get any worse (eg gov’t collapse, new rebellion): 60% – It can always get worse. You’re such a rose-tinted glasses wearing optimist, Scott!
    15. Hillary Clinton will be the top-polling Democratic Presidential candidate: 95% – I don’t know on this one. I think they should have gone with Hillary rather than Barack, so her moment may be over. I don’t see anyone else, I have no idea if Bernie Sanders can get and keep support over the long haul, and I wouldn’t write off any wheeling and dealing being done in (no longer smoke-filled) back rooms to produce some kind of compromise candidate that is both acceptable to the hard-core base and is electable by the wider national vote, to be produced at a later stage when Bernie has soaked up the left-wing party support and gotten no further, and Hillary remains unpalatable to floating voters because of the last time Bill was in power. The fact that Hillary is still the only plausible chance of a female candidate for President from either party kills me; even my own green little country has managed to elect two women to this position, and last time round we voted in a leprechaun. The USA less progressive than priest-ridden Ireland?
    16. Jeb Bush will be the top-polling Republican candidate: 50% – Not sure on this one, either. Any lustre remaining to the Bush name is probably well rubbed off by now. Is there any other possible candidate who might be palatable to floating voters, as is the problem for the Democrats as well?

    21. SSC will remain active: 95% – I hope, I hope, I hope! I really enjoy and appreciate you all on here.
    25. I will remain at my same job through the end of 2015: 95% – If dealing with us acting like a pack of toddlers in the comments at times hasn’t made you decide to become a hermit in the Himalayas, nice normal crazy people shouldn’t drive you out of your current job.
    26. There will be no further ramifications or lawsuits from either side over the flooding of my house: 80% – Your landlord is completely at fault here. One more example of why I don’t trust the wisdom of the market for settling all disputes. People are not rational actors.
    29. I will be involved in at least one published/accepted-to-publish research paper by the end of 2015: 60% – I don’t know who the patron saint of ‘getting involved in a published research paper’ is (I can find out patrons of scientists and writers, but writers for science I don’t know) but when I find out, prayers for your intention! Eh – you want I should try Giordano Bruno? 🙂
    35. I will be living in the house I’m currently trying to arrange to rent: 70% – Wishing you luck with that also.

    • Luke Somers says:

      > 3. Greece will not announce it’s leaving the Euro: 60% – Not sure on this one.

      >13. Iraq’s situation not to get any worse (eg gov’t collapse, new rebellion): 60% – It can always get worse. You’re such a rose-tinted glasses wearing optimist, Scott!

      So, you agree with the 60%, or you think even that’s high?

      • Deiseach says:

        I think the 60% on Greece not leaving the EU is high. The situation there is so messy, I think it could be a combination of Germany getting pissed-off at being treated as Europe’s piggybank plus Greece wanting to show they’re not going to be pushed around by anybody, so the door is held open for them to leave, don’t let it hit you in the ass on the way out.

        Cameron and the Brexit, on the other hand, strikes me as posturing. I don’t think he’s serious about taking Britain out of the EU (and it would be exceedingly hypocritical of him, after that “We’re better together” campaign on Scottish independence, but when has hypocrisy ever stopped a politician?) so I’d go 60% or higher on it not happening. Though Scott didn’t add that in as one of his predictions 🙂

        Iraq – again, I disagree. As I said, I think you can’t underestimate how much of a mess that place is, or is liable to get. Right now it’s not so bad by comparison with elsewhere, but does the US really have the time, energy or resources for something as envisaged here? ISIS is not going away, if the Western powers pull out then it’s leaving Iraq wide-open in the short-term at least, but what about the timetable for withdrawal then? The next administration (whether it’s a new Democrat or a new Republican one) may well decide time for Iraq to stand on its own, set up the definite withdrawal, and then things could go to hell in a handbasket fast.

        • Anthony says:

          So my internal rules-lawyer wants to ask if Greece been kicked out of the Euro satisfies the condition of “Greece will not announce…”.

          I think the main determinant of Grexit is whether Greece defaulting in fact, even if not in name, forces Greece to leave the Euro. I still haven’t seen a reasonable explanation for why Tsipras can’t just announce a “unilateral moratorium on debt repayment” or some such, and *implicitly* dare the Germans to kick Greece out.

          • John Schilling says:

            A: There is no legal mechanism by which the rest of Europe can force Greece to leave the Euro, and as the entire basis of a fiat currency is trust, there’s a very strong disincentive for them not to do it illegally.

            B: If the Greeks do decide to introduce their own fiat currency, pieces of paper saying “IOU One Euro, payable 2025”, would seem in every way superior to pieces of paper saying “One NeoDrachma”.

            Does this count as a Grexit?

          • Anthony says:

            A’: Legal mechanisms can be created if necessary.

            B’: Aren’t pieces of paper saying “IOU One Euro, payable 2025″ just bonds?

            The interesting speculation is what happens if the Greek government says “We’re only going to pay 0.20 Euro for each piece of paper which says we’ll pay you 1 Euro in 2015, and we’re never going to make good on the other 0.80.” I’ve seen almost no discussion of this option, except from people who assume that Greece would have to exit the Euro first.

    • “If dealing with us acting like a pack of toddlers in the comments at times hasn’t made you decide to become a hermit in the Himalayas, nice normal crazy people shouldn’t drive you out of your current job.”

      How about if his project is a book based on his best past posts, it’s a best seller, he realizes he can make much more money as an author than as a psychiatrist and give lots of it away to worthy causes, …

      • Deiseach says:

        This could all be a huge research project, we’re his volunteer subjects, and the research paper for publication will be “What I Learned Running A Blog: Unsolicited Opinions and Hair-Pulling Tantrums” 🙂

      • FooQuuxman says:

        He could market it as a way for blog owners to cope with the insanity…

        • Deiseach says:

          “Running a blog for success and profit:
          Lesson Three: How to cope with fractious commenters”

          Step one: Don’t have a blog. 100% reduction in stress and annoyance already!


  19. anomalia says:

    Seems a bit easy to make predictions about personal life decisions one can just choose to fulfill. Not that much to predict in the first place.

    • Daniel Armak says:

      The implicit assumption is that one wouldn’t make an important life choice like breaking up with a girlfriend or moving to a new apartment just to satisfy a prediction posted on a blog.

  20. Daniel Armak says:

    > 7. Israel will not get in a large-scale war (ie >100 Israeli deaths) with any Arab state: 90%

    Request for clarification: does this include wars with Gaza strip and/or the West Bank, whether controlled by Hamas, the PA or some other organization, and wars with groups in Syria other than Assad’s regime, if those groups have at the time of the war effectively overcome and supplanted that regime in the border region with Israel?

  21. Re 7: are you categorising Iran as an Arab state?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sure, let’s include Iran.

      • Deiseach says:

        Not sure about that, squire: Iran is Persian, not Arab. Why, it’s like saying there’s no difference between Canada and the U.S.A., they’re both North America!

        Years ago, I heard the actor Saeed Jaffrey recite a ghazal in Farsi on a BBC Radio 4 quiz programme, and I thought it was one of the most beautiful languages I’d ever heard. So please, no mixing up Arab and Persian! 🙂

        • eeuuah says:

          I think the differences between the states and canada are smaller than differences between the two arab states that are farthest apart. Many areas of canada are much more similar to many states than say, rural texas is to nyc.

        • Esquire says:

          I seriously doubt Scott was making that factual error.

          It is easy to use “Arab” as a (sloppy) shorthand for the Muslim Near East, and Scott probably thought he was being under-confident anyway due to the 6-month “year” he’s predicting for.

  22. GRRM will announce the release date of Winds of Winter by the end of the year: 60%

  23. anon85 says:

    There’s only half a year left in 2015. By predicting only 70% chance the US doesn’t enter a new major war, you’re saying you expect the US to enter more than 1 new war every 2 years on average. That makes 70% seem way under-confident, unless you think the US is much more likely than average to enter a war right now. What’s the reason for this prediction?

    Another prediction I find confusing is Bitcoin. It seems way over-confident; bitcoin had a crash within the last half year, if I’m reading the charts right. It seems to have dropped almost 50% since half a year ago. Another such drop easily gets it under $200. Why 95%? Am I missing something?

    • Tenobrus says:

      On Bitcoin: check out this chart. Bitcoin peaked at the beginning of December, 2013 and fell all through 2014 from that insanely inflated high. But for the past 6 months it’s been very constantly been in the $220-250 range. With this little fluctuation for so long his prediction seems reasonable. There was always some actual value to Bitcoins, the value of the transfer and consensus abilities involved, and it seems entirely possible this is what has been converged on as that value.

      • anon85 says:

        “Seems entirely possible” and “95% sure” are not the same thing. Has bitcoin prices caused more than one surprise crash per decade in the past? Yes? Then the probability of a surprise crash within the next half a year is more than 5%.

        Also, the “$220-250 in the last half a year” pattern is a post-hoc observation that you didn’t come up with in advance. Therefore you should consider the possibility that this pattern is merely the result of random fluctuation in prices via Brownian motion, in which case it would provide relatively little information about the future price.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t expect the US to get involved in World War III, but I think there’s a decent chance they get a hundred dead soldiers by fighting ISIS, or Libya, or something going wrong in Afghanistan, etc.

      You’re right that I probably forgot we’re only doing half a year this time, so I’m half as confident as I should be.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think there’s a decent chance they get a hundred dead soldiers by fighting ISIS, or Libya, or something going wrong in Afghanistan

        Oh, I wasn’t counting Afghanistan as a NEW war – my view there is that’s an ongoing war. I could certainly see a mess there necessitating American intervention and if it goes badly wrong, yes, there’s an excellent chance of a high death toll.

        I’m a bit confused now – if you count something in Afghanistan as a new major war, does the 70% mean you do or you don’t think there’s a chance of that happening?

    • Zvi Mowshowitz says:

      I also find this number rather insane even if you think Bitcoins are a strong buy. Last six months can be factored in but the volatility on BTC is… shall we say, large.

  24. Steve Sailer says:

    I noticed with Philip Tetlock’s Good Judgment Project that the more accurate forecasters generally appreciated that politicians tend to be pretty adept at kicking the can down the road for another year: there are a lot of possible changes that are likely to take place someday, while also being unlikely to happen by 12/31 of this year. Everybody knows that something or other is likely to change in, say, North Korea, but the best forecasters tend to have a better sense of the odds against the inevitable happening soon. Similarly, I’ve been reading highly persuasive predictions for 40 years that the Saudi royal family is doomed, and no doubt in the long run they are, but … they’re still here and many of those prophets of their demise aren’t.

    • bluto says:

      Having been part of the good judgement project, since it started, the number one thing I learned was that people are wildly optimistic about how soon something will happen (or there were internet points to be scored by betting against everything included a 1 year or shorter deadline).

  25. Dinaroozie says:

    Scott, I’m confused about what it means to predict a binary outcome with 50% confidence. For instance, you predict that “I will not get any new girlfriends: 50%” – how is that different from predicting with 50% confidence that you WILL get some number of new girlfriends?

    Supposing I made 100 predictions of binary things about my life, each of them with 50% confidence, that would imply that if my confidence is tuned correctly I’d expect half to go one way and half to go the other way. So in a sense, by writing down my ‘prediction’, what I’m really communicating is “I have zero confidence of my ability to predict the outcome of this”.

    Now that I think about it, I’m not sure my characterisation holds up there, because if I said for instance “I predict with 50% confidence that I will be the Prime Minister of my country by the end of the week” that is a binary prediction (either I will be or I won’t be), but it feels like I am very much communicating something meaningful there, because absent other information one would assume that my odds of being Prime Minister are very much below 50%. At the same time, I would communicate the same thing by saying the exact opposite (that I predict with 50% confidence that I won’t be Prime Minister), so it seems odd to suggest that my prediction is either right or wrong depending on the outcome. In other words, if you gain a girlfriend by the end of the year, whether your prediction was right or wrong seems to depend on how you phrased two identical pieces of information, which doesn’t seem like it should be the case.

    I’m by no means a master of maths or stats, so the tone of this post is intended to be more along “what am I missing?” lines, rather than “you totally screwed up” lines.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      For instance, you predict that “I will not get any new girlfriends: 50%” – how is that different from predicting with 50% confidence that you WILL get some number of new girlfriends?

      You’re exactly right. I could have equally well said “I predict I will get new girlfriends: 50%”. But I had to choose one of the two, and I chose that one.

      I admit it’s weird that I chose the “not” framing. I think that might be because I originally had it >50, then changed my mind.

      • Dinaroozie says:

        Ah okay, I think on some subconscious level it just struck me as weird that the nature of these prediction posts forces you to go one way or the other. Thanks for the clarification.

        It’s just as well you didn’t adjust your confidence to be less than fifty percent – then I’d have been really confused.

    • Alex Richard says:

      For instance, you predict that “I will not get any new girlfriends: 50%” – how is that different from predicting with 50% confidence that you WILL get some number of new girlfriends?

      It’s not, they are indeed the same.

      In other words, if you gain a girlfriend by the end of the year, whether your prediction was right or wrong seems to depend on how you phrased two identical pieces of information, which doesn’t seem like it should be the case.

      The prediction isn’t ‘I will not get any new girlfriends’; it is what the probability of him not getting any new girlfriends is. The scoring metric used works equally well for p or (1-p), but for simplicity’s sake everything is presented as the probability greater than 50%. (Otherwise, Scott would need to split his predictions over twice as many possible values, which would make the sample size for each value smaller.)

      • Dinaroozie says:

        Ahh okay that all makes sense. I think I was thrown because I have a vague memory of the last post on the subject of predictions, which was about how many of Scott’s last predictions were correct, containing some 50% confident predictions being deemed correct and others being deemed incorrect. Good to know that I’m not missing some deeper meaning though.

    • Deiseach says:

      how is that different from predicting with 50% confidence that you WILL get some number of new girlfriends?

      But you can’t be more sure than that, realistically; Scott may have no intention of getting any new girlfriend(s), but supposing he meets someone between now and December and Cupid’s dart strikes? People generally don’t make predictions at the start of the month “I predict me and my current partner will break up” (not unless they are intending to initiate the split, or they are aware things are going really badly), yet people do start out the month in a relationship and end the month with a break up.

      Or suppose someone out there already has the thought “I want that man and I’m going to get him” and they’re engaging on a campaign of sweeping him off his feet? Scott may be able to speak about his own intentions, but he can’t forecast the intentions of other.

      I don’t know if this is horribly personal to ask or what, and I certainly don’t mean it facetiously, but would you not consider a boyfriend, Scott? (Given polyamory and asexuality, could it not work? Or just not at all interested in the thought, even theoretically, even if no sexual component to such a relationship, because just not into guys at all one bit?)

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve read enough of Scott’s other writings to say that 1) he wouldn’t and 2) it probably is the sort of question that bumps up against the line of too personal for the internet.

      • mayleaf says:

        >Given polyamory and asexuality, could it not work?

        Asexuality doesn’t imply aromanticism (you can still be romantically attracted to people, and have a romantic orientation, even if you don’t experience sexual attraction.) AFAIK Scott’s romantic orientation is straight: he’s only romantically interested in women.

  26. “Hillary Clinton will be the top-polling Democratic Presidential candidate: 95%”

    Too high. She is 67 years old and recently had a serious concussion so isn’t there at least a few percentage points chance of health issues forcing her out of the race? Plus we have scandal potential and the chance of her drawing a serious contender such as Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama or Deval Patrick.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Really? Michelle Obama? There’s more chance of FDR rising from the grave and seizing the nomination than of Michelle Obama.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes. Definitely not Michelle 🙂

        Deval Patrick I haven’t even heard of. I don’t think so.

        Elizabeth Warren? Doesn’t strike me as electable. She should be, she’s the classic “American Dream work hard and you will succeed” story, but there’s something about her that is not appealing, somehow.

        Bill Clinton had that charisma. If Warren had it, she’d be the first female President. There’s no candidate with Bill’s appeal, not even Hillary. Bill would have been perfectly at home in Irish politics, in my own party. Obama had a share of that charisma, but it was borrowed from the starry-eyed dream of “elect the first African-American president!” and the gushing over him which got to ridiculous extremes (Light-Worker? A news reporter seriously saying he got tingles down his leg at the thought?) is probably embarrassing in retrospect.

        Then again, back in 2012, out of the seven candidates in this photo we elected the shortest one, so what do I know? I mean, I did think Michael D. Higgins would survive (because of his steely ambition cloaked behind the slightly doddery old grandpa image), but I didn’t know the rest of the country was ready for our first leprechaun poet President 🙂

        • PDV says:

          Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts on approximately a platform of “I’m pretty much Obama”, and could on personality, race, and politics alike run as the most convincing possible “Obama’s Third Term”. If Hilary collapses and he gets into the race, he’d probably get Obama’s personal political machine handed to him with compliments.

      • A young, term-limited president who would probably like to stay in power gets his smart, healthy, loyal, ambitious, and somewhat charismatic wife to run for President and uses his control of the Dem party to deliver the nomination to his wife—your giving this less than a one in a million chance of happening?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Immediately following that president’s term, yeah. When that president is not overwhelmingly popular, double yeah.

          Depending on how the next 4 to 6 years play out, then you can lay odds on Michelle running for President. She would have to lay some groundwork by become an active political figure in some manner.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I think Deval Patrick would have a better chance of winning, being a black male who already has a good background as a political figure (Governor of Massachusetts).

            Obama’s campaign message in 2008 was noticeably similar to Patrick’s in 2007, both managed by David Axelrod.

        • Deiseach says:

          If Obama is any way smart (and I have no reason to believe the man is stupid), he and Michelle will not want to evoke comparisons of Bill’n’Hill Part Two.

          Also, I don’t think I’ve seen any indications of political ambition on Michelle’s part. And face it, if she ran, she’d be slaughtered with the “for the first time I feel proud of my country” soundbite – so, you were ashamed of America, Mrs Obama? And now you want to be President of the country that you were ashamed of?

          Deval Patrick – I can’t see it, somehow.

          • Esquire says:

            I agree that Michelle is not politically ambitious and it is low probability she will ever run for national office. But… What do you see as their incentive not to be compared to Bill and Hill? B&H are globally popular zillionaires and probably literally the most powerful family in the world.

        • Adam says:

          Why the heck would he probably want to stay in power? He seems exhausted and frustrated and looks like he’s aged 20 years since he was elected. He’s probably more than happy to retreat to the Bill Clinton life of doing a few $200K speaking engagements a year and becoming a full-time fundraiser/king-maker. Fundraising is far and away his greatest skill anyway.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes, he’ll retreat to that life, but it’s not Bill Clinton’s life. The extravert didn’t retire, but spent 2001-2008 averaging a speaking engagement every weekday. (At that scale, he couldn’t charge $200k. I think 100 free, 100 for $100k – total $10million per year, which you can look up on his tax returns.)

          • Adam says:

            I can’t find it now, but I was reading something the other day that Hillary just released all their financials and they’d earned over $100 million since Bill left office.

          • Anonymous says:

            They already hit $100 million at the first disclosure in 2007. Probably close to twice that by now, much more if you include payments for Bill’s speeches in the form of donations.

            This article on more recent disclosures says $30mm for 2014-2015. It also says $16mm for the “last years” at State, which suggests that Bill did not much slow down.

  27. AR+ says:

    Ebola will kill fewer people in second half of 2015 than the in first half: 95%

    I note that, in addition to the presumably intended interpretation, this would also be true for a future in which ebola kills greater than 50% of the current human population before the end of this month.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      Not so! What if the remaining 49% prove incredibly fecund, and repopulate the human species to the necessary point in just, er, six months?

      Maybe if a fetal personhood amendment passed too?

      • James Picone says:

        Maybe it just leaves the people who are already pregnant alone until later this year.

  28. Gauge says:

    “15. Hillary Clinton will be the top-polling Democratic Presidential candidate: 95%”

    Wow! Take a victory lap for that, brainiac.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sigh. Go argue with the person who says that’s overconfident.

      • onyomi says:

        Honestly, there’s probably a 2% chance of Hillary dying of a stroke or random accident, given her age and past history, so leaving an extra 3% for Biden, Sanders, or a last-minute Warren run seems, if anything, pretty conservative.

        Personally, I’d rate Hillary winning the nomination at 90%

        • HeelBearCub says:

          A 67 year old female has 1.2% chance of death in the next year and life expectancy of 18 years. I’m assuming that those who die are overwhelmingly likely to skew to those who are already in poor health, so I think your estimate of 2% has to be really high.

          • onyomi says:

            I think this:


            Is good for another .8%

            I was going to say there’s also a tiny possibility of assassination or a plane crash, given her status as a visible political figure who is traveling a lot, but given she also has much better security than the average person, and that flying is relatively safe, she might actually be less likely to be murdered or to die in a transportation-related accident than the average woman her age. Interesting to consider whether being a major politician, on net, makes you more or less safe. I tended to assume slightly less safe, but maybe not.

            I was failing to take into consideration that we have only half a year left. So rather than 2% chance Hillary dies in 2015, 2% chance she dies before the Democratic convention, let’s say.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Why do you think that a blood clot after an injury is good for another 0.8% mortality over and above the average 67 year old? I’m not saying that is wrong, just wondering why you make that statement. By 67 I would expect almost all Americans to have suffered something fairly serious, but having suffered a blood clot in the past doesn’t necessarily put her in ill health now.

            Do you have some data on how much the knowledge of a history of a blood clot (actually two, she had one in 1998 as well) raises mortality?

            Clinton has far better health care than the average American, which, like her far lower likelihood per mile of dying in a transportation related accident, needs to be taken into account. Of course she travels a lot more miles, but my prior is that we should hear about more politicians dying in travel fatalities than we do if there is an actual increase in risk.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m not really interesting in debating whether there is a 1% chance Hillary dies or a 2% chance she dies, I’m just saying there’s *some* chance she dies or is incapacitated (you don’t have to die of a stroke for it cause enough damage to prevent you running for national office).

            I think there is also a slightly larger chance, say about 5%, that she gets hit with one or more really bad scandals or gaffes. She could not be taken out of the running so easily as say, Howard Dean, but it’s still not impossible.

            And there’s a small probability that another candidate just proves way more charismatic and attractive than her, especially if combined with some unforeseen economic or political development. If there is a major economic crisis between now and the convention, for example, people might view her as too establishment and instead vote for an economic populist like Sanders, or a fresh face like Deval Patrick. So if we say there’s a 1 or 2% someone charismatic comes in and does way better than expected and a 2-3% chance of a global economic or political development which redounds very strongly in favor of another candidate, then that could be another 5%.

            I agree it’s hers to lose, but:

            -2% she dies or is incapacitated
            -5% major scandal or gaffe
            -2% global development negatively impacts her chances
            -1% someone else is unexpectedly awesome


        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Honestly, there’s probably a 2% chance of Hillary dying of a stroke or random accident, given her age and past history, so leaving an extra 3% for Biden, Sanders, or a last-minute Warren run seems, if anything, pretty conservative.

          Warren was born in 1949, Hillary in 1947, Biden in 1942, and Sanders in 1941. Maybe we should figure the odds of Biden or Sanders still being alive to receive the 3%.

    • Deiseach says:

      Gauge – I don’t think it’s as done-deal as you assume. Hillary is labouring under several disadvantages; first, setting aside those who would burn in Hell rather than vote for a Democrat, outside the party she needs to win some proportion of the popular vote and there are those who probably won’t vote for her given the scandals hanging around her and Bill. For those within the party, if they want a candidate to win (and that’s not necessarily a given: after a two-term President, some in the party may think it’s time to let the Republicans have a chance at dealing with the messes of the ongoing tangle in Afghanistan and Iraq because they started it, for instance) – if they want a third bite at the cherry, they need to take into account is the national Democrat vote on its own enough to do that?

      And if it’s not, then you need a candidate who can win over the undecided/floating voters.

      Secondly, within the party, she has enemies (every politician has). She may be more or less running on a combination of “we owe her/who else do we got?”, but if another candidate or candidates pops up who looks electable, don’t bet against those who dislike Hillary/the Clintons from throwing their support behind her.

      Thirdly, Bernie Sanders is going nowhere, but his support though small is probably significant (more for inside than outside the party). Don’t assume they’ll all fall behind Hillary.

      She may well turn out to be the top-polling Democratic Presidential candidate, but (a) it may be a closer-run thing than you’re assuming (b) it may not happen at all if another candidate can be found. I see the name of Andrew Cuomo, for example, floating around and although I don’t think he’s the one, the fact remains that he has the family political machine to fall back on and that’s the kind of organised support a candidate is going to need.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “but if another candidate or candidates pops up who looks electable”

        I think you might have some misunderstandings that flow from not having followed the American political system for very long and/or very deeply.

        No matter what it looks like on the surface to an outsider, Presidential candidates can’t “pop up out of nowhere”. Turnout to nominating contests is usually very low, so candidates must have state by state organizations that turnout their own voters, rather than relying on making an argument to the populace at large.

        To some extent, the contest for the 2016 nomination started in earnest in January, 2013. If you didn’t take steps back then to plan and fund your organization, the odds of winning the nomination in 2016 are very, very low.

        Bernie is running a campaign that is designed to pull Hillary to the left by arguing popular positions that exist to her left. It’s more of an Overton Window grab than a serious attempt to challenge for the nomination.

        And Cuomo is not the likely person to turn to if Hillary has a scandal, as he is currently enmeshed in a horrible scandal in the NY legislature. The kind that can lead to not just limited aspirations but also jail time (not predicting that for Cuomo, just noting how bad it is).

        • Deiseach says:

          HeelBearCub, I cannot believe the Democratic slate comes down to Bernie Sanders (whom I imagine a lot of people agree is not going anywhere and is more a protest candidate or some kind of stalking horse) and Hillary Clinton.

          For a start, I don’t think Hillary has that level of unalloyed support in the party. Last time round, they went with Obama over her. If she didn’t look electable then, what has changed to make her more appealing to the mass of voters (not just die-hard Democrats) now?

          Second, if Sanders’ purpose is to pull Hillary to the left, bang goes any chance of a Democrat presidency. Because even though right now nobody is looking like the one unchallenged candidate for the Republicans, I don’t think your country is ready for a ‘socialist’ president yet, and all an opposition candidate has to do is hammer on about how she’s adopted Sanders’ “commie” policies and how these would wreck the country’s fragile economic recovery (not to mention Mom and apple pie) to scare enough people away.

          I can certainly see her enemies/opponents in the party backing Sanders in the hopes that precisely what you say (“designed to pull Hillary to the left”) will happen. If she’s smart, she won’t take the bait and instead she’ll argue that she is the moderate, centrist choice.

          But I certainly can’t see anyone genuinely believing Sanders will have a hope, so there has to be a candidate in reserve who will, when the time comes, nobly step forward for the good of the party and the country and let his (and I do mean “his”) name go forward.

          Because otherwise, we’re faced with:

          (1) The Democrats believe Hillary can win it so they’re not even bothering to run anyone else. It’s Hillary or no-one. Are they that stupid or unprepared?

          (2) The Democrats believe that after two terms, the country is not going to vote in a Democrat president for three times in a row. It’s a lost cause no matter who they run. Perfect chance to let Hillary run and lose, then go “Sorry Hill, tried everything, even let you run unopposed, guess it was just never meant to be”. Frankly, to me this seems the more likely of the two IF there is no other dark horse candidate.

          And I completely accept what you say about needing to be building your support and your warchest and all the rest of it for a long time. I only mentioned Cuomo as an example of the kind of backing a potential candidate would need; someone plugged into the party machine. That’s partly why I think there’s someone in the background, biding his time to come forward: let the early round go where Sanders burns himself out, it’s only Hillary, then he comes in when everyone is getting bored of the prospect of a year or more of Hillary on the campaign trail against muppet Republicans, and suddenly it’s a two-horse race! Interest! Excitement! Choice!

          Maybe American politics does not engage in the same level of grudge-settling, back-stabbing and skulduggery as Irish politics, but I doubt it 🙂

          • >If she didn’t look electable then, what has changed to make her more appealing to the mass of voters (not just die-hard Democrats) now?

            Obama is no longer available. There doesn’t seem to be anyone as popular as Obama was in 2008, either.

          • Alexp says:

            “HeelBearCub, I cannot believe the Democratic slate comes down to Bernie Sanders (whom I imagine a lot of people agree is not going anywhere and is more a protest candidate or some kind of stalking horse) and Hillary Clinton.”

            Hillary, Bill and their friends have been working behind the scenes since Obama was elected to ensure that this would be the case. From possibly undermining young rising stars to “convincing” potential rivals to not even try to strongarming donors and powerbrokers to not back any other serious contenders. They were also very lucky this time. And very unlucky in 2008.

            Remember that Obama did not come out of nowhere in 2008. There had been buzz building around Obama as a presidential candidate since 2004.

            You seem to be talking about “The Democrats” and Hillary Clinton as seperate entities. For all intents and purposes right now, Hillary Clinton [i]is/[i] “The Democrats.”

          • HeelBearCub says:


            Again, you seem to not be very enmeshed in American politics. The Democrats broadly would have been perfectly happy to nominate Hillary in 2008, but they liked Obama a tick more. And he won precisely because he built a nationwide organization early and had the advantage of being able to run against Hillary’s vote for the Iraq war.

            And that example, The Iraq War, is why it’s foolish to think that pulling Hillary left is necessarily doomed. That was a position to her left that was actually extremely popular in the country in 2008 (far less so in 2002). There are tons of examples of policies that are “lefter” that are quite popular broadly including, rise in the minimum wage, TPP opposition, anti-Wallstreet, etc.

            I’m not necessarily advocating for any of these stances, just pointing out they tend to have broad popular support.

            And the race is Hillary Clinton and token candidates. Barring something truly unexpected happening (debilitating injury or actual real scandal, not the ginned up scandaliciousness of the day), no one is coming forward to truly challenge Hillary for the nomination. No one out there built the network of donors and volunteers that would be necessary.

          • Alex Richard says:

            >If she didn’t look electable then, what has changed to make her more appealing to the mass of voters (not just die-hard Democrats) now?

            In addition to Nancy’s answer, there’s a perception that Hillary’s approach to politics has been vindicated by Obama presidency: Obama beat Hillary on a post-partisan platform of hope, but utterly failed to reduce partisanship in DC. (A friend of mine who was an early Obama fan now says that he should have supported Hillary in 2008.)

            >(1) The Democrats believe Hillary can win it so they’re not even bothering to run anyone else. It’s Hillary or no-one. Are they that stupid or unprepared?

            This criticism doesn’t make sense. Every party always nominates a single candidate for the general election, who they think can win. Individual voters usually believe their candidate can win and don’t bother to support anybody else.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Nancy Lebowitz

            A couple more changes were, that Hillary (formerly discounted as a ditzy First Lady) during 2008 demonstrated energy and stamina and knowledge of issues, then stayed in the news as a very active Secretary of State.

            @ HeelBearCub

            And that example, The Iraq War, is why it’s foolish to think that pulling Hillary left is necessarily doomed. That was a position to her left that was actually extremely popular in the country in 2008 (far less so in 2002).

            By 2008 some people had forgotten that in 2002, 58% of the Democratic senators (29 of 50) voted for the AUMF, including Biden, Edwards, and Hillary. (Obama was not in the US Senate till 2004.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Nancy, agreed that they’ve got no-one with Obama’s “chance to make history by voting for the first African-American president”.

            I still don’t think Hillary can pull votes on the “chance to make history for voting for the first female president” factor. In part, I’m going by The Episcopal Church – after nine years of The First Female Anglican Primate Anywhere Ever, and all the back-slapping about diversity and inclusion and progress, this time round they’ve picked a slate of four cishet males (the only bone thrown to diversity etc. is the inclusion of an African-American there). None of the expected (and indeed long-awaited) more women, LGBT (despite electing first openly-gay and openly-lesbian bishops), etc. candidates.

            After the experiment with making history, they’ve regressed to the safe choices. If the Democrats think Hillary is the safe choice, I’d be very interested to know why.

          • onyomi says:

            Hillary will DEFINITELY get votes for the “chance to make history for voting for the first female president” factor. Probably not as many as the “chance to make history for voting for the first black president” factor, but still significant.

            Yes, there are a lot of people in the US who are fatigued with all the attempts to make statements through historic firsts rather than just picking the most qualified person, but most of them are not people who would vote for Hillary anyway.

            Of people who had any chance of voting for Democrats in the first place, her gender is not just neutral, but a positive. If she loses, it will be in spite of her XX chromosomes, not because of them.

            Heck, it’s even a slight positive for me–there’s no chance I’ll vote for her, but I think I’m slightly more positively inclined toward her than I would be to a man with the same exact views, as it was a minor positive to me that Obama is black (I even voted for him the first time, though a lot of that was a vote against McCain).

            I’d rather a white male president who is competent and shares my ideology than a black female president who isn’t, but given two candidates with roughly similar competence and viewpoints, I’d pick the black female, if only for the positive message it seems to send.

            That said, I do agree a bit of the bloom is off that rose. Electing *anyone* other than a white man, whether it was a black man or a white woman, seemed a more important historical message to send when it had never been done.

          • PDV says:

            Taking 538’s staff’s informed guesses as an anchor, anything over 92-93% is probably overconfident. But even the most optimistic liberal couldn’t seriously assess a chance much below 80% of Hilary victory.

          • Adam says:

            Hillary was electable then. She and Obama had a damn near even split of the total votes for nominee when she dropped out. Obama was just light years ahead of everyone else in understanding how to game the delegate pledging system.

  29. NZ says:

    For your personal life stuff can you provide links to old posts that explain some of this so that Johnnys-come-lately like me can understand the context better?

    For example:

    What part of the country do you live in (like, do you live in NYC or are you one of those weirdos who drives across the continent just to see the NYC solstice)?

    What, generally speaking, do you do for a living? (Googling PRITE yields psychiatry stuff–are you a shrink in your day job?)

    What is your *arrangement*? (“Girlfriends” plural??)

    And what’s all this about a flood?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes I’m a weirdo (Michigan), yes I’m a shrink, yes I’m poly. A pipe burst and there was a bunch of legal wrangling which ended up with both me and my landlord very upset at each other, but 80% chance that’s over with.

  30. suntzuanime says:

    Is predicting the result of events that mostly depend on your own personal willpower, uh, safe? I’m not even worried about the possibility of cheating, just the very act of doing something like that would drive me into a neurosis spiral.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t really care about these predictions very much. It was safe enough last year.

  31. Joe says:

    There will be a return of the jerky DMT entities, Cactus person and Big green double faced bat, in some kind of deep existential post.

  32. Kiya says:

    Is [project] a placeholder for a specific project you don’t want to tell the Internet about in detail yet, or a wildcard indicating you don’t think you will finish any projects?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The first one.

      • chaosmage says:

        Whatever it is, presuming you finish it eventually I predict I will love it (99%). If it’s psychiatry I’ll bother my colleagues at the clinic with it (95%) and if it’s something I can buy copies of I will buy several (99%).

    • Anthony Kemp says:

      That was indeed the most interesting part of this post. I’ll give it a 80% it’s a book and 50% that it’ll be received like a mashup of ‘Zen and the Art of…’ and ‘Capital in the 21.Century’.

  33. Wrong Species says:

    Earlier in the year, I gave an 80% chance that the official unemployment rate would be under 5% and that the more expansive unemployment rate(u6) would be under 10% by February of next year. I’m feeling pretty good about those predictions.

    And Jeb Bush is not going to get anywhere near the presidency. At best he might be like Rudy Giuliani in 2008. I give a 70% chance to Rubio winning the republican nomination.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What’s your % for a Bush nomination?

      • Wrong Species says:


        • onyomi says:

          My “people can’t be that stupid” side agrees with 15%, but my “people ARE that stupid” side, which is right 90% of the time, sides with Scott’s 50% chance of Jeb winning the nomination. But if he wins the nomination I think he will probably lose the general (70%).

          • PDV says:

            If Bush wins the nomination, he would cruise to victory against any non-Hilary and have a good chance of victory against her. People don’t hate the Bush name nearly as much as they used to.

          • Anthony says:

            Jeb Bush would actually be a better president than over half the current (16+) Republican field, but I’d put his chances of nomination down around 15%, too. I’d put the chance of it being one of Scott Walker, Mario Rubio, or Ted Cruz at >50%, and Rand Paul at about 10%.

            Jeb Bush vs Hilary Clinton, Clinton wins 70% probability. PDV is wrong. Obama has damaged the Democrat brand, and the Republican brand has recovered, but the Bush brand hasn’t so much. Paul v Clinton, Clinton 80% chance to win, but there will be some *weird* results, and at least one 10+ EV D lock will go to Paul. But he’ll lose some R locks, too. Walker/Rubio/Cruz vs Clinton, 50%.

            Clinton outpolling all other D combined – 95% unless she drops out. Chance of Clinton dropping out? Dunno, but probably more than 5%.

          • Adam says:

            That’s bizarrely high for Ted Cruz. He barely won his current seat in a runoff by a margin of error, in a way different electorate than the national electorate. I’d put his chances of not even winning re-election to the Senate higher than his chances of becoming a presidential nominee.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      @Wrong Species:
      “I give a 70% chance to Rubio winning the republican nomination.”

      That seems very overconfident. What’s your percentage for a Walker nomination and why? What about the combination of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Huckabee, Christie and Santorum?

      • Wrong Species says:

        It was probably overconfident but I don’t think ridiculously so. Paul, Perry, Huckabee and Santorum are definitely at zero percent. Christie and Cruz aren’t much higher. Walker is probably the only other alternative. How about this: 60% Rubio, 25% Walker, 10% Bush, 5% to the alternatives. Rubio has a lot of good things going for him and not many negatives. Unless he says something really stupid, I would be surprised if he doesn’t win the republican nomination.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Rubio hasn’t impressed me as someone who does well in the Kleig lights of national attention. He has been downright pitiful several times when he had the chance to show himself. Honestly, Rubio had made such a poor showing I had discounted him completely until I saw the most recent polls.

          Walker and Bush seem much more likely in my eyes. Yes, Bush is “tired” and the base is not in love with him, but man, you could have said that about Romney.

          Walker seems much more capable of throwing red meat and he has shown himself to be competent at getting his agenda passed. I just don’t see Rubio being the our in front favorite. But I also don’t see a Republican base that’s enamored of its options either.

    • PDV says:

      538, who I think can be taken pretty reliably as the minimally-biased domain experts, disagree with you pretty strenuously on Rubio. Slightly old numbers put Bush, Walker, Rubio in order; a more recent tweet from one of them says Rubio’s improved, but only to parity; all three at about 25%, with the other 25% for the field.

  34. The Do-Operator says:

    I believe you are underconfident about a number of the world event predictions, and I predict with 90% confidence that the number of predictions that come true will exceed the expected number.

    In particular, I suspect you are underconfident about US wars, the world cup, terrorist attacks, Assad and ISIS continuing to exist. The only prediction that seems plausibly overconfident is Hillary being the top-polling democrat – I’d put that at around 85%

    • Scott Alexander says:

      So to go up on for example terrorist attacks, I’d have to go up to 90%. But saying <10% of a big terrorist attack this year is saying likely no big terrorist attack in the next ten years. That sounds very unlikely, and I think historically there has been > one big terrorist attack per decade.

      My Syria and ISIS predictions were influenced by this article.

      I’m not sure who you expect to outpoll Hillary. The latest polls show something like Hillary 50%, Sanders 10%, undecided/other 40%. There’s no way Sanders can recover from that kind of deficit, and just because somehow every single person on my Facebook feed is a raging socialist doesn’t mean that you can get away with being explicitly socialist these days in America in general.

      • Protagoras says:

        You’re probably right, but on the issue of Sanders being openly socialist, I think the Republicans’ endless repetition of “Obama is a socialist!” may have managed to convince a lot of people that being a socialist is actually no big deal.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          On the other hand, a pretty good way to reinforce an idea in politics is to embed it as a presupposition in some other statement and then repeat it over and over. The endless repetition of “Obama is a socialist!” is probably immunizing people against the idea that Obama is a socialist, but only reinforcing the underlying premise {“Being a socialist is really bad.”}

          • Peter J. says:

            Given that we just came up with two plausible social-psychish explanations for why this could raise or lower the emotional valence of “X is a socialist,” I’d set the expected value of the change at around 0.

      • The Do-Operator says:

        I don’t expect anyone in particular to outpoll Hillary. I believe she has an 85-90% chance of getting the nomination, and the modal outcome is that she cruises to the nomination as if it was a reelection campaign. However, the chance of something unexpected happening is higher than 5%. Big names who are currently on the sidelines will immediately join the race if there is a scandal, so I don’t think there is a need to name a specific alternative to argue that 95% is too high.

        But you are almost certainly right about Bernie Sanders, and on that particular prediction I’ve already put my money where my mouth is: Predictit has an upper limit of 850 dollars per bet, and I’m maxed out betting against Bernie for the nomination. People are still backing him at 15-20% which is essentially free money

        • John Schilling says:

          There is, for example, a statistical 1.25% probability of Hillary dropping dead by the end of the year even when we don’t factor in the stress of campaigning and the hundred million or so Republicans sticking pins in voodoo dolls. Tossing in various mostly-dead and slightly-dead health outcomes like a stroke or major heart attack, and I think you’re getting at least a 5% chance of seeing the Democratic primary coming down to Zombie Clinton vs. whatever still-conscious candidate the party can dredge up at the eleventh hour. I don’t think Clinton wins that one…

          Toss in the possibility of a truly decisive scandal or gaffe, I’d think her odds are somewhere in the 80-90% range.

          • Alexp says:

            Do the normal statistics apply to her? She has access to the best doctors and best healthcare and is under constant scrutiny such that a sudden heart attack or “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” situation would result in professional medical attention within minutes. She doesn’t drive herself anywhere and gets a security detail so the chances of a car accident are pretty low. I think her chances of dropping dead are much lower than a typical persons’.

          • Deiseach says:

            But if Hillary is the only candidate for the nomination, that is putting all their eggs in one basket, and it could backfire quite badly. Ignoring Sanders who may make fools out of us all and romp home, and taking into consideration things like unfortunate accidents or health issues or some new scandal breaking, the party must have some other candidate in mind; surely they really don’t all believe, hands on hearts, that she is Da People’s Choice?

          • Ever An Anon says:

            For the most part, they genuinely do.

            Pretty much everyone is nostalgic for the Clinton administration these days, Hillary has spent the last four years as Obama’s shadow VP, and she already had enough political capital in 2008 (that is, before spending the last 8 years campaigning) to be the front-runner then.

            Even if you think it’s poor strategy, it’s still probably the direction things are going. Ask any Democrat (hell, ask me I’m technically still registered as one ) and they’ll agree she’s essentially guaranteed the 2016 nomination.

        • thomasblair says:

          It’s free money, maybe.

          Assumption: you are maxed near the current price of $0.85/share

          You own 1000 shares. You win and get paid $1/share. Predictit takes 10% from the winning contract. If you want cash back out from Predictit, there’s a 5% cash fee (+ 30 day processing time). After the fees, your profit is $5. (.9 * .95 * 1000). Then there’s the time cost. For the purpose of the contract, it will close when B Sanders drops out officially (do they ever formally drop out or do their campaigns just kind of languish – I think the latter.) The upper bound on time is the DNC 2016, which is over a year from now. $5 on $850 is 0.6% yield. Better uses of money elsewhere.

          Generalizing, the profit formula is ($0.855 – price per share) * #shares, so if you bought in at $.80, your profit is $55, which is 6.5% yield. Not terrible.

          The practical upper bound is $0.85/share, so if there’s action above that, it’s someone who doesn’t know the fee structure. Shares at 0.85 are <1% chance for rational actors.

          • The Do-Operator says:

            thomasblair, you scared me for a while there but after double checking the fees structure, I think you misunderstand the wording.

            I am pretty sure the fee is 10% of the profit on the contract. I paid 850 dollars for 1000 contracts. My profits will be $150 and I pay a fee of $15, leaving me with $135. If I cash it, I’ll be left with $128. That’s 15% return on a year long investment.

            If the fees structure was the way you described, Predictit would be pretty useless as a prediction market..

          • thomasblair says:


            Thank you kindly for the correction. I misunderstood in exactly the way you describe.

            I’m glad you caught it – I bought some B Sanders “NO” at .84 before I read about the profit fee and was kicking myself while I wrote out my comment. I’ve now added to the position.

            What else caught your eye there? I’m intrigued by prediction markets.

          • The Do-Operator says:

            Actually I was wrong about the withdrawal fees. These are 5% of the total amount, which will be a significant problem if you plan to just make a single bet. In the specific case of the mispriced Sanders market it is probably still worth it though.

            Other than Sanders, the most striking feature of Predictit is the insane arbitrage opportunity in the presidential markets. Unfortunately this is made much less attractive by the lack of margin trading and the fees structure. If Predictit wants real liquidity and efficient markets, they are going to have to set a fees structure that encourages arbitrage: for example, profits calculated marginally over the entire presidential market, rather than individually for each contract.

            For now, the obvious arbitrage opportunity is mostly a signal that there is money to be made on the ‘no’ side of most candidates (Probably with ththe exception of Hillary)

          • thomasblair says:


            I have a max position against ‘Ole Bernie as well at an average share price of 84c. I figure the profit (as cash) on that $850 is about $95, which isn’t terrible for a year’s time. Plus, it’s fun.

            The fee structure is interesting. Were I running a prediction market, I think a flat 10% of the profit on the contract is a poor incentive structure. I would think you’d want to have a higher fee (as a percentage) when the contract is correctly priced to encourage (accurate) contrarian views. Take Bernie: If he wins, I’d want to see those that bought YES at 17c pay lower % fees than those that bought YES at 80c. It may not matter though as the contrarian view is already well-compensated if correct in the end. Whatever – it’s fun to do.

            But yeah, that 5% cash fee is too high. In the case of the 84c Bernie NO shares, it’s over 3x the fee for winning the prediction. It’s clear what they’re doing though – trying to keep money in.


      • Andrew says:

        The fact is people know Hillary and don’t really know Sandars. Hillary being out preformed would need to involve having some scandal break and actually gain traction. If that happens, I strongly expect people and the media will take a long hard look at (other candidates) and someone will eek over her.

      • Danny says:

        “So to go up on for example terrorist attacks, I’d have to go up to 90%. But saying <10% of a big terrorist attack this year is saying likely no big terrorist attack in the next ten years."

        I think your maths is wrong here (or your not correcting your confidence for it only being half a year). a 10% chance of a terrorist attack in the next 6 months, gives a 88% chance of at least one terrorist attack in the next 10 years, given a constant rate of terrorist attacks (0.9^20 ~ 0.12). 88% hardly seems to be "likely no big terrorist attack in the next ten years". A 20% chance of major terrorist attack gives barely more than 1% chance of no major terrorist attack in the next 10 years, which seems low.

        Adding the extra half month pushes those to 85% and 98.5%.

        I can't see a good reason to model attacks such that we are more likely to see them sooner than later (but I'm happy to be corrected). Are you 99% confident that we'll see a major terrorist attack in the US in the next 10 years? 90% confident?

        Looked at another way, a 20% chance of a terrorist attack in 6 months means expecting 4 terrorist attacks/decade. 10% chance means expecting 2/decade. (5% means 1/decade, and still gives a 64% chance of at least one)

      • Deiseach says:

        I agree Sanders hasn’t a cat in Hell’s chance. But when he drops out, his support has to go somewhere, and I don’t think it will all flow to Hillary. Some will, sure, but you’re assuming the 40% undecided will have no choice but to go to her and I don’t agree.

        A split vote is more likely; it’s still early in the campaigning (not to mention the race) and a candidate or candidates who pop up later, when they see her support wavering in certain areas, seems to me not unlikely.

        Take Sanders’ base (small but probably fairly unified), the 40% wavering, and some of Hillary’s 50% who might also be persuadable and spread it among another two rivals, and although she may well grind through to win, I think it’ll be tougher than you estimate.

        I don’t see another woman as a rival. But a young (by politician standards), photogenic, liberal in safe areas but not crazy left like Bernie, not tainted by Clinton Administration scandals, married-with-two-kids guy who can possibly win over some of the wavering Republican/Don’t Know voters? Don’t write that off!

      • >But saying <10% of a big terrorist attack this year is saying likely no big terrorist attack in the next ten years.

        This seems dubious to me, since the world can change a lot in ten years. A <10% prediction seems more like a claim that if you happened to have 10 copies of the world handy, there probably wouldn't be a big terrorist attack in any of them.

        Am I missing something?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sure, but he means something more like: “no big terrorist attack in the next ten years, assuming that the world doesn’t change.” It’s just a way of playing with your intuition. It should give the same answer as the other question. But if it doesn’t, which should you choose? I think that the span of time version is better, because we do have experience with spans of time, while we don’t have experience with rerolling the dice on the universe.

      • PDV says:

        As in most things political, I take my cues from the nice people at 538, who spend more time paying attention to things and presumably have the better priors that come from experience as a political observer.
        Here is their most recent shooting-the-shit estimate of candidates chances. They suggest a chance of around 82% and a reasonable interval of about 76%-91% as of March; nothing interesting happening in the last couple months probably pushes that up a tick, so I’d say 79%-92% sounds reasonable now.

        Wait. OTOH, that’s the chances to win. There are about 14 months between now and the Democratic Convention, and the end of 2015 is about halfway. So if we assume that the chances of collapse are evenly distributed (false but close enough) and that a collapse could happen up to the minute of the convention (also false, but again close enough, and in the opposite direction), then we can treat the chances of Hilary staying on top as two separate events, so about 85% overall but 92% for each half, with the range for now-December 31st being 89%-95%.

        So, you’re at the high end of the range of reasonable guesses, but still within it; you’re probably slightly overconfident, but only slightly.

      • albatross says:

        There is probably more than a 5% chance of Hillary either melting down via some kind of scandal or having to step aside for health reasons.

      • Anonymous says:

        >But saying <10% of a big terrorist attack this year is saying likely no big terrorist attack in the next ten years.


  35. I hadn’t heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership until just now, so I went and watched two opposing sources on youtube: An extremely dry NewsHour report that told me pretty much nothing, and a fear-mongering animated piece on how it’s going to ruin the internet and corporations will rule the planet.

    I’ll pretty much automatically go with whatever Scott Alexander’s view on it is — so, what’s the scoop?

    • Wrong Species says:

      My rule of thumb for politics is pretty simple: when it comes to domestic policy, nothing is as ever as big of a deal as everyone makes it out to be. Minimum wage, austerity, taxes, and trade deals don’t make huge impacts on the world(except maybe when they are changed drastically), they just slightly change things either positively or negatively in a way that will not be noticeable unless you look very closely at the data years from now. There are exceptions but I can guarantee you that this will not be one of them.

      • Jiro says:

        The big deal on the TPP is the intellectual property positions. Intellectual property laws have had *huge* impacts on average people; for instance, if the copyright extension in 1998 had not passed every single individual in the US would have hadaccess to 16 yeaars more of pubnlic domain material as of now, and the DMCA has singlehandedly resulted in thousands of takedowns of material published by ordinary people. And the anticircumvention part of the DMCA has caused huge swaths of useful software to be illegal. I don’t need to “look closely at the data” to notice any of those.

        I can guarantee you that the TPP *will* be one of the exceptions that has big effects on ordinary people in the US, just by eviscerating fair use, and it will export the bad parts of US intellectual property law to other countries as well.

        Now, it is true that many of the lobby groups that both complain about the TPP and have enough power to actually do something about it are objecting to other parts of it that will have less impact on average people, but you take the allies you can get.

        • Vanzetti says:

          >for instance, if the copyright extension in 1998 had not passed every single individual in the US would have hadaccess to 16 yeaars more of pubnlic domain material as of now,

          You know there are more public domain material already than you can hope to consume?

          Hell, I’m sure more is created everyday than you could consume, even if you stayed awake 24 hours.

          • anonymous_100 says:

            > Hell, I’m sure more is created everyday than you could consume, even if you stayed awake 24 hours.

            Is this actually true? In that in the USA are any works currently entering the public domain (other than works produced by the US government)? (Unless you mean works released under CC0/unlicense, in which case I don’t have any statistics.)

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Is this actually true? In that in the USA are any works currently entering the public domain (other than works produced by the US government)? (Unless you mean works released under CC0/unlicense, in which case I don’t have any statistics.)

            He is probably including all works released under one of the other six CC licenses or the GFDL in that statistic. Maybe even works which are simply uploaded to a publicly accessible webpage while still reserving all rights, such as Manna. A lot of people tend to use the term “public domain” rather loosely.

          • Jiro says:

            1) As anonymous_100 has pointed out, zero is not “more than you could consume”.

            2) Abnother 16 years of material (which will be another 20 years of material eventually) doesn’t just mean a larger quantity. It also means more material to cherrypick the best from.


      • Dontknow says:

        Apparently, it gives companies the right to sue a government if it makes a law or decision that negatively impacts its investment returns in certain circumstances. Some have claimed this is a fundamental challenge to national sovereignty, because governments will be afraid to make laws that limit companies even where the majority of the population want it. I don’t know enough detail to know whether that is accurate or not. Does anyone else know more?

        • suntzuanime says:

          It’s clear that it is in some sense a challenge to national sovereignty, in the same sense that any treaty that imposes obligations on its signatories is a challenge to national sovereignty. And it’s clear that it restrains governments from doing things that the majority of their citizens want when those things are a violation of the treaty; again, this is a feature that any treaty will have. Not every law that limits corporations is a good one.

          My understanding is that similar provisions already exist in some other trade treaties, so my guess is that they can’t be too earthshatteringly bad, although there’s room for them to be sort of unfortunate.

        • Jon Gunnarsson says:

          I have heard this argument from many of the opponents of TTIP. I’m not sure how accurate this portrayal is, but the fact that TTIP’s opponents seem to think this one of the strongest arguments against the treaty makes me more positively inclined toward TTIP since I think transfering power from national governments to corporations is probably a net positive.

          • Jiro says:

            Even from a libertarian viewpoint, the government has a monopoly on the use of force (except for self-defense). You don’t want to give corporations access to this too, and having laws written for the benefit of corporations does exactly that, unless the law consists of just leaving the corporation alone without imposing penalties on anyone, which is not a good description of the intellectual property provisions of TPP.

          • Jon Gunnarsson says:

            What we’re talking about here is giving private firms additional ways of suing governments, not private armies or police or anything like that.

          • Eric Rall says:

            My understanding is that this claim is probably a garbled explanation of one of the enforcement mechanisms in the agreement.

            Many current trade agreements have an enforcement mechanism where if Government A thinks Government B has violated the terms of the agreement, they can bring a complaint to an arbitration panel established by the trade agreement. That panel decides if the agreement was violated, tells Government B to knock it off on pain of retaliatory tariffs from Government A. A prominant example of how this plays out is the 2002 US steel tariff.

            It’s hard to say for sure because the detailed terms of the TPP aren’t public yet, but I expect this is a similar enforcement mechanism, with an added feature that private individuals and corporations who are directly harmed by a violation of the agreement have standing to raise their complaints to the arbitration panel directly rather than having to lobby their governments to bring a complaint on their behalf.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          How is this different, in national sovereignty terms, from the two billion reasons you can sue the government already?

      • PDV says:

        This isn’t domestic policy?

    • Caryatis says:

      Maybe you need a source of info other than youtube or Scott? I like The Economist but you have a lot of options.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Sounds like you need some Voxsplaining!

    • onyomi says:

      This TPP is one area where I weirdly find myself siding with the labor movement and Bernie Sanders, though probably not for the same reasons.

      Mostly, it seems a transparent move to strengthen big corporations’ global intellectual property net–something no average citizen is calling for, but which almost certainly WILL get passed one way or another.

      Most likely, they will cut out some of trade barrier elimination stuff that annoys labor unions and leave in the IP stuff, giving us the worst of both worlds, as usual.

      I would pessimistically rate some form of the TPP, including the more draconian IP stuff to pass at more like 80-90% based on past experiences of the people getting temporarily outraged at something nobody but congress and its corporate masters wants, and then congress very quietly passing a slightly revised version of the same thing a few months later.

    • BBA says:

      Seems to me like TPP is basically the same as NAFTA, just with more countries. If you think NAFTA turned out well, you should support TPP, if not then you shouldn’t.

      I used to be vaguely pro-NAFTA, now I’m vaguely anti, but in the grand scheme of things it hasn’t had much impact on the US compared to the WTO and the industrialization of China. The WTO has already lowered trade barriers and imposed draconian IP laws to the point that there’s very little the TPP could do to have much of an impact, short of a common market with open borders like the EU, which isn’t in the offing.

      No, the trade deal that should really scare you is the Trade in Services Agreement, which would force all member countries to allow foreign competition in finance, transportation, the media, etc. This would lead to the ultimate race to the bottom, especially as institutionally weak countries like Colombia and Pakistan are proposed members of TiSA.

    • BarryOgg says:

      I’m mainly concerned that it will make DMCA, which is terrible even in comparison to most other copyright laws, somewhat enforceable on the our side of the ocean.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The angry ranting against TPP makes me want it to pass. When people yell at me and treat me as stupid, I want them to lose.

  36. The_Dancing_Judge says:

    I will (or not) be (internet) purged by the left (or right) for heretical views by the end of 2015 a la moldbug

    • Scott clearly isn’t a conservative. He’s not too far from the position of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians, but hasn’t identified as part of that group. He has a leftish feel but clearly doesn’t identify with the organized left.

      It’s true that I claim to have once been purged from an (Objectivist) group I wasn’t a member of, but I don’t see a good parallel in the online world.

      • Nonnamous says:

        I think The_Dancing_Judge meant that Scott will be kicked out of something in a manner similar to how Moldbug was recently kicked out of a tech conference.

      • John Schilling says:

        A conservative or a libertarian isn’t, from the leftist perspective, a heretic. They are infidels, unbelievers, or pagans. As long as they stay on their side of the line, they mostly just get missionaries lobbed at them. Mostly.

        Heretics and apostates, those are the ones that need to be periodically purged.

        • The_Dancing_Judge says:

          @ John Schilling, I’d say kosher GOP style conservatives and kosher bleeding hear libertarian types are not considered pagans or infidels. They have theological disagreements, but all profess the nicene creed. For the most part conservatives and libertarians within the overton window endorse freedom and equality for all and believe in racial and gender equality (maybe if disagreeing on means for achieving such equality).

          The real transgressors are those that deny the value of democracy and equality. There’s a reason calling someone a fascist, racist, or sexist is so powerful – these are the real unbelievers.

          • Null Hypothesis says:

            But those are only useful accusations against people who /aren’t/

            Racists are happy to be racists. And sexists sexist. Calling someone racist or sexist to get them to shut-up only works to get non-bigots to shut up. Which to me indicates some deliberate degree of disingenuous discussion tactics.

          • Careless says:

            @Null: You really think that Steve Sailer is happy people call him a racist? I imagine it makes his personal life rather difficult.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I imagine that, by this point, Steve has arranged his life such that it doesn’t really affect him.

            But someone who hasn’t prepared for being called names could be in a lot of trouble.

          • Randy M says:

            Someone can recognize the ill-intent behind the slur and not apreciate it while finding themselves likely included in the wider definitions of the term.

            Also, racists may not be happy to be racists; that is, they may find they hold certain propositions to be truths, but unpleasant ones. In the choice between an unpleasant truth and a pretty lie, the truth is the more valuable position, but no promise it will bring happiness.

        • Dexter Peabody says:

          See Orwell on the Spanish Civil War.

      • The_Dancing_Judge says:

        I was just curious how worried he is about ever getting in professional (or just internet) trouble for writing things on this blog seeing as he is not totally anonymous and that he has (at least by implication) endorse some very taboo ideas on human differences in the past.

        • onyomi says:

          Is it really taboo now to say that there are average differences among groups? Isn’t that just… obvious? And don’t scientists pretty much agree on that, though they may quibble whether it’s 50% genes-50% environment or 40-60, etc.?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I don’t think it’s taboo to acknowledge that average differences exist. Saying that they’re genetic can get people into trouble, though, especially for highly politicized topics like race and gender.

            Though in general, talking about gender in that way seems to be more accepted by the public. There are lots of popular books about average gender differences (many of them making the case that it’s at least partly innate), where they tend to be framed in a “different but equal” kind of way.

          • onyomi says:

            But if you acknowledge that average differences exist, and that genetics determines outcomes to at least some degree (I don’t know of anyone who thinks environment is 100%), then isn’t that an implicit acknowledgement that differences are, at least to some degree, genetic in origin?

          • Anonymous says:

            What is acceptable is not coherent. There are lots of things that you can say in isolation that you cannot say in conjunction. Inference is taboo.

            You don’t know anyone who claims that differences are 100% environmental? Have asked anyone? Virtually everyone claims that. The spectrum in mainstream psychology is not quibbling between 50-50 and 60-40, but between debating and burning the heretics at the stake. eg, Elizabeth Spelke. She starts her talk by explicitly saying that she is willing to debate!

            Could biological differences in motives — motivational patterns that evolved in the Pleistocene but that apply to us today — propel more men than women towards careers in mathematics and science?

            My feeling is that where we stand now, we cannot evaluate this claim. It may be true, but as long as the forces of discrimination and biased perceptions affect people so pervasively, we’ll never know.

          • Hyzenthlay says:


            I don’t think many people would make the claim that human personalities are 100% environmental, but people have disagreements about which differences are cultural and which are genetic. When it comes to average differences between groups (as opposed to differences between individuals) I think people are more likely to assume that culture plays a larger role.

            It’s possible to believe that a significant part of personality is genetic while believing that the specific personality differences associated with, say, ethnicity are mostly cultural.

            For instance, introversion or extroversion is probably genetic, but those traits might express themselves differently in different cultures. Or in males vs. females, or whatever.

          • Anthony says:

            If it weren’t obvious, it wouldn’t need to be taboo.

          • onyomi says:

            If environment were everything then my cat would have an equal probability of earning a PhD as myself. We grew up in the same family.

            Re. women in science etc., even if there is understandable controversy over to what degree noticeable trend x is genetic and to what degree environmental/cultural, there must still be general agreement that there are genetic differences among groups (even if we can’t agree what they are or how significant or how divide up groups).

          • Unique Identifier says:

            But your cat faces prejudice on the basis of its fur color. Surely, if everybody talked with and read good-night stories for the cat, just like they did for the actual human babies, we would by now have had our Felix Sylvester, PhD of Cathematics.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @ Unique Identifier: But even if the parents treated their cat exactly as they did their human children, the cat is still growing up in a speciesist culture. The cat will still face anti-feline messages in the world at large and watch TV shows in which cats are subservient to humans. It will still be expected to play with “cat toys” which insult its intelligence.

            Only when every shred of anti-feline prejudice has been eliminated, only when there are as many cats as humans in positions of political power, only when phrases like “copy cat” have been eliminated from our vocabulary, will we ever be able to say with certainty that the differences between cats and humans are genetic.

            Until then we will just have to institute government programs to educate cats and teach humans how to treat them with respect.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m sorry, I seem to have wandered into a time portal. Is it 2015 or 2025?

          • Adam says:

            Scott has never said anything beyond Steven Pinker or Andrew Sullivan, who were chastised but pretty far from blacklisted. Even Larry Summers immediately got an even better job.

          • Anonymous says:

            Larry Summers immediately got a much more lucrative job, which is hardly the same as a better job. He thought he was toast, so he cashed out in a not very public job. He was surprised to find himself still employable in Washington despite (1) being publicly forced out and (2) selling out.

            But I’m not sure that Summers’s remarks on women were such a big part of his termination.

          • Protagoras says:

            I don’t know the exact role played by the comments. But Ivy president = fundraiser in chief, and I can’t imagine that pissing people off helps fundraising, so I’d be shocked if there weren’t some issues with his performance of the most important part of his job.

        • Unique Identifier says:

          [Edit: This is threaded wrongly.]
          You are of course right, but you are not supposed to admit that this it’s all nurture-hypothesis cannot be falsified. You start with the large effects, and then you gradually retreat the goalposts. This way, you can always have the best compromise between a vaguely plausible and effectively untestable hypothesis.

  37. Andrew says:

    I hope you got a satisfactory resolution with regards to the flooding of your house. It sounded like your landlord was trying to lay the entirety of his problem on you.

  38. J says:

    I will identify as a neoreactionary.

  39. Siahsargus says:

    95% certainty for a revolt in north Korea with only ~6 months for it to happen in? Why the confidence?

  40. bartlebyshop says:

    ” I will be involved in at least one published/accepted-to-publish research paper by the end of 2014″

    Did you mean 2015?

  41. Andy says:

    “No new names will be added to the register of bans for non-spam purposes.”