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99 Foreign Aff. 10 (2020)
A Better Crystal Ball: The Right Way to Think about the Future

handle is hein.journals/fora99 and id is 1084 raw text is: 

A Better

Crystal Ball

The Right Way to Think
About the Future

. Peter Scoblic and
Philip E. Tetlock

       very policy is a prediction. Tax
       cuts will boost the economy.
       Sanctions will slow Iran's nu-
 clear program. Travel bans will limit
 the spread of COVID-19. These claims all
 posit a causal relationship between
 means and ends. Regardless of party,
 ideology, or motive, no policymaker
 wants his or her recommended course of
 action to produce unanticipated conse-
 quences. This makes every policymaker
 a forecaster. But forecasting is difficult,
 particularly when it comes to geopoli-
 tics-a domain in which the rules of
 the game are poorly understood, infor-
 mation is invariably incomplete, and
 expertise often confers surprisingly little
 advantage in predicting future events.
   These challenges present practical
 problems for decision-makers in the
 U.S. government. On the one hand, the
 limits of imagination create blind spots
 that policymakers tend to fill in with

 J. PETER SCOBLIC is Co-Founder of Event
 Horizon Strategies, a Senior Fellow in the
 International Security Program at New America,
 and a Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School.
 PHILIP E. TETLOCK is Leonore Annenberg
 University Professor at the University of
 Pennsylvania, Co-Founder of Good Judgment,
 and a co-author of Superforecasting: The Art
 and Science of Prediction.

past experience. They often assume that
tomorrow's dangers will look like
yesterday's, retaining the same mental
map even as the territory around them
changes dramatically. On the other hand,
if policymakers addressed all imaginable
threats, the United States would need so
large and expensive a national security
establishment that the country could do
little else. By many measures, it is
nearing this point already. The United
States has military bases in more than
70 countries and territories, boasts more
than four million federal employees
with security clearances, and fields 1.3
million active-duty troops, with another
million in reserve. According to one
estimate, the United States spends $1.25
trillion annually on national security.
When it comes to anticipating the future,
then, the United States is getting the
worst of both worlds. It spends untold
sums of money preparing yet still finds
itself the victim of surprise -fundamen-
tally ill equipped for defining events,
such as the emergence of COVlD-19.
   There is a better way, one that
would allow the United States to make
decisions based not on simplistic
extrapolations of the past but on smart
estimates of the future. It involves
reconciling two approaches often seen
to be at philosophical loggerheads:
scenario planning and probabilistic
forecasting. Each approach has a
fundamentally different assumption
about the future. Scenario planners
maintain that there are so many pos-
sible futures that one can imagine
them only in terms of plausibility, not
probability. By contrast, forecasters
believe it is possible to calculate the
odds of possible outcomes, thereby
transforming amorphous uncertainty


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