“Is The Coast Clear?” (Part 1)

1966

My first professional ambition was to become a ‘FBI agent’. Can you believe it?  In 1st Grade I wanted to be a “Spacemen” – plural. I did not know a punk kid could not be ALL Spacemen. I loved the stars.

But by 10th grade, my Dad had instructed me to “get serious.” Either that or I was going to grow up to be “a bum.”  At “Career Day,” two ‘FBI agents’ came to school to talk about the agency.  I was 16 and looking for a way to serve my country, I guess.  I was a Young Democrat, too.  I had not heard much about Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson had given a speech on Vietnam.  My Mum (RIP) had ask me my opinion.  I didn’t know enough to have an opinion.  She told me it was a very serious situation to go to war.  “The Summer of Love”  in Haight-Ashbury had not happen.  Turns out, I was not even smart enough to be a ‘FBI agent’.  It took getting straight “A”s and learning math.  I would be a “bum” I guess.  After that, Dad just called me, “stupid.”

 

2012

The Good Judgement Project (GJP), sponsored by IARPA, the DARPA of the Intelligence Community was a heroic attempt to resurrect the democratic or republican view to science and understanding.  “The Wisdom of The Crowd” is a real phenomena if taken as a whole, correctly, and framed into a certain timeframe within constraints.  By using appropriate statistics,  GJP learned: (1) what type events could be predicted with any certainty and, (2) within what timeframes.  Some events are predictable; some are not.  The first query any GJP member must ask of an event presented to her: “Is this predictable in this amount of time?”

At my best, I had a Brier Score equivalent to a “Meterologist” over months, just shy of “God-like” status in making predictions of the future within a certain time frame.  The time-frame and the actual World were inseparable.  My first introduction into SpaceTime that was not a course lesson, but true to life.

“Are you smarter than a CIA agent?” was the slogan of GJP.  Now, THAT was “stupid.”  Smart had nothing to do with it. “Agent” had nothing to do with it.

CIA operatives or officers, God-bless their hard-working souls, do not have such luxury.  They are forced to come to a conclusion whether the event-question can be predicted or not.

Thus, the FIRST ERROR encountered when comparing anything we did scientifically to a secret, government ‘spy’ agency.  Question: Do you think President Trump is scientific?

The SECOND ERROR is what follows, and is much more profound.  The idea formulated for fun and profit “somewhere” was to use GJP to harvest “Superforecasters, ” thus the name of a popular book on The New York Times Best-Seller list.  Maybe it flows naturally when the funding ends in any IARPA/DARPA project that was hugely successful:

“Can we make money at it?  Can it continue?  This is EASY!”  Just like “THE INTERNET”, GJP staff failed to predict the future when it counted most.  When they themselves were involved and had an interest in it.  We did it, not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

Superforecasters are folks, like I was – barely – and more importantly like my friend, Ellen.  Ellen WAS the penultimate Superforecaster.  Likeable, worked in a drug store, she was featured in the NYT as “every woman”.  From the get-go, she was “Goddess-like” in her predictions (the feminine form of God-like, I suppose.  Ellen is laughing when I say this no doubt.)   She could separate her political and social and professional life from predictions to such an extent, it was almost scary.  I think she was a moderate Republican, but I could not say for certain.  See, that is how it was!

I was way too intellectual to be a Republican, always quoting T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) on housing and such*.  Saying more than I had to say in my final days of making predictions. When it was still possible for things like GJP to predict.  Now, ALL media outlets are suspect: ‘Is Putin threatening to bomb Florida with his new weapons system? Wha???

“Did I do OK?” Ellen asked me in London, at the GJP’s final Superforecaster Conference in response to the questions ask of her and her answers, which was mainly a News Q&A session for the panelists, as it turned out.  The first GJP Conference had been in Berkeley, CA USA.

Ellen was nervous in private that day.  Something she never showed in public.  She was there with her husband, who was quiet. “He doesn’t forecast at all,” she told me.  My response was unimportant, something along the lines of, “Yes. There are a lot of reporters the news agencies covering it, I said, The audience is mainly reporters.  I think you did fine under the circumstances,” I told her. She nodded.  “Thanks,” she said. “I thought so, too.”  I could sense the same perplexity in her question  that I felt.  That we were witnessing the end of a truly great scientific experiment into an unknown future.

That was the last time I saw Ellen, after our final prediction as a group which wasn’t a “real” prediction,; not a really scientific and statistical prediction at all.  We were ask, point blank to name our own timeframe.  We could have refused, but what the heck.  After that, I noticed her Brier scores continually get worse and worse. Shortly after that, I left predicting, as well.


 

  • “I was thinking hard about the Amman demolition, puzzled as to what expedient would be quickest and best; and the puzzle of these ruins added to my care. There seemed evidence of bluntness of mind in these Roman frontier cities, Um el Jemal, Um el Surab, Um-taiye. Such incongruous buildings, in what was then and now a desert cockpit, accused their builders of insensitiveness; almost of a vulgar assertion of man’s right (Roman right) to live unchanged in all his estate. Italianate buildings — only to be paid for by taxing more docile provinces — on these fringes of the world disclosed a prosaic blindness to the transience of politics. A house which so survived the purpose of its builder was a pride too trivial to confer honour upon the mind responsible for its conception.” – Chapter CVIII, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)

 

 

 

 

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