In a nutshell: Small groups of decision-makers in governments and other institutions sometimes have to make extremely difficult judgement calls on high-stakes matters, like global catastrophic risks or the development or deployment of emerging technologies. But human judgement is often biased, and decision-makers don’t always follow the right processes. We’ve seen evidence that it’s possible to use rigorous forecasting techniques to improve our ability to predict future events, and by extension, to make good decisions. We’d like to see more people doing research into forecasting and other methods for improving institutional decision-making, as well as putting those methods into practice at important institutions.
If you are well suited to this career, it may be the best way for you to have a social impact.
Why might forecasting research and implementation be high impact?
Governments and other important institutions frequently have to make complex, high-stakes decisions based on judgement calls, often from just a handful of people. There’s reason to believe that human judgements can be flawed in a number of ways, but can be substantially improved using more systematic processes and techniques. One of the most promising areas we’ve seen is using more rigorous forecasting methods to make better predictions about important future events. Improving the quality of foresight and decision-making in important institutions could improve our ability to solve almost all other problems.
We’d like to help form a new community of researchers and practitioners who develop and implement these techniques. We’re especially keen to help people who want to work on the areas most relevant to global catastrophic risks, such as nuclear security, AI, and biorisk.
Note that we’re not talking about the popular ‘nudge’ work in behavioural sciences, which is focused on making small improvements to personal behaviours. Rather, we’re interested in neglected work relevant to high-stakes decisions like whether to go to war, such as Tetlock’s research into forecasting.
What does this path involve?
There are two main options in this path:
Developing better forecasting and decision-making techniques, and testing those that already exist.
Applying the most effective techniques in important organisations, especially those working on catastrophic risks.
Developing better techniques and testing existing ones: This means doing research to:
Develop new techniques and approaches to improve judgement and decision-making, and then testing them.
Practically speaking, this probably means trying to get a position at a behavioural science research lab interested in working on these kinds of questions (which would very likely require getting a PhD in psychology or related area of behavioural science).
Getting the best proven techniques adopted in high-impact areas: Someone trying to get proven techniques implemented might start by working in the types of organisations for which improved decision-making is especially important. This is because knowing which changes will have the biggest impact and which are most feasible will require a deep understanding of the practical constraints and incentives of different groups working on important problems.
You can also consider being an advocate for the adoption of better practices across government and organisations, or for improved decision-making more generally by working as a journalist or public intellectual.
To assess if this path might be a good fit for you, consider these questions:
Might you be able to get a job in a relevant area of government?
Do you know how to influence choices within a bureaucracy?
On the research path, do you have a chance of getting into a relevant PhD at a top 30 school?
On the research path, do you have a chance at making a contribution to one of the relevant research questions? For instance, are you highly interested in the topic, and sometimes have ideas for questions to look into? Are you able to work independently for many days at a time? Are you able to stick with or lead a research project over many years? Read more about predicting success in research.
How to enter
The first step is to gain relevant expertise. This is most naturally done by working on relevant techniques in a lab like Tetlock’s, or studying other important decision-making processes in a graduate programme. However, you could also take a more practical route by starting your career in government and policy, and learning about the science on the side.
Once you have the expertise, you can either try to make progress on key research questions in the field, or work with an important organisation to improve their processes. We can introduce you to people working on this.
This is a nascent field that could become much bigger, and now is an exciting time to get involved.
The Decision Lab of Professor Philip Tetlock is a socially conscious applied research firm that is dedicated to empowering the world to make better decisions. See current vacancies.
Good Judgment was cofounded by Professor Philip Tetlock. This for-profit company maintains a global network of elite ‘superforecasters’ who collaborate to tackle clients’ forecasting questions with unparalleled accuracy.
Metaculus is a community dedicated to generating accurate predictions about future real-world events by aggregating the collective wisdom, insight, and intelligence of its participants. See current vacancies.
Open Philanthropy uses an approach inspired by effective altruism to identify high-impact giving opportunities across a wide range of problem areas, shares this research freely online, and uses it to advise top philanthropists on where to give. See current vacancies. Disclaimer of conflict of interest: we have received a grant from Open Philanthropy.
Because this is one of our priority paths, if you think this path might be a great option for you, we’d be especially excited to advise you on next steps, one-on-one. We can help you consider your options, make connections with others working in the same field, and possibly even help you find jobs or funding opportunities.