30 June 2016

Not so Superforecasting

Last November I posted here about Superforecasting and the Good Judgement Project (GJP), run by Professor Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania. Tetlock’s book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, had just been published. For more details about Superforecasting and my reservations about the technique, please read the post. One of Tetlock’s conclusions was that the top 2% of forecasters merit designation as “Superforecasters” and that their prognostications should be taken seriously.

During the UK “Brexit” referendum campaign up to Thursday 23 June, the Superforecasters’ estimated likelihood of the Leave campaign being successful was made available regularly on Twitter. Never expected to be more than about 40%, their final estimate, provided on polling day, was 24%, as can be seen below:

The result was a Leave win (with 52% of the vote). A couple of experts had anticipated the outcome, for example Nigel Smith on the Reaction website. Ironically, the campaign director for Vote Leave was Dominic Cummings, an enthusiast for Superforecasting (see my November post). Tetlock tweeted after the result was known:

and Cummings (@odysseanproject) was supportive :

(SW1 is the postal district which includes Westminster and Whitehall, ie the seat of government). 

Personally, I think Cummings is letting Superforecasting off lightly – they were way off on a topic which  is almost certainly of long-term significance regionally and beyond and has had more global attention than anything in the UK since the death of Princess Diana.

I suspect that most of the Superforecasters are US-based and were relying too much on the “received wisdom” generated by the London media.  These well-paid members of the intelligentsia have little understanding of attitudes outside the capital and its associated areas of prosperity eg Oxford, Bristol and so on. The Superforecasters probably also over-discounted the opinion polling in the light of the latter’s dismal performance before the UK general election in 2015. This time the polls didn’t do so badly and were indicating for most of June that the result would be very close, ie within their inherent margin of error of a few percent at best.

31 May 2016

What is The Quint?

After Brexit, You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quint

I'd never heard of “The Quint” until I read an article posted on the Ballots & Bullets website of the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham, Brexit would be death knell for British influence in the world, by Catherine Gegout, a Lecturer in International Relations there. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that she is pro-EU and sees nothing but disaster for the UK post-Brexit, should this occur. For example:
On the international stage, the UK would have even less legitimacy than it has now as a member of the permanent five of the UN. Why would the UK have as much say at the UN as the US, France, Russia and China? It is not clear whether states such as India, Brazil and South Africa would continue to support the UN decision-making process if a small state – the UK, outside the EU and very likely without Scotland – had veto power.
This argument does not address the future possibility of France and the UK (presumably neither having much legitimacy currently in Gegout’s estimation) standing down from the P5 to be replaced by an EU representative, should Britain choose to remain in the EU. And does everyone accept that Scotland is “very likely” to leave the UK and take on the euro?

By relinquishing its monumental influence in the EU, the UK would lose its special relationship with the US. President Barack Obama made this clear on his recent visit to the UK. Five former NATO chiefs and 13 former US secretaries of state and defence have also cautioned against leaving the EU. Cutting the special indirect link to the EU for the US would be devastating for British diplomacy.
Is the UK’s influence in the EU “monumental”?  Currently there is no certainty as to who the next POTUS will be or what foreign policy relationships will the US will pursue after January 2017. That above is the only reference to NATO in the article, although a comment that “The UK, France and Germany are the most important military forces in the EU” is supported by a NATO press release. No mention of this also showing that the UK and Poland are the only two European countries to meet the NATO guideline of spending more than 2% of GDP on defence, or that the UK’s defence expenditure is about 30% higher than that of France and over 40% more than Germany’s. Despite this commitment to NATO, apparently “Today, from a realpolitik perspective, the EU is the UK’s main foreign policy instrument. By leaving, the UK would ruin its national interest.”

But the novelty for me was:
Britain, together with France, is the most important foreign policy actor in the EU. It acts via a discreet informal body, the Quint, which decides on all highly sensitive aspects of European foreign policy. The Quint includes only five states: the UK, France, Germany and Italy and a notable outsider – the United States. The Quint is considered a directorate, in the sense that it takes initiatives, discusses EU foreign policy issues, and small EU countries have to accept its authority.
The reference supporting the Quint’s existence is a “pre-peer reviewed version” of an article published in the Journal of Common Market Studies in 2002, The Quint: Acknowledging the Existence of a Big Four-US Directoire at the Heart of the European Union’s Foreign Policy Decision-Making Process, by one Catherine Gegout. 

Be that as it may, one might well ask why the Quint could not in years accommodate another “notable outsider” in the form of a post-Brexit UK.  But obviously, we'll not see nothing like the mighty Quint.


There is an item about "NATO Quint" on Wikipedia.