George Mason University launched today, Jan. 10, 2014, the largest and most advanced science and technology prediction market in the world: SciCast. The federally funded research project aims to improve the accuracy of science and technology forecasts.
The idea is that collective wisdom from diverse, informed opinions can provide more accurate predictions than individual forecasters, a notion borne out by other crowdsourcing projects. Simply taking an average is almost always better than going with the “best” expert. But in a two-year test on geopolitical questions, the SciCast method did 40 percent better than the simple average.
SciCast uses the first general “combinatorial” prediction market. In a prediction market, forecasters spend points to adjust the group forecast. Significant changes “cost” more — but “pay” more if they turn out to be right. So better forecasters gain more points and therefore more influence, improving the accuracy of the system.
In a combinatorial market like SciCast, forecasts can influence each other. For example, forecasters might have linked cherry production to honeybee populations. Then, if forecasters increase the estimated percentage of honeybee colonies lost this winter, SciCast automatically reduces the estimated 2014 cherry production. This connectivity among questions makes SciCast more sophisticated than other prediction markets.
SciCast topics include agriculture, biology and medicine, chemistry, computational sciences, energy, engineered technologies, global change, information systems, mathematics, physics, science and technology business, social sciences, space sciences and transportation.