International Affairs
7 December 2012 , Volume 68, Number 6

‘We have a prediction problem. We love to predict things – and we aren’t very good at it.’ These are the words of the statistician superstar Nate Silver, one of the few men in the world who actually does not have a prediction problem: he correctly forecast the results of the 2012 US presidential election in all 50 states. 

Each December experts are asked to predict events around the world for the coming year. Many of these are blindingly obvious – or just plain wrong.  According to Silver, one of the reasons for this is the Web, which allows bad ideas to circulate until they become conventional wisdom.

In the following pages Chatham House experts look at some of the notable surprises of 2012, and ask why no one predicted them, and what we can learn.


Alex Vines

Dr Alex Vines OBE

Research Director, Area Studies and International Law; Head, Africa Programme


On the death of their president, Malawi's army stuck by the constitution allowing Joyce Banda to succeed him. Photo: Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post

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