Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Why Are Most Think Tanks Awful at Predictions?

Think tanks and think tank scholars are often criticized for being isolated within a "groupthink" bubble which leads to stale, inside-the-box thinking.  One example, as highlighted in The Atlantic, comes from their COVID predictions:

In the Great Recession that started in 2008, the housing market crashed, state- and local-government budgets were decimated, and the federal government’s rescue efforts were in many ways too little too late. Early on in the pandemic, think tanks, journalists, columnists, and economists all leaned heavily on the preceding recession to try to understand just how bad things were going to get. “There was an awful lot of last-war-type thinking,” Jason Furman, the Harvard economist and former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, told me. Although looking to the past is normally a good rule of thumb for forecasters, this overreliance missed how different the Great Recession and the pandemic-induced recession were from each other.

In August 2020, the Aspen Institute released a report warning that 30 million to 40 million people in the United States were at risk of eviction, a number equivalent to roughly one in 10 Americans. But in December 2021, Princeton’s Eviction Lab found that in the 31 cities where it had collected data, all but one recorded fewer eviction filings than the historical average. Not only was the prediction startlingly off base—evictions actually declined.


There are countless examples of think tanks getting it wrong, and Think Tank Watch will continue to document those cases.