December 26, 2013

Tetlock's Good Judgment Project

U. of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip Tetlock has been studying "expert political judgment" for decades. An early finding was that people who are employed to go on TV and make exciting forecasts about the future aren't very accurate. Simple extrapolation models -- things are going to keep on keeping on, only more so -- tend to be a little more accurate than media experts (who, in their defense, are on TV to be interesting -- the notion that the near future is probably going to be a lot like the recent past is just about the definition of Bad TV).

Then he determined that people who are ideological one trick ponies (hedgehogs, to use Isaiah Berlin's terminology) are worse at forecasting than people who have more arrows in their quiver (foxes). (Here are some other Tetlock findings.)

A few years ago Tetlock started the Good Judgment Project in which anybody on the Internet can try their hand at forecasting the upcoming year's events. (It's subsidized by federal spooks at IARPA.)

Tetlock recently wrote in the Economist:
In the late 1980s one of us (Philip Tetlock) launched such a tournament. It involved 284 economists, political scientists, intelligence analysts and journalists and collected almost 28,000 predictions. The results were startling. The average expert did only slightly better than random guessing. Even more disconcerting, experts with the most inflated views of their own batting averages tended to attract the most media attention. Their more self-effacing colleagues, the ones we should be heeding, often don’t get on to our radar screens. 
That project proved to be a pilot for a far more ambitious tournament currently sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), part of the American intelligence world. Over 5,000 forecasters have made more than 1m forecasts on more than 250 questions, from euro-zone exits to the Syrian civil war. Results are pouring in and they are revealing. We can discover who has better batting averages, not take it on faith; discover which methods of training promote accuracy, not just track the latest gurus and fads; and discover methods of distilling the wisdom of the crowd. 
The big surprise has been the support for the unabashedly elitist “super-forecaster” hypothesis. The top 2% of forecasters in Year 1 showed that there is more than luck at play. If it were just luck, the “supers” would regress to the mean: yesterday’s champs would be today’s chumps. But they actually got better. When we randomly assigned “supers” into elite teams, they blew the lid off IARPA’s performance goals. They beat the unweighted average (wisdom-of-overall-crowd) by 65%; beat the best algorithms of four competitor institutions by 35-60%; and beat two prediction markets by 20-35%. 
To avoid slipping back to business as usual—believing we know things that we don’t—more tournaments in more fields are needed, and more forecasters. So we invite you, our readers, to join the 2014-15 round of the IARPA tournament. Current questions include: Will America and the EU reach a trade deal? Will Turkey get a new constitution? Will talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme resume? To volunteer, go to the tournament’s website at www.goodjudgmentproject.com. We predict with 80% confidence that at least 70% of you will enjoy it—and we are 90% confident that at least 50% of you will beat our dart-throwing chimps.

One of my readers is a super-forecaster in Tetlock's tournaments, and he writes:
Hi Steve,  
I saw your question at WaPo pages from two days ago and, since no one answered and I am not about make an account with them, I thought I'd answer by email. As a regular reader of your blog, it's my pleasure. I am one of the 120 "superforecasters." 
Are you allowed to pick and choose which questions to answer? 
Yes, you are, but with some limitations:  
1. You must answer 1/3 (for regular participants) or 1/2 (for "supers") of all questions in during the season. This year, it's about 150 between August 1 through May 1. If you don't, they drop you and don't pay a laughable (considering the time spent) honorarium of $150 ($250 for those "retained" from past year).  
2. You will be scored for all questions no matter what. As the very first solid finding of the project was that teams of 12-15 give better forecasts than individual forecasters (duh!), almost all participants today work in teams. For all questions that you did not forecast (and for all days that you didn't forecast any particular question), your score will be median of the your team's. Team's score is median of individual forecasters.  
As Tetlock's team keeps saying, doing well in this weird competition involves more than sheer luck. (I suppose that's their biggest finding to date and they are doing all kinds of silly psychometric tests on us to see what they can correlate it to). Two examples:  
- In the first year, I finished high in my "experimental condition" that had over 100 participants. All forecasts were individual in this condition. Top predictors from each group became "supers," others were allowed to keep going as usual. Majority, I imagine, dropped out because it truly takes a lot of time. A few others who were near the top but didn't make it to "supers" did well enough next year to achieve the "super" status. Even if they "competed" within a pool of several thousand.  
- Last year, a particular group of "supers" beat everyone in the other groups by a largish margin. Today, this same team still has the best score even if "supers" competition is now among eight groups. 
And yes, the "supers" consistently beat everyone else, but I think it has a lot to with self-selection for folks willing to google on regular basis information pertaining to completely weird stuff like this: 
Will China seize control of the Second Thomas Shoal before 1 January 2014 if the Philippines structurally reinforces the BRP Sierra Madre beforehand? (The answer is supposed to come as probability and can be updated daily if desired.) 

The BRP Sierra Madre is the rusting hulk of a ship that the Filipino navy ran onto a reef in the Spratley Islands in 1999 and has maintained a half-starved platoon in it ever since in an attempt to establish a legal precedent to underwater oil and gas rights in the South China Sea. Very Waterworldy, except with a far smaller budget. (By the way, I had never heard of this ship until two hours ago.)

My prediction is: This Probably Won't Happen by January 1, 2014, considering it's already December 26th (assuming it hasn't already happened and I didn't notice).

Now that I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised if a fair amount of competence in this tournament derives from having a sense of just how long it takes for stuff to happen. Since the game looks at typically annual time frames so that it can determine winners and losers in a reasonable amount of time, I bet a lot of losers have a tendency to say, "Yeah, that will probably happen" without estimating how long it could take for it to happen.

For example, say there is a question that asks if the coalition government in Britain or Germany or wherever will come undone. In the long run, the answer is surely Yes. But, will it happen within the next year? Powerful people often are pretty talented at kicking the can down the road for another year.

Even if you read well-informed writers on a particular topic, your reading may bias you toward assuming something is going to happen soon. For example, consider the question of whether the division of the island of Cyprus will last. In the long run, perhaps not. On the other hand, the short run is now four decades old.

If you read articles about the Cyprus situation, the authors have a natural bias to argue that this topic of their expertise is less boring than it sounds because Real Soon Now, something is going to happen, so you should pay attention to what they have to say.

Another trap is that players in the real world are also making the same calculations as you are. For example, say you figure there is a high probability the Chinese will immediately seize control of the Second Thomas Shoal in retaliation if the Filipino government fixes up its rusting hulk. After all, the Filipino's can't afford to stop the Chinese.

But what if the Filipino foreign minister is of the same mind as you about the unstoppability of Chinese retaliation? Perhaps he or she reasons: at present, we can't stop the Chinese from retaliating if we fix up our Waterworld set, so let's not fix it up in 2013. Maybe in 2014 or later we will be able to put together a coalition of powers to deter the Chinese from seizing the Second Thomas Shoal, but we can't do it yet, so let's not cause a confrontation now that we are sure to lose.

Thus, on this question which is conditional upon the Filipinos setting the ball rolling, the only way to win if you think the Chinese would retaliate is for the Filipino government to have worse judgment than you have. You only get credit for getting this question right if the Chinese agree with you and the Filipinos disagree.
 As you can imagine, it requires more or less the same mentality as the one demonstrated by those tireless Wikipedia editors. 

It's interesting that Tetlock and Co. randomly assigns the best forecasters into all-star teams. I wonder if voluntary teams of stars would be even better. Theoretically, you'd want your team to be made up of different specialists, like a comic book universe superhero squad such as the Avengers or the Justice League, so negotiating the makeup of your own team ought to be best. But perhaps personalities would get in the way?

With so many questions, the role of inside information is likely minimized. I mean, do you know anybody who is a big wheel in Spratley Islands circles? Probably not. And if you do, you probably don't know too many people in the Turkish constitution-writing business.

Yet, much of the traditional role of diplomats was to collect inside information at social gatherings by charming and lulling other diplomats into spilling the beans about their governments' intentions regarding Constantinople.

Of course, with inside information in the financial sphere, there has long been a metaphysical debate over the prime mover exception. In the early 1990, the feds prosecuted Michael Milken for making profitable forecasts about stock prices based on inside information about upcoming takeover bids his stooges were launching. Milken's defenders argued that logically there had to be an exception for the ultimate insider in a takeover bid, and that Milken was obviously the main man, not the nominal corporate raider whom he was financing. An interesting point, but the feds put him in prison for a couple of years, anyway. (That seems like a long time ago.)

I recently read the latest Lawrence of Arabia biography, Lawrence in Arabia, and it seems like T.E. Lawrence for a few years had the knack of prediction when it came to the Middle East: e.g., don't land at Gallipoli, land at Alexandretta (not that we can tell what would have happened in the counterfactual). Of course, to help make some of his predictions come true -- e.g., Prince Feisal looks like a winner -- he would get on his camel and go blow something up in Prince Feisal's name, which participants in the Good Judgment Project are probably discouraged from doing.

Another question would be how big of a g-factor is there in world affairs forecasting. Do people who specialize in southeast Asia outpredict global generalists on the Second Thomas Shoal question? Or to be a global generalist, do you just have to be better overall than the regional specialists?

Consider major league baseball players by way of analogy. Often they have fairly specialized roles in the majors such as closer or utility infielder. Yet in high school, they typically played shortstop or centerfield (when they weren't pitching), and they almost all batted third or cleanup in the lineup. In other words, they were just the best all-around ballplayers on their high school teams. There is a substantial baseball g-factor.

On the other hand, the minor leagues are full of good all-around baseball players who lack the special skill -- a 95 mph fastball rather than a 90 mph one, or 20-13 vision rather than 20-18, or being a plodding 240 pound lefty first baseman rather than a 240 pound righty first baseman -- that would make them useful in the majors.

It's almost tautological that there will be both a g-factor and specific subfactors (such as language knowledge) in international affairs forecasting. The question will be what is the balance and what are the most important subfactors.

49 comments:

MC said...

I participated in the project when it started, but quit after I realized it wasn't the easy money I thought it would be. You can change your prediction over time to adjust to events, so if you want to score well you actually have to monitor events related to the question even after you answer it. If everyone else is checking in every day to adjust their answers to events that obviously affect the probability, and you don't, you lose. Way too much of a commitment for me.

Anonymous said...

Consider major league baseball players by way of analogy. Often they have fairly specialized roles in the majors such as closer or utility infielder. Yet in high school, they typically played shortstop or centerfield (when they weren't pitching), and they almost all batted third or cleanup in the lineup. In other words, they were just the best all-around ballplayers on their high school teams.

Good point. It seems like virtually every major leaguer of any position was the star pitcher of their high school team. They all had the best arms on their HS teams so being pitcher was just natural.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.


My contention is that the old fashioned quality of 'shrewdness' is at hand here. 'Shrewdness' really means good ol' fashioned basic psychology - a good, deep understanding of the basal animal drives in humans and the ability to actuallly see and attribute these tendencies to individual people and or institutions. It's all really basic barnyard pecking-order stuff. Where, I think, most people come unstuck is that they attribute too much sophistication and thought to other people, situations and institutions. Raised in the 'school of hard knocks' it's my firm contention that once you've made a general assessment of a person's character - something the shrewd can do very quickly and accurately - then that individual will usually work true to that character and more likely than not manifest the worst aspects of that character as his modus operandi. Cynicism,suspicion etc are the name of the game.
A good analogy is with horse racing. Although Damon Runyan said that all horse gamblers die broke, a good horse punter has in his individual tool-kit a good, instinctive understanding of 'his' horses, jockeys adn race-tracks, and is able to to make the fine judgements in his mind.
Also consider the typical male pursuits of hunting, tracking and fishing. At one time our ancestors' survival, literally, depended on these skills. These skills rely on great patience and great understanding of the quarry's character, behavior, habits and capabilities - which are a lifetime's semi-instinctive study. Perhaps the best and most obsessive/compulsive pundit are merely transferring these ancient, hardwired cpabilities into the modern sphere.

Anonymous said...

"(By the way, I had never heard of this ship until two hours ago.)"

Hopefully you didn't miss this...

http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/10/27/south-china-sea/

Anonymous said...

For example, it is my contention hat many of the policy disasters of Britain's disgusting New Labour Party, particularly the massive uncontrolled immigration, where inspired 100% by the desire to 'look "clever" for the benefit of The Economist magazine'.

All of you reading this might think I'm hopelessly deluded, bitter and twisted etc, but I am completely confident in my explanation.
As I've said it's all basic barn-yard, pecking order stuff, it's all status games. Amongst the vain and shallow being thought of as 'clever' by The Economist as a prize dearly desired. Nvermind 10,000 years of genetic continuity.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that three main personalities of World War 2, namely Hitler, Stalin and Churchill were all basic 'barn-yard shrewdster' types who recognised that characteristic in each other and more or less acted on that instinct.

Stalin was, of coursw, the descendednt of Georgian peasants and a seasoned agitator. Hitler was Austrian petit-bourgeois, an Army corporal and another street agitator. Churchill was public school British. Far removed from peasant cunning you might think, but no hot-house on earth can breed better shrewdsters than the dorms of public schools.

Simon in London said...

anon:
"It's interesting that three main personalities of World War 2, namely Hitler, Stalin and Churchill were all basic 'barn-yard shrewdster' types who recognised that characteristic in each other and more or less acted on that instinct."

I'd guess the vast majority of warlords are of that type. FDR of course was not, and so became the wild card. Stalin seems to have played him very well, late in the game, taking over from Churchill. I suspect we were lucky FDR died when he did, Truman seems much more the regular shrewdster type. With FDR still President in the late 1940s I suspect either a greatly expanded Soviet sphere, or else a WW3 (much bigger than the Korean War, which was a kind of WW3 lite) when FDR finally took offense at Stalin over-reaching.

Anonymous said...

I can't recall exactly where, but I read that investor Ken Fisher analyzes published stock market forecasts, finds gaps in the forecasts that align with his views of both a positive and negative scenario for the stock market, then forecasts in one of the gaps. It's a "hit em where they ain't" strategy assuming most forecasters are wrong.

Anonymous said...

http://www.iconoclastbooks.com/book/9780804139021

http://www.davidabramsbooks.blogspot.com/2013/12/my-year-of-books-best-first-lines-of.html

Education Realist said...

Predictions bore me. I'd be very interested in coming up with the factors that would matter in the Shoal thingy, but could give a rat's ass which way it went. I don't think that's a gender issue, but an executive vs. analysis preference.

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Salter

96685284 1930 said...

A classic Steve post. Fascinating information, twisted to prove that women are worthless.

"Barbara Mellers, an expert on judgment and decision-making,"

A great chef, who admitted that he learned everything he knew from his grandma, observed that the best cooks weren't men. Just the most famous ones.

DanJ said...

..."a fair amount of competence in this tournament derives from having a sense of just how long it takes for stuff to happen".

Yes. On most issues, political opposition parties and various organizations are making loud demands and calls for change. Journalists and social media are happy to chime in as it makes for interesting news. This leads the casual reader to believe radical change is imminent.

If you want to estimate the rate at which change will happen, pay attention only to actual decisionmakers. They will have the right idea for most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:07 AM, first, the importance of Churchill in WWII is greatly exaggerated in the Anglosphere. I wouldn't even put him next to the other two. Second, I think that the psychological differences between Stalin and Hitler pointed in the same direction as the psychological differences between the peoples that gave birth to them. Stalin enjoyed flowery, Middle Eastern-type flattery and was extremely suspicious, always assuming disloyalty and dishonesty in others. Caucasus natives are basically Middle Easterners minus the cowardice, and I think that described Stalin.

It seems to me that Hitler was dogmatically inflexible, ascetic, selflessly devoted to abstract ideas, somewhat Aspergery. I wouldn't call him cunning. It just so happened that the ideas he became devoted to involved war and not model train sets.

I think Churchill fell between those two extremes.

Ed said...

I registered before I realized what a time sink this thing was. I may have to withdraw.

On the Thomas Shoal question, the biggest or second biggest (after the methane bomb going off) possible event that could happen in the next ten years would be a Sino-American War, which would be as big and as disastrous to the participants as the wars between Germany and Russia that started in 1914 and 1918. And the main way something like this could happen is China pushing too aggressively in the China Sea, to the discomfort of the many American client states in the region. The Chinese leadership is aware of this.

China will actually dislodege an army platoon of a US client state (the Philippines) from the shoal in the area only if they think the US decline has past the point where the US will react, they think they can defeat the US reaction, or they think they have to gamble because of domestic political pressure. Incidentally, the Argentine junta seized the Falklands (the closest historical analogy) because of a mixture of the first and third reasons. Obviously miscalculations occur, but I don't see the conditions arising even to allow the Chinese leadership to make a miscalculation for at least another year.

I would look for evidence of serious obvious domestic political trouble or decline in either China or the United States before either side risks a conflict between the two powers. One thing not generally recognized about 1914 is that there were serious domestic political crisis ongoing in all five European great powers (Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, and the UK) at the same time, meaning the leadership thought they had less room for the compromises that had resolved earlier similar incidents.

Anonymous said...

I was also part of this forecasting study. My conclusion is sadly that the experiment is so poorly designed that its results are worthless, at least the phase I participated in about 2 years ago for which I was paid 150 in Citibank gift card.

Predictive markets have some interesting potential, but the flaws were obvious from the outset but never addressed. As a matter of fact, it was worse than a vaguely similar computerized behavioral economics study I participated in as an undergrad 15 years prior. And that was just a couple econ profs with no giant spook funding.


Anonymous said...

... first, the importance of Churchill in WWII is greatly exaggerated in the Anglosphere.

If it hadn't been for Churchill the war would have ended in 1940.

my gumby is yours said...

Global progressivism in a nutshell.

American Libs look at Europe and say: 'We want your socialism'.

European Libs look at America and say: 'We want your diversity.'

After awhile...

American Libs murmur: 'Our diversity cannot afford your socialism.'

and

European Libs murmur: 'Our socialism cannot afford your diversity.'

jody said...

interesting.

"In other words, they were just the best all-around ballplayers on their high school teams."

generally the case in all sports. some specialized guy at the national level was the best guy at almost everything not only on his high school team, but sometimes on his NCAA team too (if they play NCAA, some do not).

in fact you could say that every step up to the next level is a check for whether you will be forced to specialize just to survive. much like lifeforms do.

"I would look for evidence of serious obvious domestic political trouble or decline in either China or the United States before either side risks a conflict between the two powers."

good prediction. but i think we already know how this one is gonna go. just a matter of time. and china likes long time lines.

Anonymous said...

"It's interesting that three main personalities of World War 2, namely Hitler, Stalin and Churchill were all basic 'barn-yard shrewdster' types who recognised that characteristic in each other and more or less acted on that instinct."

Hitler?

He was a gambler who took huge risks. It's just that they paid off until he locked horns with UK and then invaded USSR.

Stalin could be shrewd, but he prevailed not so much with shrewdness but take-no-prisoners ruthlessness.
A shrewder man might have spared more people who might have been useful. Stalin's way was to just wipe out entire groups and factions. No need to be shrewd if you wipe out not only your enemies but potential enemies among your friends.

Where Churchill differed from Hitler and Stalin was he wasn't his own man. Hitler was master of Germany and Stalin was master of USSR. Churchill was really a stooge of those who helped him out financially.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

"On the Thomas Shoal question, the biggest or second biggest (after the methane bomb going off) possible event that could happen in the next ten years would be a Sino-American War, which would be as big and as disastrous to the participants as the wars between Germany and Russia that started in 1914 and 1918."

Unless the Chinese leadership promotes some national realism among its populace, it's playing with fire.

Nothing is impossible in history, especially as world leaders can act awful stupid. But I have feeling that Chinese are not stupid enough to get into that kind of war. Most surrounding Asian states will side with or lean toward the US. Russia wouldn't mind China knocked down a few pegs.

The real danger is public opinion and the maybe the attitude of the military class in China.
In the 1930s, China was driven into a war it couldn't win against Japan due to public opinion. It turned out badly for Chiang(and China).

Even in ten yrs, Chinese military will be no match for the US military, and US high-tech weaponry by that time will be more awesome. In high-tech, China is at least 12 yrs behind, which is crucial since so many things are changing so fast.

In a way, China and Japan had something in common in the 1930s. Chiang didn't want to engage Japan as his country wasn't ready for a major war. He was playing for time, but impatient Manchurian commander kidnapped him and nearly handed him over to the communists. The officer demanded something be done about the Japanese. And when Chiang was released, the patriotic public opinion demanded that he unite with communists and fight the Japanese. And when he decided to do so, he was very popular and was hailed all across China. And then, the reality set in as Japan came rampaging through city after city. Meanwhile, the clever communists mostly stayed out of battle as Japanese and KMT troops mowed each other down.

Like Chiang, Japanese civilian and even top military leaders preferred the cautious approach. They didn't want to be get bogged down in China. But an entire military class in Japan had been raised and indoctrinated in extreme nationalism, and they demanded a more aggressive approach to teach the Chinese a lesson. And as the Japanese public had been told that Japan was fighting for Asia against Western imperialism, many thought that Chinese would welcome Japanese dominion. And hothead junior officers were willing to sacrifice their lives by assassinating civilian politicians and top military officers if they didn't 'support the troops'.

Chiang was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and Japanese leaders were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They were pushed and 'forced by circumstances' to choose full-scale war.

To be sure, Japanese educational system inculcated hardline nationalism and irrational Emperor worship in the hearts and minds of generations of school children who grew up to be officers and soldiers.

Today, Chinese Communist Party has been playing the nationalist card, and it may lose control of it. If a crisis erupts, the Chinese public and some of the military officers might demand some tough action in the name of 'the fatherland' or some such. There's nothing Chinese hate more than losing face, especially given their historical memory; they have their own version of 'never again'.
The Chinese Communist Party narrative has been that 'great Chinese people of great nation of great history had to bow down to foreign imperialists and bullies BEFORE the Communist Party came to power, but now, with the Communist Party in command, the Chinese people have stood up and will never ever back down again.'

Dangerous attitude to have for a nation with superpower aspirations but without superpower means.

Mr Lomez said...

"Often they have fairly specialized roles in the majors such as closer or utility infielder."

Small quibble: utility infielders are by definition non-specialized.

"Or to be a global generalist, do you just have to be better overall than the regional specialists?"

I doubt it. You might ask the same of General Practitioners v. surgeons. A surgeon has been trained to do virtually everything the GP can do, but not vice versa.

Likewise, (at least presumably) one does not become a regional specialist without some general interest and understanding of the broader global landscape. I.e.- all specialists are generalists but not all generalists are specialists. (Regional specialists also probably have some underlying personal reason for focusing on a particular area of the world -- probably some ethnic or cultural heritage -- which non-academic, non-second hand source of knowledge makes them even more likely to out-predict generalists when it comes to their given region.)

Still, a regional specialist may not be as valuable as a subject specialist. When it comes to the Syrian conflict for instance, I'd put my money on the War Nerd to out-predict America's foremost expert on the Arab economy.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

Libs used to rail against false-'racism', or racial bias based on false or fundamentally flawed understanding of race. Libs sounded rational then whereas some false-'racist' folks really did sound kooky.

But today, Libs rail against true-'racism', or racial perceptions baed on true or essentially valid observations of racial differences.
Libs sound increasingly shrill and irrational(and unhinged)today whereas true-'racist' folks sound ever more rational.

It's as if a people went from mocking the builders of planes that cannot fly to mocking the builders of a plane that can fly. They are so committed to the notion that the plane cannot fly that, even when they see a plane fly, they think the problem is with the plane than with themselves. True, they had once been right, but now they are wrong. But they are so 'used to being right' that they insist that the plane that is flying is NOT SUPPOSED TO FLY.

Anonymous said...

"If it hadn't been for Churchill the war would have ended in 1940."

This is quite ignorant. Whatever happened with Britain, Hitler would have still invaded the USSR. Lebensraum (living space for the low-information crowd) was a big concept for him. He wanted to revive Drang nach Osten (the drive to the east). Not a physical drive, a metaphorical one. Hitler thought that Eastern Europe and Russia should be to Germany what North America had been for English-language culture - an enormous area of expansion.

What happened in Britain in 1940 made no difference to the final outcome of the war. It wasn't the war's focus. If in 1940 Hitler was as successful in Britain as he had been in France, he would have still invaded the USSR in 1941 and he would have still lost the entire war to the USSR in May of 1945. How do we know this? Because Britain was not involved in the Germany-USSR struggle. The US was involved in it marginally through Lend-Lease, but the UK wasn't. The Germany-USSR conflict proceeded as if Britain didn't even exist. And Hitler lost that conflict.

That concludes today's lesson.

Eric Falkenstein said...

Tetlock is pretty clueless, actually. After one talk where he expounded his hedgehog vs. fox theory, he was asked whether he was a hedgehog or fox. He replied, "I'm a little of both." Isn't everyone?

Anonymous said...

If I had to name the third most important personality in the European theater of WWII, I'd pick Tito. Seriously. A LOT of fighting went on in the Balkans during the war. And as Tito demonstrated in 1948, he was his own man. A sovereign actor beholden to nobody.

Anonymous said...

What happened in Britain in 1940 made no difference to the final outcome of the war.

Im going to have to disagree there.

From 1939 there was an Anglo-French blockade of Germany, British only after summer 1940 and Anglo-US after Dec 1941. Germany was completely cut off from world trade. All raw materials had to be sourced from Europe and a few friendly nations next door.

This is massively significant to Germany during the war and a major reason why Hitler didnt want war with Britain. Raw materials, fuel etc all of those problems would have solved by peace with Britain.

In purely military terms - Britain stops fighting in 1940 means no bombing raids on Germany for the next four years, no U-boat war in the Atlantic. No fighting in N. Africa. No fighting the British in the Balkans, Crete etc. No naval warfare with the British in the Med.

What if there had been no Battle of Britain? You dont think all those aircraft and crews lost in 1940 might have had an impact on the eastern front?

About half a million Germans & Italians were killed or captured in the N. African campaign. You dont think another half million troops would have made any difference to the Eastern front (assuming Italians were fully committed to the Russian front)? According to Wiki: Axis losses in N. Africa: 8000 Aircraft destroyed, 6,200 guns, 2,500 tanks,70,000 vehicles destroyed or captured. You dont think that lot would have extended the war past May '45?

The Battle of Crete saw 5% of the entire Ju-52 production run shot down, wouldnt those 270 transport planes had some impact on the eastern front?

What about the 10,000 88s used as AA in Germany? Deployed as AT guns they would have been enough to wipe the entire soviet tank force.

Britain was not involved in the Germany-USSR struggle. The US was involved in it marginally through Lend-Lease, but the UK wasn't. The Germany-USSR conflict proceeded as if Britain didn't even exist. And Hitler lost that conflict.

Simply not true. The UK supplied tanks, aircraft and vehicles to the USSR quite separately from lend-lease. Eg @3000 Hurricane fighters.

Anonymous said...

"Because Britain was not involved in the Germany-USSR struggle. The US was involved in it marginally through Lend-Lease, but the UK wasn't."

That's a bizarre claim, not even close to factual.

"When Britain aided the Soviet Union in World War Two", Paul Dean, Russia Now, 30 Jun 2011:

"...former RAF Hurricane pilot,... combat with German planes in northern Russia. ... British ships ... brought his fighter squadron to Russia in September 1941... 5,000 tanks and 7,000 aircraft were delivered to the Soviets, not to mention 15 million pairs of boots...

“It’s impossible to overestimate the role played by British sailors to provide vital supply routes across the Arctic,” Mr Fedotov said. ...

...By September 1, 550 pilots and ground crew from No 151 Wing of the RAF arrived in Murmansk with 40 Hawker Hurricane fighters... immediate air defence... vital port. also... to train... Soviet pilots to operate... almost 3,000 Hurricanes delivered to the Soviets. ...sent into action on September 11, and on September 12 they shot down their first opponent."



Holding Murmansk mattered: "The failure of Silberfuchs was to have a lasting effect on the course of the war."

About a quarter of the tanks and armored vehicles sent via lend-lease were British (about 5K sent, about 4,203 arrived).

"British Lend-Lease Aid and the Soviet War Effort, June 1941–June 1942", Alexander Hill, The Journal of Military History volume 71, Number 3, July 2007: "...to the end of June 1942, during which Britain was the primary provider of aid."


"Arctic Convoys of World War Two: 70 years since Britain went to the Soviet Union's aid", Roger Williams, Russia Now, 21 Sep 2011.



British Arctic convoy sailors are now eligible for a Russian medal:

"Arctic Convoy: Russia reaches out to British mariners who provided WWII lifeline", November 11, 2013, RT:

"The Russian embassy in London has tracked down the UK veterans of the Arctic Convoys who delivered vital supplies to the Eastern Front during WWII. The embassy wants to ensure that all the heroes are awarded the Ushakov Medal for bravery."

Anonymous said...

If I had to name the third most important personality in the European theater of WWII, I'd pick Tito.

Not bad. The only two countries that freed themselves from German occupation during WWII are Russia/USSR and Serbia/Yugoslavia. Everyone else had massive foreign troops fighting Germans for them. (Finland's flip flop does not count, of course.)

Anonymous said...

"You dont think that lot would have extended the war past May '45?"

OK, I overstated my case. And thanks for correcting me. If Hitler got what he wanted out of Britain in 1940, the war would have probably gone on even longer than it actually did. The commenter who said that if it hadn't been for Churchill the war would have ended in 1940 was even more wrong than I originally suggested.

Could British neutrality or early defeat have changed the final outcome of the war? I doubt it. If Moscow fell, Stalin's government would have retreated to the Urals. Most of the USSR's industry had already been moved there. It's a LONG way from Moscow to the Urals, and it took the Germans everything they had in 1941 to get as far as Moscow. So the USSR had some margin.

Alice said...

I knee about the Thomas shoal question because I read the Belmont Club daily. all of you should too. It is a PJ media blog by Richard Fernandez. He is in the Pacific. His POV is interesting to say the least. Quite a writer too.

Anonymous said...

"If it hadn't been for Churchill the war would have ended in 1940."

"This is quite ignorant. Whatever happened with Britain, Hitler would have still invaded the USSR."

He might have thought twice though. Hitler sensed that it was precisely because Germany was at war with UK that Stalin had his guard down. If the Brit-German War had come to an end, Stalin would have prepared for possible war with Germany, and it would have been far more difficult for Germany to pull off a sucker punch attack.
So, when it came to attacking the USSR, the war with UK was both a curse and blessing. Curse cuz it meant a two-front war, and a blessing because Stalin was convinced that as long as Hitler was fighting UK, he wouldn't dare fight the USSR.

If the war between UK and Germany had ended in 1940 and if Stalin had prepared USSR for a possible invasion, Hitler really might have thought twice.

Also, it was because of the war with UK that Germany was able to move troops closer to the east. Hitler assured Stalin that he was sending some units to eastern Poland as a maneuver against possible British action, and Stalin fell for it.
If Hitler hadn't been warring with the UK, he would have had a much harder time explaining to Stalin why so many German troops were being moved eastward.

Anonymous said...

"From 1939 there was an Anglo-French blockade of Germany, British only after summer 1940 and Anglo-US after Dec 1941. Germany was completely cut off from world trade. All raw materials had to be sourced from Europe and a few friendly nations next door.
This is massively significant to Germany during the war and a major reason why Hitler didnt want war with Britain. Raw materials, fuel etc all of those problems would have solved by peace with Britain."

There is truth to this, but I think we have to take personal bias into account here. Hitler admired UK and didn't want it defeated... until it was too late.
Early in the war, had Hitler thrown everything at UK, he probably could have won the war. But Hitler initially fought the UK like US fought in Vietnam. US would bomb North Vietnam to bring it to the peace table without an agenda of crushing it totally.

While UK has a superb air force, if Hitler had build massive transport planes and dropped lots of German troops on UK when the British army was still undermanned and undertrained, he could have won. But Hitler decided to bomb UK in the hope of convincing its leaders to come to the peace table. It didn't work in Vietnam, it didn't work with UK. In fact, it didn't work with Germany either despite all the bombs dropped on it. Germany could only be defeated by invasion. The only major nation that surrendered from the sheer ferocity of the air campaign is probably Japan. Iraq in the Gulf War maybe but US troops did advance into Iraq.

Hitler should have built transport planes and parachuted 100,000 German troops into UK. And then a 100,000 more.
Brits were good at lots of things, but street guerilla fighting was not their thing.

But UK did finally prepare for full-scale war by the end of 1941 and by then, it couldn't be invaded even if Hitler had thrown everything at it.

Of course, if Hitler had invaded the UK, he would have had to forgo the idea of invading Russia as Stalin would have been ready and Germans would have spent a lot of material and manpower on UK, the invasion and occupation.

Anonymous said...

"If I had to name the third most important personality in the European theater of WWII, I'd pick Tito."

Maybe successful but important outside region in which he operated? Unlikely.

No, the obvious choice is Mussolini. His stupid invasion of Greece and other failures proved to be a ball and chain around Hitler's ankle. Hitler wasn't only trying to defeat Stalin and Churchill but trying to prop up Italy as a great power. It was a huge drain. Italy was more a liability than a benefit. Instead of helping Germany, it needed Germany to fight its battles and maintain its false glory. Hitler, for all his psychopathic ruthlessness, had some serious soft spots and blind spots. He had false illusions about a glorious friendship between Germany and UK, and he admired Mussolini so much that he went out of his way to prop him up at any cost.

Anonymous said...

People are now told that the actor who voiced Churchill's House of Commons speeches were a major factor in inspiring the country to fight on. At the time they meant nothing.

Anonymous said...

Regarding RAF 151 Wing in Russia, "Photo set from the screening of Hurricanes To Murmansk at Rossotrunichestvo", January 30, 2013, "War History Online":

"The story of RAF 151 Wing is the only film about a secret Anglo-Soviet air operation following the Nazi invasion of Russia in World War II. The film has received excellent reviews from historians and the aviation press..."

"Film Detail: Hurricanes to Murmansk", "This secret Anglo-Soviet operation – suppressed during the Cold War – is rediscovered 70 years on..." (Atoll Productions, 2011)

"Film sheds new light on WWII operation that changed history", "The story of RAF 151 Wing was later suppressed by Stalin... "I don't think the operation gets the credit it should because if Murmansk had fallen ... we were all sworn to secrecy.""

Ah, one of those real secret conspiracies.


The Luftwaffe never established air superiority around Murmansk: "While the rest of the Soviet lines had collapsed in 1941, the ... Northern Front had held..."

"The Hawker Hurricane... proved well suited to conditions around Murmansk. Furthermore, the British, Australian and New Zealand ground crew and aircrew were mostly veterans of the Battle of France and Battle of Britain. They were highly experienced. They brought with them a modern radio and radar air-control system.

During the following month, the Royal Air Force provided air cover to Soviet troops trying to hold off enemy forces from Murmansk and the Murmansk railway. ..."


Lots of pics, for instance, here and here. This is a mighty funny reindeer that looks like a horse, but that is an RAF Hurricane.

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

http://www.thewrap.com/steve-martin-apologizes-irresponsible-tweet-dings-salon-misquoting/

Utterly ridiculous. I think maybe some people just have this obsessive need to be 'offended'. A kind of offenditis. Feeling offended is the only way they can feel (self)righteous about the world. Even as they profess to hate 'offensive' remarks, they are addicted to 'offensiveness' as a narcotic. If indeed no one in the world said anything offensive, those with offenditis would find something to be offended by because they are addicted to the feeling of outrage of being 'offended'. They need another fix and then another and then another.

And this seems like a prime example. I mean of all the 'controversies', this is ludicrous.

And this is all the funnier in a nation where vulgar and trashy rap music is part of the mainstream culture.

It's essentially a 'religious' mentality. If some Christians in the Middle Ages has this need to see demons and devils everywhere, those with offenditis need to see 'racism', 'sexism', 'homophobia', or whatever else everywhere. As their gods are MLK, Harvey Milk, and the like, they are forever on the outlook for evil demons.
So, we are now down to freaking out over KKK at Oberlin and Steve Martin's being maybe a secret Grand Wizard.

The sin of the pride of moral narcissism.

Anonymous said...

"He might have thought twice though. Hitler sensed that it was precisely because Germany was at war with UK that Stalin had his guard down."

What were Hitler's motivations? To start with, the anti-Jewish sentiment and lebensraum in the east. It's hard to say which of those two was more important to him. Getting back at France for Versailles was his third motivation, obviously less important than the other two. Hitler did not want a conflict with the Brits. The British government wanted a conflict with him. Britain was only important to him to the extent that it was mucking up his other plans -defending France, threatening to defend Poland.

Victory over France emboldened Hitler. A victory over Britain would have made him feel even more invincible. The increased feeling of invincibility would have pushed him to go for Russia, which was always more important to him than Britain anyway. The decrease in the surprise factor that you described would have worked in the opposite direction, dissuading him from an attack on the USSR.

As others here have said, Hitler was a gambler. What do gamblers do when they're in luck? So no, I don't think he would have stopped after a hypothetical British defeat.

Anonymous said...

Hitler should have built transport planes and parachuted 100,000 German troops into UK. And then a 100,000 more. Brits were good at lots of things, but street guerilla fighting was not their thing.

The Battle of Britain had to be won for this scenario to work, otherwise most of these men would have been killed in their transports.

Hitler went to war with the military he had. The German military was preparing for war, but expected it to be some years off in the future. The German military was very cautious at the start (during the 8 months of the Phoney War). The German air force was essentially a tactical air force designed to attack and hopefully destroy enemy airfields, not really the strategic force they needed. They just couldn't have done this thing.

Hitler never used parachute troops after the near-loss (and heavy casualties) at the Battle of Crete:

"After one day of fighting, the Germans had suffered very heavy casualties...

The Battle of Crete was unprecedented... the first battle where the German paratroops were used on a massive scale, but also the first mainly airborne invasion in military history...

Because of the heavy casualties suffered by the paratroopers, Adolf Hitler forbade further large-scale airborne operations. ...

The Luftwaffe also lost heavily in the battle..."



Street guerrilla fighting not their thing? In Northern Ireland they practically invented the art-form.

Anonymous said...

An example of the regional effecting the global, German air losses at the Battle of Crete relating to the Eastern Front and suggesting how things can become of one piece:

"...a total of 284 aircraft lost, with several hundred more damaged to varying degrees. 311 Luftwaffe aircrew were listed as killed or missing, and 127 more were wounded. The major loss of transport aircraft would later seriously affect attempts to re-supply German forces in Stalingrad."

(A citation extracts the following from "Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete, 1940-41", Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia, 1987, Grub Street:

"...the Transport gruppen suffered the loss of 117 Ju-52/3ms as total wrecks, with 125 more damaged but repairable. The true impact of this loss would not be felt until 1942 when the need to provide air supply to forces cut off on the Russian front came to a head at Stalingrad. Even by then the hard-pressed German aircraft industry had not been able to make good this catastrophic wastage."


Forecasting... one of the world's oldest professions.

Anonymous said...

"The Battle of Britain had to be won for this scenario to work, otherwise most of these men would have been killed in their transports."

Hitler fought the wrong Battle of Britain.
Had he thrown everything he came to throw at the USSR at the UK, I think he could have won.
He just didn't want to use his resources that way.

He fought the Battle of Britain to crush the will of the UK than to really crush the UK. But he really fought the USSR to crush it.
Consider the amount of damage Germany did to the USSR over such vast territory. And even with UK and US backing the
USSR, Germany fought for four bloody years.
So, imagine Germany in 1940 or 1941 deciding to throw everything at tiny UK instead of at Russia for a full scale invasion.
Instead of building all those tanks to roll into vast Russian territory, suppose Germany had built squadrons of planes after planes. There's no way Germany could not have won. At huge loss of men certainly. But they would have won.

Anonymous said...

"Street guerrilla fighting not their thing? In Northern Ireland they practically invented the art-form."

Against wimpy force.

Germans would have destroyed entire blocks if there were resistance fighters. Only guerrilla army crazy enough to fight against them crazy odds were the Viet Cong and Russian partisans.
When push comes to shove, Brits gotta have their tea and crumpets.

Anonymous said...

"Had he thrown everything he came to throw at the USSR at the UK, I think he could have won.

So, imagine.... throw everything at tiny UK...

There's no way Germany could not have won."


But this just didn't seem realistic to the German military or leadership. No Way? Is it worth asking why?

I'm really not sure where you're going here or why. This is ostensibly a thread about forecasting world-events. In the forecasting (pastcasting?) sense, perhaps mundane as it is, it might be worth looking at why Germany didn't try what you suggest. The professional German military was much more pessimistic about invading Britain than you are. Why?

Perhaps invading the USSR seemed easier than the UK. Russia collapsed in WWI, the Soviets might again in WWII. The German army was not a mechanized juggernaut, it was dependent on horses for something like 70%-80% of its transport. (A German infantry division had one horse for every 3 soldiers.)

You can't just compare the size of the map. You can't ignore Naval power. (Well, you can, but those who do tend to become defeated). You might find the authors mentioned in the following interesting and you might want to see if you can overcome their arguments:

"Neither Hitler nor OKW believed it would be possible to carry out a successful amphibious assault on Britain until the RAF had been neutralized. ... Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz believed air superiority was "not enough". ... "we possessed neither control of the air or the sea; nor were we in any position to gain it." ... Robinson argues that the massive superiority of the Royal Navy over the Kriegsmarine would have made Sea Lion a disaster and the Luftwaffe could not have prevented decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority. ... Murray argued that the task facing the Germans in summer 1940 was beyond their capabilities. The three German armed services were not capable of solving the problem of invading the British Isles. Murray contends that the Kriegsmarine had been effectively eliminated owing to heavy losses during the Norwegian Campaign..."

Seems a problem: "After ... the invasion of Norway... the Kriegsmarine had only one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and four destroyers available for operations." Meanwhile "...the Royal Navy still had over 50 destroyers, 21 cruisers and eight battleships in the British Home Fleet."

If you aren't young, please take it as a compliment that you sound young. Everyone, but particularly the young, are prone to give words the validity of things. "Brits gotta have their tea and crumpets." Modern PC has the same problem. Things get reduced to caricatures. "White folks are KKK." Yet words often don't capture reality. Everyone suffers as large numbers of people drift into fantasy. (I suppose that becomes a philosophical problem, but I don't even mean that, I mean just not taking throw-away lines and caricatures as the truth. Even under the best of circumstances the truth is darn elusive. As has been said, it's a constant struggle to see what's just in front of one's own nose.)

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps invading the USSR seemed easier than the UK..."

Not easier, more desirable. Hitler wanted Germans to settle in Eastern Europe and Russia. Russia was one of his chief goals. Britain was a nuisance on his journey towards his goals. If he could get towards his goals (lebensraum, getting back at the French) without a full-scale invasion of Britain, then the invasion of Britan did not make sense for him.

Anonymous said...

"But this just didn't seem realistic to the German military or leadership. No Way? Is it worth asking why?"

"After ... the invasion of Norway... the Kriegsmarine had only one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and four destroyers available for operations." Meanwhile "...the Royal Navy still had over 50 destroyers, 21 cruisers and eight battleships in the British Home Fleet."

Germany had a disadvantage in naval warfare because Hitler invested most of the military for the eventual land war with Russia.
He didn't want a full-scale war with the UK.

But suppose in 1940, Hitler decided he's not gonna fight Russia, and he's gonna steer his full military and industrial might toward defeating UK. So, instead of making all those tanks, he would have made far more planes. He would turned huge areas of France to launch the campaign. He would built more ships and subs. It was because Hitler was preparing for the big war with Russia that he didn't have the means available to him to defeat the UK.

By WWII, naval power was secondary to air power. As the Japanese air force showed, ships can easily be sunk by airplanes--and just about every Japanese ship was sunk by American planes--, which is why the air craft carrier replaced the battleship as the most effective naval weapon system.
The thing is, as France is so close to UK, Hitler didn't need to build air craft carriers. He could have built a vast air field in the north of France and then launched attacks on British ships in the English channel and sunk most of them with relentless assault. Once the ships had been sunk, the seas would have been cleared for German invasion. People have SWAM across the English channel. With the German air force having sunk tons of British ships, Germans would have had easy access to Britain.

It takes a hell of lot more manpower and time to build a new battleship or destroyer than it takes to build 50 planes. If Hitler built a 1000 planes and used them to drop bombs on British ships, the oceans would have been cleared for the German invasion.

I have the best military mind, and Hitler would have won if I had advised him. (Good thing I didn't as he was rotten scum.)
I would have won the Vietnam War too. I would have made the North believe that a full scale Normandy -like invasion was coming along its coasts. Then, the North would pulled all its troops from the South and sent them to guard the areas that are supposed to be attacked. Meanwhile, the Americans in the South would have a freer hand to secure defensive measures.

US wins! But I wasn't there to advise Johnson and Nixon.

Anonymous said...

"If Hitler built a 1000 planes and used them to drop bombs on British ships, the oceans would have been cleared for the German invasion."

I'm almost sorry to have to bring this to your attention, but my forecasting ball says that if Hitler had built 1000 flying saucers with electro-luminescent death rays, victory would have been assured!!

The British navy could (and did) stay north of Scotland (Scapa Flow) beyond the range of most German planes. From there they could reach anywhere in the world with little risk other than U-boats:

"Primarily because of its great distance from German airfields, Scapa Flow was again selected as the main British naval base during WWII."

FWIW, the RN had 24 carriers in WWII, the Germans had one they never finished. About the time the Battle of Britain ended a RN carrier sunk half the Italian capitol ships in one night at Taranto.

The Germans couldn't invade until they knocked out the RN and to do that they had to defeat the RAF. If the RN isn't sunk, it can make a channel dash under heavy smokescreen and RAF protection and likely sink most of the invading transports. (The RAF is fighting from an unsinkable aircraft carrier.)

The Germans sent more than 1000 planes, they sent around 2,500. "...the Luftwaffe deployed 3,358 aircraft against Britain, of which 2,550 were serviceable."

Are you familiar with the BFTS? Something like what you describe happened, but it happened the other way around. Pilots from throughout the Commonwealth were trained at British flight schools in the US. The same thing happened "...throughout the world, the largest aviation training program in history." (BCATP) An entire aviation industry (and the 4th largest air force in the world) was established in Canada. "...Canada trained over 130,000 aircrew..." and Canada built and flew "...about 9000 aircraft" across the North Atlantic to the UK. (Canada built over 16,000 aircraft for the war and around 50,000 tanks and gun carriers.) New Zealanders, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, Rhodesians, etc., flew in the RAF during the Battle of Britain (not to mention a number of Poles, Czechs, and French with an attitude).


Who knows what could have happened, it didn't. Flights of fancy are like forecasts. And like human judgement, for that matter. It's easy to get seduced by a pretty story, in particular your own.

Anonymous said...

"The Germans couldn't invade until they knocked out the RN and to do that they had to defeat the RAF. If the RN isn't sunk, it can make a channel dash under heavy smokescreen and RAF protection and likely sink most of the invading transports. (The RAF is fighting from an unsinkable aircraft carrier.)"

You're a naysaying accountant. You have a petty bureaucratic mentality.
You lack vision and only know how to crunch bogus numbers.

If you had a nation and I had a nation with equal number of men and material, I'd crush you in no time because I would be acting with vision while you counted the beans. It'd be like Godzilla vs Bambi.

UK was ripe for the taking if Hitler really wanted it. He just didn't want to as he had bigger plans.

The fool even allowed the retreat at Dunkirk.

Maxwell Power said...

Probably our nation's schoolchildren are lagging behind in their superforecasting skills

rob said...

Will China seize control of the Second Thomas Shoal before 1 January 2014 if the Philippines structurally reinforces the BRP Sierra Madre beforehand? (The answer is supposed to come as probability and can be updated daily if desired.)

The probability can be updated daily? until how many days before 1/1/14?

If lots of the 'predictions' work like that... Everyone who bothers to update their guess at 12/31/13 at 11:59 or so will look very accurate.

Surely predicting things sorta far in advance is worthwhile?