“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future”
We very much tend to use and believe in the argumentative fallacy of the truths of science, which is why the following phrases are often used: “science proves that …” “based on a scientific study it is concluded that …”, With the cloak of science, you say and have the absolute truth. Who could question science? Who believes himself above science? However, things are not quite like that.
Science is an activity with which knowledge is generated so, without a doubt, it is of great help for decision-making. Science is based on verifiable facts. Thus, scientists know that some places are flooded because there is evidence of these events on the ground or because there is evidence to suggest that floods could occur. In this example there is knowledge that is applied to assume an event. If greenhouse gases continue to rise, it stands to reason that the climate could change; if a pandemic comes, it is logical that people will suffer from diseases, deaths and the decrease in economic activities. There is no doubt about that, the problem is when will the pandemic occur? When will climate change occur? When will the flood be? When will the collapse be?
Scientists, technicians and data managers have and generate knowledge, but also “they tend to believe they know a little more than they really do”, that is to say, “what they know is not the same as what they think they know” (Nicholas, 2017) and that is usually a problem when it comes to generating alerts about climate change, for example.
Predicting means: announcing in advance (RAE, 2010), in other words, predicting something is “announcing by revelation, science or conjecture something that has to happen”.
Revelation comes from: a) the prefix “re-”, which can be translated as “backwards”; b) the noun “velum”, which is synonymous with “veil”; y c) the suffix “-cion”, which is used to indicate action and effect. So the word “revelation” means “The act of telling something that is secret, making the hidden visible, or anticipating a future event”.
In the same way, conjecture is defined as the “ judgment that is formed as a result of making observations or analyzing evidence, in other words ,“ judgment or opinion formed from incomplete or supposed indications or data ”. The term, which comes from the Latin coniectūra .
Well, allow me to quote another phrase “ scientists have no word of honor “, this is said like this because what is true today, another scientist will explain it better in the future, with more knowledge, with better tools With better data, better knowledge can be generated, without a doubt, or as one referee said in one of my articles: “ With more work it would be better “.
It must be said that humans, including scientists, are very bad at guessing the future. The weather can only be “predicted” for about five to seven days with certainty because we have satellite images that allow us to “see” the clouds, more or less estimate where they are moving, more time for prediction means greater uncertainty .
History allows us to “predict” that year after year during the rainy season there will be hurricanes that affect the east coast of North and Central America, because the trade winds move from east to west. When exactly will the hurricanes be in terms of days? How many will they be in the next year? With what intensity will they arrive? We do not know, there are no precise answers. I mean, we are not that good at predicting the future, we are scientists, not fortune tellers.
In the case of estimating economic growth by country, which is an activity in which a lot of money is spent, biased estimates have been made since the end of the previous year. For January the uncertainty is very, very large, with variations of units, as the year progresses the predictions are refined, there is more data for the prediction and less time for the end of the year but the uncertainty is tenths of the GDP, already for November there is a lot of data, evidence and the certainties are much greater, for December it is no longer a prediction, it is a fait accompli. However, in this example, the appearance of a black swan is latent at any time.
In examples like the previous one, there is always the possibility of the appearance of “black swans” at any time, those unforeseen events that throw away all predictions, forecasts or estimates, as you like to call them. No one predicted that in the year 2020 the world economy would fall dramatically due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but as always, once the fact is consummated, the “experts” come out to explain that it was clear that it could happen, that it had signs.
In conclusion, “ It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future” said Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) in his very interesting and illustrative book “ The Black Swan ” translated into Castilian as “Black swan, the impact of the highly improbable”.