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Honors Thesis Spotlight: Kelsey Woerner ’12

Kelsey Woerner '12
Kelsey Woerner '12
Department: Government

Topic: Improving Expert Forecasting

Advisor: Benjamin Valentino, Assistant Professor, Government

As a double major in psychology and government, Kelsey combined her academic interests into an honors thesis project in the government department. With help from her thesis advisor Benjamin Valentino, Kelsey examined whether or not we could improve forecasting of political events, in one of the first systematic efforts to answer this question. Professor Valentino said, "There has been a lot of effort focused on this type of research. We know we are terrible at forecasting political events, but nobody has asked how we can improve it."

During a month-long experiment, Kelsey asked 300 individuals to make political and/or economic predictions each week. She then examined whether two variables influenced accuracy. For the first variable, she provided the subjects with data about the historical frequency of the events they were trying to predict. For the second variable, Kelsey provided each forecaster with information about the accuracy of their prediction from the previous week. The results were encouraging: both strategies significantly improved predictive judgment.

Kelsey also surveyed two premier non-governmental organizations (NGOs), International Crisis Group and Fund for Peace; the data showed that even the best organizations were not using performance feedback. Kelsey says, "We spend so much time making political predictions, but little time evaluating how we do."

Because the sorts of people who make political predictions are highly influential in the world, Kelsey's research is extremely important to the field. Her study finds that providing forecasters with even simple information, such as the base rate at which the predicted events have occurred in the past, or how accurate the forecasters' past predictions were, can significantly improve forecasting accuracy.

When asked what Kelsey has learned in the honors program, Professor Valentino said, "Kelsey has learned how to gather and use evidence to answer important questions about the world. All jobs require you to marshal evidence in ways that help you make the right choices. Because Kelsey will likely be in a career asked to make decisions on political events, she is well equipped to make these decisions."

Upon graduating Kelsey hopes to work for a few years in Washington,D.C. before applying to graduate school for political science.

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Last Updated: 5/17/12