400 Million Nigerians by 2050? Scottish Indepdence by 2025? North Korea Missile Test by 2022?
Metaculus Mondays Europe Security and War

400 Million Nigerians by 2050? Scottish Indepdence by 2025? North Korea Missile Test by 2022?

Andrew Eaddy
Clay Graubard
Andrew Eaddy, Clay Graubard

Welcome to the 14th volume of Metaculus Mondays, a weekly series at Global Guessing where we forecast questions on the community forecasting platform Metaculus.

In this week’s volume, we will tackle these three questions:

  1. Will Scotland hold an official independence referendum by mid-2024? (Recast 🎣)
  2. Will Nigeria's population exceed 400 million before 2050? (Forecast 🔮)
  3. Will North Korea launch an ICBM before 2022? (Update 📈)

In addition to forecasting these questions on Metaculus, we will forecast similar questions when they exist on Good Judgement Open. If you want to forecast these questions before reading, you can find them here (one; two; three; and their GJOpen counterparts here: three). If you have your own forecasts on these questions, respond in the comment section with what we missed or how we made you rethink your forecasts.

Scottish IndyRef2 by mid-2024

As of 5/10/21
  • Original Forecast (Vol. 13): 21%
  • Original Community Median: 42%
  • Current Community Median: 46%

This Saturday, Scotland held its election for Parliament and the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 64 seats—one more than their previous result, and one short of a majority in the Scotish Parliament. Last week, we gave the SNP a 30% chance of winning a majority. We also predicted a 72.25% likelihood of an indyref2 conditional on the SNP winning a majority. Now that the SNP has fallen one short of a majority, where does that leave our forecast?

We update our forecast (5/10/21) 176% upwards to a 58% likelihood Scotland holds an official independence referendum by 2024.

Why? Well, not much except one big thing. In our original forecast we overestimated the need for the SNP to win an outright majority of 65 seats. Pro-independence parties already held a majority of seats in Parliament (SNP + Greens), and Nicola Sturgeon pledged an independence referendum on a pro-independence majority—not an SNP majority. The latter was the main issue with our original forecast. We misinterpreted the news we read and assumed Sturgeon had set the political debate on whether or not the SNP won a majority of seats.

Why not increase our prediction to 72%?Because even though we got the starting place wrong, and even though Sturgeon has said a referendum is “a matter of when”, we still feel the 65 seat threshold was important—just nowhere near as important as we originally found. Moreover, there are some additional factors to consider such as the UK Covid recovery summit which makes us uncomfortable to update our forecast all the way there at this moment. We remain open to such an increase, however, and will be watching the upcoming summit, Sturgeon and Downing Street’s comments, as well as Opinion polling on Scottish independence closely in the coming weeks since we feel this is a forecast with room for improvement and even another large recast so stay subscribed.

400M Nigerians by 2050

As of 5/10/21
  • Current Community Median: 42%

For the second question of this Metaculus Mondays we decided to forecast whether, on or before January 1st, 2050, the population of Nigeria will reach or exceed 400 million people. On population alone, Nigeria ranks 7th in the world, with a population of 206,139,589 as of 2021.

The potential for Nigeria to become a major regional power in Africa, and eventually an important trading partner globally, is high, so the future of its population growth and what its growth is a proxy for has great geopolitical significance. Namely, population growth to the level inquired about in the question, is often a proxy for improving education and healthcare systems, as well as growth in the country’s economy and potentially a climate-change reckoning as well. So we see the results of this forecast not being important for just Nigeria’s size, but also its well-being as a growth geopolitical power as well.

Our first approach for this question was to use an outside view, and look at other projections for Nigeria’s population in 2050 (of which there were many) to see how other entities viewed Nigeria’s growth over the coming 29 years. We leaned most heavily on projections done by the United Nations as it seemed like the least geopolitically-influenced body making projections on this issue at the time of our forecast. The projections are labeled with the year in which they were made, and are as follows:

  • 2012: 440M (2.6% implied growth rate)
  • 2015: 398M (2.28% implied growth rate)
  • 2017: 410M (2.365%implied growth rate)
  • 2019: 401M (2.29% implied growth rate)

The average of these projections yields a population of 412.25 million people, which added to our confidence that Nigeria would reach the threshold of 400 million people by 2050. Clearly taking the average of these projections is a flawed approach, however, due to the heavy weighting in the 2012 projection which has dropped by 39 million people. Even the median of these dataset is just under 400 million people, making a forecast difficult.

Next we looked at some hard data to build our own inside view for this question. First we took an average of Nigeria’s population growth rate from 2013-2019 to get a sense for Nigeria’s historical growth behavior. We also chose this range because it felt characteristic of Nigeria’s general growth patterns while also ending at the year where our data begins to allow for consistency.

The average growth rate in Nigeria from 2013-2019 was 2.620%, which is fairly strong, especially when compared to the United States’ current population growth rate of roughly .5% We then applied that 2.620% to Nigeria’s 2019 population of 201 million, provided by the World Bank, and forecasted its population out to 2050. When forecasting out, Nigeria’s population reached the 400 million person threshold in 2046 (404,033,602 million people) and by 2050 the country had 448,063,100 million people. The extent to which Nigeria surpassed the threshold impressed us and made us confident that Nigeria could reach the 400 million person mark by 2050. So the mission then became to determine the bear case for Nigeria’s population growth. We considered three factors.

First, the growth rates we averaged in the inside view methodology were declining from 2013 to 2019. We found a value from a different data set that showed 2020 bucking this trend, but if Nigeria’s population continued to grow at slower rates in the intervening 29 years, the country could realistically miss the 400 million person target.

Second, in 2018 the EU projected that in 2050 Nigeria’s population would be 379 million. This is significantly lower than the 400 million person threshold put forth by Metaculus. [What were the drivers of the forecast]. Given that this forecast was made only one year prior to the most recent UN projection we used for this forecast it played a material factor in our ultimate forecast for this question.

Finally, third, as we mentioned Nigeria’s population growth is tied heavily to their future economic, educational, and healthcare-related prospects. For that same reason, shortcomings in any of those areas could hinder Nigeria’s population growth in the future. And given the rampant terrorism growing in parts of North and West Africa, the odds that there are hiccups in Nigeria’s growth prospects are relatively high.

With all of this being said, we still believe that it is more likely than not that Nigeria reaches its 400 million person quota to reach a positive resolution for this question by 2050. We do believe, however, that the headwinds affecting this forecast still are very relevant, as also given the long time horizon for this question, we do not want to feign confidence where uncertainty is still so high.

Taking all of this into account we reached an initial forecast (as of 5/10/21) of 57.5% likelihood that Nigeria's population reaches 400 million people by 2050.

Moving forward we will be looking at the decisions Nigeria is making, as well as aid and economic development provided to the country as signals for Nigeria’s population growth potential. We will also look at how Nigeria handles the rising terrorist threat in the region, and on the continent, to get a sense of how it might impact Nigeria’s growth in other facets too such as general infrastructure which is often a constraint for sustainable population growth.

North Korea ICBM Test by 2022

As of 5/10/21
  • Original Forecast (Vol. 4): 33%
  • Original Community Median: 70%
  • 1st Update (Vol. 7): 38%
  • 2nd Update (Vol. 10): 30%
  • Current Community Median: 55%

For our final forecast this week, we return once again to the question: Will North Korea launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) before the end of 2021?

As North Korea has entered the news cycle yet again, due the ever-looming threat of its growing nuclear capabilities, we felt it timely to update this forecast to stay up-to-date with new intel. There were four factors that we considered to be diagnostic, or signals, for this forecast. While these signals vary directionally, the magnitude of their respective impacts on this forecast are roughly equivalent, and as such there isn’t any particular weighting associated with these factors.

The first factor that we considered was the passage of time that has elapsed since our last forecast. As mentioned earlier, our last forecast on this question was completed on April 12, 2021. This was almost exactly one month ago. Given that our forecast was 30% on April 12th, with about 8.6 months remaining in the year, we were suggesting that there was a roughly a 3.4% chance each month that North Korea would launch an ICBM, if evenly distributed. Therefore, given that roughly a month has passed, we felt it appropriate to drop our forecast from 30% to 26.6%.

The second factor we considered was the burgeoning arms race between South Korea and North Korea. This arms race raises our forecast for the following reasons. First, following the pattern of behavior dictated by the security dilemma, if the U.S is supporting military buildup in South Korea to counter North Korea’s aggression demonstrated in March with their missile tests, it stands to reason that North Korea would view this behavior with concern and match it. So North Korea seems to be on a path towards increasing military capabilities driven by its environment. Furthermore, as the U.S. becomes more engaged with South Korea, and in turn closer in proximity to North Korean operations, and also as the arms race grows, President Biden will be more incentivized to engage in talks with North Korea to stymie their nuclear development agenda. If Kim Jong-Un sees potential pressure from the United States on the Horizon, they may ramp up their development plans to precede any international intervention. Given all of this, we raised our analysis from 26.6% above our initial to 31%.

We then considered the nature of the recent behavior dynamics that have been on display between North Korea and the United States. Rather than viewing the behavior as trying to offend or escalate, it might be better to view it as each state trying to figure the other out. For example, President Biden in his first address to a joint session of Congress last week called North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs “serious threats”. North Korea’s response, while pointed, was proportionate which is not necessarily in line with past acts. Of course, when North Korea was getting to know the Trump Administration, it tested ICBMs and nuclear weapons. Still, this holding pattern between North Korea and the United States dropped our forecast to 30%

Finally, a combination of statements from a U.S. general claiming that North Korea might test a new ICBM design in the ‘near future’, and a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stating that a ICBM testing could resume, raised our forecast back to 31%. Neither of these statements are diagnostic of impending tests, but both are strong enough indicators of North Korea behavior that we felt it irresponsible to not have them factor into this forecast.

Therefore, as of 5/10/21, we forecast a 31% likelihood that North Korea tests an ICBM before 2022.

Turning to the Good Judgement Open equivalent, we make the following update.

From, North Korea:

  • Only tests nuclear device before 2022: 1%
  • Only tests an ICBM: 29%
  • Tests both: 1%
  • Tests neither: 69%

To:

  • Only nuke: 1%
  • Only ICBM: 30%
  • Both: 2% (Due to under-estimation in past forecasts)
  • Neither: 67%

Versus the current Community Forecast:

  • Only nuke: 4%
  • Only ICBM: 28%
  • Both: 2%
  • Neither: 66%

We will be watching for diagnostic statements from North Korean leadership, changes in North Korea military behavior and the progression of the North-South arms race on the peninsula as signals for this forecast. If you have other signals that you think are important to consider, or just have thoughts on this forecast as a whole, please feel free to comment on this article or reach out on social media!