Wednesday, September 18, 2013

(Not so) Popular opinion on population forecasting?

This week the myopic Globe and Mail reporters seem to think that if we cannot predict the population 50 years from now with complete certainty, we might as well hang up our hats and just stop trying.

That's their solution? Just quit. Ignore all data. Ignore all trends. Live like we don't have vital events registries and calculators, much less computers? I wonder if we should stop trying to predict the path of hurricanes, too, because, you know, we can't tell exactly where the eye will make landfall?

I'm flabbergasted by the implication that someone would prefer no information at all to a well-informed range of possibile outcomes. At first, I thought the article by Philip Cross must be an Onion link that I was mis-reading.

(I'll spare you the full force of my rant. Just envision a demographer unleashing a stream of profanities about willfully ignorant writers...)

What infuriates me most, I think, is the final paragraph wherein Cross writes:
"In the future, if the UN or Statcan insists on producing forecasts of population or the labour force, they should be obliged to include an easily-understood summary comparing their past forecasts and the actual outcomes, so people can assess for themselves the credibility of these exercises. It would also force statisticians and modellers to confront the flaws in their forecasts, something they seem blissfully unaware of and unaccountable for."
Perhaps Cross is blissfully unaware of the volumes and volumes of data, analysis, conference presentations, and peer-reviewed journal articles produced by demographers (including Stanley Smith , Jeff Tayman, David Swanson, Stefan Rayer, to name just a few) documenting exactly that: forecast error and forecast accuracy.

We demographers are not the ones who are blissfully unaware. In fact, there is an entire branch of demography devoted to improving forecasting techniques and measuring accuracy and error!

Cross, however, is blissfully unaware. Perhaps he should stop throwing stones until he moves out of his glass house.


your insights?