Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is an interesting guy. I watched his special tonight on Discovery and it got me to thinking (Lu is already complaining about the smell of burning hair). He's being called by some the New Nostradamus.
I don't take Nostradamus too seriously. His quatrains are general and obscure enough to be interpreted about any way you want. He's interesting to read but I'm not basing decisions on his prophecy's.
De Mesquita is a little different. Instead of prophecy he relies on mathematics, specifically game theory.
Reportedly he has a good track record but I'm skeptical. In listening to him talk I was bothered when he mentioned how national foreign policy wasn't any different from domestic. All leaders operated basically from a selfish standpoint and made decisions based on their own education, experience and prejudices. I think he right but what struck me was he failed to ascribe these same criteria to the values he inputs into his algorithms where he produces his predictions. Reminded me a little of the AGW models but I may be wrong (BP can explain that better than I can). Everyone is a product of their environment to a greater or lesser extent
There's also the Measurement Problem
"The measurement problem asks how a definite event can arise out of a theory that only predicts a continuous probability for events."
They're talking about quantum physics of course but you get the idea. Measuring something, or in this case predicting something, alters the conditions that were used in the algorithm to make the prediction in the first place. In the short term it may be fairly accurate but it seems to me that the further down a particular line of thought he goes the further from reality he'll get because of the inherent errors that must be present and that will magnify over time.
Isaac Asimov envisioned something similar in his Foundation series with Hari Seldon, the mathematics of Psychohistory and The Mule except that even Asimov recognized the futility of predictions on a small scale. Psychohistory was concerned with masses of people. Micro versus macro. To my mind trying to predict the actions of even countries, much less individuals within those countries no matter how powerful, is dicey at best.
Do predictions affect actions and shape reality? Causality is complicated but it is manifest in our world of imperfect and essentially unpredictable humans. If there is a cause it follows that there will be some effect. A prediction about what a given person or group will do could be construed as a cause but a nation's (or even a ruler's) actions that result (effect) are subject to all the vagaries of human nature. Even contrariness.
The problem is how to know? If a prediction is right Mesquita can point to his math and say "See, I told you so". If he's wrong he can point to his accurate predictions and say "Hey, the math was good. The result was because of bad data I didn't have access to". There's no way to know (bar a confession from one of the principles) if the prediction itself had anything to do with the outcome.
It just seems like snake oil to me. I'm much more inclined to follow the lead of an expert in a given field where his predictions ans suppositions are based on long study and exceptional experience and knowledge. Predictions based on mathematical models sounds a little too much like astrology for my comfort, no matter how smart the proponent.
Or am I wrong?