As we’ve done in the past, the Future Perfect team sat down last year to try to predict what was to come in 2022. It’s something we do annually to test out our forecasting abilities.
Good news: our prognostication improved slightly from the year before. Of the 22 predictions we made, 12 were judged to be definitely correct, while another two were at least partially right. That adds up to a batting average of .636, which, if we were playing in the major leagues, would earn us a contract even richer than the one the Yankees just gave Aaron Judge.
Sadly, society does not put the same monetary value on accurate punditry that it does on the ability to hit baseballs halfway to the moon. And some of our swings-and-misses were real whiffs. Among our six wrong predictions, we failed to foresee that the Democrats would keep control of the US Senate, or that inflation would rise well above the 3 percent we predicted, or that the World Health Organization (WHO) would not designate a new Covid variant of concern. (Omicron, which was just intensifying as we made our predictions last year, isn’t going anywhere.) But we did successfully predict that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, that Emmanuel Macron would be re-elected in France, and that AI would make its presence felt in drug discovery.
As my colleague Dylan Matthews wrote last year, “Predicting the future is a skill at which some people are dramatically better than others, and practicing is one of the best ways to improve at it.” And part of practicing it is holding ourselves accountable for what we get wrong, as well as what we get right. It’s an epistemic habit the rest of the journalism world might want to consider.
So here’s what we got right and wrong about the year 2022. (And check back in January when we reveal our predictions for 2023.) —Bryan Walsh
The United States
Democrats will lose their majorities in the US House and Senate (95 percent) — WRONG
Like most election forecasters, I anticipated that Republicans would make major gains in the 2022 midterms and retake both houses of Congress. My reasoning was simple: The party out of power almost always gains seats in midterms. That’s why I so confidently predicted that Republicans would take the House and Senate this year — plus, the Democratic margin in the Senate was razor-thin, so it wouldn’t take much to knock over.
I was not just wrong but wildly overconfident in my wrongness — and I feel worse about the overconfidence. In particular, I was much too cocky about the Senate. The House really is pretty predictable, and despite Democrats doing much better than expected, they still lost that body. Ninety-five percent was probably the right odds for that prediction: It would’ve taken a truly dramatic upset for Dems to hold it. But I should’ve remembered that as recently as 2018, the party out of power retook the House while losing seats in the Senate, because the Senate, with its different electoral map and six-year terms, is an odd institution. Results depend as much on which states happen to have elections as on the national mood. —Dylan Matthews
Inflation in the US will average under 3 percent (80 percent) — WRONG
The definition of “inflation” I was using here was annualized rate of growth in the personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index, excluding food and energy. This measure, known as “core PCE,” is the one preferred by the Federal Reserve, and thus the one most relevant for public policy. I also pledged to consider the average of the first three quarters of 2022, as the data from the final quarter is not available yet.
Taking that all into account, the real average for the first three quarters of 2022 was 4.97 percent, which discerning readers will note is higher than 3 percent. I was in good company in missing the mark here: The Fed predicted core PCE inflation of 2.7 percent in 2022; the Congressional Budget Office predicted 2 percent; professional private-sector forecasters predicted 2.5 percent in quarter one and 2.3 percent in quarter three.
Why did we all get it wrong? It’s complicated but I tried to explain in this piece from April. As I wrote then, “I unfairly dismissed the most boring, Econ 101 explanation for why inflation happens: that there was too much money sloshing around for the amount of stuff the economy was able to produce — meaning the price of that stuff went up.” —DM
Unemployment in the US will fall below 4 percent by November (80 percent) — RIGHT
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in November was 3.7 percent.
That’s about where it was right before Covid struck — unemployment in February 2020 was 3.5 percent, which immediately spiked when the virus and attendant lockdowns and business closures hit.
For predictions about economic indicators like this one, I tend to just look at the behavior of the relevant statistic over the last several years, to get a sense of how often a prediction like this would be right just by chance. Then I adjust a bit for the specific circumstances. But sometimes it’s tricky to figure out what class you’re comparing to — unemployment rates over the last 20 years, which have rarely been below 4 percent? Unemployment rates over the last five years, which were generally below 4 percent until Covid struck?
By the end of 2021, when I made this prediction, it looked to me like we were already moving toward the pre-Covid unemployment rates, with unemployment back down to around 4 percent, so I went with the latter as the point of comparison. This prediction was just that unemployment would fall a little farther in 2022, which it did. —Kelsey Piper
The Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade (65 percent) — RIGHT
I predicted that the Supreme Court would use the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe, and further that it would do so with the votes of all conservatives but John Roberts. That was the impression I got from court observers like my colleague Ian Millhiser and the prediction market at FantasyScotus, following oral arguments.
Given how badly I miffed the midterm and inflation predictions, I’m somewhat relieved that I got this one right in every particular. Roberts joined in the decision but not in Samuel Alito’s opinion overruling Roe. It’s not the outcome I wanted, but it was easily foreseeable ahead of time. —DM
Stephen Breyer will retire from the Supreme Court (55 percent) — RIGHT
I predicted that Breyer, partly reacting to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s arrogant insistence on staying on the Supreme Court during the Obama administration (which directly contributed to the Dobbs ruling), would retire while he was still confident Joe Biden had a Democratic Senate to confirm his replacement. That is indeed what Breyer did, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson now holds that seat.
If anything, I was underconfident. I probably could have put higher odds on a Breyer retirement, given what a plain disaster Ginsburg’s decision was proven to be for the causes she and Breyer care(d) about. —DM
Emmanuel Macron will be reelected as president of France (65 percent) — RIGHT
My reasoning here was that Macron was solidly ahead of both far-right candidates in polling (Éric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen) and that for him to have a real fight, he’d have to face Gaullist center-right contender Valérie Pécresse in the runoff election.
But the electorate seemed to shift leftward in the early months of 2022. Both Zemmour and Pécresse saw their support fall off a cliff, with the latter doing worse than Le Pen in head-to-head polls against Macron. Meanwhile, far-left contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon saw a late surge in polling and came a close third, almost making the runoff against Macron. Ultimately, though, as most people suspected, the runoff was a rerun of 2017, with Macron and Le Pen facing off, and the latter, dogged by her longstanding support of Vladimir Putin in a campaign happening in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, lost by about 10 points.
I might have underestimated Macron here, or perhaps overestimated his opponents. But 65 percent made sense a year ago and I think it’s a defensible number now. —DM
Jair Bolsonaro will be reelected as president of Brazil (55 percent) — WRONG
This is what you get for defying the polls! Far-right death squad aficionado Bolsonaro was, at the time I wrote this prediction, behind leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in public polling. But I thought the incumbency advantage for South American presidents and the history of polling misses in past Brazilian presidential races gave Bolsonaro a slight advantage anyway.
I was wrong, and Lula won narrowly in the runoff. On a personal level I’m happy; I certainly prefer Lula’s politics. But this was a tough miss on a prediction level. —DM
Bongbong Marcos will be elected as president of the Philippines (55 percent) — RIGHT
Polling in the Philippine election was sparse going into 2022, so I didn’t want to be overly confident. That said, Bongbong Marcos, the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was always the obvious frontrunner, and so I felt confident that he had the best odds of anybody, even if he wasn’t the overwhelming favorite.
I was underconfident. Marcos did not merely win but demolished the opposition, beating his nearest opponent by over 30 points. He’s been less authoritarian as president than I had feared, if still not ideal, but he certainly won by more than I expected. —DM
Rebels will NOT capture the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa (55 percent) — RIGHT
This was an odd prediction: Initially I had thought that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front would take Addis Ababa, as had seemed likely in late 2021. By the end of December, the tide had turned and the Ethiopian army looked to be routing the TPLF, so in the end I reversed the prediction.
December 2021 me was right, and November 2021 me was wrong. Addis did not fall, and in November 2022 the two sides agreed to a permanent ceasefire, complete with the full disarmament of the Tigrayan forces. The Tigrayans have reported that 65 percent of their troops have since withdrawn from the frontlines. There’s still time for the tentative peace deal to fracture, but it’s an immensely hopeful sign after internal fighting that had led to an estimated death toll between 385,000 and 600,000, with most deaths due to famine and disruptions to health care infrastructure, rather than direct combat. UN investigators have found evidence of serious war crimes committed by both parties to the conflict. —DM
Chinese GDP will continue to grow for the first three quarters of the year (95 percent) — RIGHT
Per the National Bureau of Statistics of China, GDP grew at a year-over-year rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter, 0.4 percent in the second quarter, and 3.9 percent in the third quarter, for an average of about 3 percent for the year. This is not too surprising. Per World Bank data, the last year that Chinese GDP fell was 1976, when Mao Zedong died and the Gang of Four was deposed. The 2008 global financial crisis and the pandemic in 2020 (originating in China) couldn’t stop the country’s economy from growing, at least in the official numbers the government agrees to put out.
But I’m less confident this trend will continue. The Chinese people clearly are fed up with the country’s extreme Covid restrictions and it seems like a resolution will involve either further repression, which might hamper growth, or else easing those restrictions, which risks a major Covid outbreak that could in turn hamper growth. (As I write this in mid-December, the latter outcome already seems to be taking place.) China is still in a fairly solid economic position but it faces much more significant risks, at least to my eyes, than it did a year ago. —DM
China will not reopen its borders in the first half of 2022 (80 percent) — RIGHT
As predicted, through the first half of 2022, China’s borders remained closed for foreign tourism. This was easy to foresee from knowing just a little bit about the country. Economically, China could afford to keep its borders closed; exports and foreign investment were doing just fine. And politically, China had every motivation to stay closed: With the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, followed by the session of its rubber-stamp parliament and, later in the year, its party congress, I was sure the government wouldn’t want to let in foreigners who might critique its policies, especially its human rights abuses.
It was only later in the year that China’s incentives began to shift enough to prompt a reconsideration of its “zero-Covid” policy. On September 16, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism released a drafted measure on a possible, yet controlled, return of tourism. On December 7, following brave protests by its citizens, China began relaxing zero-Covid measures. —Sigal Samuel
20 percent of US children between 6 months and 5 years old will have received at least one Covid vaccine by year’s end (65 percent) — WRONG
Alas, only 6.5 percent of US children under the age of 2 had received at least one Covid vaccine as of early December. A slightly higher percentage, 9.4 percent, of children 2-4 years old had received at least one dose, according to data from the CDC.
When I initially made this prediction, I cited polling that suggests that the younger their children are, the more hesitant parents become about getting them the Covid vaccine. That’s why I said I was only 65 percent confident in my prediction, and why I said “I’m not going to bet on a higher percentage” than 20 percent of kids under 5 being vaccinated. Unfortunately, it looks like even that forecast underestimated parents’ hesitance. —SS
The WHO will designate another variant of concern by year’s end (75 percent) — WRONG
I’m so happy I was wrong about this one! My reasoning at the time was this: Within the previous year, five variants of concern had made it onto the WHO’s list. It seemed unlikely that we’d go all of 2022 without adding at least one more to that list. Between rich countries hoarding doses and some populations showing hesitancy to get immunized, it seemed we weren’t vaccinating the globe fast enough to starve the virus of chances to mutate into something new and serious.
I think that was a reasonable take at the time, and experts still voice the same concern now. But so far, instead of totally new variants of concern, what we’ve seen is a soup of sublineages of the Omicron variant. The omicron family has been outcompeting other variants because of mutations that allow it to evade the immunity people have built up through infection, vaccination, or both. As the computational biologist Jesse Bloom told NPR, “That’s evolution’s way of saying ‘this mutation is repeatedly getting selected over and over again because it’s really helpful.’” —SS
12 billion shots will be given out against Covid-19 globally by November 2022 (80 percent) — RIGHT
World Covid-19 shots reached 12 billion in June 2022. By November, the number was just above 12.9 billion. Notably, most Covid vaccines that have been given out since they first became available were actually given out in 2021 — by 2022 things had slowed down considerably, with most people worldwide either fully vaccinated or less susceptible to Covid because of having been exposed to it (or both).
With the worldwide Covid vaccination program coming to a likely end this month, as demand dwindles, it’s worth reflecting on what an achievement this is. Within two years of the virus first being identified in humans, we made and distributed enough shots to vaccinate nearly the whole world twice over. That’s nothing short of astonishing. —KP
... but at least one country will have less than 10 percent of people vaccinated with two shots by November 2022 — (70 percent) — RIGHT
As of December 18, 2022, the New York Times reports the following seven countries had less than 10 percent of people fully vaccinated: Burundi (0.2 percent), Yemen (2.6 percent), Haiti (2.1 percent), Papua New Guinea (3.5 percent), Congo (4.3 percent), Madagascar (7.1 percent), and Senegal (8.3 percent). (A few other countries did not report vaccination data.) While the effort to develop vaccines against a new disease and deploy them worldwide was a huge scientific, technical, and political achievement, it didn’t reach everywhere. And while many of the countries on this list simply never received enough vaccines in anywhere near enough time, hesitancy played a big role in keeping vaccination rates low even where they were widely accessible. Some 30 percent of Americans never chose to get fully vaccinated. —KP
Science and technology
A psychedelic drug will be decriminalized or legalized in at least one new US state (75 percent) — RIGHT
Because the movement to decriminalize or legalize psychedelic drugs has been gaining traction over the past few years, I reasoned there was a good chance we’d see the movement notch another victory at the state level in 2022. The likeliest contender, I thought, was California, which had plans to put decriminalization of a wide class of psychedelics to a vote in a 2022 ballot measure. That hasn’t quite panned out yet: Senate Bill 519 has been amended to a working group study on psychedelic policy options, and state Senator Scott Wiener intends to reintroduce a more comprehensive version of the bill next year.
But my prediction was borne out anyway — in Colorado. As Time reported in November: “Colorado voters have approved the broadest psychedelic legalization in the U.S., which would decriminalize five psychedelic substances and enable adults to receive psychedelics at licensed centers… Statewide legalization was also a big step forward for Colorado activists.” —SS
US government will not renew the ban on funding gain-of-function research (60 percent) — RIGHT
In 2014, after a series of disastrous lab incidents that made it clear our current system is inadequate to protect against high-stakes laboratory accidents, and after some controversial proposals for new work designing contagious and deadly viral variants, the US imposed a temporary ban on funding so-called gain of function research on pathogens with the potential to cause a pandemic. Many scientists argued the risks of such work grossly outweigh the benefits. But in 2017 the ban was replaced with the PPP framework for evaluating such research, which has remained in place, despite increasing attention to the risks of gain-of-function work. —KP
AI will discover a new drug — or an old drug fit for new purposes — that’s promising enough for clinical trials (85 percent) — RIGHT
In 2020 and 2021, the hype we’d been hearing about AI’s potential to transform drug discovery began to turn into reality: Using AI, researchers found a new type of antibiotic, a new drug for patients with tumors, a new drug for Alzheimer’s disease psychosis, and a new pill for OCD that would be the first AI-designed drug to be clinically tested on humans.
This was clearly an accelerating trend, so I felt confident predicting AI would discover at least one more drug fit for clinical trials in 2022. Happily for all sorts of patients, this was right. To give just one exciting example: In May, Insilico Medicine announced a candidate for Covid-19 treatment, and the company’s chief scientific officer Feng Ren said, “We are committed to progress the molecule as fast as possible into clinical trials evaluating its usage in Covid-19 treatment.” You can find more examples here. There are currently at least 23 new AI-assisted treatments in clinical trials. — SS
The Biden administration will set the social cost of carbon at $100 per ton or more (70 percent) — PARTIALLY RIGHT
This one’s tricky. The social cost of carbon (SCC) is a measure, in dollars, of how much economic damage results from emitting 1 ton of carbon dioxide — and there’s good reason to think we’ve been radically underestimating it. The Biden administration has been using $51 as an interim SCC, but with many experts saying it should be at least double that, I was reasonably confident the administration would set it at $100 or more when it finished studying the matter and released its final determination.
That determination was supposed to come out from the Interagency Working Group in January 2022, but we are still waiting for the official word, to the frustration of many. However, the EPA did propose increasing the SCC to $190. And the EPA is part of the Interagency Working Group. It’s a good indication of where the thinking is at. For now, I’ll mark this partially right. —SS
2022 will be warmer than 2021 (80 percent) — PROBABLY RIGHT
An unfortunate consequence of global warming: Betting that a given year will be warmer than the last is generally an easy win, unless the previous year was a record-breaking scorcher. 2021 wasn’t, so I felt safe in guessing 2022 would surpass it, and indeed it did: 2022 appears to be on track to be the sixth-warmest year on record. All of the 10 warmest years ever to be recorded have happened since 2005. And while much of the world is making progress on a transition away from carbon-emitting fuels, at our current pace it’ll be safe to keep on betting on unusually warm years. —KP
Culture and sport
Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast will win Best Picture (55 percent) — WRONG
As of January 1, 2022, the betting sites bet365, BetMGM, and Betfair all listed Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s film à clef about growing up in the titular Northern Ireland city during the Troubles, as their favorite to win Best Picture, though none of them gave it odds as high as I did. In retrospect the bookies were right, and the category was simply not predictable enough for probabilities like 55 percent to make sense.
My basic case for Belfast was that it was sappy middlebrow audience-pleasing fare and that the Academy loves that stuff. I was not wrong, I just picked the wrong sappy middlebrow audience-pleasing fare. It turns out that was CODA, the eventual underdog victor, while the revisionist Western The Power of the Dog was good enough to win Jane Campion a Best Director trophy, but too weird for the big prize. Branagh had to satisfy himself with a Best Original Screenplay win, his first Oscar in a very long career. —DM
Norway will win the most medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics (60 percent) — RIGHT
Gracenote, a division of Nielsen, predicts the Olympics by looking at recent results in non-Olympic competitions in various events, and it gave Norway a strong edge in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, relative to their closest competitors, the awkwardly branded Russian Olympic Committee. I fully outsourced my prediction to Gracenote and it paid off beautifully: Norway got more medals (37) than any other country, and more golds (16) too. ROC was second on medals with 32, while Germany was second on golds with 12.
Not to get too political here, but one might fairly note that it’s odd Norway, a nation with 5.4 million people representing roughly 0.07 percent of the world’s population, received 11.3 percent of Winter Olympic medals and 14.7 percent of gold medals. It got 161 times as many medals as its population would suggest. What’s more, their medals came from objectively bizarre sports like biathlon (14 medals from the arctic drive-by shooting sport) and cross-country skiing (8 medals from the worst activity I’ve ever tried in my life) and Nordic combined (4; quick, tell me what Nordic combined is without googling).
I liked the 2021 Norwegian film The Worst Person in the World as much as anybody but this is absurd and the International Olympic Committee should take these smug Tesla-driving oilmongers down a peg or two. —DM
Additional research by Oshan Jarow, Julieta Cardenas, and Rachel DuRose.