I say that the Detroit Tigers, the baseball team—baseball being the most sublime of all sports, and this team being the game’s most stalwart representative—will beat the Boston Red Sox when they meet on Opening Day, Thursday, 5 April 2012. This is a prediction.
I also claim that the global average temperature in 2013 will be less than it will be for 2012. This is not a prediction, but a scenario.
And then, once we think about it, the first statement is not quite a prediction either. So why did we initially think it was? Why would anybody think the second one is a prediction?
Here is what a hard prediction is: first, it is not a probability, but a bet (of a sort); second, it is a statement capable of unique empirical verification. (We will discuss “soft” predictions, which are probabilities, another time.) Both criteria must be met for a proposition to be a prediction. A prediction is synonymously a forecast, a guess, prognostication, a prophecy or divination. A prediction is most decidedly not a “scenario,” though clever people often use scenarios in the place of predictions to fool their audiences.
Saying (what is true) that baseball is “the most sublime of all sports” is not a prediction because it is not ultimately capable of unique empirical verification. And this is because the statement is dependent on the aesthetic or moral term “sublime”, a term which rests on something deeper than any empirical observation.
What’s wrong with the proposition that “The Detroit Tigers will beat the Boston Red Sox on 5 April 2012”? Not much, but something; it is nearly complete, yet it misses the information about how one baseball team can “beat” another. We know this information so well—one team scores more runs than the other—that we do not consider that we should supply it to the statement. It is tacitly there—but only for fans of baseball, for those who know the sport.
Those unfortunates who live in places where this great game does not exist will not know how to turn the statement into a genuine prediction. For these folks the statement is not a prediction. Of course, the statement is easily fixable by changing “beat” to “score more runs than.”
Then what happens if it rains or, God help us (this being Michigan in April), snows? The games will be postponed. The prediction then fails. Not in the sense that it is no longer a prediction, but in the sense that the event predicted did not obtain. The prediction is a bust, a miss. It was wrong.
You protest? “Doesn’t count! The game didn’t go off. The prediction is voided.” But words about a game “going off” were not in the prediction. The statement merely said the Tigers would score more runs than the Red Sox on a certain date. This did not happen, so the prediction is a miss. We can fix this by adding the proviso, ahead of time, “If the games goes off, the Tigers will score more runs than the Red Sox.” We might call this a conditional prediction, but all predictions are conditional; the conditionality is just more explicit here.
So, it’s the fifteenth inning, 1 to 1, and the skies open: a cataract. The radar gives no hint that the storm will stop. The umpire, his soul seized by underworldly forces, declares the game a tie and then heads for the nearest pub to warm himself. The prediction is a bust once more. Why? Well, the Tigers did not in fact score more runs than the Red Sox. A miss!
More outrage? “Doesn’t count! The game was a tie!” But there were no words about a tie, vile as these things are in baseball (or in any sport), in the statement. The statement was not empirically verified, and that is that. Of course, if ties were a concern, or a negator of the prediction, then this information can ahead of time be added to the statement in the obvious way.
Get it? Every possible contingency has to be imagined and must be part of the statement for the statement to be a prediction. No wiggle room can be allowed in its interpretation. No possibility of dispute, or disparate explanation; no fuzziness, no nuance. The thing must be clear and agreed to beforehand. Imagine writing a prediction like one writes a contract and you’ll have the idea. Both sides must be satisfied that everything that could happen has been agreed to in advance.