Outreach: Article Competition 2011

Projection Point is an Irish company providing risk analysis, consulting and behavioural testing. As part of its website, Projection Point maintains a blog on observations about risk intelligence and comments on risk stupidity.

Our Outreach Programme holds an annual essay competition, the winner of which will walk away with €200 and have their essay published on our blog.

For the 2011 Essay Competition, we invite secondary school students, undergraduate and postgraduate university students to submit essays on the topic of risk. The exact topic of choice is up to the author, but the final essay should fit in nicely within the area of risk intelligence and behavioural science.

So what are we looking for? Dylan’s C4ISR article acts as a good example.


    1. All essays must be original; no previously published material will be accepted.
    2. Each participant can submit a maximum of two essays.
    3. Quotes and references must be clearly marked throughout the essay and properly cited. It is the author’s responsibility to ensure that all quoted material (including statistics) is correct, relevant, and accurate. The judges will verify your citations and in case of purposely misleading or erroneous facts and citations, might disqualify the essay.
    4. Any form of plagiarism will result in automatic disqualification.

Every participant must provide the following personal details*:

    • Name and Surname, Valid Postal Address, and Email Address.
  1. Projection Point reserves the right to publish the essay on projectionpoint.com and/or any subdomains (such as blog.projectionpoint.com).
  2. The decision of the Jury is final and is not subject to appeal.
  3. Copyrights of winning entry will apply to Projection Point.
  4. Projection Point is held responsible for ensuring the author’s name is kept and publicized with the essay. It also reserves the right to remove/delete the essay without notice to or consent by the author.
  5. Upon request by the author, Projection Point must publish essays anonymously.
  6. There is no limit on the contestant’s age or occupation. Everyone is welcome.


  • Entries should be no shorter than 1000 words. However, we would like to emphasize that quality is more important than quantity.
  • You may include images in your essay
  • Although not mandatory, we suggest all entries Harvard System of Referencing
  • Your essay should include the following:
    1. An introduction, which introduces the topic and contains an explanation of your position.
    2. A body, which contains the main content of your essay.
    3. A conclusion, which summarizes the subject, research, and analysis presented in the essay and sets forth your conclusions.Your essay should also include notes and/or a bibliography except when using ‘APA style’.
  • Reference notes (footnotes or endnotes) give the sources of your information or ideas. Footnotes are placed at the end of the essay.
  • A bibliography is a list of the works that you have referred to in your essay or have consulted in order to write it. Essays are encouraged to use a variety of sources—academic journals, news magazines, newspapers, books, government documents, publications from research organizations, etc.
  • The Internet or World Wide Web should not be the only source for your essay. Be aware that you may encounter “republished” or “third generation” information on the Internet that is inaccurate or improperly attributed. When citing Internet sources, you must include the following information: author(s), title of work, Internet address, and date information was accessed. Detailed instructions can be obtained from the manuals listed above. For the purposes of this essay, Internet sources should be listed separately from non-electronic sources, such as books, magazines, and newspapers.

Good Essays

  • Should take up at least two and a half A4 pages.
  • Are well-written.
  • Demonstrate that you have researched/investigated the topic.
  • Are submitted in plain text, HTML, PDF or MS-Word format.
  • Stay focused on the topic.
  • Use quotations and references.


  • Spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Approaching the topic so that it can only be understood by someone who is already an expert in the field.
  • Omit references to backup statements.
  • Submit essays that overlap heavily with articles previously published on Projection Point.


First Prize: The winning entry will receive a cheque of €200.
Second Prize: Contestant will receive a cheque of €75.
Third Prize: Contestant will receive a cheque of €50.
Fourth – Tenth: Contestant will receive three vouchers for the Projection Point Expert RQ Test.

A selection of the top ten essays will be published on our blog (blog.projectionpoint.com).

Winning highschool / secondary school students writing on behalf of their school make their academic institution’s library eligible for a free copy of “Risk Intelligence: How to Live with Uncertainty“.

Review Process
Every submission will be read by at least three reviewers and judged against six equally weighted criteria: Thematic focus, Skill in argumentation, Clarity of ideas, Originality, Precision and Style in writing, and Grace of expression.

For each criterion there is an associated scale from 0 to 10. Each essay’s review score will be calculated as follows: the average of the six equally weighted criteria for each reviewer is calculated. Thereafter the average of the reviewers score will be calculated. In addition to the score, each reviewer will add a final comment for the author. The highest scoring essays will win.

Winners will be announced before or on January 31st 2011.

Submission Deadline: December 20th 2011.
Submission Details: Entries may be sent to submission@blog.projectionpoint.com or be posted to:
Projection Point Ltd
Building 1000, Second Floor,
City Gate, Mahon,
Little Island,
Cork, Ireland.

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* Winners may choose to have their essay published anonymously

Postdecision dissonance

This blog will occasionally feature long-lost bits of research that deserve to be revisited. One such paper, published in 1968, discusses a lovely example of risk stupidity.  Bettors at a racetrack were asked which horse they thought would win the next race, and then asked to estimate the probability of that horse winning – before they placed their bets.  When they were asked the same question again after placing their bets, they tended to rate the horse’s chance of winning more highly.

I find this hilarious.  The mere act of placing a small bet couldn’t possibly affect a horse’s chance of winning, and yet these punters all acted as if they thought it could.  The explanation favored by the authors of the paper invokes the concept of postdecision dissonance.  When the bettor becomes financially committed to his choice of horse by placing a bet on it, previous doubts about the horse’s abilities become uncomfortable.  In such circumstances, the theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that those doubts will tend to be suppressed in order to reduce psychological discomfort.  And this results in the bettor becoming more confident in his horse’s chance of winning.

This kind of self-justification makes bad decisions harder to reverse.  Once a decision has been taken, we tend to focus on the factors that favored our choice and downplay the opposing factors that we had previously considered.  One way to overcome this is to record all the factors – for and against a choice – while we are deciding, and keep them all under review as we proceed.  Otherwise, the need for closure will tend to drive us towards overconfidence, and we will become less able to change our minds if necessary.

Predicting world events

Last month President Obama criticized American spy agencies for failing to predict the spreading unrest in the Middle East.   Now a new study is attempting to discover what makes a good forecaster.

Volunteers are being recruited for a multi-year, web-based study of people’s ability to predict world events.  The study is sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).  One aim of the study is to discover whether some kinds of personality are better than others at making accurate predictions.  The researchers hope to recruit a diverse panel of participants who are interested in offering predictions about events and trends in international relations, social and cultural change, business and economics, public health, and science and technology.

The Forecasting World Events Project is part of a multi-year research program investigating the accuracy of individual and group predictions about global events and trends, with the aim of advancing the science of forecasting. Last year at Projection Point we carried out some similar research. In December 2009 we set up a prediction game in which we asked people to estimate the chances of various developments in politics and business around the world in the coming year.

During the first few months of 2010, over 200 people who had already taken our basic risk intelligence test (the general knowledge version) estimated the probability of each prediction.  Over the rest of year, whenever any of the predictions came true or false, we entered the details in the system accordingly.  At the end of the year, we had enough data to calculate their risk intelligence.

The big question was whether these scores would correlate with those derived from the general-knowledge version of the test.  If they did, that would suggest that the cognitive tasks involved in estimating the likelihood of general knowledge statements are basically the same as the skills required to estimate the probability of future events.  In other words, if people tended to get similar scores on both types of test, it would support the view that risk intelligence is a single general-purpose ability to deal with uncertainty that can applied equally to reasoning about the past, present and future.  If, on the other hand, people tended to get very different scores on in the two tests, this might suggest that risk intelligence is more domain-specific, so a person could be risk smart in one area and risk stupid in another.

Correlation between prediction game and RQ test

Correlation between prediction game and RQ test

As you can see from the graph, the results were not impressive; the correlation between the scores on the two tests was only .21.  This means there is questionable value in administering a general knowledge version of the risk intelligence test to someone in an attempt to discover his or her skill at forecasting. It may be a useful approach when selecting the best hundred forecasters from a pool of a thousand applicants, since even low correlations can be useful when dealing with large groups.  For individuals, however, it would appear that the only way to measure forecasting ability is to collect probability estimates about actual future events; the general knowledge type of risk intelligence test will not serve as a proxy.

The shoe-thrower’s index

The Economist recently published this chart, which shows the extent to which various Arab countries are vulnerable to revolution. The scale along the top of the chart which goes from 0 to 100 – amusingly dubbed “the shoe-thrower’s index” – is based on a number of indicators that The Economist believes feed unrest.

The shoe thrower's index

So far so good. Quantification often helps to clarify our thinking. But scales are not all equal – some are better than others. The shoe-thrower’s index is an ordinal scale, and so doesn’t translate easily into a probability estimate. Doug Hubbard and I wrote a paper last year arguing that risk should always be described in terms of mathematical probabilities, which is a ratio scale. Rather than simply ranking Arab countries in terms of their potential for unrest, it would be much more helpful to estimate, say, the chance that a given country will topple its leader within a given time frame. Only then could we evaluate how accurate those predictions are. The ratings provided by The Economisthere are so vague that they could never be proven wrong – or right.

The parable of the talents

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus praises venture capitalists who make risky investments. But what would the master in the parable have said if one of the slaves had invested the talents in a mezzanine tranche of a collateralized debt obligation backed by subprime collateral which had experienced severe rating downgrades after delinquencies and defaults on the underlying mortgages?