Note: After this post went live and the organizer reached out to me, some of these specific predictions were added to an actual prediction market at Manifold Markets.
In the past public predictions usually took the form of some pundit making a prognistication about an event that was going to happen years in the future, and by the time the prediction was falsifiable everybody had either moved on or the prediction was so vague as to be non-falisifable. However, recently the “superforecasting” movement has turned armchair theorizing into a systematic science, with predictors being graded on their accuracy after making predictions that are clearly definable and falsifiable. One manifestation of this movement are prediction markets, where people literally bet money on clearly defined events happening or not happening, and with actual money on the line, people do really deep dive research.
So I thought it would be fun to do my own superforecasting competition for the Church in 2023. The rule is that the question has to be defined clearly enough to be demonstrably true or untrue within the time horizon. Here I’ll give percentages. I don’t claim to be a superforecaster, I’m not spending a ton of time on quantifying trends and the like, and no money is on the line, but I’ll check back on my accuracy around this time next year.
- The Church’s membership, on-the-books growth rate will be below 1% as reported in the April 2023 Conference.
My probability: 80%
The Church’s year-on-year growth rate has been below 1% for the past couple of years, so getting above 1% would require reversing the long-term slowdown trend.
However, temporary reversals sometimes happen even if the long-term trend stays the same, since growth trends can be bumpy; additionally, conversions might see a post-COVID uptick, so a growth rate above 1% isn’t completely beyond the realm of reasonableness, but it’s unlikely.
- There will be another scandal involving local level Church leadership and sexual abuse, either perpetrated by or confessed to the local leader.
My probability: 80%
Given the sheer number of local leaders in the US, combined with the tragic ubiquity of sexual abuse, along with the increased awareness of this problem, I think the chances that there will be another scandal involving a local leader to be rather high–it seems like 2022 had a new one every other month or so.
- There will be a major, sex- or sexuality-related Latter-day Saint story carried by more than one major news outlet (excluding Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, and excluding sexual abuse addressed in the category above).
My probability: 70%
For some reason people have always had a prurient interest in Latter-day Saint sexuality (The Guardian and Newsweek in particular appear to have a particular, ahem, fetish), and this doesn’t show any signs of abating, whether it’s Layton swingers (a real thing) or “soaking” (not a real thing). Additionally, the Church seems to occupy an outsized place in the sexual minorities discourse in the country, so this is one I’m reasonably confident will happen during the year 2023.
- There will be a significant policy change. Here “significant” means that it is addressed or referenced in more than one general conference talk.
My probability: 50%
While President Nelson’s tenure has had a lot of these, they seem to have tapered off recently, so I’d give this one an even chance.
- A temple will be announced in Mongolia.
My probability: 55%
A Mongolian temple has been a perennial favorite as a prediction for a new temple. Given the distances involved, the Church’s growth over the past couple of decades, and the Church’s movement towards building more temples to cut down on distances involved in temple travel, I put this as slightly better than even chance.
- The Church will open proselytizing missions in China.
My probability: 2%
Despite being the perennial rumor, I just don’t see a political pathway to this happening in the short run.
- The Church will open a new country for missionary work.
My probability: 75%
Given that a new country is opened about every year or so, and given that there is still some low-hanging fruit before we open a Pyongyang mission, I’m somewhat confident that a new country will open in 2023 for missionary work.
- A general authority will be excommunicated.
My probability: 3%
This happens every couple of decades or so, so I’m giving it a low single-digit probability. Possible, but not likely.
President Nelson will pass on and a new President will be sustained.
It would be morbid to compete on who gets this right, so I won’t be making a conjecture and I won’t count this in the overall score. The one thing that I will point out is that, according to the latest US Life Tables, somebody in President Nelsons’ demographic category (95-100 years old, white, non-Hispanic male), has an expected lifespan of 2.5 additional years. Additionally, rumor is that President Nelson is an extremely abstemious, clean eater, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes it to 100. However, the survival curve within the 95-100 range is pretty steep, so the 2.5 years might be an overestimate given that President Nelson is currently 98. Still, I would bet that he will be our first centenarian President of the Church.
- President Nelson will resign as President of the Church.
My probability in the next year: 2%
My probability overall: 5%
I don’t think so, but nobody thought so with Pope Benedict XVI, and the idea of President Emeritus isn’t unheard of. (Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe George Albert Smith entertained this possibility?) President Nelson did live through several cases of Presidents of the Church who weren’t very functional near the end, so maybe.