Metaculus Help: Spread the word
If you like Metaculus, tell your friends! Share this question via Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.
Ragnarök Question Series: if a global biological catastrophe occurs, will it reduce the human population by 95% or more?
No single disease currently exists that combines the worst-case levels of transmissibility, lethality, resistance to therapies, and global reach. But we know that the worst-case attributes can be realized independently. For example, some diseases exhibit nearly a 100% case fatality ratio in the absence of treatment, such as rabies or septicemic plague. The 1918 flu has a track record of spreading to virtually every human community worldwide. Chickenpox and HSV-1, can reportedly reach over 95% of a given population.
An informal survey at the 2008 Oxford Global Catastrophic Risk Conference asked participants to estimate the chance that disasters of different types would occur before 2100. Participants had a median risk estimate of 0.05% that a natural pandemic would lead to human extinction by 2100, and a median risk estimate of 2% that an “engineered” pandemic would lead to extinction by 2100.
Moreover, previous literature has found that casualty numbers from terrorism and warfare follow a power law distribution, including terrorism from WMDs. Millett and Snyder-Beattie have performed a naive power law extrapolation to estimate the chance of an existential biological disaster:
Past studies have estimated this ratio for terrorism using biological and chemical weapons to be about 0.5 for 1 order of magnitude, meaning that an attack that kills people is about 3 times less likely () than an attack that kills people (a concrete example is that attacks with more than 1,000 casualties, such as the Aum Shinrikyo attacks, will be about 30 times less probable than an attack that kills a single individual). Extrapolating the power law out, we find that the probability that an attack kills more than 5 billion will be or 0.000014. Assuming 1 attack per year (extrapolated on the current rate of bio-attacks) and assuming that only 10% of such attacks that kill more than 5 billion eventually lead to extinction (due to the breakdown of society, or other knock-on effects), we get an annual existential risk of 0.0000014 (or ).
In the first part of the Ragnarök Question Series, we asked the question If a global catastrophe occurs, will it be due to biotechnology or bioengineered organisms? Now it is asked,
Given that a biological global catastrophe occurs that results in the reduction of global population of at least 10% by 2100, will the global population decline more than 95% relative to the pre-catastrophe population?
The question resolves positive if such a global biological catastrophe does occur, and the global population is less than 95% of the pre-catastrophe population. The question resolves ambiguous if a global biological catastrophe that claims at least 10% (in any period of 5 years or less) does not occur. The question resolves negative if a global biological catastrophe failure-mode induced global catastrophe occurs that claims at least 10% (in any period of 5 years or less) but the post-catastrophe population remains above 5%.
A biological catastrophe is here defined as a catastrophe resulting from the deployment biotechnologies or bioengineered organisms (including viruses) that claims at least 10% in any period of 5 years or less before 2100. Moreover, the catastrophe must be generally believed very unlikely in a counterfactual world with little or no biotechnological interventions but otherwise similar to ours.
This question is part of the Ragnarök Question Series. Please have a look at the other questions and contribute your insights, analyses, and factorizations, especially on the questions on what might happen if a global catastrophe occurs (for which we are currently short on predictions):
Also, please check out our questions on whether a global catastrophe will occur by 2100, and if so, which?:
All results are analysed here, and will be updated periodically.
Metaculus help: Predicting
Predictions are the heart of Metaculus. Predicting is how you contribute to the wisdom of the crowd, and how you earn points and build up your personal Metaculus track record.
The basics of predicting are very simple: move the slider to best match the likelihood of the outcome, and click predict. You can predict as often as you want, and you're encouraged to change your mind when new information becomes available.
The displayed score is split into current points and total points. Current points show how much your prediction is worth now, whereas total points show the combined worth of all of your predictions over the lifetime of the question. The scoring details are available on the FAQ.
Note: this question resolved before its original close time. All of your predictions came after the resolution, so you did not gain (or lose) any points for it.
Note: this question resolved before its original close time. You earned points up until the question resolution, but not afterwards.
This question is not yet open for predictions.
Metaculus help: Community Stats
Use the community stats to get a better sense of the community consensus (or lack thereof) for this question. Sometimes people have wildly different ideas about the likely outcomes, and sometimes people are in close agreement. There are even times when the community seems very certain of uncertainty, like when everyone agrees that event is only 50% likely to happen.
When you make a prediction, check the community stats to see where you land. If your prediction is an outlier, might there be something you're overlooking that others have seen? Or do you have special insight that others are lacking? Either way, it might be a good idea to join the discussion in the comments.