The Iran War Dial: FAQs

What is the purpose of the Iran War Dial?

The aim is to estimate the chances of war with Iran in the hope of producing a more informed debate.*

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the Iran War Dial is correct in March 2012 and there's roughly a 50/50 chance of war. Americans need to have an accurate view of this reality. If they wrongly thought there was just a 1 percent chance of conflict it could be dangerous. And if Americans misperceived and felt there was a 99 percent chance of war, this could also be hazardous.

When you approach the cliff edge, you need to know how far away the precipice is.


Who are the panelists?

The panelists were selected because of their expertise on foreign policy and the Iranian nuclear crisis. We are very grateful for their assistance. They include:

  • Daniel Byman (Director of Research, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings)
  • Shahram Chubin (Nonresident senior associate in the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program)
  • Golnaz Esfandiari (Senior Correspondent at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and editor of the Persian Letters blog)
  • Azar Gat (Ezer Weitzman Professor of National Security in the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University)
  •  Jeffrey Goldberg (National correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting)
  • Amos Harel (Military correspondent, Haaretz)
  • Ephraim Kam (Deputy Head of the Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv)
  • Dalia Dassa Kaye (Senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation)
  • Matthew Kroenig (Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University)
  • John Limbert (Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs)
  • Valerie Lincy (Executive director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control; editor of Iran Watch)
  • James Lindsay (Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Marc Lynch (Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs and Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University)
  • Gary Milhollin (President of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control)
  • Trita Parsi (Founder and president of the National Iranian American Council)
  • Paul Pillar (Professor at Georgetown University; former CIA analyst)
  • Barry Rubin (Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs)
  • Karim Sadjadpour (Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, formerly chief Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group)
  • Kenneth Timmerman (Author, journalist, and executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran)
  • Shibley Telhami (Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, non-resident senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution)
  • Stephen Walt (Professor of international affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government)
  • Robin Wright (Former American Academy of Diplomacy journalist of the year, and author of Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World)


What question are the panelists asked?

They are asked: "What is the percentage chance that Israel and/or the United States will launch an overt air strike against Iran in the next 12 months?"

For the sake of clarity, this refers to an attack that is publicly confirmed by the Israeli and/or U.S. government, and is against an Iranian target (excluding, for example, a mission to destroy a downed American drone).


Do we reveal the panelists' individual estimates?

The individual guesses will always be kept secret. We only report the average (and median) estimate of the group.


Is the Iran War Dial pro-war or anti-war?

The Dial is neither pro-war nor anti-war.


How often will the Iran War Dial be updated?

We aim to update the Dial every 4 weeks although this frequency may alter according to the dynamics of the crisis.


How accurate is the Iran War Dial?

The participants in the project are humble about the accuracy of the Dial. Gauging the odds of war is often tremendously difficult. All countries in the Iranian crisis have incentives to hide, or deliberately lie about, their intentions.

The accuracy of the Iran War Dial, however, may compare favorably with the alternative methods of predicting conflict.

Betting markets like Intrade.com rely on the wisdom of crowds. When many people wager real money the market can prove effective at predicting political outcomes. Another way to gauge the odds of war is to rely on an expert's opinion.

The Iran War Dial combines elements of both models through the wisdom of a crowd of experts. On the one hand, the panelists are highly knowledgeable. On the other hand, there are sufficient members of the panel that any individual instance of bias or error should not have an overly negative effect on the aggregate prediction.

The Iran War Dial is really a collective gut check from a group of highly informed people--it's no better or worse than that.


Who has helped the project?

At Swarthmore, Jonathan Emont, Lorand Laskai, and James Mao have provided invaluable research assistance. At The Atlantic, the project is supported by Jeffrey Goldberg, J.J. Gould, and Max Fisher.


* When we launched this feature, we called it the "Iran War Clock." See here for an explanation of the change.

Dominic Tierney is a contributing writer for The Atlantic and an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College. He is the author of How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War.

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