Gambling on war: The dark side of prediction markets (Originally posted on Yahoo!'s "The Signal" Blog)

Prediction market-based forecasts place the likelihood of a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in 2012 by the United States or Israel at 33 percent. This likelihood of conflict in Iran is down in the last three months, which we expect to see as the number of days left in the year dwindles and the expiration of the contract approaches. The number should trend toward zero every day there is no airstrike and no new development in the conflict. The main jump in the odds appeared in early March, coinciding with information that Iran had increased itsproduction of higher-grade enriched uranium. Those odds came down quickly as stalled talks with Iran resumed within days.

In addition to contemporary events, there's a historical precedent here that could inform the odds. In 1981, when Saddam Hussein was building a nuclear facility that Israel thought could help Iraq create nuclear weapons, Israel bombed the reactor. It is still unclear whether Iraq was actually trying to develop nuclear weapons and, if it was, whether the attack slowed it down. Similar questions arise with regard to Iran, where there is disagreement over what it is attempting and to what degree an attack would deter it if it is pursuing a weapon.

In Syria, meanwhile, the brutal massacre of more than 100 Syrian civilians last week has led to a 10-point jump in the odds of regime change, which now stands at 43 percent. President Bashar Assad has been leading a violent crackdown of his people since the uprising began in the spring of 2011.

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