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A Sixty-Yr Outdated Program for Predicting the Future » Cleve’s Nook: Cleve Moler on Arithmetic and Computing

The graphics in my put up about R^2 had been produced by an up to date model of a sixty-year previous program involving the U.S. census. Initially, this system was based mostly on census knowledge from 1900 to 1960 and sought to foretell the inhabitants in 1970. The software program again then was written in Fortran, the predominate technical programming language a half century in the past. I’ve up to date the MATLAB model of this system in order that it now makes use of census knowledge from 1900 to 2020.



The most recent model of the census software is now out there at censusapp2024. Listed below are the info and the opening screenshot.

        1900      75.995
        1910      91.972
        1920     105.711
        1930     123.203
        1940     131.669
        1950     150.697
        1960     179.323
        1970     203.212
        1980     226.505
        1990     249.633
        2000     281.422
        2010     308.746
        2020     331.449

Dangerous Enterprise

At this time, MATLAB makes it simpler to fluctuate parameters and visualize outcomes, however the underlying mathematical rules are unchanged:

  • Utilizing polynomials to foretell the longer term by extrapolating knowledge is a dangerous enterprise.

One new remark is added to the info each 10 years, when the USA does the decennial census. Initially there have been solely 7 observations; right this moment there are 13. This system now means that you can match the info precisely by interpolation with a polynomial of diploma 12 or match it roughly by polynomials of diploma lower than 12.

Listed below are the least-squares suits with linear, cubic, and diploma seven polynomials and the interpolating polynomial. Because the polynomial diploma will increase, so does R^2, till R^2 reaches one with the precise match.

Do any of those suits appear to be they might be used to foretell future inhabitants progress?


Along with polynomials, you possibly can select interpolation by three completely different piecewise Hermite cubics.

  • spline Steady second derivate, “not-a-knot” finish situation.

  • pchip Steady first by-product, strictly shape-preserving.

  • makima Steady first by-product, relaxed shape-preserving.

Since these suits interpolate the info, all their R^2 values are one. However earlier than 1900 and after 2020 these features are cubic polynomials that aren’t designed for extrapolation.


It is usually attainable to do nonlinear least squares suits by an exponential, a logistic sigmoid, and an exponential of an exponetial often known as the Gompertz mannequin.

  • exponential exp(b*t+c)

  • logistic a./(1+exp(-b*(t-c)))

  • gompertz a*exp(-b*exp(-c*t))

An article by Kathleen and Even Tjørve, from the Inland Norway College of Utilized Sciences in Elverum, Norway, within the journal PLOS ONE has this to say about Gompertz. “The Gompertz mannequin has been in use as a progress mannequin even longer than its higher identified relative, the logistic mannequin. The mannequin, referred to on the time because the Gompertz theoretical legislation of mortality, was first urged and first utilized by Mr. Benjamin Gompertz in 1825. He fitted it to the connection between rising loss of life price and age, what he known as ‘the typical exhaustions of a person’s energy to keep away from loss of life” or the ‘portion of his remaining energy to oppose destruction.’ “


Which inserts are appropriate for predicting future inhabitants dimension?

Regardless of their massive R^2 values, polynomials of any diploma will not be appropriate as a result of exterior of the time interval they behave like polynomials and don’t present sensible predictions.

Splines had been by no means meant for extrapolation.

That leaves the exponentials. The easy exponential mannequin grows exponentially and isn’t appropriate. The Gompertz match does strategy a finite asymptotic restrict, however the worth is an astronimical a = 2101, equivalent to 2.1 $instances 10^9$ inhabitants. Hopefully, that’s out of the query.

The logistic match has an asymptotic restrict of a = 655.7. We just lately handed the worth of t the place p(t) reaches a/2, particularly c = 2018. So, the logistic mannequin predicts that the long-term dimension of the U.S. inhabitants will probably be about twice its present worth. Is that sensible? In all probability not.


The British statistician George Field as soon as stated, “all fashions are improper, some are helpful.” That is true of the fashions of the U. S. Census that I’ve mentioned over the previous sixty years.

Right here is censusapp2024 in any case its buttons have been pushed. The extrapolation date is about to 2040. White noise has been added to the info. The mannequin is a fourth-degree polynomial with an R^2 = 0.99. The R^2 worth and the error estimates produced by errs account for errors within the knowledge, however not within the mannequin.

This explicit mannequin does a awful job of predicting even twenty years sooner or later. A few of the different fashions are higher, many are worse. Hopefully, their research is worth it.


I’ve made weblog posts in regards to the census earlier than, in 2020 and in 2017.


Predicting inhabitants progress is featured in Pc Strategies for Mathematical Computations, by George Forsythe, Mike Malcolm and myself, printed by Prentice-Corridor in 1977. That textbook is now out there from an fascinating smorgasbord of sources, together with Google Scholar, Amazon, dizhasneatstuff, Abe Books, Web Archive, PDAS, WorldCat (Chinese language).

Software program

censusapp2024 is accessible at

Revealed with MATLAB® R2024a



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