Society of Actuaries Climate and Environmental Sustainability Committee Call for Essays

Unknown Known: Where Historical Data is not Predictive of Future Results


Donald Rumsfeld and Nassim Taleb have popularized the terms unknown unknowns and known unknowns. Actuaries own the known knowns, where historical data is used to develop assumptions used to price products. But what about the unknown knowns, where we have data but the future looks different from the past?

Authors are encouraged to identify data sets or historical patterns of experience that are not predictive because something has changed. It could be a slow trend or a discontinuity. Recognition of this shortcoming is the first step to publicize the issue and update to more realistic assumptions.

The essays should be short, with a focus on qualitative analysis covering variables that actuaries typically use. These papers could generate ideas for future research where data sets are evaluated more thoroughly.


October 17, 2018: Call for essays issued

December 16, 2018: Deadline for submission of essays

January-February 2019: Review of essays and selection by February 28, 2019.

Length and Instructions for Submission

Essays must be submitted in English with a maximum length of 750 words. In the event that an essay exceeds 750 words, the essay may be declined or returned to the author with a request for further editing and resubmission. There is no requirement for formal or extensive footnoting.

Author information must be submitted with the essay and include name; credentials or designations (if appropriate); title; organization/company; e-mail address; and phone number. Please provide all author information at the beginning of the essay.

Essays will be considered for publication regardless of whether they qualify for or are chosen for an award. Essays that contain any overt political statements, commercial content, and other inappropriate material will not be accepted. Articles must comply with the SOA's antitrust policy.

Please submit your essay via e-mail by December 16, 2018 to:

Erika Schulty, Research Associate
Society of Actuaries


$5,000 in prize money has been allocated for this call for essays. The prize committee will select the leading essays and determine how to allocate the prizes. Consideration will be given to creativity, originality and the extent to which an idea could contribute to the further development of solutions. 

Publication and Presentation

Depending on how many essays are received and the diversity among the topic areas, a suitable format for electronic publication and dissemination will be selected.  Essays may also be presented at an SOA meeting, webcast, or other professional development event.

In addition, other venues for publication or presentation of the ideas outside of the SOA will considered. It is hoped that publication of the collected essays will further knowledge and stimulate discussion about financial wellness as well as promote future efforts in this area.

Rights Granted

The essay authors grant the Society of Actuaries the right to reprint, republish, and repackage their essay.


Please direct any questions regarding this Call for Essays to:
Scott Lennox, Staff Fellow
Society of Actuaries
ph. +1-226-989-8786