He is a political scientist at NYU who uses spreadsheets to predict how conflicts will be resolved. He consults for the CIA, earns $50,000 per prediction, and uses his brand of game theory to offer wisdom on questions like “How fully will France participate in the Strategic Defense Initiative?” and “What policy will Beijing adopt toward Taiwan’s role in the Asian Development Bank?”

To predict how leaders will behave in a conflict, Bueno de Mesquita starts with a specific prediction he wants to make, then interviews four or five experts who know the situation well. He identifies the stakeholders who will exert pressure on the outcome (typically 20 or 30 players) and gets the experts to assign values to the stakeholders in four categories: What outcome do the players want? How hard will they work to get it? How much clout can they exert on others? How firm is their resolve? Each value is expressed as a number on its own arbitrary scale, like 0 to 200. (Sometimes Bueno de Mesquita skips the experts, simply reads newspaper and journal articles and generates his own list of players and numbers.) For example, in the case of Iran’s bomb, Bueno de Mesquita set Ahmadinejad’s preferred outcome at 180 and, on a scale of 0 to 100, his desire to get it at 90, his power at 5 and his resolve at 90.

His model is a secret but it seems to be some kind of dynamic coalition formation model.  He has predicted that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon owing to the rising power of dissident coalitions.  In August,

He spent that morning looking over his Iranian data, and he generated a new chart predicting how the dissidents’ power would grow over the next few months. In terms of power, one category — students — would surpass Ahmadinejad during the summer, and by September or October their clout would rival that of Khamenei, the supreme leader. “And that’s huge!” Bueno de Mesquita said excitedly. “If that’s right, it’s huge!” He said he believed that Iran’s domestic politics would remain quiet over the summer, then he thought they’d “really perk up again” by the fall.

A long profile appeared in The New York Times Magazine.