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[Forbes] Three Lessons From the Nate Silver Controversy

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by durvasa, Nov 7, 2012.

  1. durvasa

    durvasa Contributing Member

    Feb 11, 2006
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    Three Lessons From the Nate Silver Controversy
    John McQuaid, Contributor

    Nate Silver has emerged from the election with his model and methods vindicated (yes, he predicted 313 electoral votes, and Obama is likely to end up with 332 if he wins still-uncalled Florida, but if I understand it correctly his estimate was a kind of meta-average of all possible outcomes rather than a strict call). Here are a few takeaways from the whole 538 vs. the Pundits debate.

    1. The modelers are here to stay. Get used to it, pundits! The electoral modeling done by Silver and other polling aggregators such as Drew Linzer and Sam Wang (who were also largely correct) provides a straightforward way to accurately assess the state of the horserace, free of spin. And, as more cycles go by and the models improve, it will get better. By 2016, everybody – media, campaigns, 15-year-old coders – is going to be doing this.

    2. Elections are less surprising than most of us think. I gave Silver’s numbers great credence. But having covered campaigns in the past, I nursed some lingering skepticism, because close elections always have an element of surprise, right? Were Obama’s chances really over 90% going into election day? Could all those narrow leads in swing states consistently hold up and ultimately translate to victory? Well, yes: with lots of polling data, especially at the state level, you can produce an uncannily accurate prediction. This means that even close races can be called with some degree of confidence (excepting primary races, which are much harder to predict). This suggests a basic truism of politics is simply wrong: we assume big uncertainties and volatility in elections that were never really there.

    3. Political expertise will be redefined. The silly debate over Silver’s model showed a political, pundit and media class at a classic horse-and-buggy meets internal combustion engine (or is it ink-stained newspaper curmudgeons meet Internet?) moment: ignorance and fear masked by loud harumphing. It seems like an amusing footnote now, but only days ago Peggy Noonan was seriously arguing that a mild proliferation of Romney yard signs she observed in liberal Northwest Washington, plus magical vibrations of true Americanness emanating from all over, were signs of imminent Romney victory. Other Silver critics seemed not to understand basic statistical concepts. Others tried to change the subject. Some political reporters simply ignored the existence of polling averages altogether, pumping up the uncertainties of divergent poll results into epistemological voids. I don’t have high hopes in the short run, but in the long run it’s reasonable to hope that political journalists and campaign consultants who go on cable shows will pick up some basic statistics and refer to modelers as a baseline for the state of the race, and that random gut feelings about a candidate’s “momentum” can now be more reliably fact-checked.
  2. SamFisher

    SamFisher Contributing Member

    Apr 14, 2003
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    Honestly, the parallels to Moneyball in sports are ridiculous here (and the fact that Silver is a Bill James guy)...it's unbelievable that it's taken this long.

    Annoying windbag pundit talking heads are the old line scouts/coaches/writers, or to a lesser extent, the DaDakotas and the leebigez and the Kwame's, discussing "feel" and "gut" and smarming at eggheads with their calculators (even though the stats really aren't that complicated to understand)
  3. David Stern

    David Stern Member

    Oct 7, 2008
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    Yeah, I've worked in contract compliance auditing in the past...Statistical sampling and extrapolation are used to question costs…you have no idea how much push back you get on that approach.
  4. pirc1

    pirc1 Contributing Member

    Dec 9, 2002
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    Basic stat and finance classes should be required in high school.
  5. Yung-T

    Yung-T Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Don't need math and common sense when you got #romneyswagg

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