Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tarnishing Silver

I’ll bet Nate Silver predicted this, too.

The New York Times‘ Nate Silver has created a model to predict the outcome of the presidential election that’s watched by just about every pundit, and yet Silver’s model refuses to perfectly reflect the conventional wisdom spouted by just about every pundit. The pundits do not like this! Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model uses math to show that President Obama has a 74.6 percent chance of beating Mitt Romney, even though Romney has unmeasurable things like “momentum” as well as newspaper endorsements, plus a lead in several national polls. Obama’s chances remain high, Silver explains, because he has a significant lead in enough swing states to win the needed 270 electoral college votes. The latest pundit outraged that Silver’s model doesn’t feel right is MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who ranted Monday morning:

“Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president’s going to win. Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73.6 percent — they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning.

…. Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue [that] they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops, and microphones for the next ten days, because they’re jokes.”

Scarborough is very committed to defending what feels true to him, even when it’s not true.

I have no way of affirming or refuting anything Nate Silver has stated, and even he has said that he’s only putting out what his algorithms are coming up with.  But his track record in 2008 and 2010 was close enough to the actual outcome that unless someone comes up with actual proof — as opposed to Joe Scarborough’s guts — that Mr. Silver is wrong, they should clam up and let the guy do his job.

Obviously, the people who don’t like what he’s writing are the ones who are complaining, and if it was Mitt Romney with the 73.6% chance of winning, the Republicans would be calling Mr. Silver the Oracle of Delphi.  They sure loved him in 2010.

Mr. Silver seems to be shrugging off the attacks.

He acknowledges that his reputation, made as it was in the last election cycle when he correctly predicted 49 out of 50 states, could just as easily be tarnished this time.

“I’m sure that I have a lot riding on the outcome. I’m also sure I’ll get too much credit if the prediction is right and too much blame if it is wrong,” he said.

There are a couple of reasons why I hope he’s right.  Obviously I take comfort in his prediction of an Obama win, but I also think that it lends credence to the simple but powerful idea that I first learned at the hands of the late Margaret Cahill in Grade 5: math doesn’t lie.

4 barks and woofs on “Tarnishing Silver

  1. I think Nate Silver is very smart, and very accurate. I just cannot watch Morning Joe. Joe is so smug that I have to turn away from that nonsense.

  2. Math? I had statistics in college and I didn’t understand one whipstitch of it. And I was studying accounting. I looked up the term algorithm a while back, because of an episode of the Big Bang Theory. Accordingly, there is no set definition of the word. It may be a set of steps written down by anyone. So Mr. Silver scare the bejeebus out of the right wing with the word. It is not likely they will ever check!

  3. Even though Scarborough apparently pulled the 50.1% figure out of his ass, I’m sure it’s more reliable than Nate Silver’s fancy math.

  4. I’m 3/4ths the way through Nate’s book, and this guy knows his stuff. Make no mistake about that.

    The problem that people (I’m talking to you Joe) are having is what Nate is predicting. He’s not saying Obama is going to win 73.6% of the vote, he is saying that he has a 73.6% chance of taking a majority in the electoral college. In fact, he states clearly that the popular vote IS in the range Scarborough is talking about. But Joe and the wingnuts just can’t get their minds around the concept of “probability”. It’s why they suck at gambling…

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