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Friday, November 02, 2012

More on defending Nate Silver

Piling on Franita's post about the recent conservative attacks on Nate Silver: Deadsin offers (in the typical language of Deadspin, so be warned) a largely non-political explanation: Silver is being criticized (or at least questioned) by the political class (both activists and the mainstream media) for being a nerd relying on statistics, numbers, and math, rather than the "gut feelings" and "knowhow" and "real-world" experience that they have brought to the table for all these years. In other words, the political world is experiencing the same dynamic that the sports world (especially baseball) has been going through for about 15 years, since the rise of Moneyball and advanced metrics. Silver, of course, got his start writing for Baseball Prospectus. And as with many in baseball, the current guard in the political world either does not get it or does not want to get it. And as the math gets better, this will only intensify. By the way, Joseph Slater makes a similar point in a comment on Franita's post.

Thus, Chris Chilliza of WaPo could move Ohio into the "toss-up" category, despite the showing of fourteen polls for the past two weeks, in part because of the "absolute necessity for Romney to win the state if he wants to be president." So because Romney really wants/needs it, the state must be a toss-up. This does not sound much different from baseball announcers who insist that average-but-"scrappy" players are better than superstars who produce big statistics because they "want it more" and "will do whatever it takes to win."

By the way, for those of you who can't get enough of this poll aggregation stuff, check out the Princeton Election Consortium, run by Dr. Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton. He uses a different model than Silver (and actually has criticized Silver's approach), but with similar accuracy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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Nicely said, and better than my version. Also, to give full credit, I was inspired by some similar thoughts expressed at the excellent Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Nov 2, 2012 11:38:26 AM

CNN and others who rely on their "gut" in the analysis look, to me, like the room of old baseball scouts in Moneyball. They are clinging to the way "its always been done" in the face of clear evidence time has passed them by.

Why you would attack the messenger is beyond me. Maybe its easier than admitting that the auto bailout was a good idea.

Posted by: anon | Nov 2, 2012 11:45:20 AM

I don't think you are taking account the extensive (and, to my mind, persuasive) criticism that takes aim at Silver's methodology. It is not about "gut feelings" but rather questions the underlying assumptions built into Silver's model. For a quite balanced and astute analysis, see this post:

http://baseballcrank.com/archives2/2012/10/post.php

Posted by: anon | Nov 2, 2012 12:31:09 PM

Anon -- a key part of the conservative critique of 538 (which is what baseballcrank is making) is that independents support Romney and therefore he *must* win. For a rebuttal of that point, see: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2012/10/can_romney_win_indies_lose.php

Posted by: anonynon | Nov 2, 2012 12:39:41 PM

There's a lot of ignorance involved in both the attacks and the defenses of Silver.

Chilliza explicitly relies on polling in moving Ohio to a toss-up: "After reviewing all of the available public polling data as well as talking to operatives in both parties about the private polls they are privy to, we are convinced that Ohio is a 1-3 point race in President Obama’s favor at the moment." He thinks it's close based on state polling, and that's why he calls it the way he does.

anonynon, that post has very little analysis and is also incoherent. Other than that, very good.


Posted by: Thomas | Nov 2, 2012 1:26:19 PM

No offense here, Thomas, but I think you're wrong on all accounts.

First (and less importantly), there's nothing incoherent about anonynon's post. It looks funny with all the hyperlinks, but it's not incoherent.

Second, Cilizza says explicitly that it's a "toss up" in part b/c Romney needs it. To ignore that seems deliberately obtuse.

Thanks for the great post, Howard.

Posted by: SparkleMotion | Nov 2, 2012 1:29:02 PM

Thomas,

Thanks for engaging with my post in a substantive way. Appreciate that. Would you care to try and rebut the argument laid out in the post I linked to? Or just throw around some invective?

Posted by: anonynon | Nov 2, 2012 4:57:26 PM

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