Defending Nate Silver
posted by Howard Wasserman
Franita Tolson, guesting at Prawfs, wrote 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.
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.