I like statistics even though I never liked regular math. I am not excited to find the value of x just for the sake of finding it. I certainly don’t want to want to find the derivative of anything just to do it. But I like how statistics give meaning to numbers. Statistics answer questions. Statistics turn data into information.
We all know there there are “lies, damned lies and statistics” (although no one is quite sure who said it first). The reason that statistics have a bad reputation that lumps them with lies is that a single statistical outcome can be horribly misleading if you don’t know its context. What sample was used? What methodology was selected? Did someone just make that shit up?
Election season is rampant with polls and predictions, many of which seem to contradict one another. In this sea of uncertainty only one man seems to know the truth: Nate Silver.
In 2008, Nate Silver started doing political analysis on the the side from his day job doing baseball analysis. (If you’ve seen the movie Moneyball you know how well statistics can be applied to that sport.) In the end, Silver had properly predicted the results of the presidential election in 49 states (only missing Indiana which was decided by a 1% margin), and he predicted the results of all 35 Senatorial races. The guy knows how to read numbers.
Nate Silver has been everywhere again this election season trying bring truth to a messy field of political polls and biased analysis. If cultural importance is measured by Twitter parodies (as I believe it is), he even has one of those, @fivethirtynate an oddly absurdist alternative to Silver’s actual account, @fivethirtyeight.
Nate Silver has looked in his Magic 538 ball and is predicting a close race, but he gives President Obama a 90.9% chance of re-election. Will he be right? Only time will tell.
(I would seriously buy a Magic 538 Ball. I’m that much of a statistical analysis nerd.)
**Thank you to Brad Stephenson of Act Classy for fulfilling my vision of Nate Silver holding a Magic 8 Ball transformed into a Magic 538 Ball. Check out Act Classy for your silly and demented content needs. My recent favorite is Meme Joe Greene.