Monday, November 19, 2012

The psephological calculus

The US presidential election now seems like ages ago, but this Guardian interview is a good reminder of why analysts like Nate Silver are important.

Political commentary could use a lot more cool-headed analysis and less tendentious windbaggery.

Or, as Silver puts it:

"Numbers aren't perfect, but for me, it's numbers with all their imperfections versus bullshit. You had people saying, 'You can't quantify people's feelings through numbers!' But what's the alternative? Me sitting at my Georgetown cocktail party saying that I know how people in Toledo, Ohio, are going to vote better than the actual people of Toledo, Ohio, who answered a survey? It's incredibly presumptuous. And truth is an absolute defence. So if they got it right it would be one thing, but they didn't. They're consistently quite wrong."

Quite remarkably, reading this interview makes me want to take a statistics class.

2 comments:

Geoff Coupe said...

Good stuff. One particular bit leapt out at me:

'Mark Henderson, the British author of The Geek Manifesto, observed on his blog that Silver's recent prominence just goes to highlight the anti-scientific bias at the heart of so much of our media, how, for example, "in the past two years, Melanie Phillips has been on Question Time more than all scientists put together".'

Which probably goes to show why I never, ever, watch Question Time these days.

John Carter Wood said...

Great to hear from you, Geoff. Yes, that was another quote that jumped out at me. It explains a lot about the way that science is discussed in the media.