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Thin and effeminate statistics

Written By: - Date published: 4:05 pm, November 8th, 2012 - 25 comments
Categories: science, uk politics - Tags: , ,

Here’s another entry in the Very Important Columnist vs Parasitic Bloggers file. While the professional mainstream media were all chanting in unison that the American presidential election was “too close to call”, one (famous!) blogger correctly predicted the result – for every state. The Guardian reports:

 So who is he?  A statistical analyst of elections and a former statistical analyst of baseball. His blog, FiveThirtyEight, now hosted by the New York Times, is the go-to site for cold, hard election stats.

…  Silver didn’t just predict Obama was going to win it. He correctly projected the results for every single one of America’s 50 states. Something 50 tossed coins would have less than a one in a trillion chance of getting right.

Ah, well. That’s a little more impressive. How’d he do it? With his “election simulator” statistical model, which aggregates hundreds of polling figures and economic data, weights it all for accuracy, factors in a load of fancy maths about past elections and boils the whole thing down to a percentage chance of victory for each candidate. On Tuesday morning, while many pundits were insisting it was too close to call, Silver’s model put Obama’s chances at a precise and healthy 90.9%.

How did pundits feel about that? Pretty uncomfortable. He was derided in the media as “a joke”, who was “getting into silly land”. One rightwing blogger even dismissed his predictions on the grounds that Silver – an openly gay Democrat – was “thin and effeminate”.

(Today’s xkcd is also on the case.)

In 2008 Silver correctly predicted 49 / 50 states. So, thin and effeminate statistics 2, mainstream media 0. Political punditry, at least in America, is going to have to lift its game…


Just for the record, Nate Silver’s predictions:

The result:

25 comments on “Thin and effeminate statistics”

  1. There can be only one explanation for such accurate predictions: Science! Witchcraft.

  2. kea 2

    Yep, I’ve been following Nate during this election with great interest – if anyone’s interested, follow his rss feed.

    Cheers ..

    • Nate is the anti Fox news.

      Those guys were still trying to say that at least Romney had won the popular vote when only a quarter of California’s votes has been reported in …

      Obama is currently winning the popular vote by 60.6 million to 57.8 million …

  3. Zorr 3

    I think we’re going to have to rethink the old addage “Lies, damned lies and statistics” because this guy seems to be proving the worth of the field…

    • That’s not what the adage refers to.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_damned_lies,_and_statistics

      It’s referring to the fact that lies that pretend to be statistics are the worst and hardest to debunk of all three types. 😉 Nate Silver’s statistics were honest.

    • RedLogix 3.2

      Yes. Matthew nails it correctly.

      It’s very easy to dress up a lie as data and statistics. Sadly far too many people have no real idea how these things work, and how very powerfully statistics can extract real and valuable meaning from difficult, noisy and incomplete information.

      In the real world data is very rarely clean, complete and noise-free. There are almost always other variables in play that taint or skew the raw data. Good statistics when done well (as this guy does ) can yield remarkable and powerful insights.

      Unfortunately it’s also very easy for people to hijack this power to lend credibility to their lies by dressing them up as statistics. And because most people quite understandably have little to no skill in the subject, makes them very hard to debunk effectively. Most people just shrug their shoulders and mutter the ‘damn lies’ line to themselves.

  4. tracey 4

    Perhaps because he isnt manipulating stats he is collecting them and genuinely analysing them for numerical not ploitical trends. As long as people like farrar, hooten and mccarten are relied upon for political analysis we can hardly expect a scientific outcome.

  5. Rich 5

    Only three or four states actually ever change hands, right? And they aren’t independent variables – if many Nevadans swing left, then so might Coloradans and Floridese. So it’s maybe more like a 1:5 chance of getting a prediction right.

    With 57 million blogs on WordPress alone, I’d think that a very large number of random bloggers would get the election result right in every state, if they bothered to make a call.

    • kea 5.1

      One of the things Nate does is to repeatedly re-run many models, each tweaked to cover various possibilities, and his ‘predictions’ are the aggregates of the results. The published photo I saw was of him sitting in what looked like a suburban hut with a laptop – although it may have been connected to a server via fibreoptic, who knows. I don’t know what program he was using, but it is probably a combination of baseball number crunching experience and contemporary computing power ..

  6. kea 6

    I have to give credit to someone on this blog who put me onto it. Can’t remember who ..

  7. gobsmacked 8

    “Hello, welcome to Close-Up Sunday Breakfast on TVNZ.

    Today we’re going to discuss facts and figures. Do they matter?

    Here to tell us are some Experts, all of whom you know well, because they’re appearing in all media every week. There’s 1) a washed-up former MP who lost his seat, 2) a grumpy old git who copys his column from Wikipedia, and 3) a token woman who likes to say “Look”.

    So panel, how about Nate Silver? Worth a whole lot more than anything you ever have to say, wouldn’t you agree?

    1) “Well, I’ve got a feeling about this election, a real sense that something is happening, and it’s come fresh from my arse. So don’t bother me with all these ivory tower numbers – get back in the real world!”

    2) “At the end of the day, who can you believe? Statistics, at the end of the day, are just something spouted by bloggers. I remember Muldoon once said to me …

    3) “Look …

    (audience chucks coffee cup at TV, goes back to bed)

    • Anne 8.1

      (audience chucks coffee cup at TV, goes back to bed)

      It’s true. I can vouch for it.

    • Colonial Viper 8.2

      That show worsens my hangover. Which is saying something.

    • Tracey 8.3

      for Gobsmacked NOT the show

    • QoT 8.4

      Holy shit, you totally called Firstline’s coverage this morning. Some dude excusing the blatantly biased coverage/spinning of polls in the US as being about Nate Silver being some kind of magically advanced wizard, and “oh people just aren’t used to treating statistics like this” … as opposed to, you know, corporations with obvious agendas telling their anchors how to talk down polls they don’t like.

  8. kea 9

    That’s about right ..

  9. mike e 10

    Imagine what key would have said if he had been wearing red

  10. Is there a Nate Silver type person In New Zealand???

    He is brilliant.

  11. SukieDamson 12

    Once upon a time. His name was Marty G.

  12. kea 14

    For the psephologists and election junkies

    An extended video interview with Nate Silver.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-17-2012/exclusive—nate-silver-extended-interview-pt–1

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    Ensuring the best start for our tamariki is a priority for me in everything I do. And so in Budget 2016, my first budget as an MP, I looking for the Government to make a real investment in the wellbeing… ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    19 hours ago
  • Denise Roche: What I’m looking for in Budget 2016 Pt II
    Aotearoa’s new New Zealanders,  come to our country in vulnerable position: – often away from the culture, communities and families they know, sometimes in neighbourhoods without familiar faces and often encountering barriers to employment. With net migration at 50,000+ a… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    23 hours ago
  • Equal Pay and Budget 2016
    The last few years we’ve seen equal pay for women flagged as an undefined risk in the budget. This year we should expect to see this, as well as budgeted money to deliver equal pay to caregivers and funding for,… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    1 day ago
  • Equal Pay and Budget 2016
    The last few years we’ve seen equal pay for women flagged as an undefined risk in the budget. This year we should expect to see this, as well as budgeted money to deliver equal pay to caregivers and funding for,… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    1 day ago
  • A great Budget would
    A great Budget would embrace the challenge of our polluted rivers and move the money away from justifying the status quo water rules into cleaning up waterways. A great Budget would take the Ministry for the Environment freshwater budget and… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 day ago
  • Budget building materials policy backfires
    On the eve of this year’s Budget official figures show Nick Smith’s Budget 2014 centrepiece to reduce the cost of building materials has backfired, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials have spent the… ...
    1 day ago
  • Smarter, Better, Cleaner, Stronger
    This Thursday Bill English will deliver his eighth Budget. Will it continue the trend of previous National budgets, making tertiary education less affordable, putting only token funds into innovation, and subsidising polluters? Budgets aren’t what they used to be. Once… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    1 day ago
  • Govt must come clean on tax cuts in Budget
    National is making a mockery of the Budget process by dangling the promise of tax cuts but failing to include them in the Budget, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “National’s tax cut promises have turned into a farce. One… ...
    2 days ago
  • Grant Robertson Pre-Budget Speech
    Today I want to talk about success. As we know success can come in many different forms, from the fact you all made it here at such an early hour on a Monday, for which I am very grateful, to… ...
    2 days ago
  • Budget must deliver for middle New Zealand
    The Government must ensure next week’s Budget stops the squeeze on middle New Zealand and delivers shared prosperity for all New Zealanders, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says. The call follows new research commissioned by Labour that shows working… ...
    3 days ago
  • Our housing emergency – why we have to act
    Marama and Metiria at Homes Not Cars launch On Thursday, Metiria Turei announced the Green Party’s plan to start addressing the emergency housing crisis facing our country. Too many people are without homes right now – homeless. It is the… ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    4 days ago
  • Will funding boost for sexual violence services go to the right places?
    This week the Government announced $46million for sexual violence services. This announcement was a result of decades of work by advocates and everyone who submitted to the Select Committee inquiry into funding for sexual violence services that I initiated with… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    5 days ago
  • Will funding boost for sexual violence services go to the right places?
    This week the Government announced $46million for sexual violence services. This announcement was a result of decades of work by advocates and everyone who submitted to the Select Committee inquiry into funding for sexual violence services that I initiated with… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    5 days ago
  • Denise Roche – What I’m looking for in this year’s Budget
    Two of the things I’ll be looking for in the Budget next week are more funding for refugees and for our arts and culture sector. More funding for refugees I’m a strong supporter of the #DoubleTheQuota campaign and its goals… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    5 days ago
  • Denise Roche – What I’m looking for in this year’s Budget
    Two of the things I’ll be looking for in the Budget next week are more funding for refugees and for our arts and culture sector. More funding for refugees I’m a strong supporter of the #DoubleTheQuota campaign and its goals… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    5 days ago
  • Car rego victims must get a refund
    Motorists who have been overcharged for their car registration should get a refund, says Labour’s Transport spokesperson Sue Moroney.  “Minister Nikki Kaye’s ‘faulty risk’ rating scheme has blown up in her face with over 170 different models of car having… ...
    5 days ago
  • Council statement shows they just don’t get it
    The Auckland Council’s statement today shows they don’t understand the problems created by the urban growth boundary, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “I have been the first to defend the Auckland City Council when Bill English has been blaming… ...
    5 days ago
  • Inspecting electronic devices a potential privacy threat
    Labour is expressing concern for New Zealanders’ privacy rights as the Government signals Customs will have the power to inspect electronic devices coming across the border, says Labour’s Customs Spokesperson Rino Tirikatene. “We agree that customs officers should have the… ...
    5 days ago
  • The Price of Water
    This week I hosted a public meeting at EIT in Hawkes Bay to discuss how we might put a price on the commercial use of water, so that water may be valued and treated more sustainably. I invited a… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    5 days ago
  • Caption It NZ!
    Today I received a petition from the NZ Captioning Working Group urging the government to legislate for accessibility via closed captioning for deaf and hard of hearing New Zealanders. It was timely because today is the fifth Global Accessibility Awareness… ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    6 days ago
  • Older Kiwis to miss out on electives
    The Government is not doing enough elective surgery to keep up with New Zealand’s ageing population, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King.  “It’s damning that the targeted national intervention rate for cataract and knee and hip surgery is the same… ...
    6 days ago
  • Most principals say their college is underfunded
    The Government must substantially increase funding for secondary schools in next week’s Budget after a new survey found 86 per cent of principals consider their college under-resourced, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “Just 14 per cent of secondary principals… ...
    6 days ago
  • Bill English and Nick Smith on different pages
    The Government’s support for Labour’s policy to remove the Auckland urban growth boundary is good news, but National needs to clarify its position, Labour’s Housing and Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “The Acting Prime Minister has acknowledged our position… ...
    6 days ago
  • Bill English and Nick Smith on different pages
    The Government’s support for Labour’s policy to remove the Auckland urban growth boundary is good news, but National needs to clarify its position, Labour’s Housing and Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “The Acting Prime Minister has acknowledged our position… ...
    6 days ago
  • Labour calls for independent inquiry into illegal fish dumping
    The Labour Party is reiterating its call for an independent inquiry into New Zealand’s fishing industry after two reports revealed the Ministry for Primary Industries turned a blind eye to widespread fish dumping in New Zealand waters, says Labour’s Fisheries… ...
    6 days ago
  • Mt Karangahake and Newcrest Mining
    On Wednesday and Sunday of last week the local residents of the Karangahake mountain in the Karangahake gorge of Hauraki/Coromandel peacefully protested against a gold mining drill rig on private land adjacent to the DOC land. The drilling rig was… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    7 days ago
  • Robbing Aucklanders to pay Rio Tinto
    New Zealand’s national electricity grid stretches the length of the country and contains some 11,803 kilometres of high-voltage lines and 178 substations. It wouldn’t make sense for competing power companies to duplicate and build their own expensive electricity transmission system… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    7 days ago
  • Government should abolish Auckland urban growth boundary
    The Government should rule out any possibility of an urban growth boundary in Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan if it is serious about fixing the housing crisis, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Over 25 years the urban growth boundary hasn’t… ...
    7 days ago
  • Kiwis don’t want iPads for Land deals
     It is outrageous that schools are relying on money and iPads from foreign land investors to meet the learning needs of their students, says Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins.  “Several OIO land applications by offshore investors have claimed that without… ...
    7 days ago
  • Homelessness – National has failed all of us
    A young South Auckland Māori woman recently tried to get hold of me around midnight. I missed her call. The woman wanted me to know the sharp reality facing too many families looking for a stable place to live. Things… ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    1 week ago
  • Moko case should never have been manslaughter deal
    Confirmation again yesterday that the manslaughter charge in the Moko Rangitoheriri case was a deal done by the Crown Prosecution Service is justifiably the cause of outrage, says Labour’s Children’s spokesperson Jacinda Ardern.“This should never have been a case where… ...
    1 week ago
  • Overseas investor funds school’s digital devices
    The Government must address the inequality laptops and tablets in classrooms are causing after a Queenstown school was forced to use a donation from an overseas investor to get their students digital devices, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. “Documents obtained… ...
    1 week ago
  • Child Youth and Family Review and Domestic Violence
    This Government has consistently failed to recognise the links between Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) and intimate partner violence. For me, the recent review of CYFS has highlighted this misunderstanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and its impacts… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    1 week ago
  • Child Youth and Family Review and Domestic Violence
    This Government has consistently failed to recognise the links between Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) and intimate partner violence. For me, the recent review of CYFS has highlighted this misunderstanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and its impacts… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    1 week ago
  • Canterbury rebuild: How wood is a better choice for the new city
    It was interesting to attend the ForestWood Conference in Auckland recently and learn about the extent of innovation in the wood processing and manufacturing sector. The forestry sector may be New Zealand’s third largest export earner, but raw logs make… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    1 week ago
  • Canterbury rebuild: How wood is a better choice for the new city
    It was interesting to attend the ForestWood Conference in Auckland recently and learn about the extent of innovation in the wood processing and manufacturing sector. The forestry sector may be New Zealand’s third largest export earner, but raw logs make… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    1 week ago
  • Key plucks $3b out of thin air – reckless and irresponsible
    John Key refuses to give up on his dream of tax cuts to the wealthy, despite being shot down by Bill English, and is resorting to plucking numbers out of thin air, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “On radio… ...
    1 week ago
  • John Key woefully out of touch on homelessness
    John Key is completely out of touch if he thinks desperate South Auckland families forced to live in cars can simply go to Work and Income for help, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “Many of these families are working and… ...
    1 week ago
  • Under-reporting shows need to review quota system
    The Government must launch an independent review into New Zealand’s 30-year-old Quota Management System following a new report suggesting gross under-reporting of catch in the New Zealand fishing industry, Labour’s Environment spokesperson David Parker says.  “The Auckland University report found… ...
    1 week ago
  • Investigations into tertiary institutions overdue
    A Tertiary Education Commission investigation into the Tai Poutini Polytechnic is overdue and should have been launched last year, Labour’s Associate Education (Tertiary) spokesperson David Cunliffe says. “Labour has been calling for an inquiry into potential rorts at Tai Poutini… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Investigations into tertiary institutions overdue
    A Tertiary Education Commission investigation into the Tai Poutini Polytechnic is overdue and should have been launched last year, Labour’s Associate Education (Tertiary) spokesperson David Cunliffe says. “Labour has been calling for an inquiry into potential rorts at Tai Poutini… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where is the fair share for most New Zealanders?
    Most New Zealanders reading the news that chief executive pay has risen 12 per cent in the last year will be wondering when they are going to get their fair share, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “More and more… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where is the fair share for most New Zealanders?
    Most New Zealanders reading the news that chief executive pay has risen 12 per cent in the last year will be wondering when they are going to get their fair share, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “More and more… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Mega media merger is bad news
    Some people call newspapers “tomorrow’s fish and chips” but this week’s news around a mega media merger is not an issue we should discard. Media giants Fairfax and APN News & Media announced they were in discussions to merge their… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    2 weeks ago
  • Mega media merger is bad news
    Some people call newspapers “tomorrow’s fish and chips” but this week’s news around a mega media merger is not an issue we should discard. Media giants Fairfax and APN News & Media announced they were in discussions to merge their… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes
    2 weeks ago
  • National puts Easter trading in the too hard basket
    All Labour MPs will vote against National’s move to leave Easter trading laws up to councils, Labour’s Workplace Relations spokesperson Iain-Lees Galloway says.  “Despite this being a conscience vote, Labour MPs are united in their opposition to the Government’s moves… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • National puts Easter trading in the too hard basket
    All Labour MPs will vote against National’s move to leave Easter trading laws up to councils, Labour’s Workplace Relations spokesperson Iain-Lees Galloway says.  “Despite this being a conscience vote, Labour MPs are united in their opposition to the Government’s moves… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Law Commission speaks up for domestic violence survivors
    I want to give kudos to the Minister for Justice for getting the Law Commission to review options for how our justice system responds when victims of domestic violence kill their partners. This is a relatively discrete piece of work… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago

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