web analytics

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

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Disability sector is in a ‘slow burning crisis’
    Disability advocates say the sector is in crisis and broken, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says.  “A roundtable at Parliament organised by the Labour Party, heard today how National has left disability services chronically underfunded. ...
    4 hours ago
  • NZ fisheries depend on the environment – they should protect it
    The attitude of the fishing industry and the National Government to our oceans, and the life within it, still amazes me. Like many New Zealanders, I find it perplexing that an industry which depends entirely on the long-term health of ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    4 hours ago
  • Bigger is not always better with local government reform
    I have written previously about the overwhelming opposition expressed by local councils and community members to the latest Local Government reforms.  The Select Committee heard more submissions this week, specifically about some of the unintended consequences that may arise from ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    5 hours ago
  • Labour calls for state of emergency on homelessness
    Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford is calling on the Government to declare a state of emergency over the nation’s homelessness crisis. “There are 42,000 people homeless and living in severe housing stress while the National Government behaves like a possum ...
    1 day ago
  • Labour calls for state of emergency on homelessness
    Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford is calling on the Government to declare a state of emergency over the nation’s homelessness crisis. “There are 42,000 people homeless and living in severe housing stress while the National Government behaves like a possum ...
    1 day ago
  • Government must review state sector retirement investment
    The State Sector Retirement Savings Scheme has no business investing in companies which manufacture cluster bombs, anti-personnel mines and nuclear weapons, Labour MP and Parliamentarians for Global Action executive member Su’a William Sio says. “I endorse the call made by the ...
    2 days ago
  • Councils shouldn’t rush into Easter Trading
    City and district councils must ensure they don’t rush into trading on Easter Sunday ahead of local body elections next month, Labour’s Pacific Islands Affairs spokesperson Su’a William Sio says. “This decision must be taken seriously and only after extensive ...
    2 days ago
  • Minister can’t wash hands of illegal KiwiSaver investments
    The Minister responsible for appointing default KiwiSaver providers should take responsibility for ensuring they act legally, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “The National Government has now had confirmed what they were told more than a week ago – that ...
    2 days ago
  • Fixing our broken economy
    Globally, the “neo-liberal” consensus is rapidly vanishing (I use quotation marks because there are some in Aotearoa who deny such a thing as neo-liberalism exists). Regardless of the debate around its meaning, neo-liberal is a useful descriptor for the general ...
    GreensBy Julie Anne Genter
    3 days ago
  • Fixing our broken economy
    Globally, the “neo-liberal” consensus is rapidly vanishing (I use quotation marks because there are some in Aotearoa who deny such a thing as neo-liberalism exists). Regardless of the debate around its meaning, neo-liberal is a useful descriptor for the general ...
    GreensBy Julie Anne Genter
    3 days ago
  • Government railroading Maori Land Bill through
    Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell seems determined to railroad his Te Ture Whenua Maori Bill through despite the large number of submitters in opposition to the bill, says MP Meka Whaitiri, whose Ikaroa-Rāwhiti electorate contains nearly 30 per cent ...
    3 days ago
  • A national day to commemorate NZ land wars
    It’s fantastic that the government has agreed to a hold a national day commemorating the New Zealand land wars. Announced at Kingi Tūheitia’s 10th koroneihana celebrations, alongside the return of Rangiriri Pā to the Kingitanga, the news marked a significant ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    3 days ago
  • A national day to commemorate NZ land wars
    It’s fantastic that the government has agreed to a hold a national day commemorating the New Zealand land wars. Announced at Kingi Tūheitia’s 10th koroneihana celebrations, alongside the return of Rangiriri Pā to the Kingitanga, the news marked a significant ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    3 days ago
  • Government turns a blind eye to struggling sole parents
    Social Development Minister Anne Tolley’s claims that her Government’s work with sole parents is her biggest success are in tatters after a major increase in homelessness amongst that group, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. “Anne Tolley is seriously ...
    3 days ago
  • Time has come for state apology on abuse
    Labour is today calling on the Government to issue an apology for historic abuse in state institutions. Speaking after the launch of Elizabeth Stanley’s book “The Road to Hell; state violence against Children in Post-war New Zealand”, Labour’s Justice spokesperson ...
    3 days ago
  • It’s OK to have a few slaves, just not too many? Minimum wage loophole hasn’t gone away
    New Zealand still needs legislation to ensure adult New Zealanders are not exploited by being taken on as contractors for less than the equivalent of the minimum wage, says Labour list MP David Parker.  “My Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment ...
    3 days ago
  • Lessons from the Future of Work Commission: Building Wealth from the Ground Up
    Good morning, and thank you for attending today’s Future of Work Seminar here in Wellington. I want to particularly acknowledge Beth Houston who has spent many hours pulling together the programme for today’s event, and to Olivier and the staff ...
    3 days ago
  • Cooking 4 Change at the Auckland City Mission
    On Tuesday evening I participated in the launch of the ‘Cooking 4 Change’ recipe book, which Metiria and I both contributed our favourite recipes to. Along with Dick Frizzell, Trelise Cooper, Tiki Taane, Erin Simpson, Jono & Ben, Colin Mathura-Jeffree, a couple ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    4 days ago
  • Cooking 4 Change at the Auckland City Mission
    On Tuesday evening I participated in the launch of the ‘Cooking 4 Change’ recipe book, which Metiria and I both contributed our favourite recipes to. Along with Dick Frizzell, Trelise Cooper, Tiki Taane, Erin Simpson, Jono & Ben, Colin Mathura-Jeffree, a couple ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    4 days ago
  • Backbencher Matt’s Bill is a Doocey
    The latest National Member’s Bill pulled from the ballot is yet another waste of Parliament’s time and shows the Government’s contempt for the House and the public with much more important issues needing debate, says Labour’s Shadow Leader of the ...
    4 days ago
  • Gun laws creaking under the strain
     Questions have to be asked  after surprising revelations at the Law and Order Select Committee about the police and their ability to manage the gun problem in New Zealand, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash.  “The lack of resources is ...
    4 days ago
  • Most homeless are working poor – Otago Uni
    The finding by Otago University researcher Dr Kate Amore that most homeless people are in work or study is one of the most shocking aspects of the housing crisis, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Social service agencies report many ...
    4 days ago
  • Māori seats entrenched by Tirikatene Bill
    National and the Māori Party need to support my member’s Bill which is designed to entrench the Māori electorate seats in Parliament, Labour’s Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene says. “Under the Electoral Act the provisions establishing the general electorates ...
    4 days ago
  • Trade dumping bill could hurt NZ industries
    The Commerce Select Committee is currently hearing submissions on the Trade (Anti-dumping and Countervailing Duties) Amendment Bill. This bill worries me. I flagged some major concerns during its first reading.   I am now reading submissions from NZ Steel, ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    5 days ago
  • Just 8 per cent of work visas for skills shortages
    Just 16,000 – or 8 per cent – of the 209,000 work visas issued last year were for occupations for which there is an identified skills shortage, says Labour Immigration spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway. “The overwhelming majority of the record number ...
    5 days ago
  • Hard won agreement shouldn’t be thrown away
    The Government should ignore talk across the Tasman about doing away with the labelling of GM free products, says Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King. “Labelling of genetically modified products was a hard won agreement in 2001 by Australian and the ...
    5 days ago
  • National’s privatisation Trojan horse
     The National government is using the need to modernise the school system as a Trojan horse for privatisation and an end to free public education as we know it, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.  “There is no doubt that ...
    5 days ago
  • Shameless land-banking ads show need for crackdown
    The fact that more than 300 sections are shamelessly being advertised on Trade Me as land-banking opportunities during a housing crisis shows the need for a crackdown on property speculators, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says. “Of the 328 ...
    5 days ago
  • Standard and Poor’s warning of housing crisis impact on banks
    The National Government’s failure to address the housing crisis is leading to dire warnings from ratings agency Standard and Poor’s about the impact on the strength of the economy and New Zealand banks, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Standard ...
    5 days ago
  • Ihumatao needs action not sympathy
    The Petition of Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) calling on Parliament to revoke Special Housing Area 62 in order to protect the Ihumatao Peninsula and Stonefields, has fallen on deaf ears, says the Labour MP for Mangere Su’a William Sio.  ...
    5 days ago
  • Another delay to justice system reform for victims of sexual violence
    I believe most, if not all, New Zealanders would expect our court system to uphold the dignity of complainants, hold perpetrators to account for crimes including sexual and domestic violence and uphold the crucial right to a fair trial. Yet ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    5 days ago
  • Another delay to justice system reform for victims of sexual violence
    I believe most, if not all, New Zealanders would expect our court system to uphold the dignity of complainants, hold perpetrators to account for crimes including sexual and domestic violence and uphold the crucial right to a fair trial. Yet ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    5 days ago
  • Student visa fraud & exploitation must stop
    The Government must act immediately to end fraud and exploitation of international students that threatens to damage New Zealand’s reputation, Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little says. ...
    6 days ago
  • Government needs to show leadership in reviewing monetary policy
    The Reserve Bank’s struggles to meet its inflation target, the rising exchange rate and the continued housing crisis shows current monetary policy needs to be reviewed - with amendments to the policy targets agreement a bare minimum, says Labour’s Finance ...
    6 days ago
  • Local democracy under threat
    The National Government is in the process of gutting our local democracy through it’s Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). We’ve been hearing submissions from councils, and a few community members, all around the country who are deeply ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    6 days ago
  • Local democracy under threat
    The National Government is in the process of gutting our local democracy through it’s Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). We’ve been hearing submissions from councils, and a few community members, all around the country who are deeply ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    6 days ago
  • Slash and burn of special education support
    Slashing the support for school age children with special needs is no way to fund earlier intervention, Labour’s Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins says.  “National’s latest plan to slash funding for children with special needs over the age of 7 in ...
    1 week ago
  • National’s Pasifika MPs must have free vote
      Pacific people will not take kindly to the Government whipping their Pacific MPs to vote in favour of a  Bill that will allow Sunday trading  at Easter, says Labour’s Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson Su’a William Sio.  “We are seeing ...
    1 week ago
  • Maritime Crimes Bill – balancing security and free speech
    Parliament is currently considering the Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill, which would bring New Zealand up to date with current international rules about maritime security. The debate around the Bill reflects two valid issues: legitimate counter-terrorism measures and the right to ...
    GreensBy Kennedy Graham
    1 week ago
  • Rio Olympics captioning – setting the record straight
    In the House on Thursday, my colleague, Labour Party spokesperson on Disability Issues, Poto Williams asked a great question. After which the Minister, Nicky Wagner, stood up and finally publicly acknowledged the National Foundation for the Deaf for funding the ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    1 week ago
  • Rio Olympics captioning – setting the record straight
    In the House on Thursday, my colleague, Labour Party spokesperson on Disability Issues, Poto Williams asked a great question. After which the Minister, Nicky Wagner, stood up and finally publicly acknowledged the National Foundation for the Deaf for funding the ...
    GreensBy Mojo Mathers
    1 week ago
  • Teachers’ low wages at the centre of shortages
      Figures that show teachers’ wages have grown the slowest of all occupations is at the heart of the current teacher shortage, says Labour’s Education Spokesperson Chris Hipkins.  In the latest Labour Cost Index, education professionals saw their wages grow ...
    1 week ago
  • Government’s Tax Law undermines common law principles
    A tax amendment being snuck in under the radar allows changes to tax issues to be driven through by the Government without Parliamentary scrutiny, says Labour’s Revenue spokesman Stuart Nash. “The amendment allows any part of the Tax Administration Act ...
    1 week ago
  • Government slippery about caption funding
      The Government has refused to apologise for taking the credit for funding Olympic Games captioning when the National Foundation for the Deaf  was responsible, says Labour’s spokesperson on Disability Issues Poto Williams.  “This shameful act of grandstanding by Ministers ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Default KiwiSaver investments should be reviewed
    The investments of the default KiwiSaver providers should be reviewed to make sure they are in line with New Zealanders’ values and expectations, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Most New Zealanders would be appalled that their KiwiSaver funds are ...
    2 weeks ago
  • New ministry should look after all children
    The Government has today shunned well founded pleas by experts not to call its new agency the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Labour’s Spokesperson for Children Jacinda Ardern says.  “Well respected organisations and individuals such as Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Triclosan – nasty chemical will be reassessed
    Last week my campaign for this chemical to be reassessed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) took another step forward. After many months of waiting, the EPA have agreed that triclosan needs to be reassessed. Triclosan is an ingredient in many ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Triclosan – nasty chemical will be reassessed
    Last week my campaign for this chemical to be reassessed by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) took another step forward. After many months of waiting, the EPA have agreed that triclosan needs to be reassessed. Triclosan is an ingredient in many ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    2 weeks ago
  • Ratification okay but we need action
    Today’s decision to ratify the Paris agreement on Climate Change by the end of the year is all well and good but where is the plan, says Labour’s Climate Change spokesperson Megan Woods.  “The Government’s failure to plan is planning ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Stats changes can’t hide unemployment reality
    Today’s minor drop in unemployment numbers is nothing to celebrate given the changes made to the official numbers that cut thousands of people looking for work out of the jobless rate, says Labour’s Employment spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Making any comparisons ...
    2 weeks ago

Public service advertisements by The Standard

Current CO2 level in the atmosphere