Friday, November 2, 2012

Pundits "Wagering" War on Nate Silver - Updated Sat. Nov 3

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Blog on New York Times


Interview on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show
Rachel Maddow: You have been the subject of a lot of criticism this last week in particular, as if the polling model that you built at the New York Times and the way you've explained the polling is somehow biased or wrong or evil. I feel like you are waging a one-man war against innumeracy, in terms of explaining to people how polling works and how averaging works. How has this week been for you?

Nate Silver: It's been kind of a trip in some ways, right, in which you become the topic of conversation yourself. And there's this kind of celebrity level attached to it that's very new for me. But there are other websites that do the same thing that we do, even RealClearPolitics and and three or four others. And they all show basically the same thing.
There's no way you can slice and dice the data in Ohio or Iowa or Wisconsin right now and say that Romney's winning there. In fact, the polls would have to mess up by quite a bit for that to occur. And that could happen - there have been years like 1980 in which the race when way differently from the polling. But we're now in the phase when it's no longer a question of who's ahead in the electoral college in the polls so much as will the polls have a really bad year? And they could, and we account for that possibility.
But that's why you see some conservatives now - the smart ones - are no longer bothering to say we're winning in these states. They're saying the polling's just categorically wrong. And every now and then that's right, but usually that's just wishful thinking.

Rachel: Nate Silver you are a man at the center of the storm in a way that you did not expect to be, but thank you for continuing to be cogent and rational and patient through all of this.

Nate: Thank you, Rachel.


Nate Silver: Patron Saint of Confirmation Bias
When the history of the 2012 election is written, Silver deserves prominent attention. In the aftermath of Obama's debate debacle, Silver has been the left's oracle, reassuring them that everything is fine. His influence has been such that the Obama campaign didn't make any real course corrections in response to Romney's momentum. When the left wakes up on Wednesday, surveying the electoral wreckage around them, they may regret allowing themselves to be lulled into such a false sense of security.
Silver cut his chops on analyzing baseball stats. He has tried to apply that discipline to the messy world of American politics. But, as Dave Weigel with Slate noted to me in reference to Silver, "politics isn't baseball." No it isn't and we will be reminded of that on Tuesday.
~ Mike Flynn on Breitbart

What Silver has become is a handy resentment symbol for the right. They need a few every election. Last time it was Acorn and Bll Ayers. Now it's Silver. Someone to blame if and when things don't go their way on Election Day. I don't know how they're going to blame Silver; by insistently calling Obama the favorite, he somehow willed it to be so, I suppose. They always come up with something. They might blame it on Sandy this time around, too, of course. And pollsters generally., the right-wing site that sprang up a few weeks ago to "correct" liberal "bias" in the polls, right now has Romney at 321 electoral votes, including Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania (what, no Minnesota?!). Silver has Obama at 299. I know which one seems more plausible to me. But you see how this works--predicting Romney at 321 instead of a more realistic 275 or 280-ish number gives them that much more to be pissed off about next Wednesday. They must be kept in a state of sustained outrage.
~ Michael Tomasky on The Daily Beast


'New York Times' Bully Knocks Stack Of Polls From Nate Silver's Hands
NEW YORK—As part of his continued effort to torment the 34-year-old statistician and blogger, feared New York Times bully Derek Kriesel reportedly slapped a stack of opinion polls from Nate Silver’s hands Friday, scattering the surveys across the floor of the organization’s newsroom. “Pick them up, you little f***in’ dweeb,” said Kriesel, who eyewitnesses confirmed kicked the papers down the hallway before Silver could gather them up. “Hey, Silverdork, I got a poll for you. It says there’s a 90 percent chance that I’m going to beat the shit out of you, what do you think of that?” At press time, sources said Silver was hiding in a supply closet and analyzing the latest electoral data as a menacing voice from across the hall called out, “Oh, Silver! Where are you, Silver?”
~ The Onion


I'm sure that I have a lot riding on the outcome. I'm also sure I'll get too much credit if the prediction is right and too much blame if it is wrong.
~ Nate Silver quoted on BuzzFeed

Silver’s strong showing in the 2008 election, coupled with his consistent predictions that Obama will win in November, has given Democrats a reason for optimism. While there is nothing wrong with trying to make sense of the polls, it should be noted that Nate Silver is openly rooting for Obama, and it shows in the way he forecasts the election.
~ Josh Jordan on National Review

Silver’s facts are being fired like bullets into the heart of the Romney campaign.
~ The Telegraph UK

...the right — and we’re not talking about the fringe here, we’re talking about mainstream commentators and publications — has been screaming “bias”! They know, just know, that Nate must be cooking the books. How do they know this? Well, his results look good for Obama, so it must be a cheat. Never mind the fact that Nate tells us all exactly how he does it, and that he hasn’t changed the formula at all.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.
This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.
~ Paul Krugman on NYT

...if Obama wins, the right will insist that stories saying Romney was losing caused Romney to lose. There'll be right-wing books with titles such as In the Tank: How the Mainstream Media Stole the 2012 Election for Barack Obama. Large portions of these books will be devoted to the notion that Nate Silver, above all others, ruined Romney's chances with his evil math-based objective propaganda.
~ Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog

Now we’re seeing the emergence of ‘Nate Silver truthers,’ who attack the numbers-cruncher as if he’s a pundit expressing a personal opinion rather than a statistics geek who developed a very robust computer model. And they’re using the same tactics they deploy to deny climate change – launching ad hominem attacks on an expert — calling him corrupt — rather than offering a criticism of the methodology of his model, a criticism they don’t have the technical knowledge to come up with.
~ Joshua Holland on Alternet

Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he's made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats.
Apparently, Nate Silver has his own way of “skewing” the polls. He appears to look at the polls available and decide which ones to put more “weighting” on in compiling his own average, as opposed to the Real Clear Politics average, and then uses the average he calculates to determine that percentages a candidate has of winning that state. He labels some polling firms as favoring Republicans, even if they over sample Democrats in their surveys, apparently because he doesn't agree with their results. In the end the polls are gerrymandering into averages that seem to suit his agenda to make the liberal Democrats candidates apparently strong than they are.
~ Dean Chambers, owner of Unskewed Polls, on The Examiner (update: this paragraph has since been edited out of the article

Nate Silver could be a one-term celebrity.
~ Dylan Byers on Politico

In short: Conservatives are outraged at Silver for “predicting” an Obama victory, and nonpartisan (but fiercely ideological) political press elites are all chuckling at his curious notion that fancy math can be used to determine what is most likely to happen in an election.
. . . But in a war between Politico and a funny baseball nerd who is good at math, I choose the baseball nerd.
What Silver does is actually fairly simple and many of the most prominent of his detractors seem disturbingly (and hilariously) incapable of figuring it out.
. . . don’t be scared of Nate Silver and his wizard numbers, Washington hacks. He can’t hurt you.
~ Alex Pareene on Salon

. . . I should treat polls as a fuzzy snapshot of a moment in time. I should not read them, and think I understand the future. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.
. . . If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don`t expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. That`s not possible/ The pollsters tell us what`s happening now. When they start projecting, they`re getting into silly land.
~ Political Pundit David Brooks, quoted by Politico

Then there’s the backlash from more traditional media figures. Some of the arguments here have been downright weird, as when Politico’s Josh Gerstein wrote, “Isn’t the basic problem with the Nate Silver prediction in question, and the critique, that it puts a percentage on a one-off event?” Or when Politico’s Jonathan Martin wrote, “Avert your gaze, liberals: Nate Silver admits he’s simply averaging public polls and there is no secret sauce.” Or when Politico’s Dylan Byers wrote, “So should Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it’s difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning.”
Come to think of it, a lot of the odder critiques of Silver have been coming out of Politico. But that makes a kind of sense. Silver’s work poses a threat to more traditional — and, in particular, to more excitable — forms of political punditry and horse-race journalism.
~ Ezra Klein on Washington Post

Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance — they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing. Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.
~ Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's Morning Joe

We can debate how much of a favorite Obama is; Romney, clearly, could still win. But this is not wizardry or rocket science. All you have to do is take an average, and count to 270. It's a pretty simple set of facts. I'm sorry that Joe is math-challenged.
~ Nate Silver's reply to Morning Joe, via Politico

Joe is so stupid...I mean, we knew that already, and he's condescending as hell, but it's worse when you're condescending AND stupid.
He's comparing apples and oranges.
50.1% support Obama nationally in polls. If Obama gets 50.1% of the national vote, he has nearly a 95% chance to win the election (provided there is no split between electoral college and popular vote, which I think Nate puts at 5.1% likliehood.)
The probability of Obama winning is at 79%. That means, Joe, that 79 out of 100 times that the test is run (the statistical test that Nate uses), Obama wins. It also means that 21% of the time, Romney wins, which is just scary. 20% odds are not that bad, actually. But I like ours better. :-)
Joe is mixing his polling data (50.1% of respondents said they were voting for Obama) with the probability tests that Nate is running.
~ comment by Wendy in FL on Daily Kos

Lets not forget this is the same honest Joe who said, mark my words, if Hillary isn't nominated, the Democrats can kiss the White House goodbye.
~ comment by King George the Turd on Daily Kos

But whatever the motivation behind it, the wager offer is a bad idea – giving ammunition to the critics who want to paint Mr. Silver as a partisan who is trying to sway the outcome.
It’s also inappropriate for a Times journalist, which is how Mr. Silver is seen by the public even though he’s not a regular staff member.
~ Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times

Clearly a very compelling reason for Silver to leave the NYT after the election.
His product was far better back in 2008.
~ comment by Theodore on NYT

You said that "When he came to work at The Times, Mr. Silver gained a lot more visibility and the credibility associated with a prominent institution. "
The fact is, his credibility comes from the reliability and trustworthiness of his work, not from his association with the New York Times. It is because of his credibility that you solicited his posting on the NYTimes website.
Mr. Silver is defending himself against attacks on his credibility, and is justified in doing so. He is defending his work, not Obama.
Your comments reek of taking the New York Times and its stature as a "prominent institution" too seriously.
~ Bill Towne, in reply to Margaret Sullivan

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