The Real Winner of the 2012 Election: Nate Silver (and all of us)
The election is over. Just over half of the country is happy with the results of the election. Just under half of the country is disappointed with the results of the election. No matter who won, some people would be happy and others would be sad. That’s just the reality of politics in America today.
However, there is one aspect of the election that should make everyone happy. By everyone, I mean whether you were rooting for Obama or Romney, you have the right to celebrate something.
Everyone should be celebrating with Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight.
To recap: Nate Silver confidently projected the outcome of the election nearly perfectly. This is not the first time he has done this. Silver has been blisteringly accurate in the two elections he has predicted. He came to politics by route of math and statistics, not policy and analysis. He was perfect last night as well.
While I am thrilled for Silver because he vindicated himself against the doubters (and the homophobes), I think his victory is a victory for all of us.
Silver got his start in analyzing baseball statistics using sabermetrics. He sold his model to the premier sabermetrics website and then moved to politics. His methodologies leave very little room for chance and are based on hard mathematical analysis. Silver removes subjectivity and does not rely on logical fallacies in his projections. This is despite entrenched ideas and established trends in analysis. People don’t like him because he seems like a magician. He somehow knows what will happen without tapping into the usual prediction patterns and totems. This is why pundits could not understand Silver’s projections. They are speaking a different language. The old media is using grunts and hand motions, while Silver is speaking the Queen’s English. They didn’t even realize that Silver was not making predictions, he was issuing projections.
By analogy, baseball has long been a sport which can be predicted with incredible accuracy using statistics. This methodology is known at sabermetrics. It was the cornerstone of the the now-famous Moneyball system of Billy Beane. The idea is that some advanced statistics are more valuable than the “eye-test” or traditional statistics like RBI or even batting average. Finding players who produce good advanced statistics but do not produce good traditional statistics and getting those players for cheaper salaries because they are undervalued in the cornerstone of Moneyball. For many years, traditionalists have resisted sabermetrics. They don’t understand the math. They are jocks, not nerds. But slowly, advanced statistics are going mainstream. We are seeing more baseball people relying on good data as opposed to outdated and less valuable information.
With Silver’s incredible projections, it is clear that advanced statistics are going mainstream. This is a good thing for all of us. It means breaking down our biases and tendencies to see things the same old way and using math to see things more accurately. It will help society, a lot.
We need to rely less on accepted wisdom and more on science and math.
One correlation that I have seen is that skeptics who challenge conventional wisdom using science and math also exist in religious environment. These people don’t want to settle for fallacious arguments or accepted norms just because they are accepted norms. This manifests itself in orthodox Judaism with Daas Torah and people who challenge Daas Torah. The Nate Silvers of the world don’t accept arguments because of Appeal to Authority. The argument needs to stand on its own merits. It can be debated whether this is good for orthodox Jews or bad for orthodox Jews. However, I think it is clear that with the advent of sabertmetrics and fiverthirtyeight style projections that fewer people will be willing to submit themselves to an ephemeral concept like Daas Torah.
As always this leaves us with a choice. Do we double down on Daas Torah? Do we adjust Daas Torah and its expectations? Do we shutter Daas Torah?
Whichever we choose, let us hope that it is the right choice for the sake of truth and God.