Deadspin on Nate Silver

This is great.  Just read it

Scarborough’s comments illustrate the central and most pernicious bias in political media: not toward one candidate or another, but toward a toss-up. Forecasters like Silver and Wang strive for precision in addition to accuracy. If accuracy is how close the average dart is to the bullseye, precision is how close each dart was to the others. We don’t yet know whether they’ve been accurate, but we can already safely say that they’ve been precise, as their predictions heading into November are essentially the same as they were months ago.

The political media hate precision: No one tunes in to a boring horse race. The volatility of day-to-day polling allows them to explain how the contest (in which, till recently, no actual votes had yet been cast) has been lost and won and lost again with each news cycle—an endless series of decisive revelations and foundational truths about the candidates or the public. If the narrative had followed Silver’s and Wang’s graphs, there would have been little to no hubbub over Bain’s outsourcing, “You didn’t build that,” the 47 percent, or the first debate. And what fun would that be? Both the Romney and Obama camps are happy to play into the toss-up narrative, as Obama needs his presumed majority to actually go to the polls on election day, and Romney wants to give his base confidence and hope. It’s the rare thing that everyone can agree on this year. (That and coal. Everybody fucking loves coal.)

The baseless criticisms also illustrate how many political pundits proudly display their quantitative ignorance…

Just like their colleagues in the sports section, the political pundits see the wrong kind of uncertainty in Nate Silver. They associate statistics with mathematical proof, as if a confidence interval were the same thing as the Pythagorean Theorem. Silver isn’t more sure of himself than his detractors, but he’s more rigorous about demonstrating his uncertainty. He’s bad news for the worst members of the punditry, who obscure the truth so their own ignorance looks better by comparison and who make their money on the margin of uncertainty, too.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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