Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Nate Silver is Awesome, but not a Wizard

The 2012 election is now officially over. The dust has (mostly) cleared, the winners and losers have been (mostly) identified, and the accountability game has started up. Who made the best predictions? The worst? Did Tagg Romney take a swing at anyone on election night?

Some of these questions may never be answered. But it's clear in the wake of the results that The New York Times' (and former DailyKOS blogger) Nate Silver is being heralded as a modern-day oracle, possessing of superhuman knowledge and predictive skills. #NateSilverFacts has taken off on Twitter, generating a list of impressive feats about the Chicago Economics-bred statistician (my favorite? "Nate Silver can recite pi -- backwards.")

Does he deserve the credit? Absolutely! He's been doing this since the 2008 primaries, and while he's always been known in political blogging circles, it's great to see him get some mainstream recognition. That said, equating him to a wizard is sort of problematic to me, not because Silver isn't awesome (again, he is -- his book, The Signal and the Noise, was one of my favorite reads this year), but because it highlights the fact that the rest of us should be doing a lot better.

This whole concept is especially interesting to me, as the novel I'm working on finishing up for NaNoWriMo (uh ... right after this post, I swear) is about a guy who predicts the future with mathematics (sort of akin to Foundation, but more fantastic than science fictional). So ... yeah.

With that in mind, I'd like to present a few reasons why Nate Silver is not a wizard -- and most of these assertions actually come from Silver himself.