The kerfuffle between the political commentariati and Nate Silver (of FiveThirtyEight) is baffling to me.
One side has data, the other doesn't. What's the argument?
The whole thing reminds me of a classic moment, early in the computer era:
Remington Rand (now Unisys) approached CBS News in the summer of 1952 with the idea of using Univac to project the election returns. News chief Sig Mickelson and anchor Walter Cronkite were skeptical, but thought it might speed up the analysis somewhat and at least be entertaining to use an "electronic brain."
Eckert and John Mauchly enlisted their former Penn colleague, mathematician Max Woodbury, to assist. Mauchly and Woodbury gathered data and wrote a program that would compare the 1952 returns to previous elections and figure which way the wind was blowing. The duo worked at Mauchly's home because he'd been blacklisted as pro-Communist and wasn't allowed to work at the company anymore.
Pre-election polls had predicted anything from a Democratic landslide to a tight race with the Demo candidate, Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, slightly ahead of the Republican, five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in World War II.
So it was a surprise at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time when Univac predicted Eisenhower would pile up 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93. The odds of Eisenhower garnering at least 266 electoral votes — the minimum needed to win — were 100-1.
In New York, news boss Mickelson scoffed at putting the improbable prediction on air. In Philadelphia, Woodbury added new data to the mix. At 9 p.m. correspondent Charles Collingwood announced to the audience that Univac was predicting 8-7 odds for an Eisenhower win.
As the evening wore on, an Eisenhower landslide gathered momentum. The final vote was 442 to 89. Univac was less than 1 percent off.
Data, modeling (rigorous, high-quality mathematical modeling) works, particularly when one is trying to cut through loud voices spouting bullshit.
The situation is exactly analogous to how Americans think (often incorrectly) about climate change. There aren't two equally valid ways of looking at the situation: there is a data-based and rigorous way, and then there is superstition. Stick with the guy peddling data, and explaining how he's coming to his conclusions.
Count me in with Nate.