Nate Silver is the MC Hammer of Statistics

From this Gawker.com article:

Okay, clearly the guy [Silver] is good with numbers, but all the praise seems kind of overboard.

Well, look, you can see his record for yourself: 50 for 50. But it’s true, Silver’s getting a lot of credit for calling Obama’s victory when basically any statistician or political scientist who’s been following the race made the exact same call — and in fact, some of those statisticians and political scientists have criticized Silver’s model for being opaque and overcomplicated.

And it’s very easy to miss the forest for the trees, and lionize Silver the individual writer instead of a broad push for data-driven analysis in political journalism. After Silver’s great showing on Tuesday, it’d be easy for political horserace journalists to co-opt him and treat him as a unique oracle, instead of understanding that it’s the statistical approach that made him — and Linzer, Wang, Simon Jackman, Mark Blumenthal and others — handicap the election so perfectly.

But on the other hand, Silver is by far the most visible of the new breed of “quant” political writers by virtue of his spot at the Times, and by a long shot the one who’s attracted the most, and widest array, of haters. (Hi.) If people overpraise him for making what was, based on the numbers, an easy call on Election Day, it’s only because he’s been over-criticized for it all year.

Let me re-iterate that I am a Nate Silver fan, but I dont think he’s a genius.  Well, not in the traditional sense.  He does good work, but plenty of people called this election correctly. Gawker names just a few: Linzer, Wang, Simon Jackman, Mark Blumenthal.  So, it’s not just that Silver got the election correct.  It’s something else. Silver’s real skill, in my mind, is that not only does he do adequate statistical analysis, but he’s also able to get people to pay attention to him (and getting people to pay him).  Silver’s not doing anything ground-breaking, but he has brought statistical analysis to the mainstream.  He’s just better at marketing himself than almost everyone else in the field.  He’s sort of like MC Hammer in the 1990s: Hammer wasn’t the first to rap and wasn’t the most talented, but his 1990 album was the first to get to number #1 and sold something like 18 million copies.  (And, more importantly, both Hammer and Silver have baseball backgrounds).  Hammer brought rap to the mainstream; Silver brought numbers.

What Silver has done is take statistics out of cluttered offices filled with computers chugging away crunching numbers and brought it to mainstream America.  And he’s cashing in like no one ever has before him.  And for that he IS a genius.

Cheers.

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Posted on November 7, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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