Nate Silver Tries To Explain Himself

Screengrab via The Daily Show/Comedy Central
Screengrab via The Daily Show/Comedy Central

As we continue to contemplate the whats, whys, and howwwwwwwws of the election of Donald Trump, Trevor Noah took the opportunity to lay into Nate Silver, the statistician whose FiveThirtyEight had been forecasting a Hillary Clinton victory for months. Will the following clip from last night’s Daily Show help you understand and accept Trump as your president? No it will not. Will it provide a few minutes of much needed catharsis, as Noah at one point jokingly threatens to choke Silver? It just might!

For several minutes, Noah took not just Silver to task, but the polls his forecasting relied on (how are they “some of the best polls” if they failed to indicate Trump’s imminent win?). He questioned Silver’s credibility. At one point, remarking on the once-reliable Silver’s method, Noah asked, exasperated, “What is the point?” It’s a great question for this uncertain time.

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Asked about whether Trump will live up to his draconian promises like building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, Silver predicted, “I think Trump’s going to be obsessed with his polling numbers, his approval rating, and if he detects public pushback against his agenda, he might abandon things pretty quickly.” Hmmm, Silver would say that.

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

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DISCUSSION

InspectorSpacetime14
Inspector Spacetime

IT IS NOT NATE SILVER’S FAULT THAT PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND PROBABILITIES. He gave Trump a higher chance of winning the presidency than the Cubs had of coming back and winning the World Series after Game 4 and we literally all JUST saw that happen. He doesn’t conduct the polls, he aggregates them, and there was no way to aggregate a bunch of polls that had Clinton ahead to show Trump with a higher chance of winning. What WAS possible, and exactly what he did, was to point out the variance in those polls, which led to higher uncertainty in the forecast. He said over and over and over again, that the most likely outcome after Clinton winning the presidency, was her winning the popular vote but losing the election. He pointed out that that outcome was easily within the margin of error of the national polls. He pointed out how uneasy he was with the lack of good polling in the Midwestern states and how they were correlated, so if one of the polls was off there, they were all likely to be off there, giving Trump his best chance of winning the electoral college.

It is not on Nate Silver that America doesn’t understand statistics or take the time to read beyond the headline. You can argue that the polls were off and maybe those need to change, but the person who aggregates those polls into a model that takes into account the uncertainty of those polls pretty damn well is not the issue here.