The poker player and baseball nerd turned political forecaster won fame after predicting the result of the US election with uncanny accuracy. And as his star rises so too does that of a whole new generation of ‘quants’ leading the digital revolution
Nate Silver is a new kind of political superstar. One who actually knows what he’s talking about. In America, punditry has traditionally been about having the right kind of hair or teeth or foaming rightwing views. Silver has none of these. He just has numbers. Lots of them. And, on the night of the US presidential election, they were proved to be right in quite spectacular fashion.
For weeks and months, the election had been “too close to call”. Pundit after pundit declared that the election could “go either way”. That it was “neck and neck”. Only it wasn’t. In the end, it turned out not to be neck and neck at all. Or precisely what Nate Silver had been saying for months. On election day, he predicted Obama had a 90.9% chance of winning a majority in the electoral votes and by crunching polling data he successfully predicted the correct result in 50 out of 50 states.
ROBERT STEELE: Numbers done right is something the US secret world is supposed to be able to do, but does not. Silver is clearly advancing the field of statistical analysis, but that does not mean he has defined the end game. Still lacking are the context of cause and effect, and true cost information that over time will change the number bias. Taking the 2012 election as an example, we now know that Obama pulled off a data mining and data integration coup any intelligence community would be proud of (and in six months with a dozen people), at the same time that it appears some form of “dirty tricks” wiped out Karl Rove’s plans for stealing at least three states if not all twelve (the ones where Republican governers could approve manipulation of their own state’s results). What Nate Silver’s numbers do NOT tell us is what and why we should change our behavior for the betterment of humanity’s prospects. For that, we still need intelligence with integrity in the M4IS2 sense. It remains a huge frustration to me to know, with absolute certainty, that the truth at any cost lowers all others costs, and to also know, with absolute certainty, that the present political system fears the truth and will avoid the truth at all costs.