Monday, November 5, 2012

Political punditry needs a kick in the pants

...and Nate Silver might be just the one to administer it. A post from Subtraction, by Khoi Vinh, manages to put into words a thought I've been playing with: If Nate Silver's projection about tomorrow's presidential election is correct, it could mean goodbye to uninformed "gut check" political punditry. This is not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned. An excerpt from the Subtraction post:
If you’re not familiar with Silver’s work, it’s probably a reasonable if gross characterization to say that he is a kind of ‘meta-pollster.’ Each day, he surveys the most recent state and national polls, aggregating their results using a sophisticated — but proprietary — statistical model that accounts for such factors as polling methodology, past accuracy and tendency to favor one party or another. The result is what some believe to be an exceedingly accurate picture of who is ‘winning’ at any given stage of the campaign — and, of course, a prediction of who will actually win at the close of Election Day.
~ snip ~
After months of reading Fivethirtyeight on a daily basis, traditional political commentary is looking more and more outdated, even analog, to me. Most of it seems more like bloviation or superstition, and not true explication. My tolerance for it has been markedly reduced, whether it’s of the blue chip opinion columnist variety, or the more free-wheeling blog variety. My sense — or, to be fair, my hope — is that Fivethirtyeight is effectively disrupting the punditry industry, that in the coming years commentators will be expected to be much more quantitative than they are today.
This could be good. Can you imagine how much better off the nation will be -- and how much more informed -- if we can let the quant geeks do their thing and let writers spend more time writing about actual policy? Let's let all the pundits who really don't know any more than anyone else either retrain themselves to understand the numbers or ride off into the sunset. Their contributions won't be missed. Truly. For that reason, as a journalist, I'm hoping Nate Silver's predictions work out. It'll mean good things for my industry -- and my country.

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