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Monday, November 05, 2012

Obama wins!

At least, according to the quants who performed the mind boggling, incomprehensible, mysterious, nearly impossible task of averaging state poll numbers to estimate likely electoral vote totals.

Pundit and non-quant reactions evidence of Idiocracy. See earlier post Bounded Cognition.
Chronicle: ... While it may not seem likely, poll aggregation is a threat to the supremacy of the punditocracy. In the past week, you could sense that some high-profile media types were being made slightly uncomfortable by the bespectacled quants, with their confusing mathematical models and zippy computer programs. The New York Times columnist David Brooks said pollsters who offered projections were citizens of “sillyland.”

Maybe, but the recent track record in sillyland is awfully solid. In the 2008 presidential election, Silver correctly predicted 49 of 50 states. Wang was off by only one electoral vote. Meanwhile, as Silver writes in his book, numerous pundits confidently predicted a John McCain victory based on little more than intestinal twinges.

... Most journalists are ill equipped to interpret data, he says (and few journalists would disagree), so they view statistics with skepticism and occasionally, in the case of Brooks, disdain. “The data-driven people are going to win in the long run,” Jackman says.

He sees it as part of the rise of what’s being called Big Data—that is, using actual information to make decisions. As Jackman points out, Big Data is already changing sports and business, and it may be that pundits are the equivalents of the baseball scouts in Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball, caring more about the naturalness of a hitter’s swing than whether he gets on base.

“Why,” Jackman wonders, “should political commentary be exempt from this movement?”

... Last week the professional pundit and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough ranted that people like Silver, Wang, Linzer, and Jackman—who think the presidential race is “anything but a tossup”—should be kept away from their computers “because they’re jokes.” Silver responded by challenging Scarborough to bet $1,000 on Romney (in the form of a donation to the American Red Cross) if he was so sure. This led to hand-wringing about whether it was appropriate for someone affiliated with The New York Times to make crass public wagers.

But the bet seemed like an important symbolic moment. The poll aggregators have skin in the game. They’ve made statistical forecasts and published them, not just gut-feeling guesses on Sunday-morning talk shows. And, in Silver’s case, as a former professional poker player, he is willing to back it up with something tangible.

Alex Tabarrok, an economist and blogger for Marginal Revolution, applauded, calling such bets a “tax on bullshit.” ...
Shout out to Sam Wang, Caltech '86 :-)

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