Two Wins in One Night?

New readers may wonder if this has turned into a political blog, and I wouldn’t blame them. I went ahead and included some sports analogies in this one just to stick to the site’s domain name at least a little!

One single result is rarely enough statistical information to prove a point. Four years ago I went to the Rose Garden to see the Blazers take on the Celtics during Boston’s 62-win season. Brandon  Roy—an All Star in his prime—watched in street clothes as his Blazers pulled out an improbable 5-point win. Despite the outcome, it would have been foolish to think that the Blazers were better starting Rudy Fernandez over Roy. The Blazers’ process for winning games that season revolved around a slow pace and high offensive efficiency. There were games and games of data that showed that Roy was one of the most efficient scorers in the game, and that the Blazers were better with him. Just because the Blazers won a single game without Roy, didn’t mean a new process was needed.

The case of election polls is no different, and Obama winning the 2012 presidential election doesn’t prove that any prognosticator was any more right than the other. There will be approximately 496.23 articles over the next week referring to the vindication of Nate Silver. It’s hard to blame them after looking at his political map Tuesday morning versus polling rival Dean Chambers. As of this writing, it looks like Silver has picked every single state correctly. Projecting the right color for each of the battleground states is not easy to fluke, especially for a small-in-stature, effeminate man of average intelligence.

But still, Silver shouldn’t be vindicated Wednesday morning. If we point to the 2012 election results as proof of his genius, then we are no better than the Dylan Byers and Dean Chambers of the world, or the Blazer fan that watches one game against Boston in 2008 without Roy, and thinks, “hey, we could win without this guy.”

Silver’s vindication is, in fact, long overdue. The second he started projecting baseball players based on a system completely influenced by data; or maybe when he started projecting elections based on an unbiased system of leveraging available polls—those are days that Silver should have been vindicated. His process has been right all along. What Silver does is not magic; it is not voodoo; and, in his own words, it is not wizardry or rocket science. What Silver does is called statistics. Good statistical analysis is done without the influence of emotional bias, but rather the influence of trustworthy data. It turns out, the hardest part for most people about statistics is simply accepting them.

Obama’s win Tuesday night was hopefully a win for the United States of America. Silver’s win Tuesday night was hopefully a win for objective reasoning–a win for statistics. And a win for statistics might just be more important for this country in the long term than any single presidential election.

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