Why We Should be Impressed by Nate Silver

It is now clear that the calculations Nate Silver made just before the election were a better guide to what was about to happen than Joe Scarborough’s gut or the voices in Peggy Noonan’s head.  This is not a high bar to clear.  Many other poll aggregators made similar predictions.

However, Silver’s performance this year has been amazing (again).  It isn’t because the networks still haven’t decided if his expected Obama electoral votes forecast was too high or too low (they will when they call Florida) its that they haven’t yet concluded that the forecasts he made in July were noticeably different from the outcome (they will when they finally call Florida for Obama).

Silver stresses that he thinks it is important to make predictions about the future — that predicting on Monday what will happen Tuesday is of no use for people trying to decide what to do in July (say how aggressively to use tax shelters July 2012 or whether to invest in bottled water, canned food and ammunition July 2004).

The fact that he got it right the day before the end is, well better than cable babbler standard anyway.  The fact that he got it right without having to constantly massively change his forecasts due to new information is much more impressive.

Sticking to a prediction is always possible if one is stubborn (or strategically boastful).  Getting it right in the end is possible if tons of information are available at the end.  To stick to a prediction of the distant future and get it right one must have precognition.  To make predictions which change as little as Silver’s did and get it right one must be on to something.