Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nervous Nate -- why timidity at FiveThirtyEight is a sign of professionalism

I've been working on an article on educational statistics. One of the major themes is the way statisticians should handle research when they don't have much faith in the results. This is not quite the same as the way Bayesians assign weights to beliefs but it's not all that different. Us poor, simple frequentist-folk approach the problem in an informal way and try to present our results with sufficient caveats that the listeners will understand that we may have a small p-value but that doesn't mean we'd bet the farm.

As I was working on that part of the article, I was struck by how Nate Silver was doing exactly what I was describing, pointing out the factors that could throw his forecasts off, reminding people that in this election, more than most, anything could happen.

That's one of the reason's Silver is the gold standard* in the field.

* Sorry, I just couldn't help myself.

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