Posted on March 11, 2013 7:31 pm

SXSW: Nate Silver Discusses Data Bias, the Strangeness of Fame

from the listen-up dept.

Nate Silver feels a little odd about his fame. That’s not to say that he hasn’t worked to get to his enviable position. Thanks to his savvy with predictive models, and the huge readership platform provided by The New York Times hosting his FiveThirtyEight blog, he managed to forecast the most recent presidential election results in all 50 states. His accuracy transformed him into a rare breed: a statistician with a household name. But onstage at this year’s SXSW conference, Silver termed his fame ‘strange’ and ‘out of proportion,’ and described his model as little more than averaging the state and national polls, spiced a bit with his algorithms. “It bothered me that this was such a big deal,” he told the audience. In politics, he added, most of the statistical analysis being conducted simply isn’t good, which lets someone like him stand out; same as in baseball, where he made his start in predictive modeling. In fields with better analytics, the competition for someone like him would be much fiercer. He also talked about, despite a flood of data (and the tools to analyze it) in the modern world, we still face huge problems when it comes to actually understanding and using that data. ‘You have a gap between what we think we know and what we really know,’ he said. ‘We tend to be oversensitive to random fluctuations in the data and mistake the fluctuations for real relationships.’