The Spectacle Blog

Nate Silver: The Anti-Science Koch Brother

By on 3.31.14 | 2:39PM

The number of villains Democrats can use in fundraising letters just grew by one. Nate Silver, who correctly predicted how each state would vote in the 2012 presidential election, has joined the likes of the sinister Koch brothers after forecasting a 60 percent likelihood that Republicans will take the Senate in November.

The prediction has incited outcries from the left. Senator Harry Reid called Silver's general predictions “good sometimes, bad most of the time.” Statistician and senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed Reid, claiming that internal "good polls" favoring Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Alaska contradict Silver’s findings. Vulnerable Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also disagreed with Silver's prediction that he only has a 30 percent chance of retaining his seat.

Other wonks have chimed in on Silver's projections. Paul Krugman denounced Silver’s methodology, calling it “somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster.” These friendly words triggered a back-and-forth between Silver and Krugman. Other pundits such as Politico’s Dylan Byers, came to Krugman’s defense. After calling Silver “petty,” “snarky,” and “self-centered,” he arrived at the substantive attack that Silver's method “uses data to imply, rather than deduce.” But "to imply" and "to deduce" essentially mean the same thing, differing only in agency, as in "I deduce" and "data imply."

Rejection has only been one type of response from the left. National Journal uploaded a screenshot of an inbox filled with emails from pro-Democratic organizations. Subjects range from “Nate Silver’s terrifying math” to “Nate Silver’s warning.” As Silver pointed out himself, there is a notable hypocrisy in Democrats who choose to ignore his predictions on the one hand, but then present his statistics as a possible reality in order to generate money from frightened progressive voters:

And here’s the least surprising news: Political campaigns are hypocritical. At the same time the DSCC is criticizing our forecasts publicly, it’s sending out email pitches that cite Nate Silver’s “shocking, scary” forecasts to compel Democrats into donating.

Flashback to 2012. Democrats like Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow idolized Silver's ability to predict elections. Now they're questioning the accuracy of his 2014 predictions, pointing to races they won in 2012 despite Silver projecting a loss.

Polls can fail to predict the outcome of a race. Florida's special election is our most recent example: Left-leaning Public Policy Polling held Alex Sink three points above David Jolly just a few days before his upset. Even Silver admits he could be wrong: The likelihood of Republicans winning exactly six seats is low. Although, being wrong could also mean that Republicans end the year winning more than six seats in the Senate.

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