The Curse of Jerry Hairston, Jr./Eric Hinske:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Maclean’s: Tarnished Silver: Colby Cosh assesses the new king of stats

If the history of Silver’s PECOTA is new to you, and you’re shocked by brutal phrases like “wring the intellectual property out of it and chuck what was left”, you should now have the sense to look slightly askance at the New PECOTA, i.e., Silver’s presidential-election model. When it comes to prestige, it stands about where PECOTA was in 2006. Like PECOTA, it has a plethora of vulnerable moving parts. Like PECOTA, it is proprietary and irreproducible. That last feature makes it unwise to use Silver’s model as a straw stand-in for “science”, as if the model had been fully specified in a peer-reviewed journal.

Nate Silver’s gone from drawing the wrath of baseball fans who hated his projections to drawing the wrath of political pundits who hate his projections.

I don’t do politics, but since some people like to do it and it is sort of baseball-related, here’s an interesting article on Silver and the guff he’s taking these days.

--Posted at 10:42 am by SG / 28 Comments | - (0)


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Thanks for this story. Much of what I’ve read about Silver in the last few weeks falls into the projections-are-not-predictions misconception, but the underlying problem is that because assertions about the state of the election can have a self-fulfilling effect, political writers who don’t like Silver’s conclusions have had a rhetorical imperative to discredit him unrelated to seriously critiquing his methodology.

In general, It’s been increasingly hard to find analysis about the election that doesn’t suffer from a heavy thumb on the scale, and the thing that’s likable about Silver, if you like him as I do, is that he at least appears to be trying his damnedest to smoke from the fabled pipe of Brian Cashman.

Odd coincidence: I posted Jose Cruz’s Baseball Reference page to Facebook this morning, as part of a political analogy about not judging one of the candidates by his raw OPS without recognizing league and park effects.

There’s a pretty good deadspin article critiquing the critiques of Nate Silver and analogizing those critiques to the resistance to the sabermetric approach.

I am reading Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise” and it’s a very good read. The guy is not just a smart guy, but a low profile guy. I really recomend you his book.

I hate politics but I have been following Silver’s prediction and gambling on what he thinks is going to happen with the betting markets. The guy has been on the money for the past 3 months.

The unskewedpolls dot com website blew my mind a little.

[4] Stuff like that is scary because it shows you how unprincipled some people are. Silver has made his living off of making accurate unbiased statistical models. Why the hell would he throw away a career and a living to try to “win” an election? The fact that some people believe that he would reflects the fact that they would (and are) doing exactly what they are are accusing Silver of.

I just can’t wait for 11/7 so that my TV commercials can go back to dick pills and beer ads.

[2] that was a good read.  I like the parallels he draws between crappy sports writers and political pundits selling the same cliche year after year.

It’s funny, I know everybody who ever holds themselves out to be an expert (even if, as others have noted, Silver does not exactly do a lot of bragging) is going to get shit from people who like to show that they know better, I didn’t know Silver was getting THAT much shit. My father tends to be one of those who thinks that there is a media bias against Romney, but even he admits that Silver is just doing science-backed predictions. Hell, Silver can be flat out BORING sometimes the amount of just flat-out science he throws at you. And people are seriously thinking he’s doing what SG does to Yankee predictions? Not cool, people, not cool!

I’m confused. Does this mean Romney is a better option for right field over Swisher?

[8] Well he has promised to fill the seats of Yankees stadium by 2018, but hasn’t said exactly how.

[8] - I’m just glad you didn’t go with “teh eighth!” for that one.

I know one thing.  Romney can’t be any worse in the postseason than Swisher.

I feel like there’s a binder joke somewhere, but can’t come up with it…

[10] Who will pick teh ninth ... Supreme Court justice?

[6] don’t forget car commercials, or do you not look forward to those?

Some people on the right think he slants his predictions to increase enthusiasm in Democrats.  Whether his predictions turn out correct or not I think he has too much ego to skew his stats for partisan purposes.

In other (perhaps late?) news: Pascual Perez, RIP . . .  or whatever you want to rest in, you weirdo.

[7] Silver may be flat out wrong.  One minor mistake could skew the numbers greatly.  But I doubt he’s doing it for political purposes.  And for how much he’s followed baseball, I think he would know that sometimes the backlash against science-based results can throw off voting.

In other news…Yankees claimed a backup catcher from the Giants.  Doesn’t seem like much of a player, but has the ability to be sent to AAA, and is major-league quality (as backup catchers go).  So, unless the Yankees fail to sign Martin or acquire another starter, one of Cervelli/Stewart is gone this winter, with Romine starting in AAA.  Not sure which I hope for - I like Cervelli more but may be nice to see him go someplace where he has a chance to start 60 games.

[17]  I know a number of people who have gone this way.

[18] I agree, and I think most people do, too, including him. But I suspect most around these parts would never fault a guy for taking the data, doing something with it, and seeing how close he is to hitting the mark, as that’s basically what we do every day when we talk about these players.  I’m really amazed (although I guess I shouldn’t be) at how people have gone crazy about his attempt to.. use data.

Although.. and maybe I’m reaching here, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the following three topics (not really related): hitting mechanics, pitching mechanics, and diet.  When people post novel ideas about these things on the internet, the establishment crazies come out of the woodwork and are straight up violently aggressive in pushing back. So maybe I shouldn’t be so amazed at what Silver is going through.

PECOTA under Silver wasn’t perfect by any means.  It was one projection system among many, and if I recall correctly it was often bested by others (CHONE, CAIRO, etc) once people started doing head-to-head comparisons.  Then Silver left BP.

Thing is, political commentary is still largely in the dark ages.  Even if Nate’s only reproduced a PECOTA-quality product, it’s miles ahead of “well, I was at the Abblebees salad bar and a guy said to me… so I think Romney will win.”

It may be that his model is overtaken and clearly bested by others, largely using the same techniques but with better secret sauce or whatnot.  But for now, it’s kind of a joke.  It boils down to a bunch of bullshit artists being pissed off because a math nerd (as they see him) is (potentially) pointing out how full of it they are.

[22]  This guy, a Princeton neuroscientist who does a meta-analysis of polls on the side just for the hell of it, has a model rivaling Silver’s.  He has been at least as accurate as Silver, and maybe more accurate, in recent elections, if memory serves.  If I understand it correctly, Silver includes economic variables such as GDP in his model, while Dr. Wang relies entirely on polling data:

[20] That’s very odd to me.  I can imagine getting tired of the team’s current FO and players and not following pretty much every game at some level, but ceasing to be a fan?

[23] The folks who are hating on Silver probably loathe Wang even more.  He’s even more bullish on an Obama win, and he’s a professor, fer goodnessakes (means he’s obviously a marxist).

Yeah, Wang has been critical of Silver, but Wang also thinks there’s effectively NO chance at Romney winning, so it’s like this ridiculous “Silver’s math is bullshit. He’s biased and he’s causing it to look better for Obama than it really is. Like check out this guy Wang, he does a better job and HE says….oh…crap.”

There’s stuff going on that Silver or Wang can’t measure.  In Ohio African Americans on line to vote early were handed absentee ballots instead of actual ballots.  Absentee ballots are rejected or challenged at a 10-20% higher rate and you won’t even know your vote wasn’t counted.  There is no appeal.

[17] and [20], at this moment, to me, it still sucks that the Yankees season has ended, and has ended without them winning the world series.  I haven’t followed the games themselves as much, since I’m without cable these days, but I watch games whenever and however I can.

The biggest problem I see isn’t that the Yankees aren’t losing, but they don’t have young good position players coming up.

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