Thursday, January 26, 2012

N.Y Times 538.Com Poll Review Site 50% Cabala 50% Delphic Oracle 100% Snake Oil



I have been reading over some time now, the supposed oracle of all things psephology related, a Mr. Nate Silver (D) the resident poll analyist at the New York Times (D) and have reached the decision not to read any more of his columns. They are so hedged with qualifications that they would do justice to a used car salesman-which professions, I conclude more and more, are blood brothers.


Silver rose to prominence, like so many on the left, during the frothing at the mouth by "progressives" Bush second term, and was a hero of the "progressives" at the execrable "Daily Kos" site. Naturally a leftist periodical like the NYT, wanting to attract a younger audience in their bid to stay solvent, would choose an apparently glossologia/logorrhea afflicted acolyte of the Delphic Oracle as Mr. Silver, to attract the young and naive.


I think the one word which best describes the polling prediction firms is "surprise" which is regular trotted out when their predictions turn out to be wide of the mark. "Within the margin of error" is their explanatory stock in trade when they are surprised by a result they got wrong.


Mr. Silver doesn't have too many worries on that score as he doesn't actually do any polling, rather he analyses polls. Further, his analysis of what is obscure to begin with, adds a layer of "perhaps and possibly and if" so deep that he can never be wrong (although from time to time he does make an actual clear prediction and things don't go so well, as would be expected of course).


Mr. Silver appears to be a practitioner of an ancient Jewish mysticism and seems a Cabalist. Cabala, (as described by Nathan Ausubel) "which in Hebrew means "The Received"  loftily refers to itself as "The Hidden Wisdom". It represented that kind of knowledge which could be acquired, not by ordinary reason, but by by the illumination of the spirit. Therefore only the spiritually elect who were "adepts in Grace" were deemed worthy enough to explore its secret meanings."


I also consider him to be a practiser of augury, but whether he inhales fumes like the Oracle, or consults tea leaves or goat entrails, I do not hazard a guess. It appears to me his work is also inspired by a hidden wisdom as it is so cleverly hidden by vague qualifications.


Lets take a look at excerpts from a  recent 538 analysis January 24th which came after Gingrich's South Carolina win. Mr. Silver started off with a display of his insight, by stating the obvious, that Romney would have "banked" early votes which were cast when he was leading the polls in Florida;


"What I see in the Florida Polls"
1. The evidence isn't necessarily straightforward
2.One thing that makes this tricky to analyze
3. I would suspect
4. Our forecast is currently gives Gingrich a 75% chance of winning Florida
5.That seems to confident a prediction frankly


There is enough in these few randomly chosen gleanings to show that he has left himself enough wriggle room to have any result, and continue on with his mystification and arcane jottings. 


I think a good home for Mr Silver, once his patrons move on or expire, would be the wonderful  The Market Oracle site which has endless articles, which use all sorts of graphs and charts, to show which way the stock market will go and work on a stopped watch basis. But rather than twice a day they are more like twice a year, or decade.


To make out that 538.com is some sort of be all and end all site, is shown to be ludicrous by this tweet on the night of the South Carolina landslide. Mr. Silver couldn't even see the obvious, that the very early vote tally included early voting which, because it was cast when Romney was leading in the polls, was strongly for him. 


At this point the major networks had called Gingrich the winner even before the polls had closed based on the exit poll results but Silver, the supposed expert was still being cautious when all around him were seeing the obvious. So much for the whole family of prognosticators."Just my opinion" indeed.

No comments :