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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seeing the world the way we want it

  If you have seen the movie "Moneyball" you know how long held beliefs can drive our actions and beliefs even when they are not proven by the facts.  In "Moneyball" a managers judgement in making baseball decisions was based on his own bias and not by what the statistics showed.  Managers have always favored certain theories of what makes a winning team.  Remember how Earl Weaver of the Orioles always wanted the 3 run homer as the key to baseball success?  He would set up his lineup to get a couple of guys with the ability to get on base and follow them up with a player who could hit the home run. When statisticians run the numbers the factor that decided games was the number of players a team got on base.  So selecting players who had the best on base percentage would win the most games.

   We now have a similar resource for determining outcomes in the political world.  Nat Silver, a statistician, who correctly predicted the results of the 2012 Presidential election in all 50 states now hosts a webpage/blog that uses stats to predict political races.  He calls it FiveThirtyEight for the number of electors there are in a Presidential election.  What he does is to look at a wide range of polls in the past to determine which were the best predictors of the final outcome.  As a statistician he develops an algorithm using those polls to determine future outcomes.  As a statistician he uses hard data that is not impacted by bias.  This method is better than relying on political pundits who have large biases in their predictions. Pundits really do want to see the world through their own biases and are often wrong.  Check out Nat's predictions for the 2014 Senate races.  


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