Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Has Political Punditry Just Had Its Moneyball Moment?

One of the most frustrating things about watching the election returns last night was the seemingly never-ending parade of pundits and flacks constantly speculating about the meaning of the results and exit polling with a stunning amount of pure, unfounded conjecture.  These gasbags were winding up a full year of ridiculous assertions and asinine predictions with the mother of all bullshit storms.  Meanwhile, statistician Nate Silver managed to predict the outcome of all fifty states, and had completely refrained from the kind of breathless hype of the pundit class, who seemed to think that the race was a lot closer than it was.

If you've read the book or seen the film Moneyball, this scene looks awfully familiar.  A bunch of insiders used to analyzing their game based a set of faulty assumptions get schooled by numbers geeks who bring cold, hard ratiocination to bear on the problem.  I liken it to a bunch of alchemists basing their worldview on an unchallenged set of ridiculous premises being confronted by a modern scientist armed with real methodology.

Silver's consistently rational analysis has made the blustery gushings of the pundit class look as silly as the scout who wouldn't sign a player because he had an ugly girlfriend.  Of course, there is plenty of room for scouting in modern day baseball since there are things the stats can't tell us.  At the same time, there isn't a baseball team out there that hasn't incorporated more sophisticated statistical analysis.  Perhaps during the next election cycle the networks can bring out the nerds instead of the dumb jocks.

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