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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Nate Silver’

Talmudic Journalism

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

The debate has ramifications throughout the entire Talmud up until our present day. Which is stronger: Nature or Nature? The answer not only solves this long-standing debate, but also teaches us something surprising about the news we read and write.

The Two Camps

We know politics are polarized into two camps (conservatives and liberals). But there was once hope that journalism was different somehow.

Most of us today realize that journalism is not immune to this polarization. For instance, if even the facial expressions of news anchors can affect a presidential campaign, then how about a journalist that has a hidden (or not so hidden) agenda to present?

As we all rely on the news for information about current events, obviously we would like this medium to be as objective, and truly “fair and balanced” as possible. While we can’t stop an anchor from curling up the corners of his lips, what we can do is deepen our search for this elusive thing we call “objectivity”.

There are two approaches to achieving this objectivity. While both are based on empiricism, on contextualizing headlines based on objective information (and not opinions), their methodology is as polarized as the political arena they both cover.

On the one side is Data Journalism, led by Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight.com website. On the other, Explanatory Journalism led by Ezra Klein and his Vox Media, Vox.com website.

What is the road to objectivity?

Both Nate and Ezra recently wrote manifestos to explain their respective approaches (you can click on their names to read). But instead of quoting from each, I’m going to sum of their positions. After reading their manifestos, if you have questions about this analysis, I would be happy to explain further.

Data Journalism: Nate says that generalizations about new events can be extrapolated from old data: “Suppose you did have a credible explanation of why the 2012 election, or the War of 1812, unfolded as it did. How much does this tell you about how elections or wars play out in general, under circumstances that are similar in some ways but different in other ways?”

Explanatory Journalism: Ezra says that math skills stop mattering when they come in conflict with something called Identity-Protective Cognition. This means that we care more about what people in our social groups think about our opinions, than the facts, the math behind the subject itself. Ezra hopes that by explaining stories clearly, readers will become open to seeing past the reactions from one’s social groups.

Data or Explanations?

So which is it? Does infusing news stories with data make reporting more objective, or does clearly explaining a topic help to whittle away the effects of social pressure? The answer is actually both. Although it may seem that Nate and Ezra are operating at two polar extremes, in actuality their approaches read like two sides of the same coin.

Whereas in the past we explained that Nate’s approach corresponds to the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom), and Ezra’s to binah (understanding), what we did not mention was the means to reconcile the two.

Our search for common ground led us to travel back in time about 1700 years.

Nature vs. Nurture

You probably recognize this heading. But now it’s time for you to ask the prize winning question: What does the nature vs. nurture debate have to do with Nate Silver and Ezra Klein’s approaches to journalism? I’m glad you asked!

While we will not now go into the details of the Talmudic dispute (Kidushin 80a) between Reish Lakish and his brother-in-law Rabbi Yochanan (see here), what is important for us to realize is that the debate between stems from each’s psychological assessment of human nature and behavior.

Predictive Journalism, Nate Silver, and the Talmudic Mind

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Baye’s Theorem considers “Priors” (also called “signals”) – events that we have pre-existing knowledge on – and “Posteriors” – events that we want to predict. While the theorem has again been around for over 250 years, well-known journalist Nate Silver has adapted the theorem into what he calls the “Bayesian convergence,” or the method of dispelling myths and opposing opinions as evidence of the most likely outcome is uncovered.

As in our previous articles, our subject of focus will be the concept, marketability, or point of attraction behind Baye’s Theorem. Specifically, how Nate approaches it different from others, so much so that he is now assembling a team to carry out his approach to journalism as part of the relaunch of his site, FiveThirtyEight.com.

But in order for his findings, and those under him, to be statistically accurate, even the most unique journalist pieces need to be based on what Baye’s Theorem calls “Priors.” But while the result is to dispel myths, these disruptive results need to be based on prior statistical findings.

First, this is the example that Wikipedia uses to explain Baye’s Theroem (you can read the equation part here:

Suppose a man told you he had had a nice conversation with someone on the train. Not knowing anything about this conversation, the probability that he was speaking to a woman is 50% (assuming the train had an equal number of men and women and the speaker was as likely to strike up a conversation with a man as with a woman). Now suppose he also told you that his conversational partner had long hair. It is now more likely he was speaking to a woman, since women are more likely to have long hair than men. Bayes’ theorem can be used to calculate the probability that the person was a woman.

A Game of Priors The first finding, gained as the result of corresponding Nate’s work to the sefirah of chochmah, is that the primary task of a past-minded predictive journalist should be to continuously weigh and reanalyze Priors (pre-existing statistic) not Posteriors (event we want to predict).

For events that already occurred, as in the train example, instead of searching for the most probable Posterior, the approach of chochmah, the yiddishe kop, is to search for the one true Anterior (what actually happened).

As we will explain later, Nate still has come up with a good chap (catch) with how he approaches Baye’s Theorem for events that have not yet occurred. But for the meantime, since most examples used to explain Baye’s describe events that happened, these relate to an exercise in discovering the one true outcome, not the most probable.

This story aptly illustrates this point. Appropriately enough, another train story! (reprinted with permission from Jewlarious.com):

After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission to visit Moscow.

He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and he thought: This fellow doesn’t look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district.

But on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I’m the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow.

Ahh, wait! Just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don’t need special permission to go to Samvet But why would he travel to Samvet? He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there. But how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Aha, only two — the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. But since the Bernsteins are a terrible family, so such a nice looking fellow like him, he must be visiting the Steinbergs.

Nate Silver: Quinn the Most Likely Democrat

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Take it from Nate. If there’s one pundit that has a record of predicting election outcomes accurately, it is Nate Silver of the NY Times Five Thirty Eight Blog. In the 2012 presidential elections, Silver was the only pundit who confidently predicted the election outcome, based on his analysis of public opinion polls.

In this year’s mayoral election, while it may be seen as a wide open race, Nate Silver already presumes City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn will very likely win the Democratic nomination in September, or in an October runoff. The early Democratic front-runner in recent New York City mayoral races has a near perfect record in going on to win the party’s nomination, according to an analysis of public opinion surveys conducted since 1989.

In five of the past six Democratic primaries for mayor, the candidate who led in an average of polls conducted in the first six months of the election year advanced to the general election, Silver writes. The only exception was in 2009, when Anthony Weiner led Bill Thompson Jr. by five percentage points but decided to quit the race.

In this year’s mayoral race, Ms. Quinn has a lead of 17 percentage points in an average of the seven primary polls conducted so far. Although her level of support has fallen 39% percent in January, to 24% in the most recent Marist poll, she has managed to maintain a lead over her opponents, including Mr. Weiner.

Based on historical precedent and poll analysis, Nate Silver predicts: “Ms. Quinn is likely to win the Democratic nomination, even if she has to face a runoff election first.”

Silver has one glimpse of hope for the top four candidates polling in double digits. “While the early front-runner virtually always secures the nomination, underdogs have leapfrogged over other candidates to finish in the top tier (although never to win). In 2005, Mr. Weiner was barely in double digits in the first 15 polls of the year, but secured 29 percent of the primary vote, finishing in second place. In 1997, early surveys showed the Rev. Al Sharpton with just 9 percent of the vote, but he, too, went on to finish second in the primary, winning 32 percent of the vote.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/nate-silver-quinn-the-most-likely-democrat/2013/06/09/

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