Some thoughts on Nate Silver’s latest prediction:
…one can think that Silver is probably right about the Electoral College, and simultaneously think that the 78.4 percent number is basically meaningless. Or rather, that it is impossible to formulate the epistemological difference between “There is a 78.4 percent chance that Obama will win” and “There is a pretty good chance Obama will win.”
My problem with it is that I don’t believe that he knows all of his data inputs to three figures. Yes, I know that’s how the polls purport to measure them, but three figures of precision are meaningless unless you also believe that the number is accurate. As another plug for my (still to be published) space safety book, here’s a relevant excerpt:
One of the very first things that scientists and engineers are taught is that you can’t get an answer more precise than the precision of the least precise factor from which it is derived. For example, we know the gravitational constant to many places, but when you multiply it by a mass that you only know to two places, that is the maximum precision that can be reasonably used to express the local gravitational field for that body. A good professor will mark down an answer on a student’s test that, while accurate, is unjustifiably precise. When I see engineers doing the same thing, I tend to think that they’re trying to impress the innumerate who don’t understand the difference between precision and accuracy. And I think that the safety numbers for Ares I were precisely wrong.
As is Nate’s election prediction. To me, it would be more credible if he just said 80%, though I still don’t buy it.