A few months back, when the always excellent lineup of this year's Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) was announced, I noticed a potentially appealing presentation: "Baseball and Politics: The Numbers Don't Lie" by Nate Silver. It was scheduled for November 9th, just after the election. Hmmm, could be interesting, I thought. I ponied up the $15 (CHF offerings are all very reasonably priced) for Nate's presentation as well as a handful of others.
Then the run up to the election happened. Then Nate and his model went viral as the world noticed and reacted to their predictions. Then Tuesday happened. Nate Silver and 538 went Supernova. Everybody wanted a piece of Kos' favorite red hot chili pepper.
Given the circumstances, I figured that there was no way Nate would be able to honor his commitment for an important, but relatively small, speaking engagement (in a school auditorium, no less) that meant travel outside of New York. No way. A cancellation would be disappointing for sure, but completely understandable.
But I was just as wrong as Peggy Noonan is whenever she sets pen to paper. Nate not only showed up, he blew the roof off the joint! More below the fold...
Last Friday night, an admittedly "very tired" Nate Silver took the podium to thunderous applause at Francis W. Parker School, a private, progressive K-12 school located in the very Barack Obama friendly Lincoln Park neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago. When the applause finally died down, Nate warned the crowd with a wave of his hand that his presentation would basically consist of the talk he's delivered for the past few years.
That presentation is a shorthand version of the many issues surrounding prediction that he lays out chapter by chapter in brisk and entertaining fashion in his new bestselling book, "the signal and the noise" http://www.amazon.com/...
If you read Nate's book you'll get 90.9% of the material he delivered last Friday. Do read it. It's terrific!
However, Nate did indicate that he might just ad lib a bit (which was also met with enthusiastic applause) and he sure did. Here are a few of the off the cuff comments that I recall. I wasn't taking notes, just listening, so if my recollection is a bit fuzzy, so please feel free to correct me or add some info if you were there.
* The signal to noise ratio (useful information to "bullshit") is getting worse and worse due to exponential channel growth and information overload, and this was especially evident in the truckloads of "bullshit" (Nate doesn't sugar coat it) pedaled by political pundits and Romney spinmeisters this cycle, most (but maybe not all) of whom apparently believed the "gut" driven pronouncements that came out of their mouths.
*"I don't know" is often the best answer to a question but it makes for bad TV, which is why false certainty seems to dominate media."
*The Republicans seemed to wrongly conflate what was essentially coming out of a beltway echo chamber with what people were thinking coast to coast.
* If the crash of the Republican's Orca GOTV system on election day is as reported, it was a catastrophic failure of immense proportion.
* Obama's early big money media buys appeared to be a much more effective strategy than Romney + Super PAC big, late ad buys in places like PA. "The 87th Romney ad people saw was probably a waste of money." Nate also opined that the first dollar is probably the more effective dollar anyway, whether in a Presidential or down ticket race. That down ticket dollar likely makes a bigger proportional difference, too (which "50 State Strategy" types like me love to hear!) Seed money yields a good crop.
* Meteorologists ("the heroes of my book") nailed it predicting Sandy. The loss of life and massive destruction shouldn't be minimized in the least but it would have been tons worse without the preparation that accurate forecasting allowed officials and individuals to put in place.
* The best thing long suffering Cubs fans (like me) can do is continue to stay away from Wrigley. (Not one single game from this writer last season. It hurt but, YES!). The half good/half evil Ricketts family must be incentivized to put a good product on the field...and to do it the right way, bottom up, will probably take 3-4 years at the earliest. (Hear that, Theo Epstein worshipers?)
* Derek Jeter is a fantastic, Hall of Fame offensive shortstop. But most of those diving defensive plays on the ESPN highlight reel are due to his limited range. Those ground balls are routine for others. Looks can be deceiving! Watch your data inputs for errors.
* According to Nate (and most rational observers), New York doesn't have decent Mexican food...but Chicago sure as hell does!
* On "What's next for Nate?" He said three things come to mind. First, he could focus on making money ("which isn't a BAD thing"). Second, he could focus on his work and study. Third, he could focus on "doing a lot of good". After a pregnant pause he said, "I'd like to think I can do all three." There you go.
Finally, I didn't know until last Friday that Nate Silver is a very, very talented public speaker. His vocal skills are remarkable. His words filled the room quite easily and his speaking style was highly engaging. I learned subsequently that he is is a former Michigan State Debate Champion. I wonder what he could use those skills to do...
P.S. I hope this diary gets more of you out to see Nate and other talented folks in the flesh at lectures in your area. Knowledge is even good for a date night! Personally, I can't wait for next year's CHF http://www.chicagohumanities.org/
Update: Thanks for the bump up! Bears lost ugly and hitting the hay...