It Just 'Feels' Like Your Numbers Are Wrong

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Joe Scarborough made the following attack on Nate Silver the other day:

Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance -- they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing," Scarborough said. "Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.
Elspeth Reeve and Andrew Sullivan round up the notable counters to this regrettable line of logic. The counter seems pretty obvious to me. Claiming that Barack Obama has a 73.6 percent chance of winning is not the opposite of saying "it could go either way." It's just saying that it looks more likely to go one way than the other.

Also, I think this is pretty basic misunderstanding of what FiveThirtyEight is trying to do. As Jonathan V. Last points out, claiming that Silver would somehow be impugned by a Romney win is like claiming that free-throw average is worthless because Steve Nash missed:
People seem to think that it would reflect badly on Silver if Romney were to win while Silver's model shows only a 25 percent chance of victory. But isn't 25 percent kind of a lot? If I told you there was a 1-in-4 chance of you getting hit by a bus tomorrow, would you think that 25 percent seemed like a big number or a little number? Or, to put it another way, a .250 hitter gets on base once a game, so you'd never look at him in any given at bat and think there was no chance he'd get a hit.
I'm not a telepath, but I think the problem is that Silver's approach undermines the idea that "corporations are people" is some sort of game-changer.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/10/it-just-feels-like-your-numbers-are-wrong/264350/