Embrace your statistical self: Tips from fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver

Nate Silver scares the bejeebers out of traditional journalists.

In the 2012 election, he aggregated polling information and other data, and used statistics and forecasting methods, making FiveThirtyEight the must-read column of the election cycle. While pundits became an echo chamber positing a close election, Silver used data to show that for most of the election, it really wasn’t that close. And his forecast was not far off from the actual result.

Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias argues adopting an analytical mind-set is not that hard:

…when you look at it, with all due respect to Silver, his ability to beat the armchair analysis of the TV pundits is much more a story about the TV pundits being morons than it is a story about Silver having an amazingly innovative analytic method.

I’m not sure it’s as easy as Yglesias paints, but his sentiment is accurate. We can — and must — all embrace an analytical ethic when it comes to media creation and consumption.

To that end, I share Silver’s eight cool things journalists should know about statistics (compiled by the Poynter Institute) from his keynote at this year’s Online News Association conference.

I want to highlight the seventh point, which reinforces the importance of challenging your own assumptions and expanding your circle of sources:

Insiderism is the enemy of objectivity. Insider information may not be reliable. A journalist whose circle is too tight may forget there is more outside of it. Silver cited forecasts made on the McLaughlin Group that he called as accurate as “monkeys throwing poop at a dartboard.”

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