Preach It, Brother Nate!

Quoth the master fox …

It’s people who have very strong ideological priors, is the fancy way to put it, that are governing their thinking. They’re not really evaluating the data as it comes in, not doing a lot of [original] thinking. They’re just spitting out the same column every week and using a different subject matter to do the same thing over and over.

And, he also really likes burritos. Damn, I love this guy!

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27 thoughts on “Preach It, Brother Nate!

  1. But what kind of burritos does he like? Without knowing his burrito preferences ( meat, beans or not, rice or not, salsa) I can’t decide whether i agree with anything else he says. What burrito team is he on?

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      • Fascinating. Close enough to my preference to hold you in high regard, but different enough that i can still look down on your wrong choices. Mild salsa, why even bother. I ditch the sour cream also, but other then that sounds good. I just wish we had a Chipolte here.

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      • The real trick at Chipotle is to ask them to mix it. The way they layer stuff in there, sometimes the unmixed burrito yields one bite that is all rice and another that is all guac. Before they wrap, just say, “Can you mix it, please?” They are happy to oblige and it distributes the various ingredients far more evenly, leading to a more consistent burrito experience.

        I’m a barbacoa man myself. I love the heat that the meat brings to the table.

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  2. Preceding the quote Burt used:

    Plenty of pundits have really high IQs, but they don’t have any discipline in how they look at the world, and so it leads to a lot of bullshit, basically. …

    They don’t permit a lot of complexity in their thinking. They pull threads together from very weak evidence and draw grand conclusions based on them.

    Amen.

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    • It’s amazing how silly humans can be! (I mean, other than me and my readers who are exempt because you can’t possibly suffer from a problem that you yourself point out.)

      Seriously, I have started replacing “Amen” with “why is it that I find this so satisfying to read?”

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  3. It’s funny that Nate Silver is being hailed as some kind of combination Zen Master/rock star for doing pretty standard social science. Shows you how low the bar was in regards to punditry and political coverage in the media as a whole.

    Also, he is a pretty good example of why partisanship, and politics in general, makes us stupid.

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  4. Good for him. I have loved him ever since Sully first drew my attention to his blog. He’s so calm and clinical, his posts kept my blood pressure low all through 2012. Though, in fairness, I suspect his posts will raise it a bit for the upcoming 2014 elections.

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  5. While Silver has a point, I think he overstates the idea that policy can be understood and characterized by just following the data. A great example of that is Wonkblog, which prides itself on following the data, but still makes common ideological decisions in their interpretations. They will often describe Republican economic proposals that cut social programs as putting a burden on the poor, which completely disregards the fundamental conservative principle that the safety net and regulation are a burden on the poor in and of themselves. Silver is mostly doing prediction, so he’s more immune to this, but he still chose to use a model that aggregates polls instead of a model based on the fundamentals (for example, which would have predicted an Obama loss). That’s an ideological prior on how voting will work, one that’s been effective in predicting two elections (so P=0.25), but a prior nonetheless. I think it’s very rare to find scientists that don’t have *some* ideological guess at how the underlying/hidden model works (and those scientists are usually not very good); what’s important is being open about those priors. But by pretending that he just follows the data, Silver is actually obscuring his own priors.

    Of course, I’ll always take Silver and Wonkblog over Tom Friedman looking at one cross-tab on a minuscule poll (or worse, talking to a cab driver on the way to the airport) and writing up another rehash of The World is Flat, as he does nearly every week. But that’s not a particularly high benchmark.

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    • My republican elected representatives continue to put regulation on social programs.
      And voting for poor people.
      I don’t think they really believe that social programs are a burden for people, or they’d be heavier on the whole “get rid of medicare”

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    • They will often describe Republican economic proposals that cut social programs as putting a burden on the poor, which completely disregards the fundamental conservative principle that the safety net and regulation are a burden on the poor in and of themselves.

      This gets way to much mileage in policy proposals from the right; particularly now. When we talk about social safety net programs, they are not just for the poor. They also benefit the middle class by helping them live at a standard above poverty level. Free and reduced hot lunches, ACA subsidies, unemployment, education assistance, SCHIP, social security, Medicaid, and Medicare benefit middle-income families, too. Medicaid, for instance, is the primary vehicle to pay for nursing homes for seniors without large retirement plans. Without Medicaid, aging parents would put a tremendous financial burden on many middle-class families.

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      • They also benefit the middle class by helping them live at a standard above poverty level.

        But this again assumes that social programs do not dis-incentivise work, which is an assumption conservatives would strongly disagree with. The question is weather the short-term benefits of having the safety net make up for the long-term loss of productivity due to a “culture of dependency”*. I don’t think that’s a question that’s completely resolved by just looking at the data, and pretending otherwise (as Wonkblog does) obfuscates the issue.

        * It goes without saying that I’m not endorsing this view, which – as an immigrant raised on food stamps and section 8 – I find personally offensive.

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      • Between automation and population growth, there’s far less work to be done in today’s world than there are people qualified to do it. Conservatives confuse unwillingness to work with the absence of a demand for workers.

        Even if you’re completely willing to work, qualified, trained/educated, and talented, if nobody’s hiring you then you can’t work. That’s not laziness; that’s the state of the labour market in our era.

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      • Between automation and population growth, there’s far less work to be done in today’s world than there are people qualified to do it.

        The fact that about 90% of people who want to be employed are in fact employed suggests otherwise.

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      • Population growth does not create unemployment. Nor does automation, except temporarily. Because there is no set, finite amount of work to be done. And the more people there are, the more demand–hence need for labor–there is.

        The fact that automation has been ocurring for a few hundred years now, and thoughout that whole time period people have been claiming automation would destroy labor, and been wrong each time, makes me puzzled as to why people are so confident in their proclamations today.

        “But this time really is different” is not an award-winning argument.

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    • trizzlor: Silver’s methodology of aggregating polls is not an ideological prior, at least not in the sense that everyone else in the galaxy uses the word “ideological.” And your claim that
      “p = .25” assumes that an election is a toss of a fair coin. That is a prior (using the word properly, in the sense of Bayesian statistics), though also not an ideological one, just a silly one.

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      • . I don’t believe there is a statistically rigorous conclusion on weather modelling the fundamentals or modelling the polls yields a significantly more accurate outcome; we probably haven’t even had enough elections in the same environment to assess that. Silver’s choice to focus on one model over the other is therefore necessarily motivated by ideology (or school of thought, or educated hypothesis, or whatever you want to call it). If Silver wanted to criticize political pundits for being demagogues (that is, appealing to ignorance) he could have done so, but he chose to criticize ideologues while obfuscating the fact that he is also one himself.

        As for the p-value, I computed it as a frequentist, assuming the null is a random guess and unable to reject it. A more rigorous null would be even less favorable to Silver’s outcomes so far.

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  6. trizzlor: Every researcher adopts a methodology — how could you possibly proceed without one? Silver’s methodology is statistical, not ideological. Silver uses the phrase “ideological prior” to mean allowing ones ideological (=political, in the cases at hand) beliefs to overwhelm the statistical evidence. I know of no evidence that Silver himself has been guilty of this sin. And frequentists do not assume that the null hypothesis is a random guess and arbitrarily assign it probability 1/2; they don’t assign it a probability at all.

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