Nate Silver’s rash and uninformed prediction

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  By Mark McNaught
 
Reports by the Scotsman and the Telegraph over US polling guru Nate Silver’s contention that there is ‘no chance’ that Scotland will vote ‘Yes’ in 2014 reveal not only his casual ignorance of the Scotland referendum debate, but also reminds us how vague polls and a sycophantic unionist media regrettably continue to dominate the independence debate.
 
Nate Silver built an innovative and effective method of statistical analysis to predict the results of US elections.

  By Mark McNaught
 
Reports by the Scotsman and the Telegraph over US polling guru Nate Silver’s contention that there is ‘no chance’ that Scotland will vote ‘Yes’ in 2014 reveal not only his casual ignorance of the Scotland referendum debate, but also reminds us how vague polls and a sycophantic unionist media regrettably continue to dominate the independence debate.
 
Nate Silver built an innovative and effective method of statistical analysis to predict the results of US elections.

In 2008 his www.fivethirtyeight.com (538 being the total number of votes in the electoral college to elect the President) site was exceptionally adept at combining databases of polls carried out by other firms to predict the outcome of the Presidential and Congressional races.

His accuracy encouraged the New York Times to hire him in house for the 2012 elections, where using innovative algorithms was able to nail the result of the elections in all 50 states. He made fools of the right-wing pundits who somehow believed Mitt Romney could possibly win.

Despite his triumph in predicting the 2012 results, the US is not Scotland.

Nate Silver is at heart a baseball statistics junkie, who later applied his methodology successfully to elections, and is now employed by ESPN to further his interest in sports. Aside from being in Edinburgh to promote his book and make uninformed comments, I have no idea what stereotypes he has about Scottish politics.

He seems to see the Scottish independence referendum debate as just another god-awful US presidential election, where the voters who are not excluded through some new state-level voter suppression law will follow statistical trends and ultimately maintain the status quo.

To get anywhere near an informed opinion on Scottish independence, he must take into account that opinion polling is much less developed in the UK, and that he could not possibly have developed as accurate a model for voter intentions in Scotland. The statistics simply do not exist for him to have made anywhere near as cocky a prediction, which is probably a good thing. Pundits should actually have to wait for the referendum before announcing the result.

What Nate Silver fails to grasp is that the 2014 referendum is not just another election, or even another Red Sox – Yankees game where he can predict some roided player’s batting average. It is the opportunity for Scotland to decide its own future, develop a better constitutional order, and abandon the current monarchic-feudal-aristocratic-oligarchic-parliamentary system it has been shackled to for centuries.

Silver opined that only a ‘major crisis’ in England between now and the referendum could change his pre-ordained result. Such a ‘crisis’ could be Scots collectively deciding they will have a brighter, more prosperous future if they vote for independence.

These newspapers have interpreted Nate Silver’s words as some kind of divine providence, but he simply has no basis to assert that there is ‘no chance’ Scots will vote for independence. What informed opinion could he give about the likelihood of Catalan or Flemish independence? Like Scotland; zero.

I guess it is understandable coming from a country of over 300 million people where election strategy is often based on which candidate is the least awful.

Scotland has just over 5 million people, and is in the process of debating what kind of country it wants to become, with or without independence. There will be debate, disagreements, demagoguery and propaganda, but to assert that there is ‘no chance’ Scots will vote for independence is insulting. It infers that Scots relish their servile status within the UK and are delighted to remain shackled to Westminster forever. Even ‘Better Together’ knows this is a disastrous position to take.

The two articles previously cited follow the typical format we have seen throughout this campaign. Someone of some purported authority utters something which must be true, it is held as gospel and devastating to the opposing camp, there are smidgens of responses from the opposing parties which are invariably interpreted as weak and ineffectual, and another brick in the wall between Scotland and independence is laid.

Reporters are supposed to be inquisitive. Why didn’t they ask Mr Silver upon what he based this assertion, other than some random numbers somewhere, and why he thinks he can predict the results of the Scottish independence referendum better than Cleveland Indians record in 2014? With so much involving press accountability, the answer is blowin’ in the wind. 

My advice for Nate Silver: you’ve done great work in the US, but limit your statistical analysis to the Red Sox and Mitt Romney, because your expertise on Scottish aspirations is non-existent.

In September 2014, you’ll be on ESPN opining about some batting average, and neither you nor anyone else will remember what you said when Scots vote for independence, because it will be completely irrelevant.