Nate Silver of the New York Times has gained notoriety after the most recent election, having created a statistical model to predict the outcome of elections. Despite his unpopularity with political pundits, Silver managed to accurately predict, with the smallest margin of error, the outcome for all 50 states in the 2012 presidential election. Perhaps it’s his basis-in-data approach that makes him a threat to the rhetorical hawks, but each of us should use this as a moment to reflect on our own thought processes.
The world is complex. Silver does not have it all figured out quite yet. When society is introduced to someone who seemingly has all the answers, we inevitably have some questions of our own. Silver’s projections provide us with a new brand of mystical fortune telling. Mystical insofar as very few of us could replicate it or even explain it.
We should understand, first, that his predictions, coincidentally, lack an element of political awareness. The data merely reflects the truth back at us. It cannot project what should be done in reaction to it. That’s for the pundits.
Striking a balance between our principles, values and the objective truth is perhaps the most difficult tight rope act in which we will ever partake. Some react to the political inconsistency in their lives by rejecting objectivity outright. Very few are successful in reshaping their values without a very dramatic confrontation.
But students are in a unique position. We are surrounded by people, professors and students, devoted to thinking – thinking in ways that challenge preconceptions. While the working force must understand the world in more pragmatic ways, we take the advantage of having readily available resources that can aid in the discovery of our own truth.
Each student’s response to President Barack Obama’s victory is tempered by their own experience as an American or a visiting foreigner. Even Silver hoped for a particular outcome, and perhaps it differed from his own predictions. The question for us all is, what did we do to affect the election?
What frightens us is that we might be as predictable as the data suggests. That fear, as we see it, is irrelevant. Our duty is not to quibble over the outliers, but to do what is ethical regardless of pundits and statisticians alike. Our best bet is an education that frees us from the kind of stubborn political rigidity that makes Mr. Silver’s job exceedingly easy.