Thursday, April 23, 2009

Read FiveThirtyEight

I read two blogs every day—there are a bunch I read most days, some more that I read occasionally, but only two that I never miss. One is Larry James’ Urban Daily ( I read it for two reasons. First, it’s good and it is entirely specific to the world I live in. Second, he’s the chairman of my board of directors, which means he’s as close to a boss as I’ve got. I don’t know about you, but if your boss is kind enough to let you know every day (and Larry posts every day) what he is thinking about, then you need to take advantageous of that opportunity to look at his or her thoughts.

(BTW: I find more and more that when someone comes to interview for a job or even just to volunteer, that they are likely to have read not only our website but my blog as well. The first time that happened, it was a little uncanny. The person seemed to know more about me than was reasonable. But all of us better take notice in these difficult times. The bar on research before a job interview has gone up again. Not much is more important than doing your homework.)

The second blog I read every day is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight ( Nate Silver writes a political blog from a leftist perspective, but so do lots of people. I read Nate Silver because he teaches us how to think in a new way. He started analyzing baseball statistics and became, by almost everyone’s opinion, the best at it. Now he’s switched to political analysis but retained his emphasize on rigorous compilation of information and sophisticated statistical analysis of that information. His predictions in the last election cycle were uncanny—so uncanny that he now is treated with awe in some circles.

One example: Nate Silver predicted that Al Franken would receive the most votes for Senator in Minnesota once all the votes were counted—at the time Norm Coleman was leading on election night. Time and time again Nate Silver shows that the obvious is wrong and that the facts are there to determine what will happen if we just put aside our biases and look.

A great example is his blog from last Monday (April 22, 2009), “When does close become too-close-to-call?” If you think you can’t determine who won a close election at some point, because there will always some uncertainty, then you’re right, according to Nate Silver. But what he does is lead you through an analysis of error rates and size of voting leads to let you know exactly when an election becomes too close to call and with what margin of certainty you can know the winner.

After reading Nate Silver, I always feel lazy. I know if I just thought harder about things and put my prejudices aside, that I could make better decisions. Nate shows me how.

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