The New York Times has a piece out today on political polling sites, featuring, among others, our fave pollster, Nate Silver.
It’s symptomatic of how well Five Thirty Eight has been, that some naysayers had the following to say:
Sam Wang, who runs a site called the Princeton Election Consortium, which receives around 30,000 page views per day, said polls should not be used to predict future results. Mr. Wang said he did not believe the assumptions by Mr. Silver made his forecasts more reliable.
Dick Bennett, at the American Research Group, was even blunter. “He hasn’t been able to predict the future,” Mr. Bennett said. “If he did, he would have been able to predict who’d win in June.”
Ah, predictions. Which, of course, Silver has not ever claimed to have made in any foolproof way. Right now, his site is showing John McCain winning on November 4th 3.8% of the time. So, McCain can win, it’s just unlikely. And if Obama wins by the 348+ Five Thirty Eight predicts, something tells me that Nate Silver will have a very illustrious future as a top rated pollster.
Which brings me to the 16th century pollster of sorts, Nostradamus. On the couch all day, I found myself watching a History Channel special about the foresight of this French seer. And, frankly, I was unconvinced. Nostradamus lovers have cherry picked his quatrains and decided that he correctly predicted most of the big events in world history, including the rise of Hitler, the assassination of JFK, and the 1666 Fire of London.
One woman said that when Nostradamus wrote about a “hister” rising in Germany, he was using an anagram for Hitler. Later, he says that flesh and bones will roast, a literal prediction about the Holocaust. Of course, hister was an anagram, but the rest was literal! Couldn’t it have been the other way around.
Anyway, this is my way of saying that I think the Nostradamus contingent is full of crap. As Penn of Penn & Teller said on the show, when someone can point to Nostradamus and predict the next catastrophe before it happens, I’ll believe he had the eye way back in 1508.