Posted April 27, 2009
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Ted Talks

Nate Silver: Picking apart the puzzle of racism in elections



Nate Silver has answers to controversial questions about race in politics: Did Obama's race hurt his votes in some places? Stats and myths collide in this fascinating talk that ends with a remarkable insight on how town planning can promote tolerance.

Math whiz and baseball fan Nate Silver was mainly known for predicting outcomes in fantasy ballgames -- until his technique hit a home run calling the outcome of the 2008 election primaries.

In the 2008 election season's closing weeks, throngs of wonks and laypeople alike were glued to FiveThirtyEight.com, a habitforming political blog. Red and blue bar charts crowded the scrollbars as the pulse of exit polls crept along the site's latest projections. It seemed almost miraculous: In a year of acute turns of favor, the site's owner and mouthpiece, Nate Silver (who blogged anonymously as "Poblano" until outing himself on May 30, 2008, as a baseball numberhead), managed to predict the winners of every U.S. Senate contest -- and the general Presidential election.

Besides being just-damn-fascinating, Silver's analysis is a decidedly contrarian gauntlet thrown before an unrepentant, spectacle-driven media. The up-and-coming pundit, who cut his teeth forecasting the performance of Major League Baseball players, has a fairly direct explanation of why most projections fail: "Polls are cherry-picked based on their brand name or shock value rather than their track record of accuracy."

Silver's considerable smarts are already helping local campaigns build constituencies and strategize. Look for his two books from Penguin in 2009.

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