Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Numbers and lies

Usually when I talk about statistics and lies, it’s about the rightwing using statistics to “prove” something that’s not actually true, or their trying to deceive people by quoting them selectively. Sometimes, I have to talk about phoney statistics they make up as a propaganda tool. Today, it’s a little different: It’s an attack ON statistics because they don’t like the fact that real numbers don’t support their propaganda claims.

The above Tweet is from statistics guru Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, who is widely regarded (by calm, rational people, anyway…) as pretty much the best number-cruncher in the business. He posted the Tweet after a prolonged, relentless attack on him—often offensively personal—by the rightwing’s nattering nabobs of negativism, who are upset that his polling average continues to show that President Obama is likely to win re-election.

The right has been declaring that their candidate has “mittmentum”, that he’s surging up toward an inevitable landslide victory. The problem with that is polling data simply doesn’t support that claim, which means they have another problem: Math—the numbers simply don’t add up.

Take the total number of states considered “safe” for President Obama, and the president starts with 247 Electoral College votes out of the 270 he needs to win—that’s 23 short of victory. The Republican challenger, in stark contrast, has only 180 “safe” Electoral votes, meaning he’d need 90 more. There are 108 “swing state” Electoral votes up for grabs.

Silver’s current data indicates that President Obama is comfortably ahead in the likely Electoral College vote total, and it, like his statistical chance of winning, have both been trending steadily upward.

This is in stark contrast to the rightwing Meme—in fact, reality is the exact opposite of what the Republican propaganda claims. And THAT is why they have gone all out to attack Nate Silver, science and mathematics.

It’s not surprising, really: The Republicans are a party that denies climate change, evolution (much of science, actually) and its ticket is led by a man with a secret “plan” for fixing the economy that is mathematically impossible. No wonder they attack statistics!

Nate is transparent in his methods and models. If the rightwing disputes them, they are free to hire an expert to build a better model and do better mathematical science, but making up numbers or attacking science, mathematics and statistics doesn’t win the rightwing the argument: It just makes them look like ignorant, petulant brats (again).

This behaviour does one other thing: It makes the rightwing look like losers, in every sense of the word.

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