The Five Coolest Things We Learned From Nate Silver's Reddit AMA

Nate Silver is doing an "Ask Me Anything" at Reddit, and it's already very good. 

Here are the most interesting things we've learned so far. 

Strangest experience from after his sudden fame?

When I was in Mexico last week, I got recognized at the top of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, which I'm pretty sure really is a sign of the Apocalypse.

On whether he would ever take FiveThiryEight open source:

I'd certainly like to aim to increase the level of disclosure at 538 going forward. Sometimes what happens is that I have best intentions to write a super detailed, 5000-word methodology post, and then some senate candidate does or says something stupid, and I get caught up in the news cycle and it gets forgotten about. Which is a pretty lame excuse, I know. At the same time, 538 is a commercial business and the ability to license proprietary intellectual property is a fairly big part of how I make my living, so the disclosure would probably stop short of outright releasing source code or my database in most cases.

Why were the Romney campaign predictions off?

Groupthink and perverse incentives were the causes; to the extent their polling or analysis was bad, it flowed from that.

Where is FiveThirtyEight going?

One of the things I'm trying to figure out is what range of topics to cover at 538. After the 2008 election, it became sort of a quantitatively-flavored politics blog, and I think that was something of a mistake. Some things, like cabinet nominations, really do requite careful reporting, and statistical analysis will provide a dollop of color commentary at best. On other days, the lead political story is just gossipy and stupid and isn't really newsworthy at all. So on a day like today, when the Chuck Hagel nomination is the major political story and that doesn't really play into our strengths, I'd rather write about something like baseball instead. The ambition is to expand 538 "horizontally" across topics, based on HOW we cover the news, rather than into the politics vertical, if that makes sense.

We're definitely overdue to do a couple of posts on same-sex marriage, however.

I don't own (or rent) a cat.

On whether gun control would make America safer:

It's a tricky problem, statistically. The issue is that while gun ownership rates could plausibly be a cause of fatal crimes and accidents, it can also be a reaction to it, i.e. people purchase guns because they feel unsafe.

I'm not saying that the issue is intrinsically inscrutable. But it's something that more requires a PhD-thesis-level treatment than a blog post to really add much insight, I think.




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