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Murder in the SunMorgue
by Denis O'Brien, PhD

Who killed hundreds of Syrian children in Ghouta, Aug21|2013? How, and why?

WordPress version


Breaking News

March 9, 2016

The biggest loser in Michigan primary?  Nate Silver. 
BlogoSphere polling nerd's guess is 50% worse than the worse poll he relies on




Last night as the primary results began to show Bernie out-pacing Hillary Clinton in Michigan I said to m'self: WTF?  Didn't Nate Silver predict that Sanders had, essentially, no chance on this one?  

Yeah, that's exactly what he predicted.  When I plugged into Sliver's website,, to verify what I thought he said, here's what I found: according to Silver, Hillary had a greater than 99% chance of winning Michigan; Bernie less than 1%.

This is the way Silver was calling the Mich. Democratic primary as of 
at least 9:30pm PST, Mar08|2016

Now, to be brutally honest, in these primaries that are down to two candidates and where the delegates are split according to precinct, it's not all that hard to come damn close to making a close prediction. A monkey with a dart board could do a fair job most of the time and have some absolutely stellar successes occasionally. And some equally stellar failures.  The problem is that nobody says what it means to "win."  Does it mean having the most votes?  The most delegates?  The most precincts?  With so many ways to define "win" you'd have to be basket-case-brain-ded not to be able to make a pretty close prediction in one category or the other.  In fact, as of 10am PST on Mar09 as I write this (14 delegates still not counted), if you choose to use delegates as your criterion, Hil has actually won Michigan: she has 68 delegates to Bernie's 65.  But she has 48.4% of the votes to Bernie's 49.8%, which, apparently, according to Silver and the MSM means she lost Michigan.  But hold the phone, Barney -- percentage of the votes don't mean squat when it comes to the nomination.  I'd much prefer to "lose" with a smaller total vote and go to the convention with more delegates.  

From HuffPo as of 10:25am PST, Mar09|16

Note the fine print: Silver was not predicting that Hil would get 99% of the delegates or votes or anything, he was predicting that it was more than 99% certain that she would win. If she had gotten just one vote more than Bernie, Silver would be claiming success. What bullshit this is. 

Let's go back to the monkey.  If you had a dart board divided into 20 pies randomly numbered in 5% increments from 5% to 100%, that monkey would have a -- pulls out calculator, tap, tap, tap -- 95% chance of making a closer guess on the Michigan contest than Nate Silver did.  And note that Silver's 99% win-call for Hillary was 50% worse than the worse guess of the polls he relies on (Mitchell Research & Communications, Mar06 called Hillary by 66%.).  IOW Silver's much ballyhooed algorithm for weighting the poll numbers is actually a statistical-bullshit multiplier, otherwise known as a SBSM in all but the most effete of pedantic statistical circles.   

Silver -- much like Rubio, Bush, Carson, and Christie -- is losing it big time this election.  In January this year Leon Neyfakh of Slate called out Silver for being wrong, wrong, and wrong with respect to Donald Trump. It's a case against Silver that is worth the read, certainly if you are using Silver's BS to place bets in these elections, which, just for the record, I am not.

In September last year, Silver said Trump had a 5% chance of getting the GOP nomination.  Well, OK . . . duh . . . at that time there were 17 frikin' Republican candidates, meaning just by chance each one of them had roughly a 5% chance of getting the nomination.  Monkey, dart board again.  On Nov23 there were 14 candidates left in the race, which would mean each had, on average, a 7% shot, but the polls showed that Trump was running about 4x that at 25-30%.  And yet Silver famously said that by his analysis a 20% chance for Trump was "substantially too high." This was not an analysis based on math or crunching numbers, it was just his own biased opinion as a pro-Clinton guy.  In one of the most gormless arguments imaginable, Sliver said that 30% of Republicans polling for Trump was about the same proportion -- 6-8% --  of Americans who think the Apollo moon walks were faked.  That sort of flap suggests to me the guy is a huckster.

Speaking of hucksters, Silver is this generation's Jeanne Dixon, even if this generation doesn't know who she was.  Dixon was a wildly popular soothsayer.  A spoofer.  She was one of those people who make thousands of predictions and eventually, just by sheer, unmitigated chance, gets a big one right.  After that all of the suckers come running.  To borrow another monkey metaphor -- infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters given an infinite amount of time will write all of the works of Shakespeare.  If you chatter on for long enough, eventually you'll say something brilliant, and that's what people will remember because your PR team keeps reminding them, and that's what they'll judge you by.  But the real measure of any person's prescience -- statistician or other type of soothsayer -- is how far off the mark are they when they muff it.  When you assert on the day of the Michigan primary that Sanders has less than a 1% chance of winning, and he wins, you've just told the world that you don't know what the hell you are talking about.    


Denis R. O'Brien, PhD/Esq.
denis [at-sign] logophere [full stop] com


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