I read the text below in the Facebook page of a colleague and friend, Christopher Hill. The text was meant as a facebook rant - sort of - but it raises important points. I liked what he wrote and I asked him if I could repost it here to the benefit of a larger audience. He graciously agreed. NB: the title of the post is mine.
Now that the election and Sandy is (sort of) over, I want to post a rant that I didn't think was appropriate before now.
First, Nate Silver. I have heard him called everything from a genius to a wizard to a witch in recent days. He is none of the above. He is a guy who understands mathematics (in particular statistics) enough to be able to use it to predict elections.
Of course, he also needs to do research, and understand political science, etc. But the thing that distinguishes him from the hundreds of other people that understand those things but yet can't predict anything reliably is his ability to really *use* more than just basic math.
This when viewed by the innumerate masses, including the punditry, can obviously only be explained by supernatural means. Well, you know who else uses math that most people can't comprehend to predict things even more complicated than elections? The scientists at NOAA (and elsewhere, particularly in Europe) who warned everyone that a terrible storm was brewing that could be catastrophic for the east coast.
The reason this storm wasn't (even more of ) a tragedy was this warning that enabled people to evacuate or otherwise prepare. This was not wizardry either, just science based on mathematics.
After the election, I have heard many people say they will pray for a better future since we are in such dire straits. Fine, it is a free country. But remember this - people prayed for thousands of years when hurricanes surprised them and wrought havoc on their communities to no avail. The thing that actually saved lives this time around was mathematically based science (which just happens to be the same reason I can type this on facebook instead of writing it on vellum like a monk would have done in the dark ages).
To bring this full circle, I've seen many headlines which have said Nate Silver was the real victor of this election. I hope by this they mean mathematics, and science based reasoning. If so, then maybe more people will understand the value of these things (instead of deriding them or their conclusions for political expediency), study them deeply enough to so that they are no longer magical, and work hard to use them to extract real truths about the world (as opposed to vacuous truisms derived from pre-conceived dogma) and have the courage to confront these facts and solve the problems facing our country and the world.
If so, then our future is indeed bright. If not, well then I pray for all of us.
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