Data guys versus Lawyers and Politicians


Presidential Election predictionsNate Silver is currently the internet darling of the big data folks, not only did he accurately predict the correct outcome in all 49 states for the US presidential election, he correctly pointed out that Florida would be a toss up before eventually leaning towards Obama. That’s like predicting a coin-toss would end on it’s side. While all of that may seem remarkable, this isn’t a story of a boy-genius but rather the dawn of a new age–an age driven by data.

Nate isn’t alone on this,  The Slate reports that 2 different pundits got the entire analysis spot on as well, not to mention a 3 man team in North Carolina armed only with robo-callers who also made a spot-on prediction. This isn’t some savant ability that Nate has, this is just pure hard core science at work, and the people that use the science are the ones making the accurate predictions, while the people that ignore it–are left behind.

And just who got left behind? The usual opinion writers, like Ann Coulter who predicted Romney would win by a 273-265 margin, Newt Gingrinch who predicted an ever igger margin for Romney and of course Jim Cramer who predicted such a insane number that it probably isn’t even worth typing here–but I’ll type it anyway. Good ol’ Jim predicted Obama would win by a whoooping 440-98 margin, off by more than a 100 point margin…but at least he got the winner right, and I’m sure predicting the stock market isn’t anything like predicting an election, and 100 points means nothing in the stock market.

From Opinion-Driven to Data-Driven

While the premise that election results can be predicted to such a degree of accuracy may not sit well with most folks, but the bigger idea behind it all is that we’re slowly moving from a generation driven by opinion to a generation driven by data, purely because we’ll soon realize that the data driven folks and the ones producing the results, while the opinion writers are no better than coin-tosses.

Every single one of the ‘opinion columnist’ like Ann Coulter, Jim Cramer and even respected journalist from the Washington Post and New York Post got their predictions dead wrong. The only guys who were right were the guys looking at the data, they were guys looking at polls across the country or even running their own polls. These were the data guys — and the data guys are suddenly the cool guys.

The data guys understood that the best way to predict anything was to get the data and then analyze it BEFORE forming an prediction,doesn’t sound like much but in most cases what the opinion columnist did was form a prediction and THEN look for the data to analyze (if they even bothered to look for any data). This wasn’t science — this was law.

Data guys vs. Law guys

I was a member of my secondary schools debate team (we were State Champions if anyone’s interested), and the format of the debate was that you get the title of the debate early on, but you only know which side of the debate you’re on 1 hour before the debate starts. In most cases this is considered normal, and people rarely scoff at the idea, but the format of the debate is so counter-intuitive to science in general. In a debate, you’re not interested in looking for the best solution, you’re not interested in the truth–you’re interested in winning–even if you’re on the wrong side. If you can win while you’re on the wrong side, that’s even more reason to celebrate, it’s a good indication of just how good a debater you are. Doesn’t matter that you just convinced the judges to pick the wrong argument–you won and that’s all that matters in a debate.

Lawyers are hailed as geniuses if they can get a guilty man acquitted, they’re measured on the amount of cases they win–not the amount of cases where a right outcome was achieved.

In the entire concept of the debate, and debates in Parliament is driven by opinion and never by data because it’s all about getting your opinion across and convincing the other side. It’s never about the data, the data is treated as a by product or symptom, the real point of debates in parliament is to WIN. The guy with the loudest voice and most ‘captivating’ argument wins. That’s not science that’s poetry, and poetry has it’s place in society — but it never gives you an accurate answer. That’s why the data guys never do poetry, because poetry doesn’t exist in poll numbers and factual data points.

So as I reflected on this new phenomena, I couldn’t help buy wonder how many data guys do we have in the Malaysian Parliament, as opposed to how many opinion guys. Most political conversations we have descend very quickly into incomprehensible garbage shrouded in opinion after opinion of what is Good for Malaysia, but no one ever does an full blown analysis or presents any data–all we see are policy makers who intend to get their opinions across without looking at the data.

Politics has gotten a bad-rap lately, to ‘politicize’ something is to make it bad it usually involves back-stabbing and toe-stepping, but the etymology of Politics suggest it is derived from the Greek word Politika, which means the “affairs of the city”.  As of right now, the affairs of this city are in absolute shambles not because of whose in government, but rather because it’s all driven by opinion–the opposition have one opinion and the government have another, hopefully someday we’ll elect a data guy to parliament, and hopefully the affairs of Malaysia will change for the better as a result.

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