Against Nate Silver

Critiques of Nate Silver’s work have appeared from the right this season, so it’s unusual to read one coming from another direction.

Short version: “Silver Ignores Politics and Loves Experts.”

Longer version: Cathy O’Neil notes that Silver blames the 2008 financial crash on bad modeling… but not on corruption, or unethical business practices.

We didn’t have a financial crisis because of a bad model or a few bad models. We had bad models because of a corrupt and criminally fraudulent financial system.

That’s an important distinction, because we could fix a few bad models with a few good mathematicians, but we can’t fix the entire system so easily. There’s no math band-aid that will cure these boo-boos.

Similarly, in regards to bad modeling in medical research,

flaws in these medical models will be hard to combat, because they advance the interests of the insiders: competition among academic researchers to publish and get tenure is fierce, and there are enormous financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies.

I haven’t gotten to either of those chapters in Silver’s book yet, but yikes!  What blinders.

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