Obama's Favorite Prognosticator Routed on the Soccer Pitch

Image: Obama's Favorite Prognosticator Routed on the Soccer Pitch

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 04:40 PM

By John Blosser

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President Barack Obama's favorite oddsmaker took as big a thrashing as the home team when Germany routed Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semifinals Tuesday.

Nate Silver, the "miracle statistician" whose uncannily accurate predictions of Obama's wins in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections on his blog angered Republicans and gave him the reputation of a never-fail seer of the future, blew it big time when he rated World Cup host Brazil's chance of beating Germany at 65 percent.

With five unchallenged goals in the first half alone, Germany crushed Brazil's hopes, as well as the Silver system's reputation for infallibility.

Even Silver admitted, "Time to eat some crow. That prediction stunk," on his blog in an article entitled, "The Most Shocking Result in World Cup History," but Silver's Twitter fans were still not satisfied with his mea culpa:

Silver, 36, an economist trained at the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics, impressed the political world with his correct prediction of the outcomes in 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election and all states in the 2012 presidential elections, and gave rise to his PECOTA system "sabremetrics" approach to prediction, popularized in the movie "Moneyball," which foretells the likely outcome of baseball games by evaluating the records and likely performance of individual baseball stars.

In 2012, Rachel Maddow said during MSNBC's election coverage, "You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver." 

His electoral expertise won him and his blog a post at the New York Times. Last year, he jumped to ESPN, but his prediction of Brazil having a 38 percent chance of winning the World Cup, made while other soccer pundits were seriously doubtful about Brazil's chances, has damaged his reputation, especially with the sound beating the team suffered in the semifinal loss, Forbes reports.

Ian Steadman, writing in the New Statesman, noted, "Predicting the future based on past results and rankings is all well and good, but when things go wrong, they can go very, very wrong."

Silver stated that his prediction was based on "the Soccer Power Index (SPI), an algorithm I developed in conjunction with ESPN in 2010," but even before the fateful match, Forbes contributor Brett Arends commented, "These days most people prostrate themselves at the mention of an "algorithm" and begin chanting in blind worship. I hope I do not sound too churlish, but many years of dealing with hedge funds has left me a little more skeptical."

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