I’ve long been a fan of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com and its accompanying podcast, but the title of an episode earlier this week was in perfect sync with the outlook of this blog: Embrace the Uncertainty.
In the context of Silver’s podcast, the title refers to the inherent uncertainty in election polling and the anxiety that such uncertainty produces in people with an interest in the results of the election. Specifically, those supporting Biden in the current contest look at the forecast model—which, as of the date of this writing, predicts that Biden has an 88% chance of winning the election to Trump’s 12%—and wonder whether that means that Biden will, in fact, win the election. Silver, as an accomplished analyst, cannot do what he’s being asked: give a guarantee about the results of the election. All he can do is share the percentages that his model provides: 88% to 12%. “Embrace the uncertainty,” is all he can say.
In reality, it’s all anyone can ever say. As readers and fans of The Certainty of Uncertainty know, uncertainty is unavoidable. There is always a chance, always a risk, no matter how assured we might be in our convictions.
The reality of inescapable uncertainty and doubt is all the more so when it comes to forecasting politics, where you are relying not only on individual preferences but also on the ability to accurately record those individual preferences. Given that, all you can do is play the percentages—as Nate Silver does—and embrace the lingering uncertainty about any prediction, however much we might desire more certainty.Continue reading