FiveThirtyEight's "Science Questions from a Toddler" series aims to "use the curiosity of kids ages 5 and younger as a jumping-off point to investigate the scientific wonders that adults don’t even think to ask about. The answers are for adults, but they wouldn’t be possible without the wonder only a child can bring." Their most recent article is "How Big is a Fart?" [more inside]
In the fall of 1988, Massachusetts Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis needed a way to demonstrate to the American people that he, as President, would be committed to building up the nation's conventional military. So, before a speech on national security at a Michigan factory, he put on a military helmet and rode in on a battle tank. Spoiler Alert: It didn't go well for him. [Remember when all it took was a bad photo op to destroy a presidential campaign?] [more inside]
The Many Ways The Media Gets Around Saying [Groin] By Kyle Wagner [FiveThirtyEight] It’s the oldest laugh in sports: Some poor schmoe takes a sports ball to the crotch, keels over and, once we’re reasonably sure no lasting damage has been done, the TV announcers deadpan some dad jokes while the camera pans around to giggling teammates. It’s as much a familiar sports yuk as other not-all-that-uncommon oddities, like a field player on the mound or the fat guy touchdown, only with funnier GIFs. At least, that’s how things work when the hit comes in a relatively low-stakes setting. But what happens when the stakes are raised? And just as important, when reporters are forced to write about sportsmen kicking each other in the nuts, what do they write? This week has provided some answers.
How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump, by Nate Silver "...along with a couple of marginal ones." Data journalist Nate Silver soul-searches and course-corrects while defending data journalism. "Basically, my view is that putting Trump’s chances at 2 percent or 5 percent was too low, but having him at (for instance) 10 percent or 15 percent, where we might have wound up if we’d developed a model or thought about the problem more rigorously, would have been entirely appropriate. If you care about that sort of distinction, you’ve come to the right website!" [more inside]
In the summer of 2015, FiveThirtyEight's Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, the editor in chief of Baseball Prospectus, took over the baseball operations department of an independent-league team in California, the Sonoma Stompers, putting their sabermetric beliefs to the test with actual professional players. As spring training approached, they compensated for their lack of connections, tight budget and even tighter time frame by using statistics to scour the country for overlooked talent. "If the [Moneyball] A’s were 'a collection of misfit toys,' as Michael Lewis wrote, then we’ll be building a team out of toys that got recalled because they were choke hazards." [more inside]
We asked Democratic speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum to write a totally pandering stump speech for an imaginary Democratic presidential candidate — one who espouses only positions that a majority of Democrats agree with (we also did the same with Republicans). Here’s the speech he wrote, including notes to explain his phrasing, behind-the-scenes tips on appealing to Democratic voters and the data he used to decide which positions to take.
Amidst an increasingly unpredictable political season, tonight the Iowa caucuses will finally cast the first votes of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's an outsider vs. establishment war in both parties, as Republican leaders struggle to dislodge Donald Trump and Ted Cruz from the top while Hillary Clinton marshalls her endorsements and long résumé against the populist zeal of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. The best guesses of FiveThirtyEight, BetFair, and Ann Selzer's gold-standard Des Moines Register poll all favor Trump and Clinton, but the race remains very close, and turnout in the demanding and complicated caucus events will be key. Vox provides a helpful video explainer on the process [previously]. Pass the time with FiveThirtyEight's 40-minute elections podcast, and keep an eye on the New York Times live blog of the caucuses for real-time updates once voting starts at 8:00 PM Eastern -- and don't forget to leave your two cents in the MeFi election prediction contest!
Andrei Scheinkman at 538: “We made more than 1,500 charts in 2015 at FiveThirtyEight. Many were bar charts, line charts and scatterplots — but not all. Here are  of the more unusual graphics we published.” [more inside]
We asked former Republican speechwriter [for Mark Sanford, an experience he describes in The Speechwriter] Barton Swaim to write a totally pandering stump speech for an imaginary GOP presidential candidate — one who espouses only positions that a majority of Republicans agree with. Here’s the speech he wrote, including notes to explain his phrasing, behind-the-scenes pro tips on appealing to Republican voters and the data he used to decide which positions to take.
Be Suspicious Of Online Movie Ratings, Especially Fandango's — FiveThirtyEight.com notices a consistent pattern in Fandango movie ratings, and warns against the perils of relying on ratings provided by companies trying to sell you the product being rated. [more inside]
The Subtext Buried In Seven Great Movie Chess Scenes: "So let’s go one level deeper into some iconic movie scenes that involve a chess match. This exercise involved a lot of pausing and rewinding and probably wouldn’t have been possible without 1080p. To pick apart these cinematic chess clashes, we also spoke to chess grandmaster Robert Hess, a former U.S. national championship runner-up, and turned to the raw silicon-powered strength of the chess engine Stockfish. (We showed Hess the positions over email, without telling him anything about the movies the games were from.)" [SL538]
From FiveThirtyEight, a 3 part series on p-values, retraction, and the importance of experimental failure and nuanced interpretation: Science Isn't Broken.
Writing at FiveThirtyEight.com, Sam Dean argues that until very recently, there has been no way to meaningfully measure web traffic. For advertisers and site owners, "just having a number that everyone can point to as an acceptable proxy of reality is more important than how accurate that number may be." [more inside]
How Madden Ratings Are Made (SL538)
Via fivethirtyeight.com, the explanation for why I can't go 24 hours without hearing 'Feliz Navidad' between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Goddamnit.
With the completion of the group stages, three quarters of the matches in the 2014 FIFA World Cup have been played. Now, it's a straight round-by-round elimination for the remaining 16 teams in their quest to reach the final. There's been biting, alternative commentary, mood swings, (allegedly) sulky England players, exciting matches, the USA vs Ronaldo, Europeans taking early return flights, deep analysis, a fantasy league and many goals - but who will finally lift the trophy in Rio's Estádio do Maracanã on Sunday 13th July? [more inside]
The median living Brittany is 23 years old. Nate Silver (and Allison McCann) perform some pretty impressive data wrangling and graphical analysis on the age of living Americans with a given name.
Do movies that pass the Bechdel Test make more money than movies that don't? Walt Hickey, writing for Nate Silver's new fivethirtyeight site, examines the data.
Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight re-launched this morning. Opening manifesto. Building an NCAA bracket. An article about a computer program to count how many lines each pair of characters in “Romeo and Juliet” spoke to each other. Toilet seat covers. 2014 midterms. And why this winter is so miserable. Among other gems.
Nate Silver will move FiveThirtyEight to ESPN when his contract with the New York Times expires in late August. Silver's new site will look to Bill Simmons' Grantland as a model for existing under ESPN's umbrella. His new move could be "genius," with a role at ABCNews and a larger audience, but did the New York Times know what it had in Silver? ESPN press release & Nate Silver 2.0 quote
Intrade is a Prediction Market, where you make predictions by buying and selling shares on the outcome of real-world events. These events are always defined on Intrade as a YES/NO proposition. Shares are bought at some point between $0.00 and $10.00, based on whether the buyer believes the event will or won't occur (which correspond to $10.00 and $0.00 respectively). Most popular propositions at the moment are election related, though this week the market for the Best Picture opened. [more inside]
It's Election Day in America, and as is so often the case in this fickle land, the results of the 2010 midterm elections are up in the air. Although President Obama's party is expected to suffer significant losses, record numbers of districts remain competitive, and even minute errors in polling could mean the difference between a historic Republican landslide and an unexpectedly robust Democratic defense. At stake are control of not just the Senate and House, but myriad state and local offices, many of which will play key roles in the dynamics of the 2012 presidential race -- and, more subtly but no less crucially, the once-in-a-decade congressional redistricting process. Much uncertainty surrounds the behavior of the electorate -- how many will turn out, and how informed will they be? To help move those statistics in the right direction, look inside for voter guides, national and state fact checkers, and an assortment of other resources to keep tabs on as the results roll in. [more inside]