Data You Can Believe In
September 30, 2013 4:47 AM   Subscribe

The data analysis group that used Facebook and set top TV data to help Barack Obama win the latest election is taking its talents to the private sector. (SL NYTimes)
posted by reenum (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man. As much as I love how these guys work, this is just going to end in triple the number of expressionless old people sitting at slot machines for hours at a time with their ATM cards plugged directly into it.

When they get to Vegas, I hope they spend some time, unguided, on the casino floor.
posted by ignignokt at 5:18 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

a tiny sliver of honesty in the nytimes:
Soon after the office opened, Wagner’s group moved into a separate, windowless room, the cave. Messina said he wanted them to lose all sense of time and to focus. Wagner also cited the secret nature of the work. I once unknowingly wandered near the cave, looking for a bathroom, and a young press aide chased me down and escorted me away. (Because it was also near the kitchen, at the time I thought the aide was concerned I might try to force a metaphor out of an exposed piece of rotting fruit.)
posted by at 6:39 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

The casino chain was looking for ways to induce semiregular visitors to show up more routinely at its other casinos around the country

Read: looking for ways to turn casual gamblers into addicted problem gamblers. I find it hard to imagine any more evil use of data analysis.

Here is a good post from Andrew Gelman on this exact issue. As he puts it,

there is a very direct tradeoff: the better the statistics and the better the science, the worse the human outcomes. These guys are directly optimizing their ability to ruin some people’s lives.
posted by pete_22 at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

To me, Civis Analytics (which also came out of the big data team and was mentioned in the NYTimes article) is doing much more interesting and socially important work.
posted by thebestsophist at 7:28 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

They should have unleashed those guys on the Affordable Care Act.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 7:33 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good luck to them but I mean the whole point of Obama's breakthrough is applying quant analysis and methods that are widely in use in Ecommerce already to politics, which typically relied on heuristic methods and wishful thinking, and gut feelings. They are super-smart but management consultant agencies are way better at actually making dollars for corps I'm sure.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:38 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

He said his work at A.M.G. would also help provide the Democratic Party with even better tools three years from now, when he and his colleagues say they want to be involved in 2016. “We’re going to bring it home,” McLean said.

But for now, he does not seem to miss Washington. “I respect everybody who’s working for the president — right? They’re incredible kids — incredible people — but you have a limited movement, because you’re hamstrung; the House is the House,” he said. “When you go where the money is and you go where people get reached, you have a transformational effect. Money creates change.”
posted by at 7:51 AM on September 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Heh, yeah: "let's change everything for the better by being so radical that we maintain the current capitalist status quo!"

Anyway, let this be a lesson to all those over-educated under-employed masses in my generation: spying is the most marketable skill *ever!*
posted by Mooseli at 8:07 AM on September 30, 2013

A couple other efforts grew out of Obama's data team and have maintained a presence here in Chicago: Basically, if you're a nonprofit working on energy, education, etc., there are a few groups of socially conscious data geeks in the Loop who would like to help you.
posted by hal incandenza at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm happy for the team that they got out of politics and into a more virtuous field, like gambling.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

He said his work at A.M.G. would also help provide the Democratic Party with even better tools three years from now

...because the Congressional Elections ONE year from now are totally trivial, right? Or maybe trying to overcome the Republican machinations that gave them a House majority would expose just how little AMG actually contributed to the process?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:04 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Carol Davidsen, on the other hand, comes out of this looking pretty awesome. More like her, please.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2013

But the "money creates change" thing is depressing. I think this quote summarizes it pretty well:
The people in their 20s and 30s from the Obama tech team had seen others just like them get incredibly rich on innovations (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that were as transformational as anything they could hope to achieve in government.
It reminds me of when I went to my college reunion a while back and a crazy fraction of people I talked to were either quitting their consulting job to go to business school, or had just graduated from business school and were now consultants. (The West Coast version appears to be founding or joining Bay Area tech startups with cute names and an iPhone app.) I dunno, man.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:53 AM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

(The choice of illustration is pretty interesting too. They put two functionally identical extra illustrations in the side-bar next to an illustrative photo. Is that a thing? Is it for tablets? And then way it's captioned makes it sound like it was done by two separate teams... an illustrator and two colorists, when typically I'd expect three artists to go under a studio name. Or just, you know, have one artist doing both things.)
posted by tychotesla at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2013

I blew $5 in a casino in Atlantic city at a slot machine. I didn't want to but my parents insisted I try it and pressed a fiver into my hand. So I have already spent $5 of my inheritance very very poorly.

Now, I am well trained on probability, statistics and models of learning. I know exactly how these things work. I did incredibly well in the token economy of grades in my animal learning class. So well the professor actually warned me off getting a higher grade because the grad programs would dismiss the course as too easy if I got any higher ( possibly he may have wanted a certain scholarship to go to certain student he was working with at the time - I ignored him anyway - I was hooked on grades). So I tried to lose the quarter sawbuck and get my ass out of that forced oxygen, air conditioned bell ringing light flashing madhouse as quickly as I could.

It was damn hard to quickly lose $5. Like really hard. It took about twenty minutes to wipe me out when I was trying to lose as fast as I could. I can't even imagine the fresh hell that greater optimization could produce.
posted by srboisvert at 2:28 PM on September 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

oneswellfoop, there are a number of factors here:
* Obama people are not necessarily branded Democrat people.
* Congressional campaigns are really different from Presidential campaigns. There's no national TV market involvement, for starters, and local programming metrics are going to be a lot sparser and less useful. Mainly, they have less money. The DNCC and DSCC have some but post-Howard-Dean aren't in anything like a 50-state-strategy.
* Most and foremost, there are a shrinking number of competitive House seats. There just aren't enough jobs there for everybody.

I think, though, that part of the whole point of this technological approach is that it isn't exactly magic, it's just hard work.
posted by dhartung at 1:56 AM on October 1, 2013

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