Archive for October, 2008

Hundred Percent Chance of Winning?

October 2, 2008

Election 08 gives Obama one hundred percent probability of winning the election. A strong Republican surge could reduce this to ninety-nine percent, and raise McCain’s chances of winning to…zero percent.

Assuming, of course, that the state polls used are accurate. And it’s what would happen if the election were held today. (Or a bit earlier; the data is from polls up through September 30.)

“The results presented are a direct function of the quality of the state poll data being used. Any biases in this data can lead to misleading and false results, and hence, invalid conclusions. The results of this analysis have been obtained as part of an academic, educational exercise to demonstrate the power of statistics and operations research to analyze data of significant importance and practical interest.”

I believe both operations research and statistics have produced inaccurate results at times.

This degree of certainty reminds me of Michael Flynn’s sf novel In the Country of the Blind (Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 1987 and November 1987; Baen Books, 1990; Tor 2001), and the nonfiction essay which followed: “An Introduction to Psychohistory,” (April and May 1988; appendixed to the 2001 version of the novel.) (“Psychohistory” in this context refers to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy — in which it was the name of a predictive science. I understand historians use the name for something rather different.)

Basic idea: In the 19th Century, a group began making extremely accurate predictions. They were able to do this using Babbage Engines and 19th Century statistics. They moved on to shaping the future rather than only observing it.

In the original serial and in the 1990 book version, Flynn rather overestimated the Soviet Union’s health during the 21st Century. He also did this, in greater detail, in the original serialized version of the essay.

This error was corrected in the 2001 versions of the novel and the essay. Flynn did not acknowledge that this had been changed.

Crossposted to