Nate Silver Says: “Everyone Is Kind of Weird” (Ep. 204): Full Transcript
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Nate Silver Says: “Everyone Is Kind of Weird.”
[MUSIC: Russell L. Howard III, “Get Busy”]
Stephen J. DUBNER: Hey, Nate?
Nate SILVER: Hey.
DUBNER: Hey, it’s Stephen Dubner. How’s it going?
SILVER: Good. Good to talk to you.
DUBNER: First off, tell us in 60 seconds or less what you actually do now in a given day.
SILVER: I am the editor-in-chief of the website FiveThirtyEight.com. I don’t know that I have a lot of consistency from day to day. Sometimes I’m writing, sometimes I’m running models, sometimes I’m editing, sometimes I’m managing, sometimes doing media. It’s a job that is always really fun and challenging in a sense that you’re not doing too much of the same thing, but I have to think carefully about how to budget my time.
Nate Silver is America’s favorite statistical guru of the past — well, maybe ever. He has been devilishly accurate in predicting electoral outcomes. Before that, he joined the small but influential fraternity of statheads who work with data in sports, particularly baseball. He’s written an excellent book called The Signal and the Noise, which is essentially about the folly of prediction. And today he is our guest on the latest installment of FREAK-quently Asked Questions, in which we compel a noteworthy person to tell us some important truths, such as … their favorite sport:
SILVER: I don’t know. Bowling, I suppose.
Just how devoted they are to their work:
SILVER: I don’t even always watch the State of the Union, for example.
And what you learn about life as you get a bit older:
SILVER: One of the most profound lessons to me about adulthood is that everyone’s kind of weird.
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[MUSIC: Pailboy, “Shut Up”]
What do we do on this show? Pretty simple: we ask questions — hopefully the sort of questions you might like to ask — and we ask them to the sort of people you might like to hear from. Nate Silver, for instance. He is chiefly known as the proprietor of FiveThirtyEight.com:
SILVER: The elevator pitch is that FiveThirtyEight is data journalism. The problem is once you get past the first five words then it becomes a little bit more complicated to define, right? But it’s empirical analysis, “the scientific method,” as applied to journalism. But it’s entirely compatible [with] traditional reporting approaches too. We believe there are skill sets that are underused in journalism — including computer programming, coding, statistical analysis, in particular — and we think that journalists could benefit from having more of that.
These days, FiveThirtyEight covers a lot of territory — sports, the economy, pop culture — but it is politics, especially political elections, that make up its foundation. That’s where the site got its name — from the number of votes in the Electoral College, which determines who wins the Presidency of the United States.
SILVER: I started as a Blogger.com blog back in 2008 during the campaign then. It kind of blew up during 2008, I licensed it to the New York Times from 2010-2013 and then it was acquired by ESPN after that. I’m kind of a big poker player and I played in the World Series of Poker a couple of times, never done extraordinarily well, but you know, to win the World Series of Poker when there are like 7,000 entrants you have to get really, really lucky a couple of times, right? And it kind of feels like in 2008 and again in 2012, I won a couple of really big pots in key circumstances when things could have broken against me.
During those elections, Silver compiled polling and demographic data from many sources. He aggregated, weighted, and analyzed these data, forging predictions that turned out to be remarkably accurate.
SILVER: Sometimes I feel like I’m playing on house money a little bit. But I’m also trying to turn that into something more sustainable and build out a staff of really talented journalists and really great people. That’s [what] I’m mostly focused on right now.
We spoke back in early March, when Nate Silver had two things to celebrate: the one-year anniversary of FiveThirtyEight on ESPN.com, and the paperback publication of his book The Signal and the Noise.
DUBNER: First and foremost, congratulations. Does it feel like a time to sit back and appreciate yourself, or not really?
SILVER: That’s the problem: you can’t really stay still. We have March Madness this month and the U.K. election coming up. Yeah, you can be content or happy. But not both at the same time, I’ve found. This is one of the consequences of having a lot to do and being people’s boss.
DUBNER: Where do you find people that fit your worldview? Because your worldview, while it’s pretty popular in some circles, including, I should say, the circle of people who listen to a show like this. It’s not overwhelmingly popular. It’s certainly not quite mainstream yet. Furthermore, it’s new-ish. How do you find people that you think will fit?
SILVER: One problem we have is that the skill set that we’re hiring for is a place where people would have a lot of options in addition to journalism. I tend to buy into the notion that there’s a shortage in the United States of S.T.E.M. talent and we’re hiring from that pool a little bit. But still, there are a lot of organizations, news organizations, that are trying to be more data-driven. A lot of college programs are training people in coding, computer programming and statistics in addition to journalism as a part of their curriculum, so it’s getting better over time. But we do sometimes feel like we have more ideas than we have the capacity to execute on right now. But that’s alsopart of being a start up and having a lot of creative people on board.
DUBNER: And let’s say you find a perfect candidate or ten perfect candidates who are all the perfect data nerds, who are really good with the math and the statistics and even have good taste but don’t do journalism at all. Is that more coachable than the inverse?
SILVER: I’m not sure. There are a lot of parts of being a journalist that are hard to teach other than through experience. One of them that we noticed our people have, that maybe some people in academia lack, is just a sense for how other people see the world. So no, I’m not sure it’s been our experience so far that one skill set is easier than the other to teach. Obviously, a lot of work is collaborative too. We might have someone who’s more experienced at getting on the phone or travelling somewhere and talking to people than someone else who’s more versed in the “number crunching.”
DUBNER: You are the perfect person for me to ask this question of: in the last, I don’t know three, four, five years, the phrase ‘big data’ has become so used, maybe abused, that it really has become a cliché in a pretty short time. It’s used in corporate advertising slogans and so on. And maybe I’m totally wrong on this, but to me, it’s received in some quarters as a magic bullet.
SILVER: No, I agree with almost all of that. It’s kone of the themes of my book. There are a couple of things to unpack: one is the term ‘big data’ itself. There are some people who would say, “Big data has to be really large, not the stuff you could crunch on a regular computer.” For example, we launched an interactive recently where it looks at a different way of looking at which flights get you there the fastest, what’s the best airline for logistics, and that relies on data from about 6 million flights. That sounds impressive. But you can still run that program in about ten or twelve minutes on a laptop, right? People wouldn’t really say it’s big data when all those records are pretty carefully scrutinized. But that said, people, when they say ‘big data’ often mean ‘analytics,’ and statistical analysis, applied statistics. It’s not all about the data necessarily.
Oftentimes, it’s not about the amount of data you have but how much you vetted that data. If a data set is virginal, as they call it, no one’s looked at it before really. You’re going to have a lot of problems. One problem with a really large data set is that if you’re running some algorithms — some quick and dirty way to find the most influential data points — a lot of times those are bugs and outliers, right? The reason why you have that anomaly is because someone coded it in wrong or you made some mistake in the analysis. Also, there aren’t necessarily the skills and the training … One thing I talk about in my book is how — when the personal computer became commonplace in the workforce in the 1970s and then in the home in the early 1980s — it took awhile before there were any tangible signs of productivity gains in the economy, meaning like ten or fifteen or twenty years even.
People love new technology but they overestimate how much of the human factor gets in the way. I’m not trying to be cute about that. People need to learn how to use these tools: what they can do, what they can’t do. No amount of data is a substitute for scientific inference and hypothesis testing, and structured analysis of a system. One of the false promises that was made early on is that, “If you have a billion data points or a trillion data points, you’re going to find lots and lots of correlations through brute force.” And you will. But the problem is that a high percentage of those, maybe the vast majority, are false correlations, false positives, where there could be significance, but you have so many lottery tickets when you can run an analysis on a trillion data points, that you’re going to have some one in million coincidences just by chance alone.
If you bet all your money on them, you might wind up looking very foolish in the end.
DUBNER: How’s FiveThirtyEight doing [from an] overall editorial, but also from a traffic and business perspective? Whenever there’s a web debut as high-profile as yours leaving the New York Times for ESPN, there’s a lot of noise, but then, the noise recedes. I’m curious: are you making boatloads of money for ESPN? Are they having mega-buyer’s remorse because you’re so expensive? How’s that working?
SILVER: In the first year, it’s a pretty young staff. A lot of people were doing what they were doing for the first time and the expectations were pretty high, so it took some time to hit a groove. I try to make analogies sometimes to opening a new restaurant, where you might have a lot of ambition for it but to reproduce something every day, it’s very much … The first day we published, March 17, 2014, we all got beers after work. We were really pleased and we like literally — or at least I had, I won’t blame my employees —
DUBNER: We’re done!
SILVER: Yeah, I had forgotten that, “Crap, we have to publish this website every day for the rest of our lives, right?” Achieving a consistency takes a little more time. But if you are looking at indicators, traffic is up about two times year-over-year. It often happens when you launch a product but it’s good that it happened to us, too. We’re growing our staff in a slow but sustainable way. We have 25 or 30 people now, depending on how you count. But we still are able to do more things at once. In this period here, in the early spring, we’re launching [an] interactive on airlines and the N.C.A.A. tournament, and the U.K. election, and a historical perspective on N.B.A. basketball, so four or five things in addition to the work that we’re doing from day to day.
DUBNER: That success thus far notwithstanding, at The New York Times, FiveThirtyEight was a much much much smaller operation than it is at ESPN [and] was more essential certainly to the New York Times website than FiveThirtyEight is to ESPN, which is a sports behemoth. What’s the difference for you? Being — now you’re a prominent I-don’t-know-what-sized fish in a really big pond. At The Times you were a prominent and gigantic fish in a big pond, which came about organically and maybe even surprisingly to you. But it did happen where you were driving so much traffic, you personally with a couple colleagues, to The New York Times website. What’s the difference now for you? Psychically and editorially?
SILVER: It’s funny. We don’t obsess too much over traffic, right? But the Election Day peak was really high at The Times. That’s the people to your site and the median month that we now get five or six times more traffic, more visitors, than we did at The Times. Sometimes people grasp onto outliers, especially when they talk about us and FiveThirtyEight. ESPN, when it signs a deal with a sports league, like the N.B.A., that’s a 10-year deal. They literally will be contemplating technologies that don’t even exist yet. The thing about traffic now is that you can measure so much in real time, so you might be able to say, “If we wanted to publish a story that would maximize page views right now, we would say, ‘There’s been an alien invasion.” Right? “President Obama has been kidnapped and beamed up to Mars.”
Everyone on the internet would look at that story for about five minutes, and then no one, hopefully, would ever read our site again. There’s no metric, yet, for the long-term value that you’re generating from a stupid article that you post today to get a lot of page views or the loyalty you develop with your customers. We saw some baseball a little bit, where for a while people were able to measure offense really well and not defense really well. The sloppy conclusion there is that, “We can’t measure defense, therefore it doesn’t matter.” It turned out that when people actually found better ways to measure defensive ability, it turned out to matter at least as much, maybe more than the conventional wisdom had held. We’re aware of that.
Some things you can judge with metrics, some things you can’t and that’s a tricky part of the media business now.
DUBNER: How long do you think you’ll do FiveThirtyEight for?
SILVER: Hopefully for the foreseeable future. Obviously, we have a big election coming up in 2016. But people, when they’re taking jobs here, assume it’s going to be an organization that builds and grows for the long-term.
DUBNER: Is it my imagination, or has ESPN loosened up on talking about sports gambling, which traditionally the N.F.L., among others, has been really nervous about? But it feels like this past N.F.L. season there was a lot more discussion on ESPN about betting lines?
SILVER: Look, Grantland, which is our sister brand, and Bill Simmons, they’ve always talked a lot about sports gambling. Look, you can see from the examples you cite that I don’t think ESPN has too many hangups about it. The leagues increasingly, especially the N.B.A, have fewer hangups about it too. But this is one of those weird things that Americans are pretty puritanical about. Before I started FiveThirtyEight, I made my living playing poker for a couple of years. They knew what they were getting into. Gambling and betting is very important in markets too. Where that line is drawn, I’m not quite sure. They’re not saying, “Go give me your Vegas picks.” But we get no pushback at all from our bosses or from readers when things are framed in that way.
DUBNER: What do you think will be the first of the four major sports leagues to have a franchise in Vegas?
SILVER: The N.H.L. It’s not a trick question, but the N.H.L. is actively pursuing placing a team in Las Vegas. I’d say the N.B.A. since it seems more gambling-friendly. They’ve had, I believe, an all-star game or two in Vegas. Seems like the next most likely. I’m not sure that baseball where you need to turn out 30 or 40,000 people 81 times a year is as good an area where the population isn’t that high, necessarily, and I don’t think baseball has become an event in the same way that an N.B.A. game has, for example. One of my questions, too, is when are you going to have the first major political convention in Las Vegas. Because you think, “Hey, it’s a swing state. You could not have more hotel space there, especially in the mid-summer.” But I think both parties are terrified of what might happen or the implications of the stories.
DUBNER: God, can you imagine the prop bets, day-of? That would be so much fun, right?
SILVER: Yeah. It would be a lot of fun. I’m sure the libertarians would do lots of fun things in Las Vegas, but not Democrats or Republicans yet.
[MUSIC: Kero One, “Shortcuts” (from Color Theory)]
Coming up on Freakonomics Radio, we put our FREAK-quently Asked Questions to Nate Silver. Even if you’re a hardcore Nate Silver fan, you’ll learn a thing or two:
SILVER: I was born on a Friday the 13th. I’ve been thinking about trying to formulate a Friday the 13th birthday club or organization or something.
And, if you’re a hardcore Freakonomics fan: you should circle on your calendar Tuesday, May 5. That’s the day we release our latest book — it’s called When to Rob a Bank: … and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. It’s a compilation of our favorite posts from ten years of blogging at Freakonomics.com. Among the questions we try to answer: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken?
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[MUSIC: The Diplomats of Solid Sound, “Plenty Nasty” (from Plenty Nasty)]
Today we’re talking with Nate Silver. He’s the editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight.com, author of The Signal and the Noise and, as you’ll hear soon, a would-be curler. As in the sport of curling. Seriously. We are now about to subject Silver to what we call our FREAK-quently Asked Questions. In the past, we’ve tried this with Boris Johnson, the mayor of London:
Boris JOHNSON: You plan to make this a regular feature but this is the first time that you’ve tried it on some guinea pig.
We did it with Kevin Kelly, the technology maverick:
Kevin KELLY: I tell you, there’s nothing more boring than hearing someone’s acid trip.
And now it’s Nate Silver’s turn:
DUBNER: Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your life and work and why? I mean, here, not so much personally but professionally, so maybe it’s the intellectual influence.
SILVER: I admire Bill James a lot for what he did with baseball statistics. In part because he was way ahead of his time. He preceded Moneyball literally by 20 years or thereabouts. But also because he’s a good communicator and a humanist at heart, right? He’s not just interested in statistics for statistics’ sake, but how they’re used to vest life, our understanding of sports and other things with a lot of meaning instead.
DUBNER: And also wasn’t operating at the white hot center of statistics, baseball or media for that matter. Quite the opposite.
SILVER: No, he did not jump on the wagon, right? He jumped into the road when there was no bandwagon even approaching at all, maybe got run over a couple times and then led the bandwagon now.
DUBNER: What’s one thing you spend or have spent way too much on but don’t regret? I realize as I ask you that question now, it sounds like I’m talking about money, but spending could also be time.
SILVER: I invest a lot of time and a lot of money in eating well. It’s one of those things that in a market like New York, where I live, really rewards effort. If you spend the time to try different places and sometimes spend the money, although there’s great cheap eats in New York, too, I just find that it’s a product where it’s a fun way to experiment and something where you have to eat every day, so you might as well put some thought into it.
DUBNER: What’s your favorite food? I know you’re partial to burritos, but are they your favorite or are there many?
SILVER: I particularly like Mexican food, Japanese food and Italian food, I see as being pretty iconic. In part because they are cuisines that emphasize not a lot of pretense really. It’s fresh and simple ingredients a lot of the time, as opposed to the French classical tradition where they’re sometimes trying to dazzle you with presentation and style. It’s elegantly simple, those cuisines.
DUBNER: What in your view is the perfect burrito?
SILVER: I went to a place called La Taqueria in San Francisco, which won our first national burrito bracket last year, and that was the best burrito I ever had.
DUBNER: What kind of burrito did you have?
SILVER: It had chorizo but it was cooked — it was called dorado-style, so it’s golden brown on the outside. It’s California, so all the produce is really fresh and the ingredients are perfectly mixed. There’s not lumping in a bunch of guacamole where it shouldn’t be and whatnot. So on both artistic achievement and technical merit, it scored very highly.
DUBNER: What is one story that your family always tells about you?
SILVER: When I was in nursery school or pre-K, one day I decided to just count numbers just to see how high I could count. I was pretty insistent about it. I got to 2000 or something before my mom picked me up that afternoon.
DUBNER: And they realized then what your future contained, yes?
SILVER: Yeah, that was an early sign.
DUBNER: What do you collect, if anything, and why?
SILVER: I used to collect baseball cards when I was a kid. I’m trying to think … I collect books. I have a pretty significant bookshelf that keeps growing over time. One of the things about writing a book, as you probably know, is that you get sent an awful lot of books too.
DUBNER: And do you keep most of those ones you’re sent? Or do you start to triage?
SILVER: Yeah, I still have an issue with throwing away books. I just think it’s bad karma. Giving away, maybe. But throwing away, no.
DUBNER: Favorite book or author?
SILVER: I often talk about Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow is just a really great overall modern guide to thinking, if that isn’t a little too pretentious, or too precious, rather. But that’s one of my favorite books.
DUBNER: Good choice. Music? Favorite music? Artist? Band? Singer? Songwriter?
SILVER: I used to be really into My Bloody Valentine in college, a shoe-gazer post-punk band. But music is maybe one of those things where it gets frozen in time a little bit, where the favorite bands I have now at 37 are the same ones I might have said at 20, 21.
DUBNER: Favorite sport to play?
SILVER: I like to watch sports. I don’t know. Bowling, I suppose. Or, my partner actually owns a bowling… ball …
DUBNER: Oh, I thought you were going to say an alley. A ball is not that much of a commitment.
SILVER: Oh an alley, that would be quite something. You know, I’ve never been curling. I really want to go curling. My partner and I had this idea one time to capitalize on like the curling frenzy —
DUBNER: Which was when? I missed that.
SILVER: Every four years people [get a] cultish affection for the sport of curling. Which, having grown up in Michigan with Canadian television on all the time, I appreciate it. But the idea was to have some hideously expensive plan for building a curling rink in Central Park, just having such good design and PR around it that people wouldn’t realize it was a very elaborate inside joke.
DUBNER: Now let me ask you this: don’t you think you have the creativity and reputation to go to Donald Trump and say, “Look, Wollman Rink, once it’s up, it’s up all winter. You can just carve out a nice little curling” — I don’t know what you call it, a curling lane? What do you call it? The area where one curls.
SILVER: That’s a good — yeah, I don’t think it’s an alley, right? Or a rink or something?
DUBNER: I have no idea.
SILVER: If Donald Trump carefully read what we wrote about when he was quote unquote ‘running for President,’ in 2011, he probably wouldn’t return my phone call.
DUBNER: Okay, your favorite sport to play: your official answer seemed to be bowling? Is that right?
SILVER: Sure, we’ll go with bowling.
DUBNER: What’s the highest you’ve ever bowled?
SILVER: I think I got a 180 one time. Which is not good for a highest-ever score.
DUBNER: You know, I was with Levitt once. He bowled a 222, which is, but for a few pins he was close to perfect actually. This was bowling cross-lane, like wrong way for a right-hander with like a 12 pound ball that didn’t curve at all. He just threw it very straight repeatedly, like an automaton. We were convinced he was ready for the senior PBA after that.
SILVER: I’m trying to figure out what the relationship is between bowling and beer consumption. It’s a Laffer curve or something. Right? After like 1.8 beers, you’re in peak bowling shape.
DUBNER: Although you can probably identify the peak of that curve a little more easily with bowling than with a Laffer curve, no? Does anyone really know where the Laffer curve peaks?
SILVER: I think not. There is the curve, it seems to me. But I’m guessing with bowling there are some complications where you probably warm up to the lane, feel a little bit better, so you have to do a control — it can be another FiveThirtyEight thing.
DUBNER: Tell us something that most people, even if they think they know quite a bit about you, don’t know about you.
SILVER: I was born on a Friday the 13th. I’ve been thinking about trying to formulate a Friday the 13th birthday club, organization or something. John Walsh, who was the former president of ESPN, was also a January the 13th birthday. I think it was a Friday the 13th too. But from the very beginning, there was something slightly cosmic about numbers and me.
DUBNER: What is one thing that people seem to know about you that is in fact not true?
SILVER: Maybe not for listeners of this interview, but I think people think that I take myself way more seriously than I do. For some reason when you’re associated with numbers and data — and look there are other places out there where they can be a little bit pedantic sometimes — but I’m a little anti-establishment and still anti-authoritarian. That goes back a long way. We try, in our newsroom at FiveThirtyEight, to have a lot of fun. To poke fun at one another, to see the reader as a peer and not someone who you’re “educating.” That doesn’t always come through, how FiveThirtyEight or my career is portrayed.
DUBNER: You are just a regular, burrito-loving, wannabe-curler who bowls once in a while and drinks.
SILVER: Yeah. It’s pretty normal in some respects and completely strange in other respects. But that’s one thing you learn. One of the most profound lessons to me about adulthood is that everyone’s kind of weird.
[MUSIC: The Civil Tones, “Slinky” (fromCity Stoopin’)]
DUBNER: What’s the biggest upside of being well-known?
SILVER: Gosh, Sometimes you get slightly better service at restaurants. I mentioned food before, right? One time I had a waiter who tipped me off. I think it was her first day on the job. She was like, “Oh my manager handed me a card saying I’m supposed to treat you well.” She was kinda very literal-minded and explicit about it. I would imagine that if every time that happens, there’s a hundred times that it doesn’t happen potentially. But in my perfect world I would be influential without being famous, if that makes any sense. I don’t mind if I get recognized out somewhere. By the way, it follows a lot when you’re on TV. If you’re on TV, you’ll have a half-life where people recognize you —
DUBNER: But that half-life is pretty fast, isn’t it?
SILVER: Really fast.
DUBNER: Because by seven days later, they’ve seen a thousand other faces and yours is starting to recede.
SILVER: At some point, you’re on the hedonistic treadmill where it becomes normalized pretty fast. You’re like, “Okay, so now every 18th time I go out, someone will say hello to me and it’s almost always friendly.” And it’s a nice thing. It would be jarring if it never happened to you before. But then you also get in environments where… so a year ago I went to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, where you just realize that there are whole orders of magnitudes of fame that I am just totally a quasi-nerd celebrity. You’re just dwarfed. It’s not like people are twenty times more famous, they’re 20,000 times more famous. You get in a room like that and you’re like literally the least famous person there. It’s fun to be a fly on the wall again.
DUBNER: What’s something that you believed for a long time to be true and then decided that you’d been wrong?
SILVER: Oh gosh, this is a tricky question. A little bit gets in to the critique we were talking about, about big data earlier, where I thought, “Just be quantitative and that’s better categorically than being qualitative. That’ll solve all your problems.” I still believe to a very rough approximation, people need to be more quantitative, but it needs to be a much more structured investigation of the data. And realizing this is one of the challenges, one of the reasons I’m betting our markets are interesting. Whenever you have a belief that differs a lot from the consensus, then that’s a very complicated place to be.
DUBNER: We are more than two years out, but I’d be an idiot not to ask you, if you today had to bet $1,000 with, let’s say me — which if you were still at The New York Times, you wouldn’t be allowed to bet with me, but you could now presumably — who’s going to be president in 2016?
SILVER: Well, I don’t know that anyone has more than a 50% chance. The plurality favorite is a pretty easy question, which is Hillary Clinton. If you figure or to a 50-50 — well, to an approximation it’s 50-50 in the general election, which is probably about right in these circumstances. She is the dominant contender for the democratic nomination, where the G.O.P. field is quite split. So she would certainly be the front-runner in that sense.
DUBNER: Does political data analysis start to bore you after awhile?
SILVER: A little bit, but I’ll be reinvigorated by 2016. Midterm elections are big letdowns relative to how fun presidential years are. 2010 happened to be super-interesting because you had this very large Republican wave that had very tangible consequences as far as President Obama’s ability to continue to enact, in effect, his agenda. That had almost had a presidential-type storyline to it. The midterms last year were pretty dull, I’ve got to be honest. They were interesting from a forecasting standpoint that there was some uncertainty about what the polls said and which party would win the Senate, but I don’t expect any problems like that in 2016. I have to be honest. Nothing from a forecasting standpoint that there was some uncertainty about what the polls said and which party would win the senate, but I don’t expect any problems like that in 2016.
We’re going to have a really compelling primary. We should have a close general election, with a cottage industry covering Hillary Clinton, even if it’s a field of one, so that’s really fun. In some ways the presidential primaries are much more interesting, and in some ways a better design process than the general elections, in that you have to perform well continuously over time. It requires more organization. You can’t get hot on one day. It’s like having to win a seven game series instead of just one game.
DUBNER: Right, right. Mybe I’m wrong on this, but just from this conversation and from what else I’ve read of yours, it just sounds as though sports is more fun, generally, than politics. Or you like sports more than you like politics, as shallow a characterization as that is.
SILVER: Yeah. Look, I’m really into election data but I’m not like a fan of politics per se.
DUBNER: You didn’t collect political cards when you were a kid, in other words.
SILVER: No, I didn’t take joy in — I don’t even always watch the State of the Union, for example. Whereas I very much do enjoy watching and spending income on going to the sports games. In some ways the fact that I’m not — I am a politics geek, but I don’t love politics. That’s helpful, potentially. In Washington, in particular, there’s a lot of reverence for the political system that leads to less criticality in coverage, that leads to people sometimes lacking perspective on which stories resonate or not. One interesting thing is, at the time we’re recording this, there’s a big controversy over Hillary Clinton’s email records. There’s good reporting on that, excellent reporting form The New York Times. But you have some pundits who are saying, “This is a huge blow to her candidacy.”
If you go to betting markets, and they have this in the U.K. now, some of the U.S. ones were shut down, but Hillary Clinton’s probability of winning the nomination or the general election haven’t budged one bit. I’m not promising you the markets are right, they can be slow to pick up on information, but interesting the scandal that is considered to be a huge deal by the political press. Bettors are saying, “This is literally nothing at all.” Sometimes people don’t realize that things that are great reported stories, right, and deserve to be — I believe in transparency in government and everything else. But they might lack perspective on what things people outside of the proverbial cocktail party are really talking about.
[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, “Feet on the Ground” (from Feet on the Ground)]
DUBNER: Nate, thanks. This was a blast. You were great and this was a lot of fu. But most of all, just congratulations. I’m super-happy for all your successes and I hope they just keep going.
SILVER: Absolutely, I really appreciate it.
And remember: on May 5, Steve Levitt and I publish our latest Freakonomics book, it’s called, When to Rob a Bank.
Also: would you like to appear in a future episode? We’re producing one right now about the economics of sleep. So we’d like to hear from you about your sleep routine. How many hours do you need? How many do you get? What do you do to try to ensure a good night’s rest? Be specific. What’s your optimal room temperature for sleeping? Do you do anything to block out light or noise? Or maybe you like background music. What are your pillow habits? Sleep position? What do you wear — if anything? Do you sleep best alone or with someone else — or maybe even many someone elses? What do you do about eating, or drinking, or taking drugs, before you sleep? How are you affected by stress, or travel, or the weather? What’s the very best night’s sleep you ever had? What’s the worst?
If you’re willing to share your sleep story, use your phone to make a short audio recording — just use whatever voice memo app is one your phone — and email us a file, at email@example.com. Tell us your name, where you live and also, what you do when you’re not sleeping.
And coming up next week on the podcast:
Steve LEVITT: Sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that, as an adult, you don’t get to go to very often.
How thinking like a child can make you a better problem solver. That’s next time, on Freakonomics Radio.
This is a transcript of the Freakonomics Radio podcast “Nate Silver Says: “Everyone Is Kind of Weird.”