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May 27, 2014

Sitting down with Nate Silver

 “Visually, it’s easier to present uncertainty.” – Nate Silver

About a year ago, I approached the chair-elect of the Biopharmaceutical Section of the American Statistical Association and asked "How can I be involved?" He replied that there was a podcasting initiative they were hoping to get off the ground, and that they could use some help with that. Initially, I was hesitant. I HATE listening to recordings of my own voice. However, in thinking about the audio podcasts I listen to -- mostly WTF and The Nerdist --  I began to warm to the idea.

So what changed my mind? It's the medium itself. There is a freedom to the podcast that isn’t really available in television, radio or print. People get to explore ideas, tell stories and have a genuine discussion about what’s going on in their lives and the world around them. This can often lead to unexpected places: some enlightening or funny, some beautiful or downright heartbreaking.

So naturally, I was very excited when I found out Nate Silver would be headlining the JMP Discovery Summit. Here was an opportunity to sit down with the man whose predictions in baseball and politics had made him internationally famous. Here was a chance to talk to the author of The Signal and the Noise, a book on prediction that made The New York Times Best Sellers list.

And as things often do, the timing just didn’t work out…

Fortunately, a second opportunity arose when Nate came to speak to the statistics department at NC State University as part of the celebration of the International Year of Statistics. Prior to his presentation, Nate and I talked about prediction, Bayesian methods, communicating statistical ideas to the general public and how to better educate people in statistical thinking. You can listen to our discussion here or download from iTunes.

While I don’t want to spend time writing about the contents of the podcast, most of my takeaways from our conversation focus on communication. Good communication is key in order for statisticians to be successful, and Nate is obviously very gifted and successful in communicating statistical ideas and concepts to non-statisticians. His advice for statisticians? We need to reach out more. Communicate outside our often self-imposed statistical bubble. If we don’t spread our wings, our ideas won’t go anywhere. And if our ideas don't go anywhere, those ideas will just sit around and die.

Many thanks to Nate for sharing his thoughts. Also, a BIG thank you to Arati Mejdal for making this happen.

1 Comment
Community Member

Dr. Ben Locwin wrote:

Very nice. Thanks for keeping the science honest.