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social sciences

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Silver, Nate (b. 1978)  
page: 1  2  

By 2012 Silver had spoken out in favor of marriage equality but still eschewed an activist role. In an interview with Aaron Hicklin of Out, Silver stated, "For me, I think that the most important distinguishing characteristic is that I'm independent-minded. I'm sure that being gay encouraged independent-mindedness, but that same independent-mindedness makes me a little skeptical of parts of gay culture, I suppose."

Silver did not specify which aspects those were, but he cited having seen a set of flagpoles in Boystown in Chicago honoring gay Americans, including one for Keith Haring, identified as a "gay American artist," and wondering "Why isn't he just an American artist?" (The question seems rather disingenuous, given the location and purpose of the monument.)

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Although Silver did not wish to be known as a "gay statistician," some Internet commentators made an issue of his sexuality during the acrimonious 2012 presidential campaign.

In the ugliest attack on him, right-wing blogger Dean Chambers wrote that "Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the 'Mr. New Castrati' voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he's made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats."

Silver told Jocelyn Noveck of the Boston Globe that he found such comments "disturbing. . . . [and] a little shocking."

Silver faced other criticism, some from conservative commentators annoyed that he had never predicted that Mitt Romney had more than a 41 percent chance of winning the election, and some from people who wanted him to disclose the precise formula that he uses to make his predictions.

In 2012 Silver published a best-selling book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't, which Scurr described as "a lucid explanation of how to think probabilistically," but those who were seeking a specific theorem would not find it there.

In a New York Times article published a few days before the November 2012 election, Silver called his polling average "the simplest possible one: I've just averaged together all the polls of likely voters in the FiveThirtyEight database, applying no other weighting or 'secret sauce.'" He stated that polls of likely voters were more indicative than polls of registered voters.

Such an explanation, however, is more than a little disingenuous, for Silver does not just average polls, he subjects the various state and national polls to rigorous analysis, and discounts polls that have a history of error or bias.

While not revealing the recipe for any "secret sauce," Silver noted in the same article that "[t]he FiveThirtyEight forecast explicitly accounts for the possibility that the polls are biased toward Mr. Obama--but it also accounts for the chance that the polls are biased against him" and also that "our method adjusted for the tendency of registered-voter polls to be biased toward Democrats by shifting them in Mr. Romney's direction."

He went on to state, "I am aware . . . of the possibility that adding complexity to a model can make it worse. The technical term for this is 'overfitting': that by adding layers to a model, you make it too rigid, molding it such that it perfectly 'predicts' the past, but is incompetent at forecasting the future. I think there is a place for complexity--the universe is a complicated thing--but it needs to be applied with the knowledge that our ability to understand it is constrained by our human shortcomings."

During the campaign, Silver's predictions helped preserve the sanity and optimism of supporters of President Obama's re-election. Even as some polls veered in the direction of Mitt Romney's election and some Republican pundits confidently predicted an easy victory for Romney, Silver kept crunching numbers that indicated a high probability of a solid win for the President.

As the voting results from the states in the presidential election were tallied in 2012, Silver's predictions proved true in all fifty states, prompting Rachel Maddow of MSNBC to ask during the news coverage, "You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver."

In addition to predicting the outcome of presidential and senatorial elections, Silver has also tracked the public sentiment regarding same-sex marriage. In a 2013 review of the data, Silver concluded that at some point in 2010 or 2011, support for marriage equality began to outweigh opposition to it. He concluded that this phenomenon reflects a steady gain in support for same-sex marriage rather than there having been any one event that propelled it.

Silver attributes the current slight majority opinion in favor of marriage equality largely to a generational shift, with younger Americans gradually replacing older ones in the electorate. In addition, however, some voters have also changed their opinion to favor same-sex marriage while fewer have done the reverse. "As a rule of thumb," he wrote, "perhaps about half of the increase in support for same sex-marriage is attributable to generational turnover, while the other half is because of the net change in opinion among Americans who have remained in the electorate."

In 2013 Silver left the New York Times to join ESPN. He will continue to be the editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight but will expand its scope. "What I've done now for politics at FiveThirtyEight is an approach that we think is applicable in lots of areas," he told Tom McCarthy of The Guardian. "It's not going to be just a politics site or just a sports site, there's lots of potential in business and economics, and weather, health, education, technology, culture. It's really more of a horizontal approach."

Silver will also be a political analyst for ABC News, which, along with ESPN, is part of the Disney corporation.

Linda Rapp

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arts >> Overview:  American Television, News

Although glbtq people and issues have been inadequately covered by American television news, there have recently been signs of improvement.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, Talk Shows

For glbt people, television talk shows have been both promising and problematic; they have brought glbt issues to public awareness, but until recently they have also presented glbt people as stereotypes and freaks.

literature >> Overview:  Journalism and Publishing

The gay and lesbian press is of prime importance in sustaining a frequently embattled minority and has been crucial in the development of a national mass movement for gay rights.

social sciences >> Overview:  Political Blogs

The explosion of political blogs has served to multiply greatly the number of voices    participating in glbtq activism and to expedite the transmission of political information to glbtq communities.

social sciences >> Overview:  Political Science

Political scientists have generated insights important to the study of sexuality through research into glbtq participation in formal politics, studies of sexuality as a category of power, and reconceptualizations of the relationship between sexuality and politics.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

arts >> Haring, Keith

In his all-too-brief lifetime, gay American artist Keith Haring produced simple yet sophisticated images that reached a worldwide audience and transcended differences of race, nationality, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

arts >> The Legacy Walk (Chicago)

The Legacy Walk in Chicago is an outdoor history museum that reclaims and celebrates glbtq contributions to world history and culture.

arts >> Maddow, Rachel

Political commentator Rachel Maddow became the first out lesbian to host a prime-time television news program when "The Rachel Maddow Show" premiered on MSNBC in September 2008.


Clifford, Stephanie. "Math Whiz Finds Fame with Voting Predictions." International Herald Tribune (November 11, 2008): Finance, 13.

Grant, Japhy. "Nate Silver on African-Americans, Prop. 8 and Being a Hero to Gays & Geeks Everywhere." Queerty (November 21, 2008): http;//

Hicklin, Aaron. "Nate Silver: Person of the Year." Out (December 18, 2012):,0 .

Kain, Erik. "Even Polls Are Part of the Culture War Now." Mother Jones (November 5, 2012):

McCarthy, Tom. "Nate Silver Quits New York Times to Take up 'Dream Job' at ESPN." The Guardian (London) (July 22. 2013):

Montemurri, Patricia. "Mich. Native Silver Shows Election Predictions Not Magic, But Math." Detroit Free Press (November 11, 2012): A1.

Noveck, Jocelyn. "He Called It, and Now Silver's a Pop-culture Star." Boston Globe (November 9, 2012):

Scurr, Ruth. "The Man Who Called It Right." The Guardian (London) (November 10, 2012: 7.

Silver, Nate. "How Opinion on Same-Sex Marriage Is Changing, and What It Means." New York Times (March 26, 2013):

_____. "Simple Case for Saying That Obama Is Favored." New York Times (November 3, 2012): A13.

Sternbergh, Adam. "The Spreadsheet Psychic." New York 41.37 (October 20, 2008: 44-52.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Silver, Nate  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2013  
    Date Last Updated September 2, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2013 glbtq, Inc.  


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