Friday, August 9, 2019

Yes, Nate Silver knows how to read charts

Nate Silver is getting pushback because of this tweet from Tuesday:
Some responses in that same thread are a reflection of the extremely polarized times we live in. Splinter's Naomi LaChance's even wrote a hot take titled “Numbers Guy Nate Silver Struggling to Read a Chart”.

Does Silver struggle to read charts? Come on. According to the Washington Post story, Bernie Sanders has the highest proportion of supporters who didn't donate to any other candidate in the Democratic primary (more than 80%); other major candidates range between ~50-70%. Does that mean that Sanders supporters only like him, and that only them like him, as Silver wrote? Of course not, but Silver's tweet is clearly hyperbolic, or at least I read it that way first time I saw it.

And there's truth behind it: Sanders's base is the most loyal in the Democratic primary by a noticeable margin. Let's go beyond the percentage—which is very high in itself—and think of counts: Sanders's donor base is enormous (750,000, source): 80% of 750,000 is 600,000 people who donated just to him; that's impressive. The two candidates who have a number of donors closest to Sanders, Elizabeth Warren (420,000) and Pete Buttigieg (390,000) have much lower percentages of exclusive donors: ~55% and ~62%. Knowing this beforehand, my understanding of the chart above changed quite a bit.

In any case, if there's something I've learned in the past few years is that it's great to be critical, but we should also strive to interpret whatever we see or read more charitably. Books such as Arthur C. Brook's Love Your Enemies or Todd May's A Decent Life may help with that.