Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Read (or Listen to) Discussions of Analytic Models

Organizations often feel their analytics are proprietary, and therefore decline to discuss how their models work. One shining exception is Nate Silver’s The site makes a point of exposing how their models are built. They also discuss their models as part of their elections podcast.

Data Storytelling

Recommended Reading
As students in my courses know, is a data driven journalism blog founded by Nate Silver. FiveThirtyEight covers sports, politics, science, and popular culture.

If you are interested in visualization, analytics, or telling stories with data, you will enjoy the site.

Stories on FiveThirtyEight are always shaped by data. And if they develop a model of any kind, that model is openly explained. You may have to cull through footnotes, but its always there.

One of the most detailed discussions on the site right now describes their 2016 election forecast model. (With apologies to readers outside the US, this is a very US-centric topic.)


FiveThirtyEight also offers several podcasts, where you can listen to analyst discussions which are driven by data.

Until recently, these conversations rarely delved into the technical realm. On the elections podcast, if Nate Silver or Harry Enton mentioned “long tails,” “blended averages,” or “p-values,” the other hosts jokingly steered the conversation back to analysis.

That practice was put to an end a few weeks ago with the establishment of “Model Talk” episodes. Every second Friday the model itself is discussed in greater detail. For example, in the 8/26 episode, Silver describes the predictive value of state polls over national polls, and why it is important to build a model where state by state probabilities interact.

Here are links to the “model talk" discussions to date:

Recommended Reading

I also highly recommend Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t. If you are interested in analytics, it is a fascinating read.