November 8, 2012

Like Michael Gerson, I, too, pine for the “good ol’ days” when issues such as “poverty, social mobility or unsustainable debt” drove the national debate, or when we felt that the “heart of a noble enterprise” was at the core of selecting a president. But Mr. Gerson’s critique of Nate Silver and his statistical model was unfair [“The trouble with a Silver lining,” op-ed, Nov. 6]. Mr. Gerson criticizes Mr. Silver’s forecast for not being innovative; this may be true, but that misses the point.

With the advances in computer technology and more sophisticated techniques in polling, Mr. Silver is attempting to make sense of the increased quantity of data. It turns out that, to a very high degree, people’s voting behaviors and opinions can be systematically quantified and reported. Mr. Silver is in a long line of incredibly gifted people who can explain in layman’s terms very complicated statistical models. To the degree that he has introduced a new generation of citizens to some of the machinery that drives American politics, the better. In a nation like ours, there is a probability that people voted in the spirit Mr. Gerson desires. Thanks to Mr. Silver’s probability forecast, we had solid data on how that result would look.

Scott Parkman, Boston

Despite my profound disagreement with his politics, I cannot agree more with Michael Gerson about the sorry state of political science. The insistence of many political “scientists” on reducing politics to prediction and precision is indeed a perversion of what politics is all about. Some in my field (I managed to get a degree from a department commendably named “Politics”) call this “physics-envy,” and they have a point. Mr. Gerson is right — politics is about judgment, opinion and how people in a community determine their future. Politics, however, is also about choice — and so those nasty polls still have some meaning. And I doubt anyone would call Nate Silver a scientist.

Gerson S. Sher, Washington

It seems to me that Michael Gerson’s unseemly ire toward Nate Silver is caused only by the unintended consequence of Mr. Silver’s excellent work; Mr. Silver’s analysis is a devastating critique of Mr. Gerson and his fraternity of political “experts.” Pundits look foolish citing a single outlier poll in a swing state in grimly averring that a race is “razor-tight.” Mr. Gerson attacks Mr. Silver because his statistical work accurately informs the public that the political class of experts is often knowingly and cynically misleading, and, at best, often attempts only to entertain their audience.

Joseph J. Trepel, Rockville

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