Press Release

Nate Silver to Discuss the Business of Making Predictions at NASA Langley Lectures

By SpaceRef Editor
May 30, 2019
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May 30, 2019


Nate Silver to Discuss the Business of Making Predictions at NASA Langley Lectures

HAMPTON, Virginia – The business of making successful predictions is an imperfect art and science. No one knows more of that venture than famed statistician and best-selling author Nate Silver, who analyzes the worlds of sports and politics.

Silver will give the lecture “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t” at 2 p.m. EDT in Langley’s Pearl Young Theater as part of the center’s Colloquium Series. He will also give the talk at 7:30 p.m. EDT at the Virginia Air and Space Center as part of the Sigma Series of lectures.

Silver will discuss the practical art of mathematical model building using probability and statistics. He will describe his big-picture approach to using statistical tools, combining sources of unique data (e.g., timing a minor league ball player’s fastball using a radar gun), with historical data and principles of sound statistical analysis.

Silver rejects much ideology taught with statistical methods in colleges and universities today. The problem Silver finds is a belief in perfect experimental, survey, or other designs, when data often comes from a variety of sources and idealized modeling assumptions rarely hold true. Often such models reduce complex questions to overly simple hypothesis tests using arbitrary significance levels to accept or reject a single parameter value.

In contrast, the practical statistician first needs a sound understanding of how baseball, poker, elections or other uncertain processes work, what measures are reliable and which not, and what scales of aggregation are useful. This “Bayesian” approach is named for 18th century minister Thomas Bayes who discovered a simple formula for updating probabilities using new data. For Silver, the well-known method needs revitalizing as a broader paradigm for thinking about uncertainty, founded on learning and understanding gained incrementally, rather than through any single set of observations or an ideal model summarized by just a few key parameters.

Silver is a leading statistician and best-selling author known for his unique brand of creativity, journalism and statistical analysis. He is the founder of the award-winning website FiveThirtyEight.

Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma lectures provide monthly talks and demonstrations related to science and technology. The lectures are intended to stimulate the creative processes of Langley employees and enhance the quality of life at Langley by providing more opportunities for learning.

The Sigma Series talk is free and open to the public. The lecture at Langley limited to employees. For more information about Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.