Ever since the USA suffered a heartbreaking last-second equalizer against Portugal, a nation that has fully caught World Cup fever has been trying to figure out all the scenarios for the final round of games in Group G where we can still advance to the knockout round. The truth is there are several easy scenarios in which the USA will progress in the 2014 World Cup… and several complicated ones as well. But the bottom line is that the USMNT still has a great chance of advancing, even though American hearts were snatched from their chests and stomped on by Varela’s stoppage time goal.
Those scenarios and probabilities of advancing is exactly why ESPN shelled out big bucks to snatch statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver from the New York Times and invest resources in building the 538 brand. Silver has had a presence in Brazil (even appearing on World Cup Tonight) to provide insights thanks to his prediction models. With there being so many scenarios for the final round of games in the Group of Death, hearing the United States has ___% chance of advancing is helpful.
An interesting scenario of its own played out Sunday night though when Silver’s percentage didn’t line up with the one from his old employer, the New York Times.
Silver has not been shy about criticizing the Times since he left, especially in the form of columnist Paul Krugman. But this is a pitched battle clearly on Silver’s turf in the statistical arena and one that showed the NYT definitely misses their ace. This is like the Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla of stathead feuds.
It started with both Silver and the Times showing their probabilities of the USA advancing out of the Group of Death to the knockout round…
Clearly something was amiss here, and Silver went directly after the Times for their errant number crunching and basically doing their own work for them. You’ll notice that Silver didn’t just “@ reply” the Times, he put that little period there so the whole world would see what was going on. He even took the liberty of telling the paper what probability their model should be predicting when used correctly. Bold strategy…
The Times finally “updated” their probability to the 78% Silver had said, and the former Times employee was all too happy to take a victory lap and rub it in the face of the Grey Lady. Now all I can do is picture Nate Silver taunting an elderly woman with graph paper. What an awesome visual:
Score this one for Nate Silver and 538. Of course, it would have been nice if the USA had held on for 30 more seconds against Portugal and just advanced to the knockout round so we wouldn’t have to deal with this. But I guess we will take this bubbling statistical prognosticators feud as a consolation prize.