Nate Silver's Oscar Predictions, Reviewed

Statistician/poll-predictor Nate Silver (previously discussed) analyzed the Oscars before last night's telecast, and attempted to forecast the outcome of the six most popular categories: Supporting Actor (Ledger), Supporting Actress (Henson - wrong!), Lead Actor (Rourke - wrong!), Lead Actress (Winslet), Best Director (Boyle), Best Picture (Slumdog Millionaire). So he got four out of six right. Decent, but not great (the Intrade predictions actually got the Cruz win right, thus doing better than Silver). Here's some discussion Silver's article this morning on his statistical model's successes and failures:

What to make of this performance? Heath Ledger's award for Best Supporting Actor was a virtual lock; it's hard to take any credit at all for that one. The awards for Slumdog Millionaire and its director Danny Boyle were not quite in the same category -- both were trading at around 80 percent on Intrade at the time I issued my forecasts. But still, Slumdog winning those categories was by far the most likely outcome. Of the three awards that were in more genuine doubt, the model got one right (Best Actress) and missed the other two.

I don't know, however, that this is a terrific way to go about evaluating the model's validity. There is uncertainty -- as the model happily acknowledges -- in any sort of human endeavor. One year's worth of results is nowhere near enough to estimate the effects of this uncertainty.

Instead, whenever we make an incorrect prediction, we are probably better off asking questions along these lines:

What, if anything, did the incorrect prediction reveal to us about the model's flaws?
Was the model wrong for the wrong reasons? Or was it wrong for the right reasons?
What, if any, improvements should we make to the model given these results?

Read the rest for a good analysis of Silver's model...and how he intends to improve it in the future. See also: a New York Magazine article from before the ceremony, discussing the predictions with specific statistical forecasts.

Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air

Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.


As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]


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