/ Domopalooza Keynote Feature: The Nate Silver Story

If you’re a fan of politics, baseball or innovative journalism, then you’ll be delighted to know that Nate Silver—statistician, writer, and founder of FiveThirtyEight—is one of the keynote speakers at next month’s Domopalooza.

Silver started his statistics-driven FiveThirtyEight blog in 2008 as a way to “lend some sanity to the media narrative about polls,” he told CNET. He quickly became a household name after his algorithms correctly predicted that year’s presidential election outcome in 49 of 50 states. And in 2012, he got all the states right.

Many have heralded Silver as disruptive to traditional political reporting. “Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie Moneyball disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics,” as Margaret Sullivan wrote in 2013 when she was public editor of The New York Times.

Silver now brings FiveThirtyEight’s innovative, data-driven approach to not just politics, but also sports (coming full circle from where he started), culture, science, and economics.

Batter up

If you play fantasy baseball, then there’s a high chance you knew about Nate Silver long before everyone else. After graduating with an economics degree from the University of Chicago, Silver took a job with the global accounting firm KPMG. But he didn’t love it, and in his off hours he focused his energy on baseball—more specifically, on developing a set of algorithms to better forecast the success of baseball players.

He called his system PECOTA, which stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, and sold it to Baseball Prospectus in 2003. Industry scouts and fantasy baseball fans quickly recognized the prediction engine as “one of the most accurate tools in the game,” ReadWrite reported. Silver spent five years as a baseball analyst, but then as the presidential campaign of 2008 reached a fever pitch, Silver decided to disrupt a new area—political reporting.

Politics “reminded me of baseball, when you see the same recycled clichés and conventional wisdoms over and over again, some of which isn’t very wise,” he told the University of Chicago magazine. Writing first under a pseudonym–Poblano, a name he’d used in a previous gig blogging about Mexican restaurants—he began examining the track records of major pollsters and looking for reasons as to why their predictions varied.

Elections and beyond

He officially launched the FiveThirtyEight blog that year, and then outed himself as the real Poblano shortly after. Of course, readers were delighted to discover that their new favorite political blogger was also a baseball stats wunderkind.

With his star on the rise, Silver licensed FiveThirtyEight to the New York Times in 2010. His unconventional approach to polls garnered praise—as well as criticism from traditional pollsters, journalists and politicians. However, Silver’s 100% accurate predictions of every state’s outcome in the 2012 election revealed he was doing something right.

Today, Silver is editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, which was acquired by ESPN in 2013 and has expanded to cover a variety of topics. His predictions favored Hillary Clinton to win the most recent presidential election, though Silver’s forecasts called for a tighter race than other polls.

“One of the pervasive risks that we face in the information age,” wrote Silver in his recent book The Signal and the Noise, “is that even if the amount of knowledge in the world is increasing, the gap between what we know and what we think we know may be widening.” Fortunately for all of us, Silver’s analytical insights offer a bridge.

Nate is bringing his insights and strategies to the Domopalooza stage in his keynote speech this March. Join us to learn how he, and other industry luminaries, are using data to disrupt the status quo and revolutionize the way business is being done.

See what else is going on at Domopalooza 2017