Rant: recognizing the limits of what one knows

I’ll admit that I am an expert in a very narrow slice of mathematics. But I am at least an AU from being an international or even a national caliber expert in that narrow field of mathematics.
And yes, I often read about topics that are not in my area; I enjoy popular books and articles on topics from the various branches of science, economics and the like.

Nevertheless, I also realize that when I read such a book or article, or when I attend a public lecture, I am getting a watered down, simplified treatment of the subject. I lack the context and the prerequisite knowledge to appreciate a presentation aimed at the experts.

And there lies one of my biggest frustrations when it comes to talking to people, either on the internet or in person. There are so many who really can’t detect the difference between expert knowledge and what they read (and perhaps half-digested …if that much) from a popular book. It is THAT level of “lack of humility” that makes some unpleasant conversation companions; I am ok with ignorance. After all, I am ignorant of the vast majority of human knowledge. I think that all of us are.

And, sadly, I see this lack of intellectual humility in political or social issues discussion, especially from the “losing side”. It appears to me that being on the losing side of an election (and I’ve been there, many, many times) brings out the worst in people in several ways.

Example: I had someone try to tell me that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote is “within the margin of error”, when one factors in the caucus states.

Of course, that is a dumb statement for a number of reasons.

1. There is a difference between a vote count and a poll count, even though both have a margin of error (remember Florida in the 2000 general election). The margin of errors in vote count is much smaller than it is for a poll.

2. The margin of error for a poll is 1.96 * \frac{.5}{\sqrt{n}} (assuming a 95 percent confidence interval and a relatively close election; this comes from the normal approximation to the proportion distribution. So as n increases, the confidence interval, and therefore the margin of error, decreases. Note: for more on polls, read this wonderful little article written by a physics professor.

3. Hillary Clinton leads by about 3 million votes, even when one counts the caucus votes. The latter doesn’t add much as there are fewer caucus states, and these tend to be smaller states. Anyhow, she leads about 57-43.

4. The person making the claim appeared to not understand that winning a small state by a very large percentage didn’t make up for winning a bigger state by a smaller margin.

Yes, by knowing that Sanders won a lot of caucus states and that there IS such a thing as margin of error puts this individual into the “above average” category. But this person was clearly ignorant of their own ignorance.

There is another factor in play: I really think that desperation makes one dumber. When one really likes a candidate or a person, or even a sports team, it is tough to accept an unpleasant reality. I’ve become acquainted with the latter as an Illinois football fan (“yeah, we have a shot at being Wisconsin!” Sure.)

Desperation can lead to an abandonment of one’s values. Check out the Republican Chairman’s take on Donald Trump

Oh sure, few would be surprised at Donald Trump’s behavior, and I doubt that a certain type of Republican really cares that much (“hey, what do you expect with Trump anyway?”)

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Personal Issues, political/social, politics, poll, ranting, statistics | , , , | 1 Comment

Please take my two polls: who are you voting for, and who do you think will win?

May 4, 2016 Posted by | politics, poll | | Leave a comment

Political Spin 101.

Get a load of the e-mail that the Sanders campaign sent out (I am on the list as I bought a Sanders shirt for my daughter)


Yes, ONE of the 10 recent polls shows only a 6 point gap. The other 9 polls, some of which are later…well…those aren’t such good news.

THIS is why the ardent supporters of a candidate feel cheated when the actual results come out.

April 17, 2016 Posted by | politics, politics/social, poll | , | Leave a comment

President’s Day Poll: Have some fun!

Ok, here is a list of the Presidents of the United States. Just for the fun of it:

1. List YOUR top three favorite Presidents that YOU can personally remember (in your lifetime, after you became aware)

2. List YOUR top three favorite Presidents that were BEFORE your time.

3. List YOUR top three least favorite Presidents (your lifetime).

4. Vote in my poll (post WWII) for your favorite President.

5. IF you lean Democrat or Republican, who is your favorite President from “the other party”: all time AND “recently” (last, say, 30 years)

My picks:
1. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter (that order)
2. Abraham Lincoln, F. D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman (I almost put Teddy Roosevelt here)
3. George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (I am the only person in the USA who put Reagan on this list)
4. Barack Obama
5. Favorite Republican is Abraham Lincoln (liked Eisenhower and T. Roosevelt as well); favorite modern Republican was George H. W. Bush.

February 18, 2013 Posted by | politics, politics/social, poll | | Leave a comment

Election Wrap Up III: my demographics

Data from CNN
I’ll see how “typical” I am:

Illinois: 57-41 Obama.
Peoria (County): 51-47 Obama.
Peoria (City of): 56-42 Obama.

Males: 52-45 Romney
Age 50-64: 52-47 Romney
Latino: 71-27 Obama
Age/Latino: 68-31 Obama
College graduate: 50-48 Obama
Graduate Degree: 55-42 Obama
Income (none of your business:-) ) 54-44 Romney
Non-religious: 70-26 Obama
Married: 56-42 Romney
Married men: 60-38 Romney

Decided my vote early: 53-46 Obama
Raise Taxes on 250K and up: 70-29 Obama
Health care: should be expanded: 92-5 Obama
Repeal Obamacare: no: 87-11 Obama

So you can see that my demographics (Illinois, City of Peoria, Race, Education, non-religious) really pointed me toward Obama. But by far, it was the issues (duh).

November 9, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, Peoria, Peoria/local, politics, poll | Leave a comment

Election Wrap Up II: a few stats from the General Election

First, a fun fact: (Via CNN Exit Polls)
About 7 percent of those voting for Barack Obama and 8 percent voting for Mitt Romney split their vote for the US House (e. g., 7 percent of Obama voters voted for a Republican for the US House, and 8 percent of Romney voters voted for a Democrat). I know quite a bit of that happened in IL-17, as Bustos won by 6 and Obama was up by about 15 points in that district.

I’ve decided to look at some national statistics from the previous 4 elections:

year %voting R-total D-total EV-R EV-D
2000 50.4 50.4M, 47.9% 51.0M, 48.4% 271 266
2004 56.2 62M, 50.7% 59M, 48.3% 286 251
2008 61.6 59.9M, 45.7% 69.5M, 52.9% 173 365
2012 54.7 58.1M, 48% 61.1M, 50% 206 332

Note: after the 2004 election, President Bush was listed at 59 million votes; the number grew to 62 million as more votes were tabulated. Hence I anticipate that President Obama’s eventual totals will reach this number. And of course, as of the time of this writing, Florida has not been called; however the Romney campaign admitted that he is down by 58K votes and the remaining votes are from Democratic leaning areas.
Also, Obama’s vote total is projected to reach 66 million.

Fun Fact In 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections, the Democrat has won the popular vote. That feels strange to me because the first election that I followed was Nixon-Humphrey; that saw the Republicans win (and sometimes win BIG) 5 of 6 elections (popular and electoral); so it is my knee-jerk response to view the Presidency as something a Republican holds. The fact is, during my lifetime, Democrats have won 7 elections (8 times the popular vote), and the Republicans have won 7 elections (6 times winning the popular vote). It doesn’t get more even than that.

But my “set in stone” gloominess comes from my 4-5 record: I had losses with Carter, Mondale and Dukakis, and then with Gore and Kerry. Clinton and Obama gave me my 4 wins. I lost in my first 3 presidential elections. Obama was the sweetest win; Kerry was my most bitter loss, though I felt pretty alone when Reagan won his second term and I was stuck on a Navy base.:-)

My state and county

Obama won Illinois 57-41 with a margin of 2.91 million to 2.09 million. The biggest margin came in Cook County (Chicago); Peoria is part of the blue counties on the western border moving inward. There is a blue splotch in East Saint Louis; the one toward the East (by itself) is Champaign county (where the University of Illinois is). Obama won Peoria 51-47 (40 K to 36.6 K).

Some history:
The 2000 Election (red and blue are swapped from their traditional roles)

The 2004 Election

The 2008 Election

The unusual “red is Democrat, blue is Republican” maps are from US Election Atlas. The traditional maps are from CNN.

Data for Peoria County (city and countryside):
2000 Gore over Bush 50.2-47.4 percent, 38.6-36.4 (thousands)
2004 Kerry “over” Bush 49.7-49.6 percent, 41,121 to 41,051 votes (70 vote margin!)
2008 Obama over McCain 56-42 percent, 45.9-34.6 thousand
2012 Obama over Romney 51-47 percent, 40-36.6 thousand

Note: the population of Peoria County is 183.4 K, and rose 1.7 percent from 2000 to 2010. Hence the “best” turnout was for the 2004 election! Note also that traditionally the Democrat wins the City of Peoria whereas the Republican wins (except for 2008) the county minus the city.


2000 Election

2004 Election

2008 Election

2012 Election

As far as my old country (Travis county, home of the University of Texas)

2000: Bush won 46.9 to 41.7 percent
2004: Kerry won 56-42 percent
2008: Obama won 64-35 percent (254K to 137 K votes)
2012: Obama won 60-36 percent (231.5 to 139.5 K votes)

Note that in the last two elections, Obama won Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso; he lost Fort Worth. The blue stuff in the south part of the state (almost every year) is the heavily Hispanic rural area, and of course, El Paso.

My guess is that Jill Stein did well in Austin in 2012, especially given that Texas was a lock for Mr. Romney.

November 9, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, Peoria, Peoria/local, politics, politics/social, poll | Leave a comment

The Real Winner Tonight…..

Well, of course I am happy that President Obama won tonight.

I am happy that Dave Koehler won: (IL-46 State Senate)

I am happy that Cheri Bustos won (IL-17 US House)

But the real winner are The Math Nerds:

One is the battle of the nerds versus the traditional pundits. The outpouring of Hate for Nate has been awesome to watch; much of it is coming from the right, but a fair bit also from mainstream pundits who rely on their ineffable sense of “momentum” or whatever rather than polls.

Obviously I side, professionally and temperamentally, with the nerds here — not just Nate Silver, but Sam Wang, Drew Linzer, Pollster, and more. I’d like to think I’d be on their side even if the numbers were pointing the other way.

The point is that relying on data rather than hunches is my style; I’d hate, professionally, to see the voices in the air people get this right, simply because the polls were wrong.

As Krugman says “Math is Hard”:

First of all, from what I can see a lot of people have trouble with the distinction between probabilities and vote margins. They think that when I say, “state level polls overwhelmingly suggest an Obama victory”, I’m also saying “state level polls suggest an overwhelming Obama victory”, which isn’t at all the same thing. We have a lot of polls, almost all of which say that Obama will win Ohio; but they don’t by any means say that he’ll win it in a landslide.

Second, people clearly have a problem with randomness — with the fact that any poll, no matter how carefully conducted, has a margin of error. (And the true margins of error are surely larger than the statistical measure always reported, since sampling error isn’t the only way a poll can go wrong). Specifically, what I think people don’t get is the fact that when there are many polls of a state, some of them are bound to be outliers — not, or not necessarily, because the pollsters have done a bad job, but because there’s always noise in any sampling procedure.

What this means is that if you look at all the polls, you’re very likely to find one or two that tell you what you want to hear: Rasmussen has Ohio tied! Susquehanna has Pennsylvania tied! And it’s very tempting to select those polls and trumpet them — a temptation you really want to resist. The point isn’t necessarily that these are bad polling firms (as it happens, they are, but that’s beside the point); it is that even good pollsters will produce an occasional off result, and you really, really don’t want to start picking and choosing those off results to make yourself feel good.

So in a many-poll world, you really have to adopt some kind of averaging procedure and stick to it. Different poll aggregators have chosen slightly different methods, and it would be worrisome if they were telling different stories. But they aren’t: they’re all saying Obama advantage[…]

But people seem to have a trouble with math IF it goes against what they want to be true, or what “their gut” says is true.

November 7, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, Cheri Bustos, politics, politics/social, poll, statistics | 4 Comments

Final Comment about aggregators and modelers: via Sam Wang

If you like all of the modeling and aggregating of data stuff, read this article by Sam Wang. Notice that Wang gives President Obama about a 98 percent chance of winning the electoral college.

I’ve been using Electoral Vote, Election Projection (poll aggregators), Nate Silver (modeler), the bookies and the various futures.

Oh yes, Karl Rove says Romney will win with 285 EV. His map is my “worst case” map, minus Ohio.

Oh yes, he predicted that Obama would get 338 Electoral votes in 2008; he ended up with 365. Nate Silver had predicted 353.

Back to now: read the pundits predictions here.

Note: mostly the Republicans are saying: “hey, the polls are wrong”. :-)

A reminder: my “expected value” call is 303-235 Obama, with a low end of 271-267 and a high end of 347-191. All of my maps give Obama Ohio.

November 6, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, politics, politics/social, poll, statistics | Leave a comment

5 November 2012: calm before the storm?

Workout notes
Heavy legs from yesterday, but I had enough in the tank to do a weight workout followed by 2 easy miles on the treadmill (10:10/9:00); I last .5 mile was 8:30.

Weights: shortened a bit:
pull ups: 5 sets of 10; last set was broken 7/3 (change grip to rotated)
rotator cuff
bench: 10 x 135, 3 sets of 5 x 170.

military: 2 sets of 15 x 45; curls: 2 sets of 10 x 30 dumbbell, 2 sets of 10 x EZ curl (one set with 10/5 on each side, one set with 2 10’s on each side)
pull downs: 3 sets of 10; 1 with 162.5, 2 with 150
rows: 3 sets of 10 x 60 lb. Also crunches.

My favorite Obama ad of this election season:

This is a good Dave Koehler ad:

Cheri Bustos

The bookies
Election odds:

3 bookies have it 1/4 or 4/17 Obama
5 have it 2/9 Obama
1 has it 21/100 Obama
7 bookies have it 1/5 Obama
2 have it 2/11 Obama
1 has it 1/6 Obama

November 5, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, Cheri Bustos, Political Ad, politics, poll, running, weight training | Leave a comment

More Election Stuff: the state at 2 November (Friday Prior)

No workout this morning though I might stretch this afternoon.

Some people are making the case for Romney because if Obama wins, the Republicans in the House will do nothing but obstruct. Don’t give into political blackmail!

Jobs numbers are due out later this morning. My prediction: if they are good, the Republicans will cry “foul, the books are cooked”. If they are bad, they’ll go after Obama.

The race: First the Presidential Race, Next: IL-17
Prediction Maps
Electoral Vote

Election Projection


Nate Silver

Nate Silver: 80 percent.

Intrade Odds (these change by the hour!)

Iowa Electronic

The bookies

(note: Romney “3” means you risk one dollar to win 3, or he has a 1/(3+1) = 1/4 chance; Obama 1/4 means you risk 4 dollars to win 1; this means Obama has a 4/(4+1) = 4/5 chance. The chances add to more than 1 since the house is supposed to always win)

IL-17 Race
The polls don’t look so good for Bustos:
(election projection)

But the Election Projection model gives Bustos a tiny edge due to Obama doing so well in the district (about a 15 point lead)

It is going to come down to turn out. I’ll work some on Saturday so I can work on election day.

November 2, 2012 Posted by | 2012 election, economy, IL-17, politics, politics/social, poll, republicans | 2 Comments


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