The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

November 10, 2012

Predicting presidents, storms and life by computer

WASHINGTON — Forget political pundits, gut instincts, and psychics. The mightier-than-ever silicon chip seems to reveal the future.

 

In just two weeks this fall, computer models displayed an impressive prediction prowess.

 

It started when the first computer model alerted meteorologists to the pre-Halloween disaster headed for the Northeast from a bunch of clouds in the Caribbean. Nearly a week later, that weather system became Hurricane Sandy and grew into a superstorm after taking a once-in-a-century sharp turn into New Jersey.

 

Then, statistician and blogger Nate Silver correctly forecast on his beat-up laptop how all 50 states would vote for president. He even predicted a tie in Florida and projected it eventually would tip to President Barack Obama, which is the equivalent of predicting a coin landing on its side. He did it by taking polling data, weighing it for past accuracy and running 40,000 computer simulations at a time.

 

He then gave his forecast in terms of percentages, saying that Obama had a 91 percent chance of being re-elected.

 

In the case of Sandy, lives were at stake. With the election, reputations were on the line and some pundits were dismissive of the computer modeling. Bets were made. Challenges issued.

 

The math majors came out on top thanks to better and more accessible data and rapidly increasing computer power.

 

"In this particular case, rationality scored a win," said Princeton University neuroscientist Sam Wang, who since 2004 has been using mathematical formulas and polling data to predict elections for the Princeton Election Consortium. Wang predicted a "100 percent chance" of an Obama victory, but missed Florida, giving it to Republican Mitt Romney. For the record, Wang notes that he beat Silver at accurate Senate race predictions.

 

Computers soon should be able to tell health officials where the next food poisoning outbreak will spread, a U.S. government lab predicts.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
State, national news
  • Congress racing to finish Congress races to finish veterans, highway bills

    July 31, 2014

  • Target New CEO [Duplicate] Target names Pepsi's Cornell as chairman, CEO MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Target has hired Pepsi executive Brian Cornell as its new chairman and CEO as it looks to recover from a huge data breach and troubles in Canada. Cornell replaces interim CEO John Mulligan, who is chief financial officer for the M

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brain wave monitoring is better gauge than using a focus group, study says To predict a large population’s likely response to something — a product, politician or policy — political consultants, marketing gurus and advertising execs have long favored the focus group. Ask a small segment of the target audience what it thinks

    July 31, 2014

  • Argentina slides into default as debt talks fail NEW YORK (AP) — The collapse of talks with U.S. creditors sent Argentina into its second debt default in 13 years and raised questions about what comes next for financial markets and the South American nation's staggering economy. A midnight Wednesd

    July 31, 2014

  • Exchange Bee Researcher [Duplicate] Bee researcher takes aim at central Minnesota park WAITE PARK — Crystal Boyd strained four bees, three flies and one leafhopper from a yellow pan trap, the third of 12 in a transect topping a granite outcrop in Quarry Park Scientific and Natural Area.She popped everything into a labeled, zip-top plas

    July 31, 2014 4 Photos

  • Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies at 90 Filmmaker Robert Drew, a pioneer of the modern documentary who in "Primary" and other movies mastered the intimate, spontaneous style known as cinema verite and schooled a generation of influential directors that included D.A. Pennebaker and Albert M

    July 30, 2014

  • Homeowner killed, another injured in Vegas crime spree LAS VEGAS — A horrific carjacking and home invasion spree ended with two people dead and a woman in critical condition. One victim, Richard Ramos, a 59-year-old father of four, “fought to his death” to protect his wife and children from their attack

    July 30, 2014

  • Officer Shooting Minnesota-9 [Duplicate] UPDATE: Suspect in Minnesota officer killing in custody WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Police in Minnesota say a man wanted in the shooting death of an officer is in custody after being shot by police. St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos says 39-year-old Brian Fitch Sr. got out of a minivan firing at

    July 30, 2014 4 Photos

  • Officer Shooting Minnesota-3 [Duplicate] Minnesota officer killed making traffic stop WEST ST. PAUL (AP) — A police officer in Minnesota was fatally shot Wednesday while making a traffic stop and authorities said they were searching for a suspect. Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, 47, was shot about 12:20 p.m. after pulli

    July 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • Possible suspect caught in Minnesota cop shooting WEST ST. PAUL (AP) — A potential suspect in the shooting of a police officer in Minnesota has been captured. Minnesota Public Radio News reports that the officer was killed. Television news footage showed the man being pulled from his vehicle Wednes

    July 30, 2014