Nate Silver (Sporting a Cookie Monster T‑Shirt) Talks Serious Stats with Conan O’Brien

Even if you hate or fear sta­tis­tics, you’ve sure­ly become more than aware in recent months of one par­tic­u­lar sta­tis­ti­cian: Nate Sil­ver. The young pro­fes­sion­al num­ber-crunch­er has made the news in a big way for a legit­i­mate­ly impres­sive sta­tis­ti­cal feat: pre­dict­ing the win­ner of all fifty states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia in this year’s Unit­ed States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. He came near­ly as close back in 2008’s elec­tion, pre­dict­ing the win­ner in 49 states. In between those coups, Time named Sil­ver one of the world’s hun­dred most influ­en­tial peo­ple, and the New York Times has giv­en their offi­cial impri­matur by host­ing his blog FiveThir­tyEight. Now he’s received what some would con­sid­er an even high­er hon­or: an invi­ta­tion to sit down with Conan O’Brien for the bet­ter part of an hour on Seri­ous Jib­ber-Jab­ber.

“Elec­tions are prob­a­bly the most dra­mat­ic moments in the his­to­ry of our coun­try,” O’Brien says to Sil­ver. “The­se’s a dan­ger,” he then dead­pans, “that you’re tak­ing the fun out of it.” We jumped on O’Brien’s new long-form inter­view web series last month, fea­tur­ing his con­ver­sa­tions with pres­i­den­tial his­to­ri­an Edmund Mor­ris and “com­e­dy mas­ter­mind” Judd Apa­tow. Sil­ver, the pro­gram’s third guest, per­fect­ly con­tin­ues its short but strong tra­di­tion of per­son­al­i­ties who bring both zeit­geist rel­e­vance and intel­lec­tu­al sub­stance. The choice also taps into a well of pub­lic curios­i­ty — a great many of us know of Nate Sil­ver with­out quite under­stand­ing why we do — and finds a reserve of goofi­ness to match O’Brien’s own. (If you doubt this, behold Sil­ver’s Cook­ie Mon­ster t‑shirt.) So think hard when you watch this con­ver­sa­tion about polit­i­cal echo cham­bers, media frag­men­ta­tion, data’s rela­tion­ship to instinct, and math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing. But do feel free to laugh at the jokes.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Conan O’Brien Plays Char­lie Rose, Talks Pres­i­den­tial His­to­ry with Edmund Mor­ris

Celebri­ty Sta­tis­ti­cian Nate Sil­ver Fields Ques­tions from Data Wiz­ards at Google

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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