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.