It was the year a man became very famous for possessing an unshakable belief in math and basic reasoning skills. This probably says less about Nate Silver and more about the small armies of Silver skeptics, gut-driven intuitionists uninterested in parsing the differences between probability and prediction, correlation and causation. But in the weeks leading up to election night, Silver cemented his role as our all-seeing eye. His name and fine-tuned, closely guarded formulas became an instant salve anytime someone started freaking out: “Nate Silver says … ” Between his bestseller, The Signal and the Noise, and near-flawless election predictions, nobody had a better year reputation-wise than Silver.
Imagine all those anxious pre-election conversations that got hijacked by fantasy obsessives wanting to tell anyone who would listen about Bill Pecota and the days when Silver was just another stats hobbyist. Silver’s celebrity and growing influence signal broader changes in how we are willing to see the world — it’s still startling to realize that he and cable news pundits were describing the same contest. But it’s a shift that people who follow sports have been aware of for quite some time now. With each passing year, we grow more comfortable with the oceans of data out there, from the new metrics for evaluating and ranking player performance to the very real possibility that something as natural-seeming as ERA might actually be relatively worthless. It’s no longer strange to see a “stats guru” slide into a front office position or for a team to invest in strange new technologies to start tabulating biomechanical data.