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Cents and Sensibility

May 25, 2017 | Daniel Weiss

This Monday, President Morty Schapiro and Economics Professor Saul Morson came to Harris Hall to talk about their new book, Cents and Sensibility. Their book explores the overlap between economics and the humanities, where each thrives and struggles, and where each field can learn from the other.

Schapiro tackled the economic side. Calling himself a “proud economist” and speaking from decades of teaching experience, he noted the value of models in predictions. If an economist were to have access to the right data and know the right variables to measure, then the standard, objective approach to policy-making used by economists would be easy to justify, highly accurate, and well-received by the public. But often, there are relevant factors that are neither apparent nor easily quantifiable. It is here that the humanities should play a role. Economic models, considered without a healthy amount of moral reasoning, have the ability to cause harm to the people they are designed to help. One example cited during the discussion was a campaign by the World Health Organization against river blindness in Africa. Economic analysis opposed funding prevention efforts, since the target population did not have the potential to be productive workers. But the alternative was to let these people suffer—a policy that seemed quite immoral. Morality won, and according to Schapiro, the campaign was the WHO’s “most successful.”

From the humanities, it has become clear that the best stories often have the best narratives. Morson in particular praised Jane Austen, calling her a “pioneer” for her writing style and sense of purpose. Recognizing the importance of narratives can empower economists to reach a more receptive audience.

Economics Professor Mark Witte, who led the discussion, suggested that the authors worked to create a narrative that would be accepted by professionals in economics and the humanities. Professor Morson was quick to respond, “I don’t think people in the humanities accept it.” And Schapiro added, “I don’t think economists accept it either.” But this does not concern the authors since, even though some people in Morson’s field were “livid” when they read it, the intended audience is “smart, literate people” in any discipline. Schapiro and Morson are going on a book tour, and hope that their book will encourage people to embrace a multidisciplinary approach whenever possible.

Chris Moore dishes on all things advanced stats and baseball

May 12, 2017 | Ryan Albelda

In front of around 70 people on Tuesday night in the Segal Visitors Center, Chris Moore, the director of research and development for the Chicago Cubs,  spoke about big data and how it's used in baseball. Moore described, among other things, how for every game, his R+D team compiles a report that is given to the players as well as Joe Madden, the Cubs manager.

All MLB teams now use data to help with their decision-making, a shift in the sport that has quickly developed in the 21st century. The data has increased greatly due to features such as StatCast that displays information such as pitch speed, hit direction and other information. Different teams place a different emphasis on the data and the frequency in which it is used. Moore says that the limiting factor for having more data and information is man-hours for analysts, of which he admitted that there's simply more work to do than the Cubs could possibly complete.

New York Times' Amanda Cox talks data visualization and journalism and how they intersect

May 4, 2017 | Josh Burton

The New York Times is known as "the Gray Lady" for its iconic newspaper, but as the Times' Amanda Cox relayed to a crowd of around 100 people in Harris Hall 107 on Wednesday night, journalism is evolving past just the written word.

Cox heads the paper's The Upshot vertical, which uses data, charts, videos and other visualization methods to produce interactive news graphics for both the newspaper and website. She spoke about how data journalism is more than just a nice-looking image or assortment of data; it requires thinking about the reader and how their experience with the data might be affected by different displays.

Tom Skilling, Don Wuebbles and Karen Weigert discuss the varied implications of climate change

April 24, 2017 | Josh Burton

Human-caused climate change is undoubtedly affecting the world, but the impacts of it are on a scope that encompasses various disciplines. In a interesting panel discussion -- which followed short presentations -- last Thursday at the Jacobs Center, WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling (weather), University of Illinois Professor Don Wuebbles (climate science) and Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Karen Weigert (policy) talked about climate change in relation to their field of expertise.

A crowd of around 75 in Leverone Auditorium listened in as each expert presented about their field and how it relates to climate change. The overarching theme: any course of action that can be taken to mitigate climate change and its effects must be undergone.

NUpredicts: Lacrosse

April 17, 2017 | Josh Burton

Our final NUpredicts event of the school year is now over, but oh what a finale it was! The Wildcats beat No. 20 Duke 12-10 in a great game at Martin Stadium on Saturday afternoon in front of over 1,200 fans. While Northwestern won the game on the field, we had our own set of winners as five predictors stood out among the rest of the 108 people who played.

The winners' names are below, and we thank everyone else for playing and showing the lacrosse team some support in a big win

2011

Blake Kolesa

1864

Grace Alger

1820

Olivia Shay

1695

Henry Chopp

1693

Hannah Lee

Predicting sports: Easier said than done

April 8, 2017 | Josh Burton

Is it actually possible to know what's going to happen in a baseball or football game before it happens? The obvious answer is no, but when you dig into the data -- as noted by Professor Thomas Severini in the final Spotlight Series talk of the year -- it's clear some prediction methods are better than others at determining what could happen in a particular season.

Severini, a professor in the Statistics department who has written multiple books on sports and stats, gave an intriguing talk about the different statistical methodologies that can be used to see how well a MLB player or NFL team is going to do in a particular upcoming season. Past performance is often a better predictor for future success than even so-called "expert" picks featured on sports news websites or TV segments, but it's far from the only variable needed in the equation.

NUpredicts: Baseball

April 3, 2017 | Josh Burton

Another NUpredicts event has come and gone, and while Northwestern lost the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against Air Force at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, fun was had by all predictors. The Wildcats even did the unpredictable in the day's second game, comong back from a 6-0 deficit to win 7-6.

Five predictors stood out among the 107 people who played this iteration of NUpredicts. Thanks to everyone for participating!

2059

Henry Hayashi Chopp

2059

Daniel Robert Weiss

1991

Rachelle D. Price

1955

Andrew Michael Brown

1858

Joshua Adam Burton

Superstorms, Climate Change and the Future of Cities

March 31, 2017 | Josh Burton

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who is currently teaching at Stanford and used to be at Northwestern, gave an interesting talk about climate change on Thursday evening in the Segal Visitors Center that approached the subject from the social -- as opposed to scientific -- perspective. Over 120 attendees listened intently as Klinenberg talked about the infamous 1995 Chicago heat wave, chronicled in his book Heat Wave, to contextualize other extreme world weather events and explain how citizens and government need to work together to protect society from the climate.

Klinenberg emphasized adaptation and transformation as necessary public policy strategies, as well as the importance of community and community organizations that can help people in times of crisis. Drawing from his own personal experience during Hurricane Sandy, he mentioned how social infrastructure in the hard-hit Rockaways (an area in Queens) helped to limit fatalities. He also noted how the confluence of different disciplines -- from architecture to climate science -- can help to solve some of these monumental man-made problems.

The End of White Christian America

March 6, 2017 | Melissa Calica

On February 28 at Alice Millar Chapel, Robert P. Jones of the Public Religions Research Institute (PRRI) gave a talk about his book, The End of White Christian America. Over 40 attendees listened to how Protestant Christians aligned closely with Republican voting tendencies, and Jones' graphs pointed to the decline of the White Christian majority in this country.

The increase of Hispanic and African American Christians in the United States has threatened the political power of White Christians, as seen in the PRRI data. Jones shared his preface and epilogue, where he humorously spoke of the end of White Christian America in terms of an obituary and eulogy. This talk was clever, illuminating, and thought-provoking on the intersection between religion and politics.

White Christian America lecture

Northwestern stuns Michigan in thrilling basketball game

March 1, 2017 | Josh Burton

NUpredicts: Men's basketball couldn't have taken place on a more fortunate day. The Wildcats beat the Michigan Wolverines 67-65 on a last-second layup by Dererk Pardon off a long pass from Nathan Taphorn. Over 220 people submitted their predictions before the game on NUpredicts, but no one could have even predicted how Wednesday's game would end. Check out the full list of winners here.

Samantha Bee talks Trump, feminism, politics

February 28, 2017 | Josh Burton

The comedian and star of TBS' late night show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee spoke at Cahn Auditorium on Tuesday night, mostly focusing on how her show has changed since the election. Making her political stance clear, Bee mixed serious and honest talk with jokes in a way that captivated everyone in attendance.

Bee spoke in conversation with Rebecca Traister, who is a journalist and Northwestern alum that has written about Bee. Traister asked Bee a few of her own questions and, at the end, Bee actually took pre-submitted questions from attendees. One of the highlights: Bee says right-leaning political satire is not possible.

NUpredicts: The Oscars

February 27, 2017 | Josh Burton

A total of 736 members of the Northwestern community, including undergraduate and graduate students from each school as well as faculty and staff, made their best predictions on NUpredicts for how this year's Academy Awards would turn out. And while no one could have predicted the announcement mishap with Best Picture, 25 predictors stood out above the rest and earned $20 Chipotle gift certificates, a copy of The Signal and the Noise and a One Book shirt. You can see the winners names and scores here.

Academy Awards viewing party held in Norris

February 26, 2017 | Ryan Albelda

Hosted by One Book, Dance Marathon and Student Affairs, the Oscars viewing party held at Norris' Starbucks was a hit. Seven teams of students joined together to answer Oscar-centric trivia questions -- emceed by Dance Marathon -- for the chance to win gift cards to Century 12 Evanston/CineArts 6, Chipotle and Starbucks.

A delicious dinner was served in the Dittmar Gallery by the Department of Student Organizations and Activities for which nearly 70 students ate as they watched the show. Also, over 736 members of the Northwestern community made pre-show online predictions through NUpredicts, but no one could have expected both La La Land and Moonlight to be considered Best Picture, if only for a few minutes.

Quartz' Hilary Fung discusses data visualization in journalism

February 15, 2017 | Josh Burton

As the editor of Quartz' data and chart vertical, Atlas, Hilary Fung works with statistics, numbers and graphs all the time, for a variety of story topics. She's also a Northwestern alumnus and spoke to Professor Steven Franconeri's PSYCH 314 -- Presenting Data & Ideas class in Tech LR4 on Wednesday afternoon about her work and how, whether it's sports, higher education or politics, data visualization can help predict certain events and explain/help to understand others.

Franconeri's class focuses on how to best present information, and Fung -- for a variety of outlets -- has done exactly that. She described, in depth, her experience working with The Huffington Post and The Chronicle for Higher Education on a project analyzing the viability of college athletic programs as well as a project looking at people that die while in American jails.

Do matchmaking sites/apps work? Eli Finkel says Tinder is the best

February 11, 2017 | Vinni Bhatia

Last Thursday, Professor Eli Finkel gave an impressive talk on the science behind matchmaking algorithms, and whether they’re effective or not. Prof. Finkel, a joint Kellogg/Psychology faculty member, first gave a brief history of matchmaking sites such as Match.com, eHarmony, and Tinder, and then transitioned into a discussion on his research.

He split the algorithms of matchmaking up into two distinct problems. The first problem, dubbed the “easy” problem, was making matchmaking more efficient. Tinder had essentially solved this problem. The harder problem, in his opinion, was using computers to predict what actually happens when people meet face-to-face, and deciding whether they’re compatible.

In the end, he concluded that if you want to predict long-term satisfaction, the best predictor is chemistry. Professor Finkel also took questions from the crowd; one attendee asked him if he could create any dating site, what would he change? His response – Tinder is already pretty good.

NU professor discusses climate change and her research

February 10, 2017 | Kaitland Postley

The New Book Nook in University Library was packed for the latest One Book Spotlight Series talk featuring Earth and Planetary Sciences Assistant Professor Yarrow Axford. Dr. Axford presented a fascinating lecture about her current research in Greenland and how it has allowed her to collaborate with scientists around the world.

Questions after her lecture centered around Dr. Axford's predictions on the future of climate change research in the United States. While she expressed concern, ultimately she stressed that climate change research requires collaborative efforts from scientists around the world, so while there may be some gaps there will still be data. Don’t miss One Book’s next Spotlight Series in University Library's New Book Nook!

Unpredictable Super Bowl watched by NU community in Norris

February 6, 2017 | Ryan Albelda

No one could have possibly predicted the highs and lows of Sunday's Super Bowl, unless you've watched Tom Brady and the New England Patriots before, who beat Matt Ryan's Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-28 to cap off another crazy NFL season. Over 100 NU students munched on food provided by Northwestern Student Organizations and Activities and watched the the game in Norris. 6 teams of students participated in trivia, sponsored by Northwestern Quiz Bowl, before the game, for which prizes were given.

Some forecasts gave the Patriots as little as a 3% chance of winning after going down by as much as 25 points in the third quarter. But, as Nate Silver mentioned throughout The Signal and the Noise, sometimes the predictions don't end up telling the whole story.

Hidden Figures showing draws a crowd

January 29, 2017 | Melissa Calica

NU Nights and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted a private screening of Hidden Figures at the Century 12 Theatre in Evanston. There were over 200 signups and the theatre was almost full of mostly undergraduate students. The film itself was very inspiring and humorous at times; the opening features the three main women chase a white policeman.
The scene with the hacked-off bathroom sign was funny but also caused me to think about the unspoken consequences of segregation which is a main theme of the film. Relating to The Signal and the Noise, this movie shows insight into computing and data at NASA during the Space Race. This event was very enjoyable and I predict that the movie will be recognized with film awards in the future.

Public Policy is Focus of Latest Dittmar Dinner

January 25, 2017 | Josh Burton

Are some people more likely to be successful in life solely because of events that occur before they're even born? That topic and other interesting policy-related issues were discussed on Tuesday night at Norris Center's Dittmar Art Gallery for the second Dittmar Dinner of the school year. Attendees feasted on some great food and heard an informative lecture from professor David Figlio, who runs the on-campus Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

Figlio spoke about research being done by Northwestern professors that is seeking to determine how the government and other policymaking organizations can better allocate funds, decide who to help and figure out what problems are the most important to tackle. There were many lively discussions to be had and even some ethical points raised throughout the evening.

Data as Art Exhibit Opens at Ford Design Center

January 24, 2017 | Ryan Albelda

This past Friday, in collaboration with Northwestern Engineering and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), a different kind of art exhibit opened up in the Ford Engineering Design Center. Students from both schools participating in the 'Data as Art' class presented their own displays made up of data.

At the opening reception of the exihibit, SAIC dean Lisa Wainwright spoke about how much she enjoys working with engineers and being able to collaborate with Northwestern. Julio Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, echoed Wainwright and touched on how the exhibit helps engineers have a whole-brain learning experience by doing more than just solving complicated math problems.

One display showcased people's reactions to being shown thought-provoking video clips. The goal of the piece was to use facial recognition data and turn it into art.

A striking piece at the exhibit was 'Lead'. The display is a plastic sphere with all seventy-seven Chicago neighborhoods listed in alphabetical order. There are strings attached to each neighborhood representing the number of times members of each community have asked for a lead test. The 175 strings, in total, are attached to the ring and strings converge at a point to create a visual of a pipe.

It was very cool to see how the exhibit has evolved over the years with each successive group of students. The exhibit will remain on display in Ford's atrium for the next month.

Vice News Tonight's Allison McCann discusses data visualization, her journalism experience and more 

January 23, 2017 | Kaitland Postley

Having a hard time figuring out how, or, if, you should chart your data? Allison McCann's talk on data and graphics on January 17th provided the basics on answering that all-too-important question. McCann took attendees on a journey through her career as a visual journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek, FiveThirtyEight, and currently HBO's Vice News Tonight. Along the way, McCann provided insights into her methodology and toolset for creating stunning visual graphics that inform, engage, excite, and surprise her viewers. From embracing the familiar forms of Nigel Holmes to inventing a data predictor for women's March Madness, McCann's talk presented a new way of understanding and appreciating visual journalism.

Professor Robert Korajczyk uses the Efficient Market Hypothesis to make educated investments

January 18, 2017 | Melissa Calica

This event, sponsored by One Book One Northwestern and the Undergraduate Econ Society, was very popular – students filled the sides of Jacobs Room 1246 and stood against the walls to hear Professor Robert Korajczyk talk about the Efficient Market Hypothesis. Over 90 community members came to learn about how to make smart investments. The speaker defined terms such as passive and active investing and connected to predictions in Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise.

He mentioned the patterns in the data and consumers’ ability to see them. In game theory, active management of stocks is a zero-sum game. Using examples like poker, livestock, and Apple, he showed when and where markets are efficient. He discussed weak, strong, and semi forms of efficiency and explained jargon such as “skin in the game,” “patsy,” “2 and 20%” and “having an edge.”

Credit: Melissa Calica

Credit: Melissa Calica

How did polling go wrong in the 2016 Presidential Election?

January 17, 2017 | Josh Burton

An online panel hosted by the Northwestern University School of Professional Studies seeked to answer that question on Tuesday night. Four panelists -- CNN political contributor (and SPS alum) Patti Solis Doyle, SPS MS in Predictive Analytics director Tom Miller, Medill professor Larry Stuelpnagel, and SPS predictive analytics and information design faculty member Marianne Seiler -- discussed through an online teleconference topics ranging from their election predictions of the election, how polling has changed in the modern age, the importance of social media, and how millennials affected the election, among other things.

Swine Flu, Cholera and Anthrax: Dr. Nicholas Soulakis' The Signal and the Noise Discussion

January 17, 2017 | Kaitland Postley

Drunk Nate Silver, beers with John Snow, and Bill Clinton’s heart attack were only a few of the topics that epidemiologist and assistant professor of Health and Biomedical Informatics Nicholas Soulakis touched on during his book discussion on public health, terrorism, and medicine on Thursday, January 12th in the New Book Nook in University Library.

Dr. Soulakis presented a fun and informative lecture on the '90s Anthrax panic that terrorized the nation and the 2009 swine flu “epidemic” centered in Corona, Queens. Dr. Soulakis provided firsthand experience and humorous stories about how epidemiologists sift through the data to find the signal in the noise. The next One Book discussion will focus on weather and climate change and will be presented by Earth and Planetary Sciences Assistant Professor Yarrow Axford in the New Book Nook in University Library on Thursday, February 2nd at 5:00 pm. Check out more great One Book programming at onebooknu.org!

Interview with Professor Dr. Nicholas Soulakis

January 11, 2017 | Josh Burton

Another Signal and the Noise book discussion is coming up this Thursday, January 12th at 5:00 PM in Main Library's New Book Nook, this one to be led by Assistant Professor of Preventative Medicine (Health and Biomedical Informatics) Dr. Nicholas Soulakis. Professor Soulakis did a great interview recently with the Northwestern Public Health Review that you should definitely check out if you plan on joining the discussion on Thursday (remember: there will be refreshments!).

One Book and CCE's Museum of Science and Industry Tour

January 7, 2017 | Josh Burton

Through the work of both One Book and Northwestern's Center for Civic Engagement, over 90 Northwestern faculty, students and community members visited Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry on Saturday afternoon. The visit was funded and co-sponsored by Student Affairs.

Northwestern professors served as museum docents, explaining exhibits befitting their expertise: Pablo Luis Durango-Cohen (associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering) spoke on Fast Forward -- Inventing the Future, Daniel Horton (assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences) discussed Understanding the Weather and Joshua Leonard (associate professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering) talked about Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery.

After each group heard what each professor had to say about their designated specialty area, attendees were free to roam the Museum as they saw fit. A major highlight was the Science Storms exhibit, which showcased how devastating natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are actually caused.

Numbers to Narrative: Telling Stories to Data

November 29, 2016 | Ari Levin

One Book One Northwestern was proud to welcome Northwestern alum Dhrumil Mehta to campus. Mehta currently works as a political database journalist for FiveThirtyEight, working alongside The Signal and the Noise author Nate Silver to combine data and journalism. Mehta spoke about the challenges of being a database journalist, and of adapting from software engineering to journalism.

The first thing Mehta had to adapt to was the breakneck pace of the newsroom. “Newsrooms are fast, so you have to work fast," Mehta said. On his first day at FiveThirtyEight, he learned that sometimes he couldn’t spend the time to do a project in its entirety, but had to do a partial project to meet a deadline. He had to learn about the many differences in journalism than in software development. This included an intense focus on accuracy, and on sources.

Over time, Mehta along with the rest of the FiveThirtyEight team learned how to combine journalism and data in a groundbreaking way. This included stories that used data to run counter to a media narrative, such as a story Mehta wrote that showed that Tea Party Republicans in congress were actually older, not younger, than their establishment counterparts. They also use data in more traditional journalism ways, such as using graphs and numbers in a profile. Mehta also works on journalism about data, including a story about the difficulty of scientific studies.

Mehta graduated from Northwestern with a degree in philosophy and a minor in cognitive science, and holds a Master's degree in Computer Science. He became a software engineer at Amazon. Journalism was a big adjustment for Mehta, but it’s something he now finds himself comfortable with. Mehta considers himself currently “65% database, 35% journalist” but he hopes to one day become equal parts both.

Predicting the Unpredictable: NUPredicts and the 2016 Election

November 26, 2016 | Professor Thomas Ogorzalek

What a roller coaster. In keeping with the quantitative spirit of the times, we at One Book sponsored an election prediction game in which members of the Northwestern community pitted their wits against each other to forecast some results of the 2016 election. Here’s how it worked: between October 25 and November 7, players could log in using their NetID and answer a series of questions (listed below). Players would get points only for correct answers. Here’s the tricky part: the amount of points you got for a correct answer is based on how many other players made that prediction. If practically everyone was predicting a particular result you would get fewer points than if you correctly predicted a result that very few people predicted. This encouraged players to think probabilistically—rather than just thinking about which event seemed more likely, the points structure rewarded those who thought closely about how likely a given outcome was, and made their prediction accordingly.

Players could log in and make their answers any time during the open window. After the election day was done, the points (and prizes) were doled out.

In our game, players were asked to predict a series of outcomes that were determined on Election Day. Here are the questions from the game, along with the percent of players who answered correctly:

  1. Who will be elected President in 2016?  (Trump, 9.6%)

  2. Will Hillary Clinton win a majority of the overall popular vote? (No, 35.4%)

  3. Will voter turnout (as a percent of the voting age population) be greater than it was in 2012? (No, 36.2%)*

  4. Which candidate will win each of the following States?

    1. Ohio (Trump, 40.5%)

    2. Pennsylvania (Trump, 7%)

    3. Georgia (Trump, 86.9%)

    4. Nevada (Clinton, 76.4% )

    5. Iowa (Trump, 44.5%)

    6. Florida (Trump, 29.4%)

    7. Arizona (Trump, 34.2%)

  5. Will Hillary Clinton get 370 or more electoral votes? (No, 76.7%)

  6. Will Donald Trump get 370 or more electoral votes? (No, 93.1%)

  7. What percent of the popular vote will Clinton get in Illinois? (more than 55%, 90.4%)

  8. Will one candidate win the popular vote, but the other candidate win the electoral college vote? (Yes,  9.8%)

  9. Will Clinton win at least one state that Romney won in 2012? (No, 6.7%)

  10. Will Trump win at least one state that Obama won in 2012? (Yes, 54.3%)

  11. Will a candidate OTHER than Trump or Clinton place first or second in any state? (No, 66.1%)

  12. Will there be a state-wide recount in any state  (No, 60.7%)*

  13. Which party will have a majority in the House of Representatives after the election? (Republican)

  14. Will Illinois Democrats increase their number of seats in the House of Representatives?  (Yes, 86.7%)

  15. Which party will have majority control of the Senate after the election? (Republican, 22.7%)

  16. Will Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House after the 2016 election? (No, 83.8%)

  17. Who will win the Illinois Senate election? (Tammy Duckworth, 91.7%)

  18. Will Illinois Democrats win “veto-proof” majorities in both the State House and State Senate? (No, 85.5%)

  19. Will @realDonaldTrump send more than 17 tweets on November 8, 2016 (not counting re-tweets)? (No, 12.1%)

*As of this writing; may change but we won’t update the game.

I also used this game as an opportunity to study some of the factors associated with accurate predictions. Along with the game questions, players were asked to (anonymously) complete a short set of survey questions about their political views, their past voting behavior, and their sources of political information. The idea behind these questions is to help contribute to our understanding of political information processing—whether some persons are more biased than others, whether more information (ie, playing at a later date) was helpful or not, and whether being a political scientist (like me) actually helps one make “good” predictions. I’ve just begun to comb through the data, but here are a few immediate insights.

One of the interesting pieces here is that there was a clear bias among NUPredicts players on behalf of Clinton for many of these states. While One Book’s own Nate Silver gave Clinton a 71.4% chance of winning the Presidency on the eve of the election, 91.4% of game players predicted she would win (to be fair, most of the other forecasters gave Clinton a higher chance than Silver did). Given the information available, from prediction markets like Predict It, polls, and the like, a savvy player might have bucked the trend and picked some of the “undervalued” assets. Indeed, that’s what we see among the highest scorers: even though they weren’t particularly conservative, or Republican-leaning, the top scorers were likely to have predicted a Trump victory in a few swing states that were closer in the polls than they were in our game. Overall, party identification had a pretty strong relationship to one’s score in the game—strong Republicans on average scored about twice as many points as Democrats. Independents and non-strong Republicans were in between. The figure below shows this graphically: with a different box for each level of partisanship (Strong Democrats to Strong Republicans), and the averages for each group. Both groups of Democrats averaged about 2,000 points. Independents and “non-strong” Republicans averaged about 2,500—but strong Republicans averaged about 4,000. BOTH groups were probably influenced by partisan bias, given the available information, and there were very high and very low scores in each of the groups. On average, though, the outcome in the end favored those who bet on Trump (which was of course a high-payoff strategy given the rules of the game).

One other facet of the game was its time frame: players could play any time from its opening (on October 25th) until midnight before election day. We would expect there to be definite advantages to waiting, as the polls narrowed significantly in the week before the run-up, in part due to the FBI’s controversial non-revelatory intervention into the campaign narrative. But the time window doesn’t seem to have given much predictive benefit. Perhaps because of the partisan bias of the overall pool, or maybe because there was so much going on and all the polls were still predicting a Clinton victory, there doesn’t appear at first glance to be any information effect among participants—players who made their choices very late in the game did no better than those who played very early in the window, and those who follow politics very closely did no better than those who don’t pay much attention at all. I’ll be digging in more closely to see what other factors were related to correct predictions.

Why prediction markets?

The NU Predicts game was based on Nate Silver’s website, which relies on a complicated formula to aggregate voters’ expressed preferences into overall forecasts of what is likely to occur. Political scientists and others are increasingly using prediction markets as tools for aggregating information and forecasting the future. The idea behind them is that when people have “skin in the game” (usually, something significant and material at stake, but in our case just pride of wit and a pretty spiffy One Book t-shirt for a prize) and are asked to voice their beliefs about the future (rather than just their preferences), self-interest will make them more likely to take a clear-eyed look at what’s going to occur, rather than make a biased judgment on what they hope will occur, or take a position that they feel may actually change that outcome. It’s akin to the economic idea that the market sets the “true” price of a good based on lots of input from lots of people using their own judgment and slices of the information pie. If you’re interested in seeing more such prediction in action, visit predictit.org, a political futures market founded in part by some researchers studying this idea.

In the case of the 2016 election, most Wildcats got most of the answers wrong here, including the one that will likely have the most real-world impact. Of course, this was true for most pollsters, and most political scientists—perhaps because we were all relying on similar pieces of information, or some important pieces were invisible to our information processors.

The Next One!

If you feel like you need to totally redeem yourself after this one, or missed the game entirely, don’t worry—NU Predicts will be back in January with Wildcats basketball games and an Oscars prediction game. Visit the NU Predicts Calendar for more info.

Macbeth: A Staged Reading

November 11, 2016 | Melissa Calica

This past Friday, Northwestern's Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts sponsored a staged reading of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kathryn Walsh and vocally designed by Linda Gates, seven students read through the lines and added some syllabant sounds, clapping, and stomping. There were no props or a set except for a bell and several music stands to hold the scripts, and the starkness of the set only added to the poignancy. After the reading, the actors and directors had a panel discussion connecting the play to Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise. The repetition of the witches' prophecies increased the tension of the tragedy, and when all actors spoke the witches' lines, the audience felt the prediction take a life of its own, especially as each character used the predictions to shape their own opinions and actions. It was very interesting to hear how Shakespeare's words still resonate today, especially with regards to Silver's work.

It's complicated: The unpredictability of predictions in elections

November 10, 2016 | Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

In the end, it came down to will she or won’t she?

What seemed like a comfortable 81 percent chance of winning the election for Hillary Clinton just a couple of weeks ago, morphed into a tight race to the finish after FBI director James Comey announced a new investigation of a new round of Clinton’s emails. But she was still expected to win the presidency – until the reality of the red wall of electoral votes gave the victory to Donald Trump.

Clearly predicting outcomes of complex events such as election winners using data and statistical calculations is what statistician and journalist Nate Silver does on a regular basis through his news website fivethirtyeight.com. He and his team collate mountains of live polling data and crunch these numbers via different statistical and mathematical models to arrive at these predictions. Trump was stronger wherever the economy was weaker,  with slower job growth and lower wages. And he outperformed Clinton in all those counties, it states on Silver’s website as part of the election analysis.

Silver, a statistician by training, started his career analyzing numbers for baseball. But he catapulted into national fame for successfully hitting the bulls-eye, predicting who the president would be in the 2008 and 2012 elections. His 2012 book ‘The Signal and the Noise’, on the art of predicting, hit the New York Times bestseller list. Last month, as part of the ‘One Book One Northwestern’ program, he talked about his book at the Northwestern University.

Here’s what he said, though we clearly need a new book now. “Prediction is intrinsic to the scientific method, where we are all kind of flailing around and trying to figure out what the truth really is, what’s subjective and what’s not,” said Silver in an interview before his talk. “So to me, a prediction is central to the process of gaining knowledge,” he added. But it still relies on theories and abstract models.

In his talk to a packed auditorium at Northwestern University, Silver noted a shocking statistic – that 90 percent of the data available in the world was recorded in the past couple of years! And we are now grappling with the issues of how to analyze these vast volumes of “big data.”

“As far as forecasting complex events such as earthquakes and terrorism, people have made very little progress since it’s never as easy as a push button solution. One of the biggest challenges of big data is that there is more room for interpretation and errors,” he said.

Taking the case of the election predictions, “newspapers such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune etc. have been making a lot of predictions as to how the presidential race is shaping up and their implications,” said Silver. He continued, “Our role is not to say we can predict everything perfectly but instead to be able to say when things are more or less predictable and what are realistic scenarios versus plausible and unrealistic versus really impossible scenarios.”

Silver emphasized that fivethirtyeight.com has been more on the cautious side, predicting that Hillary Clinton had an 80 percent or even 75 percent chance winning as opposed to other polls. However, he mentioned that it is not always easy to make successful predictions because ‘uncertainty’ gets in its way.

And what is uncertainty? Let us take the example of the 2016 elections, which has a lot more ambiguity compared to the previous elections. Silver said, “Younger voters are a major source of uncertainty. The way it shows up is a higher number of undecided voters. We are not going to have many millennials who vote for Donald Trump, but they could vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or decide not to vote.” Silver warned that if the Bernie Sanders voters from the primaries did not go out to vote on the day of the election, then Clinton would be at risk.

In fact, the millennial vote split at 55 percent for Clinton, 37 percent for Trump and rest – 8 percent – voted for a variety of candidates.

Since election polls are all based on a certain sample size, one of the other major components affecting the ability to correctly predict elections is calculating the margin of error, said Silver. In statistics, the error margin calculation enables us to discern the “accuracy” and in turn, assess the uncertainty of prediction.

Drawing on weather forecasting and disasters in his book, Silver said, “In April 1997, the Red River flooded a town in North Dakota as the state had faced heavy snowfall that year. Although it didn’t result in any loss of life, it resulted in the evacuation of thousands of residents with clean up costs running into billions. This damage could have been mitigated.” Yes, the National Weather Service had predicted that this flood would crest at an all-time high of 49 feet. What they missed in this prediction was the “uncertainty.”

“It turns out, in this case, the margin of error calculation resulted in +9 to -9 feet,” said Silver, meaning the river could have crested anywhere between 40 and 58 feet. As a result, the prediction was much too “perfect.” The levees were built to withstand a maximum of 51 feet, but that year the water crested at 54 feet, defying the Weather Service’s precise prediction.

Silver plans to predict much more than sports and elections on fivethirtyeight.com. “We’d like to look at areas of criminal justice for example, which is a case where, for a long time, you didn’t have very good data. There’s pressure now to get more data,” he said referring to some underrepresented areas of prediction. Education, public policy, urban planning etc. are other areas, which Silver said he would like to explore.

Talking about his inspiration to create the website, Silver said, “It was partly due to my frustration with the way elections were covered by media.” And he cautioned about the dangers of publishing breaking news too quickly in today’s expeditious world. “It’s important to understand what’s going on first before hyping stories. The quick turn-around time in a journalistic sphere is misguided,” he said, adding that it is critical to maintain objectivity while reporting news.

Silver highlighted, without uncertainty, the need for more STEM graduates in the U.S. who would be trained in quantitative skills needed to promote the future of data journalism. “Young journalists need to understand the importance of data visualization, which is another valuable skill to have,” he said.

Silver also stressed the importance of having people trained in cross-disciplinary fields. “I think we will see that happening but we can’t solve a big human capital problem overnight. It will happen over a generation or half a generation,” he said.

Speeches and Actions in the Presidential Election

November 3, 2016 | Melissa Calica

A panel of professors from Northwestern and a few other institutions met in University Hall last Thursday to discuss the upcoming election and social movements such as the rise of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. The discussion, moderated by Northwestern political science assistant professor Thomas Ogorzalek, included Malik Alim (the Roosevelt Institute and Black Youth Project 100), Deva Woodly (the New School for Social Research), Chloe Thurston (Northwestern's political science department) and Jeffrey Goldfarb (the New School). Audience members asked questions about the future of American politics and how some social phenomena came to be.

As a sociology major, I found this talk very enlightening, especially since, in my Class and Culture Sociology class, we discussed the presidential debates and the similarities between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. It was an honor to hear these experts and leading researchers share their insights on what to expect in the election and beyond.

Chicago: City of Big Data Exhibit

November 3, 2016 | Macray Poidomani

Whether it's the data for every crime committed since 2001 or the salaries of every City of Chicago employee, data is open and accessible in Chicago. According to Tom Schenk Jr., the Chief Data Officer for the city, data is building community and leading to innovate solutions in Chicago. Open data is leading to collaboration between Chicago and voters, academic institutions, and small businesses. Moreover, predictive analytics are used and data is incorporated to do everything from catching rodents to optimizing food inspectors. Schenk certainly proved that data is all around us and Chicago is taking advantage of that fact to improve governmental services.

There's still time to get your NUPredicts answers in

November 3, 2016 | Josh Burton

NUPredicts: The Election will be open until November 7th at 11:59 PM so make sure to get your predictions in now! The information will be used to help the research of political science professor Tom Ogorzalek, who says in Northwestern News: “College is a crucial time for young people to start developing habits of civic engagement, and the November 8th election will be the first formative experience for many Northwestern students."

Get your predictions in today online at this link: https://nupredicts.northwestern.edu/#/sign-in. All you need is a NetID!

Dr. Richard Lewis of the University of Michigan gives talk in Annenberg

November 2, 2016 Tamar Daskin

Richard Lewis, psychology and linguistics professor at the University of Michigan, came to Northwestern to give a talk about his research in computational modeling and prediction in linguistics last week. With about 40 people in attendance, Annenberg 303 was comfortably full.

Professor Lewis’ talk delved into his research on how the brain processes language. While the talk was not overly technical, it was certainly geared to a cognitive psychology audience. One of the factors explored in his research is determining how the brain filters out the noise of everyday experiences. The noise created in short-term memory is part of what predicts whether a person will perform better or worse in a functional language processing test. Dr. Lewis’ results show that accuracy is affected by the promised reward in experimental settings, and that the fundamental constraint on short term memory is filtering the noise out and retaining the signal for what is being asked of the participant. His model predicts the adaptation of the brain to reward payoffs, and all of this processing happens within 4 or 5 repetitions of the experiment.

Overall, the talk was very interesting and demonstrated, even to a lay audience, one of the ways in which the brain is constantly parsing out the signal from the noise. Dr. Lewis’ research focuses, in part, on how to predict processing speed of the brain in order to better understand language processing in the brain.

Northwestern a leader in voter engagement during 2016 election season

November 1, 2016 | Alexandria Marie Johnson

In anticipation of the November 8 general election, Northwestern University’s Center for Civic Engagement has been working to increase political and voter engagement on campus through a variety of initiatives – including partnership with One Book One Northwestern.

This year’s selection, The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail – but Some Don't by Nate Silver, describes modern data-based prediction theories in critical fields, including political polling. In partnership with One Book, the Center for Civic Engagement has supported engagement efforts like debate watch parties for the campus community.

“College aged-students are not well-known for their voter turnout, yet I do think that college campuses are often home to a lot of important social movements,” said NU Votes staffer Rabeya Mallick. “If we can get more and more students engaged and invested in the political process by voting, I think we can change this common narrative that young people don't care and young people don't count.”

This fall, 96 percent of eligible freshmen were registered to vote by the end of move-in day through NU Votes, a non-partisan initiative by the Center designed to provide the Northwestern community with accessible and understandable information about voter registration and voting procedures.

“The earlier that college-aged students start engaging in the political process, the more likely we are to continue to stay engaged throughout our lives. That's huge,” said NU Votes staffer Bella Sandoval, SESP ’17. “It's not just about getting college students registered to vote. It's about registering students to vote, so they can begin on this path of civic engagement, of participation in our democracy. How cool is that?”

This fall, NU Votes launched a new set of online tools to help students check their voter registration status, register for the first time, update their registration information or request an absentee ballot in any of the 50 states. Through a weeklong Voter Registration Station at Norris University Center, the NU Votes tools were used more than 2,000 times.

“Our work is to help students get to that first step of registering to vote and hopefully voting, and then hopefully that can lead to further community engagement,” Mallick said.

The week before the election, NU Votes will be helping transport students to the Evanston Civic Center for early voting and grace period voter registration. The popular “Voter Van” will beback on campus November 2-4 from 1-7pm, departing from Norris every 20 minutes until 6:40pm each evening.

"The Voter Van is both fun and convenient,” Mallick said. “It makes voting so much easier and accessible to busy students, and I think it also makes the process of voting feel like more of a communal and shared experience.”

Chicago Humanities Festival: Hasan Elahi

October 31, 2016 | Melissa Calica

Hasan Elahi, a professor and media artist known for his work on surveillance and privacy, spoke at the Block Museum on Saturday as part of the ongoing Chicago Humanities Festival. In a room of over 100 people of all ages and backgrounds, Elahi spoke about his experiences as a target of the FBI and of the art project that he made out of it. He stressed the idea that sharing private information out into the world ironically serves as protection by producing a lot of data camouflage, to echo Nate Silver and The Signal and the Noise. Elahi himself has amassed tons of pictures and shared an exaggerated amount of information publicly, right down to the humorous pictures of toilets he has visited.

Blending humor and shock, he shared some surprising facts about the crazy amount of data that the government can access. It can be frightening to think about surveillance and privacy, especially in terms of the government and FBI, but it is interesting and thought-provoking how mass data can serve as signal through a maze of noise.

ETOPiA's Friday Night at the Movies: Tim's Vermeer

October 31, 2016 | Kaitland Postley

This past Friday night, ETOPiA (Engineering and the Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Projects in the Arts), presented the film Tim's Vermeer in Ryan Auditorium. The film followed inventor Tim Jenison as he attempted to understand the science behind the masterful work of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Jenison's journey to understand Vermeer took him to The Netherlands and England to observe the work of this elusive artist.

Jenison uses his background in visual design and his experience with technology to attempt what many believed impossible: to paint a Vermeer. The film played out like a research paper on film, and with the addition of a panel discussion presented by ETOPiA, many in the audience left the film laughing, smiling, and thinking about the real difference between art and technology. Be sure to check out the next screenings in ETOPiA's film series and keep up to date with all of the fun One Book programming!

Signal and the Noise Book Discussion: Politics

October 27, 2016 | Josh Burton

Political polls, Nate Silver, and the use of data in political projections were some of the topics mentioned on Wednesday night in University Library's New Book Nook in a discussion led by Thomas Ogorzalek, an assistant professor of political science, the first of five to held throughout the year on various topics. The second chapter of The Signal and the Noise, called Are You Smarter Than A Television Pundit, focused on how often political analysts mis-predict the results of elections for a variety of reasons, which served as the springboard for the talk.

Ogorzalek's discussion centered around the statistical methods used by analysts, such as Nate Silver, to construct methodologies to predict various political events based off polling data, demographics and historical inputs. A co-director of the Chicago Democracy Project, Ogorzalek researches demography, politics and shifts in American history through a political science lens.

Third Presidential Debate Watch at Norris

October 19, 2016 | Kaitland Postley

Last night at the Norris Debate Watch, students gathered to view the third and final debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. While the proceedings started out relatively tame, the debate quickly heated up when candidates responded to questions concerning the Supreme Court, economy, international hot spots, and national debt. The responses got Northwestern students to laugh, gasp, and at times, rendering them speechless.

With everything that happened on screen, it was a good thing that Political Science professor Thomas Ogorzaleck and fellow colleagues were present for a post-debate talk-back sponsored by the Political Science department, the Office of Student Affairs, One Book, and Norris. Students discussed their reactions to the debate and received answers for some lingering policy questions before they line up to vote on November 8th.

One Book's next events covering politics and the upcoming election include the October 25 launch of NUpredicts: The Election where NU students vote on which candidate they believe will win be the next president, and the One Book Group Discussion on Politics hosted by Professor Thomas Ogorzaleck in the New Book Nook of University Library on October 26 from 5-6pm. Don’t miss out on your chance to get involved!

Nate Silver speaks to packed house at One Book keynote

October 6, 2016 | Erin Karter

EVANSTON - Analytics guru and political prognosticator Nate Silver touched upon predictions related to the election, of course, the Cubs and monster Hurricane Matthew that was headed toward the Florida coast as he addressed a sold-out crowd of approximately 1,000 people at Northwestern’s Pick Staiger Concert Hall on Thursday, Oct. 6.

As of that moment in time, his predictive analytics, unfortunately, had the Cubs losing the World Series.  While urging caution because of the volatile dynamics and variables involved in political prognosticating, Silver predicted that the Democrats are likely to win a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.  

Silver, the author of this year's One Book One Northwestern selection, “The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail — But Some Don't,” is the founder of FiveThirtyEight.com  – which correctly predicted the winner of the presidential contests in 49 of 50 states in 2008 and called the correct winner in all 50 states in 2012.

In his address, the master number cruncher of modern day life, ran through a litany of topics to illustrate the complexity of predictive data science, pointing to its great successes and monumental failures.

Silver was on the same page with the majority of Northwestern students, faculty and staff – almost 500 – who, through NUpredicts, predicted that the Cubs will not win the World Series and that the Democrats will win a majority of seats in the U.S. Senate.

But political prognosticating, he said, is particularly difficult, especially when it comes to this year’s highly volatile presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  

“If we were talking a year ago, I might have told you, ‘Oh, Trump might be leading in the polls ... but we know candidates with his profile don’t win the nomination,” Silver said. “I would have said that with a high degree of confidence, and I would have been very wrong.”

In the general election race between Clinton and Trump, Silver said even the most reliable polling data is little like playing poker.

“There’s just enough signal and there’s just enough noise for there to be a million different ways to interpret the data,” he added.

In his the keynote address, Silver touched on many areas he discussed in his book.

Data, Silver said, is of little use without human insight and experience.

According to Silver, 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years.  “Maybe only .009 percent of it is useful data,” he said, adding that much work remains to ease the “tension” between the vast amounts of data and our limited ability to use the data to solve problems. 

With Hurricane Matthew moving toward Florida, he talked about hurricane forecasting as a success story of predictive science – one that has greatly reduced the loss of life.

He also discussed areas where predictions have fallen short, including the forecasting of terrorism, earthquakes and the housing crisis.

Silver praised Northwestern for prioritizing data science and encouraged students to pursue the skills that will enable them to think “probabilistically.”

He also stressed the importance of cultivating diversity in the business of analytics by supporting women and minorities in a field that has historically been dominated by white men.

One Book One Northwestern kicks off its calendar of events

September 23, 2016 | Macray Wendell Poidomani

One Book One Northwestern kicked off its calendar of events with NUpredicts Wildcat Welcome edition as the Northwestern Wildcat football team defeated the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday, September 17th.

New and transfer students faced off both individually and between peer advisory groups as they attempted to correctly predict outcomes relating to the football game. Students were asked questions ranging from on-field action to Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s game attire.

Leading the way individually was Deborah Turetsky, who used her prediction ability to amass 2733 pts. Virginia Arguelles followed with 2281 pts. In terms of group performance, peer advisory Group 129 average 802 points per participant, defeating 2nd place Group 147 by 98 average points per participant.

In total, there were 699 total game players. Collectively, this resulted in 6861 predictions.

This year’s book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t,” by Nate Silver, inspired the creation of the app, NUpredicts. The app will be used throughout the year to test Northwestern students, faculty, and staff’s prediction ability for various pop culture, sporting, and political events. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of NUpredicts, which will take place from 10/25-11/7, as the Northwestern community will attempt to utilize lessons learned from “The Signal and the Noise” to predict outcomes relating the United States Presidential Election. You can access the application via the following URL: https://nupredicts.northwestern.edu/#/sign-in.

One Book One Northwestern would like to thank the Northwestern students, staff, and faculty who aided in the creation and implementation of the app.

To keep up with updates and rules for the game, follow the One Book One Northwestern twitter feed at @OneBookNU or go to the One Book website www.northwestern.edu/onebook.

One Book One Northwestern Kicks Off With Prediction Challenge

As the Wildcats battle Duke Saturday, students will battle each other on NUpredicts

September 14, 2016 | Erin Karter

Students use the NU Predicts app to make predictions about the Duke v. Northwestern Football Game

EVANSTON, Ill. -- As the Northwestern University Wildcats face off against Duke University this Saturday, teams of new students will be locked in battle to accurately predict the victor, the final score and much more.

One Book One Northwestern is kicking off a year of programing with the unveiling of an online game called NUPredicts, an app inspired by this year’s One Book selection, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don’t,” by analytics guru and political prognosticator Nate Silver.

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