Needle of uncertainty

Posted to Statistics  |  Tags: , ,  |  Nathan Yau

The Upshot has used a needle to show shifts in their live election forecasts, because many readers don’t understand probability. Nate Cohn and Josh Katz:

This was evident before the result of the 2016 election, and as a result we tried something new: a jitter, where the needle quivered to reflect the uncertainty around the forecast. Although many readers disliked it, the jitter reflected an earnest attempt to give tangible meaning to abstract probabilities. Nonetheless, we turned the jitter off for all of our 2017 forecasts.

Tonight, readers will have the option to turn the jitter off. We expect that some readers will opt to do so, but remember this: Switching it off only hides the uncertainty — it doesn’t make it go away.

Read the whole thing for why the needle, what the needle means, and how The Upshot is using it.

As much as I hated what the needle showed me the first time I saw it, I’ve grown to appreciate the uncertainty it represents.


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