The Science of an Upset

By  Kathryn Schiller Wurster

Donald Trump won the presidency last night, taking the electoral college despite what appears to be Clinton’s narrow win in the popular vote. The results surprised nearly everyone in the media and polling world, who had almost entirely predicted a wide margin of victory for Hillary Clinton. Even Nate Silver’s blog FiveThirtyEight, which has earned a reputation for crunching numbers in exquisite fashion, had Clinton with much better odds throughout most of the race, with the final odds at 70/30 Clinton to Trump the day before the election.

But all the numbers crunchers depend on polls and statistical methods that aren’t reliable and now seem remarkably old fashioned. A Nature article examined this problem in mid-October and blamed the decline of landlines, rise of mobile phones, “shy voter” behavior, and unreliable online polls. At one time in history, calling people on the phone and asking them questions may have been the best way to find out their opinions and predict their likely behavior. But this election has just proved that it doesn’t always work. The UK saw a similar upset against the pollsters’ predictions in the Brexit vote.

The problem is what people say on the phone is likely driven by lots of other factors, especially when the candidates and poll questions are controversial. Conducting phone surveys today also relies on an increasingly outdated mode of social interaction, likely biasing the samples. Online polls likely have their own biases; they also rely on people answering honestly and having a representative sample. In the end, it is clear that asking a small subset of people questions cannot be relied on to give us a real picture of what likely voters are actually going to do.

At the same time, we have more data streams about people, and correlations to their behavior, than ever before. Advertisers can target microgroups based on incredibly detailed demographics. Each of us leave vast trails of data everywhere we go; these trails could be mined to answer all the questions pollsters ask (and likely much more). Social network analysis should be able to tell us who the influencers are and measure their impact on the outcomes.

Now we need a team of statisticians and big data analysts and marketing gurus to look back at trends in data from a wide range of sources in the lead-up to the election. We need a forensic investigator to try to find correlations and trends that we missed along the way and connect the dots that led us here. The margins were narrow, so it may be that – for now – the degree of uncertainty we have to accept is still greater than the margin of error in the actual results. But we should be able to do better than this.

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Dylann Roof is a Terrorist, and We Could Have Caught It

Charles Mueller

Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old Caucasian male who gunned down nine innocent African-American churchgoers on Wednesday night, is a terrorist. This person is not crazy, he is a terrorist. This crime was about hate, it was meant to invoke fear into the people of the United States, and it has succeeded. Despite the obviousness that this was an act of terror, this horrible stain on United States’ history is being touted by the mainstream media as being just another unfortunate “mass shooting” and considered a hate crime. His actions speak to bigger problem than an act of intolerance. Dylann Roof is an American terrorist, and until we chose to recognize this for what it is, the problem is only going to repeat itself.

America is built on tolerance of religions and has become a beacon of hope for people around the world. Allowing these types of actions to perpetuate as hate crimes hurts the American people. His actions are very different than the unfortunate lone-wolf situations at Sandy Hook, MA, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, CO. These actors were not there to scare or harm a specific population. They did not care who was in the room; everyone was going to suffer. Dylann Roof targeted a population of people that he thought did not deserve to live.

Let’s take it from the top. On Wednesday night, Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, SC. He sat in the back of the church for about an hour and refused to engage with those there. Then he got up, pulled out his gun, and told the room of people that he was going to “shoot all of you”. When Tywanza Sanders tried to calmly talk him out of violence saying that, “You don’t have to do this”, Dylann Roof responded by saying, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.” He then proceeded to murder innocent people in cold-blood and left one woman alive so she could tell the world what happened. Dylann Roof was a well-known racist among the people who knew him. He hated African-Americans. The terrorist had on his Facebook page a picture of himself wearing the flags of the apartheid-era South Africa, and of Rhodesia. His roommate Dalton Tyler reported that Dylann Roof had been “planning something like that for 6 months” and noted, “He said he wanted to start a civil war.” He is known to be an extremist. His actions are clearly a case of domestic terrorism intended to intimidate a civilian population. His actions were calculated. How is this coward not a terrorist? This is more than just a hate-crime; this is state-fostered terrorism.

It is an abomination that people are refusing to call this what it is: terrorizing a population. The mainstream media has downplayed the reality and severity of this attack. When two people who supported the Muslim faith planned to attack the venue of a provocative cartoon contest in Texas, the media and government had no problem calling that plot a do-it-yourself terror plot inspired by ISIS. All over the news you saw headlines about the “Texas Terror Plot”. After a racist white coward gunned down nine-innocent African-Americans the media referred to this as “tragedy” and a “mass murder”. One mainstream media outlet even tried to spin this as a war on Christianity and declared that in response to this we should consider arming our churches with guns so they could defend themselves. The news comedian Jon Stewart spoke without a hint of jokes and called this out. This was a terrorist attack plain and simple. This was not a crazy person killing people. This was a terrorist attacking the people of the United States.

By refusing to call this terrorism, it means we will not be taking the necessary precautions to defend the people of the United States against these kinds of terrorist acts. Instead of simply focusing on lone-wolves inspired by ISIS, we should be using the tools we have to defend our national security to find the lone-wolves inspired by the other extremist groups like the KKK. Why is one form of terrorism something we can turn a blind eye too and another form something we will go to war over?

We have technology and the capabilities to identify terrorists who attack our nation. We could have identified Dylann Roof before this happened and possibly intervened had we monitored his actions as we do with other potential terrorists. By refusing to classify these types of acts as acts of terror we will continue to let potential terrorists roam free and will remain surprised when they finally go “crazy” and kill innocent Americans. A terrorist is anybody willing to kill in order to promote his or her cause. There is absolutely no question that Dylann Roof is a terrorist and calling him anything else is only going to make the rest of the world question the legitimacy of our fight against terrorism.