In which I foolishly question Nate Silver

For those of you unfamiliar with Nate Silver, he is the scary-smart political analyst whose blog, FiveThirtyEight.com, was a daily stop for me in the run-up to the election. (In fact, I would refresh the page over and over, hoping for any new analysis or predictions). His final electoral predictions were almost entirely spot-on. I will leave it to certain other people to question his take on climate science, but I consider him to be a reliably intelligent and well-informed source of excellent thought.

And so, it is with some trepidation that I disagree with his Oscar predictions. Or rather, his prediction for Best Supporting Actress. (I agree with him about all the others. Bet your house on Heath Ledger.) His pick:

Supporting Actress
Taraji P. Henson.......................51.0%
Penélope Cruz..........................24.6%
Viola Davis................................11.6%
Amy Adams...............................11.6%
Marisa Tomei.............................1.2%

Most of the major awards in the Supporting Actress category have been won by Kate Winslet for The Reader—a role the Academy misguidedly considers a lead. That’s nice for Winslet, not so nice for our computer. Penélope Cruz, who won the bafta for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, would seem the logical default. But computer sez: Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson! Button, which looks like a shutout everywhere else, is the only Best Picture nominee with a Supporting Actress nod, and Best Pic nominees tend to have an edge in the other categories.

Well, I'm sure that the calculations are rock-solid, and Nate's prediction is based upon the best artificial intelligence in the world. Sadly, there's a nuance that no computer can fully take into account -- Taraji P. Henson is a nobody. (Well, a nobody compared to Penelope Cruz. She is an Oscar nominee, which is no small potatoes. Real nobodies write blogs about them, after all.) While it's hard to predict this category given the muddying factors Nate mentions, I'm putting my money on Penelope. She's been nominated once before (for her wonderful role in Volver), and the Academy will probably give her the Oscar.

I also disagree with Nate's take on Kate Winslet's role in The Reader, which the Better Half and I saw the other night. While it would have been preferable for her to have been nominated for Revolutionary Road, a more clear-cut leading role, if the Academy can lob a statuette at Judi Dench for a glorified walk-on role then it can nominate Winslet for a Leading Actress award for her central role in The Reader. She is excellent, as always, in both films, and really, really deserves to win. (On a related note, Ralph Fiennes's work in The Reader makes him a shoo-in to win this year's Lifetime Acheivement Award in Cinematic Sad-Sackery.) It is ludicrous that Reese Witherspoon (who I generally kind of like) has an Oscar for Walk the Line but the best actress of her generation doesn't have one yet. FIX THIS, ACADEMY!

To placate the indomitable Nate Silver, I will also refer you to this excellent post on progressivism in America. Like him, I consider myself a rational progressive, and share his sentiments about those with a radical bent.


  1. It is just too coincidental that you post this today. I stumbled on Nate's predictions for the Oscars this morning and said to myself, "noo....it's Penelope Cruz." but without any rational thought behind it.
    i'm going with YOU.

  2. Hmm!
    Nate is just showing how to manipulate statistics. If you look at the last plot he puts up you will see that in the period leading up to 1975, the graph actually went down for about 30 years. (And it was at the end of that period that George Will's quotes came). By carefully selecting his data Nate has distorted the record. But you should note that global warming has been going on, from his plot, since the end of the Little Ice Age in 1850. Since carbon dioxide is only considered to have been a forcing agent since about 1975 then discerning minds might like to consider that what we are seeing is a conventional warming.

    Incidentally I only comment on climate on Saturdays, the rest of the time I write about more boring stuff deaaling with energy, and such things as the price of oil this summer. (Grin)
    P.S. I tried to insert the relevant bit of the graph highlighted, but blogger and I had a discussion about it and I lost.

  3. Well, then, save this for Saturday. But I expect a full analysis in order to maintain my climate change agnosticism.