Nate Silver, the heralded statistician who correctly predicted the November presidential election, including getting each state correct, has been named Out Magazine’s Person of the Year. The founder and editor of FiveThirtyEight, Silver licenses his site to The New York Times, but remains independent from the paper. Silver is openly-gay but has rarely discussed it.
“His forecasts for the 2012 election became the talk of the chattering classes. Now that he’s vanquished his critics, what’s next for the braniac?,” Out Magazine’s editor Aaron Hicklin writes:
“For me, I think the most important distinguishing characteristic is that I’m independent-minded,” he says. “I’m sure that being gay encouraged the independent-mindedness, but that same independent-mindedness makes me a little bit skeptical of parts of gay culture, I suppose.”
He recalls a series of flagpoles in Boystown in Chicago memorializing various gay Americans. “There was one little plaque for Keith Haring, and it was, like, ‘Keith Haring, gay American artist, 1962 to 1981,’ or whatever [actually 1958 to 1990], and I was like, Why isn’t he just an American artist? I don’t want to be Nate Silver, gay statistician, any more than I want to be known as a white, half-Jewish statistician who lives in New York.”
The profile is much like Silver himself — it reveals little about the man who became a lightening rod for conservatives in the run up to the election. And while we’re left learning little about the man than we already knew, Hicklin offers this:
Of course, for a gay, half-Jewish geek from Michigan like Silver, the establishment, like the high school clique, is anathema—one you are wise to keep at arm’s distance. He’s more at home on the outside rattling the cage than on the inside playing with the monkeys. It’s why he admires Gawker founder Nick Denton, who threw a party for him in his SoHo apartment after the election. “He’s willing to be kind of destructive and path-breaking, and to challenge the status quo; in some ways, it’s kind of more my style,” he says. (Of Silver, Denton says, “He’s not necessarily the best statistician, but he might be the best stats geek who can also write—and perform on television. His steadiness under pundit fire before the election was something to witness.”) Although he wasn’t excessively bullied, Silver spent most of high school immersed either in fantasy baseball leagues or the debate program. “High school debate is a strange thing,” he concedes. “It’s very technical—you’re not up there giving some type of Abe Lincoln speech, you’re reading different types of evidence really fast.” He compares his delivery to the old Micro Machines ads, which may explain why he still talks in such a torrent, as well as his enviable ability to apply himself to the task at hand.
“I’m very conservative in some sense because I do believe that hard work is a huge part of the equation,” he says. “It’s often not sufficient to bring about success, but it’s very often necessary if you want to be really good at something. My team won the state title in my junior year, and we were first runners-up in my senior year—had one of the best records in the history of the state of Michigan.” He pauses to let this remarkable record sink in before adding, “I probably dedicated 60 hours a week to debate during debate season.” This staggering commitment brings to mind Gladwell’s thesis in Outliers: that genius is composed in large part of perspiration, or what he calls the “10,000 hour rule,” the amount of time, roughly, that you need to practice a specific task to become an expert.
Silver, whom few knew was gay until his reminder in a liberal UK paper, The Observer, was the subject of our editorial last month, “It Doesn’t Matter Nate Silver Is Gay. It Matters America Knows He Is.“
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