Can a football game predict a presidential election?


In a city built on hedging your bets, it is fitting that the Analytics 2014 conference kicked off Monday in Las Vegas with a look at all the unscientific ways people try to predict the future.

John Elder, Founder and President of Elder Research, Inc., entertained the audience with examples of how presidential elections have been seemingly predicted over the years based on outcomes of Washington Redskins football games, college sporting events and the Family Circle First Lady Cookie Contest. These off-the-wall correlations make the news because people want to find order in world of disorder, and we want to believe there is proof behind the “hunches” so many of us rely on in making decisions.

Elder’s point with these examples was to help us see the need for uncovering true discoveries, backed by plenty of data and rigorous testing. Instead of publishing only positive research outcomes, he is a proponent of sharing false positives and false negatives as well so that a more complete picture of the analysis can be made.

“Be aware of confirmation bias. We have an idea, and we want to prove it true, but we have to be open to the alternative,” Elder said. “Adhere to the truth – wherever it leads us. That’s the best thing we can do as statisticians.”

Sure you have the data, but can you tell me what it means?

Jay Liebowitz speaks at A2014
Jay Liebowitz speaks at A2014

You have to be pretty brave to stand before a room filled with hundreds of analytical minds and tell them intuition is not to be overlooked. Keynote presenter Jay Liebowitz from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has been making the case for “informed intuitants” for some time, arguing that: Intuition = Analytics + Insight. He polled the audience with questions such as, “Do you put a lot of faith in your initial feels about people and situations?” and “Do you trust your experience when arriving at the reasons for making a decision even if you can’t explain why?”

In order to have the proverbial “seat at the table,” Liebowitz said business analysts have to do more than just point to the data. They have to be able to synthesize information and explain results to C-level executives in a language they can understand.

“There is a great role that intuition has to play for us when we look at analytics,” Liebowitz said. “Recognize and respect your intuition, not following it blindly or rejecting it outright.” (Read more on Liebowitz’s theory on intuition in the boardroom.)

In addition to the keynote presentations, attendees had more than 20 breakout sessions to choose from. Visit the SAS Training Post for interviews with attendees and highlights from the sessions.


About Author

Lisa Arney

Managing Editor, Internal Communications

Lisa Arney is an internal communications manager at SAS, where she has worked since 2002. Lisa oversees a team of writers supporting the major divisions at SAS to share news and information that helps employees feel engaged and informed.

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