post

The Rise & Reign of the Guru Geek

Full disclosure straight off the top.

As of November 5, 2012 I had never heard of Nate Silver.

File:Nate Silver 2009.pngThat probably makes me one of the only self-professed news nerds in the country to not have a pre-election brain crush on the man that has single-handedly changed the conversation about election analysis.

Per wikipedia, Nate Silver is an American statistician, sabermetrician, psephologist, and writer; author of the FiveThirtyEight blog and the book The Signal and the Noise.

Per thousands of Americans, he’s the guy that showed pundits their place and elevated analysis of math and stats to rockstar levels.

And I believe he’s one of many household names that will increasingly enter our consciousness as we seek those who can make sense of the noise.

As noted in the New York Times review of Silver’s book

What Silver is doing here is playing the role of public statistician — bringing simple but powerful empirical methods to bear on a controversial policy question, and making the results accessible to anyone with a high-school level of numeracy. The exercise is not so different in spirit from the way public intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith once shaped discussions of economic policy and public figures like Walter Cronkite helped sway opinion on the Vietnam War. Except that their authority was based to varying degrees on their establishment credentials, whereas Silver’s derives from his data savvy in the age of the stats nerd.

We no longer have Cronkite. No longer can we point to an authoritative trusted voice in the national media that a large portion of the country doesn’t think is biased in one form or another.

So no voice from on high, and more information than ever at our fingertips could lead to mass confusion. Where do we go?

That’s where the geeks come in and kick the pundits’ tuckuses. Over to you ReadWrite:

“This is about the triumph of machines and software over gut instinct.

The age of voodoo is over. The era of talking about something as a “dark art” is done. In a world with big computers and big data, there are no dark arts.

And thank God for that. One by one, computers and the people who know how to use them are knocking off these crazy notions about gut instinct and intuition that humans like to cling to. For far too long we’ve applied this kind of fuzzy thinking to everything, from silly stuff like sports to important stuff like medicine.”

That means there is an important shift going on in the workplace. A new emphasis on skillsets that rely on interpreting and analyzing more than pontificating and postulating.

“Data analysis is the process of finding the right data to answer your question, understanding the processes underlying the data, discovering the important patterns in the data, and then communicating your results to have the biggest possible impact. There is a critical shortage of people with these skills in the workforce, which is why Hal Varian (Chief Economist at Google) says that being a statistician will be the sexy job for the next 10 years.” (Jeff Leek via Coursera)

The Harvard Business Review’s October issue on Big Data emphasized that trend, noting that business leaders will need to harness the data scientists, ‘the people who can coax treasure out of messy, unstructured data’ while still maintaining the ability to articulate vision and bring human insight to the cold, hard data.

As communication professionals, the onus will be on us to identify, gather, interpret and showcase data like never before. To get used to talking in algorithms, graphs and visualizations, and collaborating with the guru geeks in our industries to tell the story. To take the outcomes from data scientists and craft communication around the results.

It’s no longer just about being the office wordsmith, the master of the deftly turned phrase. Communicating an idea will require the supportive structure of data to ensure that message resonates with more credibility and impact. Thanks to Nate Silver, big data and the increasing appetite for the truth in numbers, we will all be the wiser for it.

 (first published @ Red Sky PR)