Will Nate Silver ruin his brand with NCAA predictions?

Statistical guru Nate Silver, known for his 2012 election predictions, has been branching out into other areas recently on the New York Times site. Check out his 2013 NCAA predictions. Or look at his 2013 Oscar predictions.

While Silver has a background in sports statistics, I wonder if these forays into new areas with the imprimatur of the New York Times will eventually backfire. In many ways, these new areas have less data than presidential elections and thus, Silver has to step further out on a limb. For example, look at these predictions for the 2013 NCAA bracket:

The top pick for 2013, Louisville, only has a 22.7% chance of winning. If Silver goes with this pick of Louisville, and he does, then he by his own figures will be wrong 77.3% of the time. These are not good odds.

I’m not sure Silver can really win much by predicting the NCAA champion or the Oscars because the odds of making a wrong prediction are higher. What happens if he is wrong a number of times in a row? Will people still listen to him in the same way? What happens when the 2016 presidential election comes along? Of course, Silver could continue to develop better models and make more accurate picks but even this takes attention away from his political predictions.

Does Michael Jordan own McMansions?

One headline for a story about Michael Jordan’s most recent home purchase suggests it is a McMansion: “Michael Jordan buys lakefront McMansion on a North Carolina golf course.” More on the house:

Bobcats owner Michael Jordan has purchased a 12,310-square-foot lakefront home in Cornelius, N.C., for $2.8 million.

The home is about 22 miles north of uptown Charlotte where the Bobcats play their home games and where Jordan owns a spacious condo…

The home is located on Lake Norman and the seventh hole of The Peninsula Golf Club. The listing states it features six bedrooms and eight bathrooms and a “stunning panoramic lake views from almost every room.”…

Last year he purchased a 28,000-square foot home in Jupiter, Fla., for $12.8 million after selling his mansion in Chicago.

I’m leery of dubbing a $2.8 million, 12,000 square a McMansion and not just a straight up mansion. On one hand, the home is less than half the size of the Jupiter, Florida home and it is built on a golf course, a common site for a McMansion. On the other hand, this house is five times larger than the average new home in the United States and is quite expensive.

Also, I wonder how this idea of owning a McMansion fits with Jordan’s image. Jordan’s brand is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and his image doesn’t quite fit the mass produced, garish home that the term McMansion implies. This is far-fetched but what would happen if this home purchase started hurting his brand?

The “functional religion” of Steve Jobs, Apple

After seeing the response to Steve Jobs’ death, a commentator at the Washington Post looks at some sociological research on Apple and concludes that Jobs was the leader of a religion-like movement:

In a secular age, Apple has become a religion, and Steve Jobs was its high priest.

Apple introduced the iPod in 2001, and that same year, an Eastern Washington University sociologist, Pui-Yan Lam, published a paper titled “May the Force of the Operating System Be With You: Macintosh Devotion as Implicit Religion.” Lam’s research struck close to home, quite literally — her husband has a mini-museum of Apple products in the basement…

And what it stands for, apparently, is more than just gleaming products and easy-to-use operating systems. Lam interviewed Mac fans, studied letters they wrote to trade magazines and scrutinized Mac-related Web sites. She concluded that Mac enthusiasts “adopted from both Eastern and Western religions a social form that emphasized personal spirituality as well as communal experience. The faith of Mac devotees is reflected and strengthened by their efforts in promoting their computer of choice.”…

If that sounds like academic gobbledygook, consider how Apple devotees see the world. Back when Lam’s paper was published, there was a palpable sense of a battle between good and evil. Apple: good. Bill Gates: evil. Apple followers, Lam wrote, pined for a world where “people are judged purely on the basis of their intelligence and their contribution to humanity.” They saw Gates representing a more “profane” world where financial gain was priorities one, two and three.

This is an argument based on the work of Emile Durkheim. The argument is one that can be applied to many things that take on the functions of religion such as providing meaning (Apple vs. other corporations, beauty vs. functionality), participating in common rituals (buying new products), and uniting people around common symbols (talking with other Mac users). For example, some have suggested that the Super Bowl also is a “functional religion”: Americans come together to watch football, united in their patriotic and competitive beliefs while holding parties to watch the game and the commercials. Or baseball can be viewed as a “primitive religious ritual.”

While the comments beneath this story suggest some people think otherwise, this is not necessarily a slam against Apple or Steve Jobs. Durkheim argued that individuals need communal ties and we can find this in a number of places: the relationships formed in religious congregations, team-building activities in the office, and at bars and coffee shops where we try to connect with others during our daily routines. This does not mean Apple was necessarily a “false religion”: of course, we could talk about whether people could or should find ultimate meaning in a brand or products but we could also acknowledge that the social aspects of Apple made it more than just a set of technological product.