Main image of article Nate Silver, Microsoft Researcher Analyze the Oscars
Nate Silver, famous for applying rigorous statistical methods to U.S. political elections, has focused his predictive powers on a somewhat more lighthearted topic: this weekend’s Academy Awards. “The Oscars, in which the voting franchise is limited to the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are not exactly a democratic process,” he wrote in a Feb. 22 edition of his New York Times column. “But they provide for plenty of parallels to political campaigns.” Like the United States, the 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences constitute several distinct voting blocs. There’s also lobbying (in the case of the Academy Awards, by the studios) and polls with a record of guessing the correct Oscar winners. As part of his predictive analysis, Silver rounded up the various awards that precede the Academy Awards, including those from the Directors Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild; in his calculations, he gave additional weight to those awards with a higher historical success rate, and doubled the score “for awards whose voting memberships overlap significantly with the academy.” Oscar contenders could also earn “partial credit” via nominations for other awards. “The short version: our forecasts for the Academy Awards are based on which candidates have won other awards in their category,” he wrote. “We give more weight to awards that have frequently corresponded with the Oscar winners in the past, and which are voted on by people who will also vote for the Oscars.” And what does Silver predict? If he’s correct, “Argo” will win Best Picture by a healthy margin; Steven Spielberg will win Best Director for “Lincoln” (Silver acknowledges that Ben Affleck, who directed “Argo,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow were both snubbed); Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor for his performance in “Lincoln,” while Jennifer Lawrence will snatch a Best Actress statue for “Silver Linings Playbook.” For Best Supporting Actor, which Silver believes “the most competitive category,” his formula has Tommy Lee Jones slated to win (for “Lincoln”), and Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress. Silver isn’t the only statistician predicting this year’s Oscar winners. David Rothschild, a member of Microsoft’s massive research division, has also developed a data-driven model. “I approach forecasting the Oscars the same way I approach forecasting anything, including politics,” Rothschild is quoted as saying in a Feb. 13 posting on the Inside Microsoft blog. “I look for the most efficient data, and I create statistically significant models without any regard for the outcomes in any particular year. All models are tested and calibrated on historical data, with great pains taken to ensure that the model is robust to ‘out-of-sample’ outcomes, not just what has happened in the past. The models predict the future, not just the past.” He believes that “Argo” will win Best Picture (giving that prediction 92 percent likelihood, based on his model); that Spielberg will win Best Director (with an 89 percent likelihood); that Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor (99 percent likelihood); and that Jennifer Lawrence will win Best Actress (71 percent likelihood). Make your own predictions accordingly.   Image: Helga Esteb/