Particle physicists unwilling to call election

Physicists say they lack the data to declare a victor in last night’s election.

Mainstream media outlets around the world have declared Barack Obama the victor in yesterday’s US presidential elections, but particle physicists at CERN say that the race is still too close to call.

With every state except Florida reporting, the New York Times announced that Obama had won the popular vote and easily gained the electoral college points needed to win re-election. The Princeton Election Consortium put the probability of Obama’s victory at 99.2%.

But that confidence level is still several standard deviations away from the point at which particle physicists would be willing to declare the next president. According to the norms of the field, pollsters would have to be 99.99995% confident that Obama had won before physicists would be willing to call the race.

“All we can say right now is there is some evidence that Barack Obama will return to the White House in January,” says Marcus Georgio, head of the SISYPHUS collaboration at CERN. “The data simply doesn’t support anything beyond that.”

Privately, many physicists at the lab blamed America’s fractured voting system for their inability to announce a definitive result. Each of the fifty states sets its own voting rules and each uses a different system of paper ballots, electronic voting platforms, or punch cards. “Integrating this kind of data is frankly a nightmare,” says one physicist who asked not to be named for fear of appearing critical of the democratic process. “There are a variety of poorly documented systems and virtually no metadata.” The task is made more difficult by the fact that data are collected by county rather than polling station or individual houses. “The binning is just awful,” he complains.

But Georgio says that blaming the electoral apparatus is overly simplistic. Even if all 300 million residents of the United States voted, and all their votes were known to near perfect accuracy, “it’s still not clear whether the result would be statistically robust enough to declare an Obama victory,” he says.

Physicists say that they will continue to monitor the election closely. In the meantime, based on integrated data from all previous elections combined, they are ready to declare Benjamin Harrison the 23rd president of the United States.

Satire, obviously, and with apologies to @CERN.  And if you like real science news, why not follow me on twitter: @gbrumfiel

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35 Responses to Particle physicists unwilling to call election

  1. Bob says:

    Schrödinger’s Poll.

  2. telescoper says:

    Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:
    Wonderfully sharp satirical take on pollsters, physicists and statistics…

  3. Luca says:

    Simply great!

  4. canis ferociter latrans says:

    Get ready for DDOS-level traffic; you’ve been reposted to BoingBoing. 🙂

  5. *Sigh* If only my actual journalism got this kind of attention. Still, thanks Boing Boing!

    • No worries about the traffic,’s infrastructures are built for that. Bring it on. Case in point: you were also coincidentally featured on Freshly Pressed. 🙂

      “this kind of attention”: the times, they are a-changin’

  6. Sounds like we need to re-evaluate the type of system that Elect our top leaders in this nation. It seems to me that all states should use that same system whether computerized or by hand they all should be the same for better clarity!

  7. sannekurz says:

    Reminds me that all odd numbers are prime numbers and how physicists once checked that with a simple experiment: 1 – the experimental setup still had to be tuned, 3 – correct, 5 – correct, 7 – correct, 9 – observational error, 11 – correct, 13 – correct…the remaining odd numbers will be fine as well.

  8. skyweek says:

    Clever … but leaves open the question *why* in particle physics you need 5 sigma to declare an effect real while in politics John King coloring a Magic Wall is enough to – correctly – call a state for one candidate even when the other one leads in the actual counting (actually happened for Ohio last night).

  9. ScalarPhotonZ says:

    I actually thought this was all meant to be true until I saw the end! lol 😀

  10. Joffan says:

    But what about “Rutherfraud” Hayes?

  11. 😀

    Ironically, Benjamin Harrison didn’t carry a majority in the popular vote.

  12. Ha! This is just great.

  13. segmation says:

    Didn’t everyone monitor this election in one way or the other. So glad it is over! Thanks for sharing this great blog!

  14. MichaelEdits says:

    I’ve edited so many papers like this that I can’t even be certain this is satire. At least, not with a 95% confidence interval.

  15. mattreid9956 says:

    Haha nice read, keep up the good work!

  16. I didn’t blink for like two hours last night haha such a close election and the popular vote was insane. Great post thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  17. bimo.chan says:

    All we can say is there is a 3 sigma deviation from a lack of president.

  18. javaj240 says:

    Everyone should be as exact as CERN. Thanks for the laugh!

  19. gnstr says:

    excellente, hehehe

  20. Some German says:

    I love, how you actually write “Satire, obviously” underneath it! People should have realized. Awesome, though! 🙂

  21. Abhay Bhat says:

    Reblogged this on Hamsadhvani and commented:
    When CERN analyzed wrong data ;P

  22. Abhay Bhat says:

    Awesome post ;P re blogging

  23. sublime life says:

    Good ole physics. More concerned with evidence than probability.

  24. What an election! I was geeking out the whole time. CNN, switch, FOX, switch, CNN, switch and so on. The popular vote had me on the edge of my seat, it was so close I felt like I was at the NCAA championship with one team up by one point with time on the clock. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  25. mrghuxley says:

    Great post! I wonder what the particle physicists at CERN would make of me getting this job:

  26. Erik Vance says:

    Ah politics and physics – a dangerous combo. You know what’s crazy? Schrodinger actually calculated that Dewey both defeated and did not defeat Truman at the same time.

  27. Jim Reeves says:

    Reblogged this on Queer Landia and commented:
    If the geeks ruled politics….

  28. Yay!!
    You coming to Nihon?

  29. Bill Stewart in San Francisco, US says:

    On the other hand, the probability that Romney was elected was well under 0.8%, so there’s no reason to let him into the White House except through the tourist entrance.

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