Stats Guru Predicts Oscar Wins for 'Lincoln', Spielberg

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Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Lincoln'

Daniel Day-Lewis in 'Lincoln'

Are you going with the conventional wisdom that Argo has a lock on a Best Picture Academy Award? If so, you might want to think twice before filling out that Oscar pool. Iain Pardoe is leaning in another direction.

Pardoe, who has a Ph.D. in statistics, is an independent statistical consultant and mathematics/statistics instructor based in British Columbia. In the mid-2000s, working with psychologist and pop cultural scholar Dean Keith Simonton, he came up with an Oscars prediction model.

Restricting his predictions to the four top categories, he has been remarkably successful, getting all four right in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and three out of four for the 2011 awards. (His model predicted a Best Actress win for Viola Davis in The Help; she lost to Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.)

This year’s contest, honoring movies from 2012, is unusually close in the Best Picture category, according to Pardoe. He goes with Lincoln, giving it a 37 percent chance of winning. But four other films also have a shot: Life of Pi (21 percent chance), Argo (17 percent), and Silver Linings Playbook (14 percent).

For Best Director, Lincoln’s Steven Spielberg has the edge, with a 58 percent chance of winning. But Pardoe sees both Life of Pi’s Ang Lee (20 percent) and Silver Linings Playbook’s David O. Russell (17 percent) as serious contenders.

He agrees with the consensus choice for Best Actor, giving Lincoln’s Daniel Day-Lewis a 78 percent chance of winning. He’s even more certain about Best Actress, giving 86 percent odds to Silver Linings Playbook’s Jennifer Lawrence.

Pardoe makes his picks by framing each race as a “discrete choice problem,” which he explains here. His predictions are quite different from those of veteran Oscar-watchers such as critic Roger Ebert, who, upon reflection, is choosing Silver Linings Playbook for Best Picture and Amour’s Emmanuel Riva as Best Actress. (Pardoe only gives her a 2 percent chance of winning, in spite of her rapturous reviews.)

“I sense a groundswell” for Silver Linings Playbook, Ebert wrote on his blog. He may be right, of course, but it’s worth noting that some high-profile political columnists sensed a groundswell for Mitt Romney last year. Of course, in the end, it was the statistics-minded Nate Silver who turned out to be right.