Why do you keep fighting all the time, Paul Krugman and Nate Silver? Is it our fault? Are you guys getting a divorce? OH GOD PLEASE DON’T GET A DIVORCE WE’LL BE GOOD WE SWEAR!!!!!11!

OK, so is this Krugman-Silver pas de dweeb (I kid!) really something we’re supposed to care about? The new FiveThirtyEight has been around for all of 10 days and it’s already being pronounced a failure. That would be unfortunate under any circumstance, but is kind of ridiculous in this case, given that most people seemed to think that Nate Silver was a pretty bright guy before his site relaunched, and I don’t think ESPN gave him a lobotomy while they were building his new site. Although it’s entirely possible that they whittled his brains away by forcing him to watch a marathon of First Take episodes and then listen to Darren Rovell wank on about the business of sports or whatever the hell he does. Let’s say it’s possible that ESPN has made Nate Silver dumber, but unlikely.

I’m here to argue for giving Silver a chance with this new site before we all pronounce it a crushing disappointment, and I’m not just saying that because he could see this and decide to give me a job (But, Nate, if that happened I would be totally down with it, OK? I don’t use a ton of data in my writing, but apparently that’s not a disqualifier for you?) The criticisms that Krugman has leveled at the “new” FiveThirtyEight are legitimate but premature, and he’s making them in a way that sounds too defensive. Yes, it is true that political and sports pundits are especially innumerate, and that the same “cold, hard facts” approach that Silver brings to those fields isn’t as apparently necessary in economics or science journalism (and what the hell is up with that “Life” section, anyway?), but as long as they’re doing those things well, what’s the harm? I can see where Silver’s manifesto might have gotten your back up in a “hey, I’m already doing this stuff, so maybe lay off?” sense, but can we give the site a month or even a couple before we’re ready to declare it a failure?

So that brings us to Nate Silver, because so far it’s apparent that FiveThirtyEight isn’t doing economics or science journalism very well. Look, if your website is going to follow The Data wherever it leads, you can’t hire a climate change denier who can’t use data (or Google) very well as your climate reporter and expect not to take some heat for it. I know it’s neat to be contrarian, but in this case the contrarian position really doesn’t have any actual support in the scientific community (i.e., the people making and using all the data that you’re supposed to be following). Again, it’s been 10 days, so still comfortably in any reasonable grace period, but you might want to consider this kind of thing moving forward. Also, this was probably a bad idea.

Still, I think it would be best if Silver’s critics could give FiveThirtyEight enough time to work out the kinks and stop giving blithering idiots a bunch of easy “OOOO LIBS HATE NATE SILVER NOW BECAUSE HE PREDICTED THE REPUBLICANS WILL TAKE THE SENATE” stories. I know that’s not why you’re criticizing Silver, but Rush’s audience doesn’t, and Rush probably does but he doesn’t care.




  1. Bravo! Having followed Nate Silver and the associated issues pretty closely and for some time now, I believe that I am qualified to say that you have done a great job of hitting the high notes.

    A lot of people seem to think that Silver is a magician, in the sense of “any sufficiently well developed technology in indistinguishable from magic.” because they don’t have the education to lift the vale and see how he does it – not, of course, that he makes any effort to obscure what he does.

    Your caveat of “as long as they’re doing those things well” is the central issue. The lesson I took away from “The Signal and the Noise” is that Silver is a bright guy but perhaps not quite so smart as people have built him up to be, on top of which there is a huge gulf between intelligently crunching the numbers managing a stable of writers in a permanent news organisation. Just look at how ham fisted Greenwald has been over at Omidyar’s shop.

    So, yeah, he got off to a rocky start but I really do wish him all the best: there is a crying need in most every field for good people who actually understand numbers and how they work.

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