March 19, 2014

"Nate Silver's new venture, FiveThirtyEight, is now live, and the reviews are starting to come in. To summarize: it's terrible."

Says Ryan Cooper at The Week:
Reviewers from Paul Krugman to Tyler Cowen — who seldom agree on much — have panned the launch. If you need to be personally convinced, just check out this example. Yikes.
I was going to post about that very example when I noticed it yesterday...

45 comments:

Steve Austin said...

I enjoy Nate's site and his work. The fact Paul Krugman is freaking out over 538 tells me Silver is right on target.

Then we got a great piece on storm disasters where the author pointed out that storms aren't more frequent now than in the past and that damage from storms are now so high simply because so many people now live on the coasts, rivers, etc and not because of "climate change".

The high priests of liberalism know that if you apply facts to some of these things, the sheeple may start to think for themselves. .

Jane the Actuary said...

I must be getting old -- all these writers look like kids. Maybe very bright kids, but likely also too focused on trying to upend conventional wisdom and say something "new" even when the conventional wisdom is right.

What's the significance of "538" anyway?

PB Reader said...

Libs don't like facts. They've been avoiding them like the plague for decades.

chickenlittle said...

The libs are really going to hate Nate when he starts analyzing polls regarding House, Senate, and Gubernatorial races in 2014. They abhor self-reflection.

Zach said...

I offered several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the ballot question wording, the presence of thousands of Russian troops in Crimea and the possibility that some voters wanted only Crimea, and not the rest of Ukraine, to join Russia.

There are some sentences that, once written, call out for you to stop writing the article.

How can you possibly do a numbers-driven look at a poll conducted under conditions of armed occupation that yielded something like a 95% vote in favor of annexation?

Numbers are supposed to help you say smart things, not cover up stupid things.

YoungHegelian said...

The article by Cooper is a great example of what's the problem with "openly ideological journalism". i.e. ideological bias becomes the excuse for publishing tendentious booyah that only the fan boys or girls can bear to read through.

His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

I remember, not that long ago, when neither The New Republic nor Washington Monthly would have touched an article by an author like Cooper.

RecChief said...

what does the former Enron adviser know about journalism?

chickenlittle said...

Numbers are supposed to help you say smart things, not cover up stupid things.

Numbers are supposed to help you say impartial things, not partisan opinions.

mccullough said...

It's still early and Silver has built up a lot of credibility.

Michael K said...

"Just look at Judith Miller and The New York Times acting as George W. Bush's stenographer back in 2002, uncritically repeating administration lies in the service of an illegal war of aggression that wrecked an entire nation and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians."

Yup. Objective journalism.

chickenlittle said...

Indeed, there may be no such thing as pure objective journalism; but that's quite different than wearing your stripes on your sleeve like some sort of party armband.

YoungHegelian said...

@Michael,

Yes, that was one quotation from the article that struck me as being simply tendentious beyond any redemption.

The whole discussion of AGW dissenters bore the same tone, e.g.

If Silver truly had an overriding interest in "just analysis" on the issue of climate change, I'd think a bare minimum for a hire would be an actual climatologist. (Pielke's Ph.D. is in political science.)

Uhhhhm, Mr. Cooper, in case you haven't noticed, few of the big names in AGW studies are climatologists or meteorologists by training. The most common background is physics. So, yes, everyone, let's leave these investigations up to the climatologists.

John Lynch said...

The example about the Crimea...

Uh... are they just stupid? Doesn't a 97% "yes" vote imply that (perhaps) the election was rigged? Maybe?

Perhaps the writers are too young to remember the Cold War?

Edmund said...

I looked at an article on the site that attempted to analyze the Oscar voting. It's pretty pedestrian except for the assertion: With the exception of, say, “Crash” in 2004, the Academy tends to favor films that take risks, pave new ground and move cinema forward.

Not really the case, especially in the Best Picture voting.

Fen said...

Anyone else have trouble with the article Ann linked to? (this example)

I found it very awkward to read. Almost as if I was reading a google translation.

ddh said...
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lgv said...

It's early, but the site is better than most, including those who are panning it.

Silver is much better with facts than Krugman. Silver is one of those who is readable regardless of your political view or whether you agree with him. He at least makes a case.

ddh said...

After reading that article, I'd like 538 to explain how Kim Jung-on was elected by 100 percent of the voters with 100-percent turnout. I'm sure there's some explanation for those election results, but beats me whatever it would be.

Will Cate said...

Cooper's critique of 538 is dumb, petty, jealous. Everything I've read so far on 538 has been refreshingly straightforward and well-sourced.

Most of what passes for "news" on the internet would have been called yellow journalism a century ago. We need less of that, and more steely-eyed, dispassionate analysis.

Henry said...
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Henry said...
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Henry said...

I've been reading a lot of the sports columns and I think Cowen has it write. The analysis is pedestrian and every article tails off like the writer just finished his Cheerios and has to go walk the dog.

Bill Barnwell at Grantland is already nailing this beat. Joe Posnanski does straight feature writing for NBC and SI but he works a lot of analytics into his commentary. There are guys at Deadspin who know their metrics and will insult your mother.

If you're going to go to the data for answers you need to start with better questions.

Silverites! Ask better questions!

Henry said...

I agree completely with Will Cate's response to Ryan Cooper's hack job. It seems to boil down to the most conventional MSM boilerplate of all:

"Who needs data when you have scapegoats?"

Henry said...

On the other hand, Paul Krugman's take is unexpectedly well presented. The man is capable of clear, spittle-free writing. It's too bad he doesn't get paid for that.

rehajm said...

Nate's manifesto mentions four steps to their process of 'anecdote into data and information'- collection, organization, explanation, generalization. So far I've noticed some topics where they were diligent at the first two then make perilous political leaps with the last two.

I expect the liberals complaining are the ones upset all the stories aren't like that.

Henry said...

Write? Right. Stupid thumbs.

PB Reader said...

Why, didn't you know, that all things must be perfect from the inception! All babies must be competent adults! Growth or evolution are not allowed!

Wilbur said...

"538"?
1. Area code
2. New time for schoolkid pot-smoking
3. LeBron's shooting percentage

jacksonjay said...

538 is the total number of Electoral College votes. Silver gained fame as a sabermetrician. He also contributed to Daily Kos with statistical analysis preceding the 2008 election. 538 refers to his presidential election analysis.

Peter said...

Much of it feels like reading high-school essays. At best, these short pieces remind me of USA Today: too short, and often derivative.

There's room for plenty of culling- of published pieces, and perhaps of writers.

Then again, perhaps I'm not a typical reader- perhaps that's what the Web wants.

The Crack Emcee said...

It's mostly just ugly and the topics are unworthy.

Why'd he bother again?

Definitely not the result of a burning desire,...

jacksonjay said...

The Nobel Laureate said: "Nate’s manifesto proclaims his intention to be a fox, who knows many things, rather than a hedgehog, who knows just one big thing; i.e., a pundit who repeats the same assertions in every column. I’m fine with that."

How many times has Krugman repeated the same column? Best example: The Stimulus was Too SMALL!

Mitch H. said...

jacksonjay: A surprisingly large number of "hedgehogs" seem to exist, whose "one big thing" is the conviction that they're actually "foxes", and know lots of little things. Cooper, for instance, who seems to be full of little facts that just ain't so.

F said...

What Fen said: a Google translation posing as a news article.

Brian said...

I didn't read the Cooper article, but the 538 piece that gets his "yikes" deserves it. Quote from that piece:

"In the comments of my post, several readers offered an additional explanation I didn’t include: The last polls preceded the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russia government and its replacement by a government friendlier to the European Union than to the Kremlin."

Apparently Bialik previously wrote an entire piece "analyzing" an election but totally eliding the political cataclysm that precipitated the election. Sorry, but that's piss-poor.

Simon said...

Krugman is exactly right, and one can rarely say that. Right enough that it bears repeating: You can't just let "the data speak for itself—because it never does. You use data to inform your analysis, you let it tell you that your pet hypothesis is wrong, but data are never a substitute for hard thinking. If you think the data are speaking for themselves, what you’re really doing is implicit theorizing, which is a really bad idea (because you can’t test your assumptions if you don’t even know what you’re assuming.)"

Mark said...

I actually like well-written, ideologically-informed materials, assuming they support their positions with better arguments than "Jane, you ignorant slut."

Once upon a time, it was conservatives most guilty of dishonest debate tactics. Today, it's people on the Left who seem most likely to make the "You do realize Hitler was a Libertarian" kind of argument.

YoungHegelian said...

@Mark,

Once upon a time, it was conservatives most guilty of dishonest debate tactics. Today, it's people on the Left who seem most likely to make the "You do realize Hitler was a Libertarian" kind of argument.

That is just so wrong. Everyone knows that Hitler was personally involved in formulating Nixon's strategy to break the Dixiecrats hold on the solid South.

Mark said...

538 = number of Electors in the Electoral College that technically chooses the President of the United States.

In case you really needed to know.

paul a'barge said...

Yikes?

You folks are a tough crowd. I liked the article.

paul a'barge said...

All you people saying that Krugman is right ... you need to stop now.

Krugman is *NOt* right.

Krugman has never been right. Never. Not once in his long and miserable life. Not ever. The man is perpetually wrong.

If you think Krugman has ever been right, you need to rethink your understanding of right. And you need to be able to distinguish between being right and the appearance of right. They are not the same.

Krugman is a moron.

Scott M said...

Krugman is a moron.

The hell you say; he's got a beard. And I've occasionally seen him wearing glasses. Surely, not a moron.

rehajm said...

Here's 538's make nice to Paul Krugman. (The implication being the stimulus wasn't big enough).

wildswan said...

Maybe the statistic were wrong due to a political cataclysm in the capital of the country followed by the presence of armed, masked men some in unknown uniforms (which may mean they were in the employ of a state run by a former KGB agent)in one's own city - did all this alter hearts and minds? Possible first sentence of an interesting article on polling statistics in the Crimea. Nate Silver could probably write something interesting on that. Nate's Silver's employee seems to have finished his article and handed it in on time for a deadline.

JRH, esq. said...

That linked op-ed was utter garbage. I think less of you for feeding them links. What's next, links to 911 truther sites?