Don’t Bother Me With Facts

Leon Wieseltier explains to us all how Nate Silver is the wrong kind of person, not serious, can’t feel the right kind of feels, and is the kind of lowlife who would piss in a bidet and eat his salad with his fish fork:

Silver, by contrast, has chosen a fox’s snout for the logo of his new site for “data journalism, capital D.” He knows many things. He has no priors. He thinks only originally. He never repeats himself. Never mind that the ancient poet’s line was most likely preferring the hedgehog to the fox, and praising “one big thing.” The fox, a predatory creature, is loose.

cecinestpasunsnout
I’m sure it just shows my irrational romance with facts, but that’s not a fucking snout. It’s a fox’s face. As for the rest of the piece, if you can find one genuine argument in all that throat clearing, straw men and ad hominem, please let me know.

132 replies
  1. 1
    Eric U. says:

    As I once wrote to Juan Cole, if the New Republic writes a hit piece about you, you’re doing something right

  2. 2
    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    Someone’s parents didn’t pay enough attention to them is what this reads like.

  3. 3
    boatboy_srq says:

    Makes you wonder what Wiesenthaler thinks of Newscorp…

    /snark

  4. 4
    Cervantes says:

    @Eric U.: I second that.

  5. 5
    Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader says:

    I feel like I’m living my life right because I know who Nate Silver is and all I know about Leon Wiesenthaler is he probably isn’t the famous Nazi hunter.

    And I know stuff: a lot of stuff. The stuff I know could fill books.

  6. 6
    GregB says:

    For the records, his name is Wieseltier, not Wiesenthaler.

  7. 7
    Cervantes says:

    But speaking of ad hominem and your “irrational romance with facts,” the man’s name is Wieseltier, not Wiesenthaler.

  8. 8
    Tractarian says:

    I hold no brief for Wieseltier, but he is right that Archilochus was intending to compliment the hedgehog, not the fox.

    Frankly, the jury’s still out on the new 538. I fear that our beloved Gay Wizard may have spread himself a little too thin. Time will tell.

  9. 9
    Cervantes says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader:

    all I know about Leon Wiesenthaler is he probably isn’t the famous Nazi hunter.

    Probably not, as that would be Simon Wiesenthal.

    And I know stuff: a lot of stuff. The stuff I know could fill books.

    Big books, even.

  10. 10
    low-tech cyclist says:

    I wouldn’t give the time of day to those who have been critical of Silver in the past, let alone waste time reading their glurge.

    But I have been rather underwhelmed with the relaunched 538. Take Ben Casselman’s “The piles of cash that never existed.” What piles of cash? Who said what about them? What does this tell us about corporations sitting (or not) on piles of uninvested profits that we didn’t already know?

    There’s no ‘there’ there. And that’s been true of most of the 538 pieces I’ve read since the relaunch. Hopefully it will improve, but it’s not a good start.

  11. 11
    evolved beyond the fist mistermix says:

    Of course I got his name wrong when writing a post about facts. Thanks for the corrections.

  12. 12
    Mark B. says:

    I’ve been reading fivethirtyeight, and I think they’re off to a bit of a slow start so far, but it’s a great idea. It’s pretty ambitious to build an entire news outlet on quantitative analysis, because it just doesn’t seem like there’s a huge market for it in a country so full of innumerate dunces like the USA. But I think they quality of the articles has been pretty high so far, and of course, Silver is a genius. I think it might take a little while for the team to gel.

  13. 13
    Chris says:

    Is “Nate Silver looks gay” a genuine argument?

    It isn’t?

    President Romney will be crushed!

  14. 14
    GregB says:

    For the folks in the beltway village the worst thing in the world is to be considered in the tank for the un-serious left.

    It appears Nate Silver may have taken this to heart.

  15. 15
    BGinCHI says:

    Shorter King Leon: Without us to ‘splain everything to you what will you do!!??

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Speaking of arguments, I have yet to hear a convincing one for why anyone should give one shit about what The New Republic says about anything.

  17. 17
    Bob says:

    When did Andrew Sullivan return as editor of The New Republic?

  18. 18
    Mark S. says:

    Maybe this is a parody?

    The editorial pages of The Washington Post in particular are regularly filled with analytical and empirical seriousness.

    As Richard Cohen’s picture flashes across the screen.

  19. 19
    Tommy says:

    Oh make fun of a logo. As an ad guy that has done so many logos, it is just too easy. No matter what anybody does somebody will find fault with it.

    I bet there was a ten page brief on why that logo works. That is how you justify what folks like me charge. Attack the logo, don’t attack the numbers. His numbers seem to add up.

  20. 20
    Mark S. says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    It stays in business so people can begin arguments with “Even the liberal New Republic says . . .”

  21. 21
    smintheus says:

    @Tractarian: I thought Krugman’s take on the claims being made for the new 538 was pretty insightful. Silver’s commentary, in so far as it went beyond simple analysis of data, has often been predicated on very substantial unexamined assumptions.

  22. 22
    DanF says:

    The data site logo looks like a fox/sharpened pencil point hybrid. Very clever.

  23. 23
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The New Republic, ever since that Zionist-Fascist Peretz asshat took over, and continuing after he left, turned into utter shit. After all, he hired Andrew Sullivan. That is a crime for which they can never, ever be forgiven.

    Back in the late 80’s the total shitstain that is Krauthammer wrote for them. Another unforgivable crime.

  24. 24
    Mark B. says:

    @Tommy: I’m not in love with the fivethirtyeight logo, but Silver makes a good case for it in his manifesto piece. Also I think it’s a not so subtle tweaking of Murdoch’s nose, which might be what has all the right wingers’ knickers in a twist.

  25. 25
    Belafon says:

    Chait, which was 80% of the reason I had a digital subscription for TNR last decade, left, which ended it for me.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Mark B.: Given that you must twist pretty hard to affect the tiny naughty bits of right wingers, this means that Silver has his work cut out for him there.

  27. 27
    Bobby Thomson says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader: I originally confused him with Elie Wiesel, who wrote Night. Nothing like him. Wieseltier is a neocon who pretends to be a liberal and wrote a pardon letter for Scooter Libby. Spy magazine went after him a lot.

  28. 28

    Isn’t all journalism supposed to be data and fact based?

  29. 29
    Amir Khalid says:

    This dispute reminds me of another old fable. What it looks like to me is the blind man holding the elephant’s trunk arguing with the blind man holding its ear.

  30. 30
    dmsilev says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Certainly. Consider, for instance, today’s NewsMax lead: “WH Pastry Chef Quits; Michelle to Blame”. Nothing but data and facts there.

  31. 31
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    I Googled “Leon Wieseltier.” I didn’t bother to reaf the linked piece because the Google turned up the titles of some of Wieseltier’s other turds-passing-as-wisdom:

    Ukrainian Lessons for an American President
    The Smallness of Barack Obama: Diminishment, Drift, and Sighful Contemplation
    Iran Is Not Our Friend
    The Academic Boycott of Israel Is a Travesty

    He’s been editor of TNR since 1983. He’s Jim Hoft with long hair.

  32. 32
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @dmsilev: That entire meme has already been debunked, but the fucktards of Noisemax are, as always, a bit slow.

  33. 33
    Bob says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: You’re making “supposed” do a hell of a lot of work.

  34. 34

    @dmsilev: NewsMax is to news, as the German Democratic Republic was to democracy.

  35. 35

    I have never heard of LW before, guess I haven’t missed much.

  36. 36
    Roger Moore says:

    We all know he chose it as the logo only so he’d have an excuse to aks “what does the fox say” as often as possible.

  37. 37
    Mike in NC says:

    According to today’s local rag, serious Beltway journalists (that’s an oxymoron if there ever was one) are chasing JEB! around the country, breathlessly waiting for him to announce his decision to run in 2016. What is it about the degenerate Bush family that the media cannot resist?

  38. 38
    kindness says:

    I was happy to see most the comments over at Leon’s piece were critical of him & his post. You can never tell with New Republic.

  39. 39
    Chris says:

    The intellectual predispositions that Silver ridicules as “priors” are nothing more than beliefs. What is so sinister about beliefs?

    Nothing, as long as you understand that beliefs aren’t facts, and that those based on ignoring facts tend to come crashing down sooner or later. The 2012 presidential campaign would be a case in point. Silver reported the facts as best he knew them: the pundit class reported their sacred Opinions, based on such scientific methods as “I saw more yard signs for Romney,” “everyone at my country club is voting for Romney,” and the creed “America Is A Center Right Nation.” One of these people was proven right, the other wasn’t.

    His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks? And why would one boast of having no interest in the great disputations about injustice and inequality?

    He didn’t boast about having no interest. I believe he’s on the record identifying as a liberal, which would imply he does have an interest in and an opinion on ongoing issues. What he said is that preaching those ideas is not his job. His job is to collect electoral data and report it for the benefit of anyone for whom it’s useful. He’s a liberal; he’s not a professional liberal.

    Not everything is about your goddamn visions of How The World Ought To Be.

    Neutrality is an evasion of responsibility

    No. What you call “neutrality” is a commitment to the integrity of your job, of the kind you professional pundits can’t even conceive of anymore. As a liberal, I don’t believe for a moment that Nate Silver was happy to report that Republicans were going to win big in 2010. He did it anyway, because his job isn’t to push a liberal message (there are other people who do that); his job is to report the electoral trends whether he likes them or not. Did you expect him to go “naahh, I don’t like this” and fabricate a bunch of “unskewed polls” that said what he wanted to hear? Because there are quite a few people who did exactly that in the next round of elections, and take a look at how that ended.

    What is it about conviction that frightens these people?

    The job of a reporter is not to have “convictions.” The job of a reporter is to report the facts as best he knows how. Not say what he wishes were true and then hide behind “that’s just, like, my opinion, man” and “don’t you oppress me!” when someone points out that he’s full of shit and 2 + 2 do in fact = 4.

    Maybe if those of you in the punditocracy remembered that once in a while instead of dedicating all that time to telling us how you feel about the news and what we rubes should think about it, more people would watch and read you, and fewer of you would end up with egg all over your face like you did in the 2012 election. But you don’t, and we don’t, and you did, and probably will continue to do so for quite some time because if this article is any indication, you still don’t understand what the fuck the problem is.

  40. 40
    Belafon says:

    @Mike in NC: It’s easy for them to look for Clinton’s, Bush’s, or Kennedy’s. It’s much harder to look for first term senators from Illinois.

  41. 41
    Tim F. says:

    Silver does seem to have a strange blind spot for climate.

    http://thinkprogress.org/clima.....ores-data/

    Roger Pielke Jr. is a huge red flag in the climate world.

  42. 42
    Roger Moore says:

    @Mike in NC:

    What is it about the degenerate Bush family that the media cannot resist?

    The Villagers are royalists, and the Bushes are The Right Kind of People.

  43. 43
    Yam says:

    He knows many things. He has no priors. He thinks only originally. He never repeats himself.

    This is a bad thing? He should know one thing? Many priors? Unoriginally? He should repeat himself?

    This doesn’t make sense unless Wieseltier actually praising Silver.

  44. 44
    Cervantes says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    He’s been editor of TNR since 1983.

    Literary editor.

    Leon gets very huffy — even huffier — if you leave out the “literary.”

  45. 45
    Belafon says:

    @Chris: And calling it a “prior” has an important distinction: It’s something you start with, but it’s usage is modified by newly available data. Beliefs tend to not have that feature.

  46. 46

    @Cervantes: I bet LDuB is scared of math and cannot calculate a percentage to save his life.

  47. 47
    jayboat says:

    @Tommy:

    I feel ya, brother.

    Make the logo bigger!

  48. 48
    Bill in Section 147 says:

    The whole enterprise sounds swishy-swashy. The ancient poet was right… “Certainty! Facts and evidence take time and Truth will be assumed if one shows certainty.” I shall now roll up and bristle.

    The United States is in the midst of the certainty crisis. Time magazine is disturbed by “The blinding glare of his certainty,” as one headline referred to Bush’s unwillingness to go wobbly on Iraq. “A questionable certainty” was the headline in the Los Angeles Times. “This kind of certainty worries Bush’s critics,” noted U.S. News & World Report.
    – Ancient Poet David Brooks

  49. 49
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Roger Moore:

    The Villagers are royalists

    Which is why they are so eminently tumble-worthy.

  50. 50
    aimai says:

    @Yam: Well, I think Wieselteir was particularly stung by Nate’s truthful observation that pundits like Brooks and Friedman essentially have one idea which they market in different clothing twice a week, like a kid dressing up a doll for different “events.” Its still the same doll, and for a kid with limited imagination the doll is probably always playing the same role, just the clothing changes.

  51. 51
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Bill in Section 147: Dr. Harrison Jones, World of Warcraft Stormwind Archaeology trainer:

    Archaeology is the search for fact. Not truth.
    If it’s truth you’re interested in, Cuddy Nordlinger’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.

  52. 52
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: He has a problem with “scientism” — the latest scourge in his life (Nate Silver is only one example). You could look it up.

  53. 53
    Kylroy says:

    @Roger Moore: This. Combined with the fact that the Republican party has been taken over by the Wrong Kind Of People (in the opinion of the Beltway, which arrives at that conclusion for completely different reasons than the political left). They can either admit that their elite little club no longer matters to *either* party, or they can chase Jeb around begging for (to them) good news.

  54. 54
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Cervantes:

    Leon gets very huffy — even huffier — if you leave out the “literary.”

    Oh, fuck Mr. Huffy sideways with a rusty unlubed chainsaw.

  55. 55
    Cervantes says:

    @aimai: I think it’s actually even less than that: those dolls are not just naked, they are transparent. There aren’t any “new clothes.”

  56. 56
    Patricia Kayden says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: I’m curious as to what an American President could learn from Ukraine. Things that make you go “Hmmmm.” And that “Smallness of Barack” title made me laugh out loud.

  57. 57
    ruemara says:

    @Mike in NC: as carrion feeders to the corpseflower, so is Jeb to courtier Villagers.

    Edited to reflect that this fellow writes like a lesser Barbara Cartland.

  58. 58
    Barbara says:

    Oh, foxes are currently “trending.” Look at any design or decorating site. If this was the late 60s, early 70s, it would have been an owl, that was the animal that was “in” back then.

    Anyway, that’s what the fox logo conveys to me: we’re up-to-date, hip and happening. No old fogies here.

  59. 59
    Cervantes says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Oh, fuck Mr. Huffy sideways with a rusty unlubed chainsaw.

    Please do not do that. Tomorrow is the International Day of Happiness. Don’t ruin it.

    Oh, wait …

  60. 60

    @Cervantes: The reason for his anti-scientism (?) is most probably innumeracy. David Brooks and 90% of the Village suffers from this malady.

    * Is Scientism a real word? sounds like some thing President Dubya would have come up with.

  61. 61
    Roger Moore says:

    @Belafon:
    Calling it a “prior” is also intended as a hint that the speaker is a Bayesian rather than a frequentist. Not that your typical beltway hack would know what either of those things means.

  62. 62
    Betty Cracker says:

    @Chris: Nice take-down. Thank you.

  63. 63
    p.a. says:

    Silver’s greatest sins: being right too often and pointing out when, and especially why, others are wrong.

  64. 64
    Poopyman says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Oh, fuck Mr. Huffy sideways with a rusty unlubed chainsaw.

    Please don’t. That’s bad for the chainsaw.

    Always add bar oil when refueling.

  65. 65
    Poopyman says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: “Scientism” actually has its own entry in Wikipedia. The (bountiful) footnotes are heavy on the ’90s and aughts, but some citations go back mid-20th Century.

    My favorite line therein:

    An individual who subscribes to scientism is referred to as a scientismist.

  66. 66
    Cervantes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Is Scientism a real word?

    It’s a real word, maybe a hundred years old (I first saw it in George Bernard Shaw). It means to criticize the view [*] that science is all-powerful, and that the scientific method can and should be used in fields other than the physical sciences.

    [*] No one actually need hold this view for it to be profitably criticized, of course …

  67. 67
    El Cid says:

    Mozilla’s Firefox should be ashamed of itself.

  68. 68
    Cervantes says:

    @Betty Cracker:

    @Chris: Nice take-down. Thank you.

    I second that, too.

  69. 69
    RSA says:

    Silver says that pundits have “very strong ideological priors,” and Wieseltier infers, “He [Silver] has no priors.” That’s either ignorance or dishonesty—Silver is a Bayesian.

    Also, in Wieseltier’s jeremiad, he never mentions the possibility that pundits should figure out when they’ve been wrong (perhaps based on data) and let us all know. I think that this is a bigger problem than data versus no-data journalism per se.

  70. 70
    chopper says:

    @Poopyman:

    I study scientismists. scientismistism is a growing field.

  71. 71
    srv says:

    What would be really bad is if this turns into a Freakonomics-type exercise, all contrarianism without any appreciation for the importance of actual expertise. And Michael Mann reminds me that Nate’s book already had some disturbing tendencies in that direction.

    – Paul Krugman

    Oooh, one BJ Messiah vs another Messiah.

  72. 72
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @srv: BJ Messiah Cage Fight!

  73. 73
    Poopyman says:

    @chopper: Well, now we know what to call you, except I don’t think I can manage it.

  74. 74
    ericblair says:

    @Cervantes:

    It’s a real word, maybe a hundred years old (I first saw it in George Bernard Shaw). It means to criticize the view [*] that science is all-powerful, and that the scientific method can and should be used in fields other than the physical sciences.

    To the Village scientific investigation means that some unimportant schlub from the wrong side of the tracks could be proven right about something, while a well-bred person of impeccable parentage could be proven wrong. So fuck that.

  75. 75
    aimai says:

    @srv: Before I go over and read what Krugman has to say I’d like to point out that the one essay I’ve bothered to read at the new 538 was pretty uch like this. It was a weird argument about how the reader shouldn’t draw any conclusions from the fact that the cost of damage from major natural weather disasters is getting higher in real dollar terms. OK–in fact I grasped intuitively that the cost was rising not because the storms were more severe but because they were hitting more developed areas with more to lose in economic terms because: wealth. So far so incredibly obvious. Also: those regions didn’t have as great a loss of life because, although highly populated, people didn’t die of exposure as much. Fine. But the conclusions drawn from this were just weird. Something something something about not believing that by dealing with climate change we will save many lives or money. But it still might mitigate something else, so we should probably do something but not whatever President Obama and some other dude want us to do. Honestly the entire piece was written in such a deadeningly stupid style I didn’t care enough to findout what the author thought he was trying to do. It was like number and contrarian word salad with a side of nervousness.

  76. 76
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q): Thunderdome. “Two messiahs enter. One messiah leaves.”

    ETA: Or: Two little messiahs fight it out until one little messiah does the other one’s will.

  77. 77
    Paul Gottlieb says:

    Wiesetlier has never been anything but Marty Peretz’ dog at the New Republic, and perhaps it’s time to revive the practice of burying the dead Pharaoh’s household pets along with him

  78. 78
    kindness says:

    @Poopyman: Really. New chains & new bars are expensive.

    It would leave me with less money for my continuing quest for liberal world domination.

  79. 79
    scav says:

    @srv: Shiny abstracted statistical mathematical models and techniques can be as powerful strange attractors as pure theory and dogma — look what the “quants” did in the housing and stock markets. Look as MBAismists.

  80. 80
    p.a. says:

    @ericblair: it’s more basic and petty than that; it’s that scientific investigation is even included in the conversation.

  81. 81
    boatboy_srq says:

    @Cervantes: If he can’t get his facts straight, why should we get his name straight? Just askin’…

  82. 82
    chopper says:

    @Poopyman:

    Then you be surprised to know that there are two different camps in scientismistism. A scientismistism schism if you will.

  83. 83
    chrome agnomen says:

    @chopper:

    does this make you a scientismistismist?

  84. 84
    Chris says:

    @Betty Cracker:
    @Cervantes:

    Thankee, thankee.

  85. 85
    Cervantes says:

    @boatboy_srq: Because we are better (writers) than he is.

  86. 86

    @Cervantes: You’re wrong. Just because Leon Wieseltier is a stupid jackass doesn’t make Silver right. Take this:

    http://mattstoller.tumblr.com/.....gh-history

  87. 87
  88. 88
    chopper says:

    @chrome agnomen:

    no way, those guys are nuts.

  89. 89
    Alex S. says:

    @srv:

    I think the new 538 is destined for this. What they try to do probably won’t work commercially, just like academic papers are no commercial goods. Also, the site needs traffic, and that means many contributions by many authors. I think it will move towards the random and contrarian, just to have something to write about.

  90. 90

    Think Progress has a valid criticism of Nate and his new 538 venture:

    Nate Silver’s highly anticipated data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight launched on Monday, with a controversial figure covering science issues. Silver has brought on Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, as a contributing writer – a political scientist who comes with a long history of data distortion and confrontations with climate scientists.

    “Given Nate’s professed obsession with rigorous statistical analysis, it is rather disappointing to see him hire for his new venture an individual who has displayed a pattern of sloppiness when it comes to the analysis of climate data,” said top climate scientist Michael Mann via email. Pointing to a chapter in Silver’s recent book that addresses climate change (for which Mann was interviewed) he adds, “Sadly, this isn’t the first time Nate has been led astray when it comes to dealing with the science of climate change.”

    That’s how you do it.

    ETA: Nate’s choice really is unfortunate and gives ammunition to this critics. I do question his judgement even if his election result prognosticating is generally pretty good.

  91. 91
    Cervantes says:

    @Phil Perspective:

    You’re wrong.

    Entirely possible — but you haven’t shown me why. What I echoed above was someone else’s general observation (“If the New Republic writes a hit piece about you, you’re doing something right.”), not specifically related to either Wieseltier or Silver. Do you understand this?

    Next:

    Just because Leon Wieseltier is a stupid jackass doesn’t make Silver right.

    Even had I been making a point specifically about Nate Silver, the point (“If the New Republic writes a hit piece about you, you’re doing something right.”) wouldn’t have been that he is “right,” just that he is “doing something right.” Do you understand this?

    And finally:

    Take this: http://mattstoller.tumblr.com/…..gh-history

    Stoller thinks he is proving something from Silver’s text. Here is that text (February, 2009) in full (apparently, Stoller can’t provide it):

    1. Nobody, absolutely nobody, has more incentive to get this right than the Obama Administration. If the economy collapses — well, more than it already has collapsed — then the Democrats get slaughtered in 2010.

    2. If the banks fail, then rich people lose a lot of money, and poor people lose a lot of jobs (and also much of what money they have). But I swear to God, there’s a lunatic fringe out there that would take this trade and call it “progress”.

    3. I’m sorry, but somewhere between 99.9% and 99.999999% of us are severely underqualified to be making policy recommendations on this particular issue.

    4. So if I’m telling you to lay off the ideological smelling salts (not that you will) and that your ideas on policy are probably not contributing very much to the discussion (don’t worry — neither are mine) then what, exactly, do I want you to do?

    What I’m asking you to do is to clear the playing field. This is neither the time nor the place for mass movements — this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I’m not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is (and they haven’t yet), then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them — do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field. But we’re not at that stage yet.

    You think Silver was wrong in February, 2009? You may be right — feel free to explain. (Thanks.)

  92. 92
    srv says:

    @Alex S.: Krugzilla is always right.

  93. 93
    WaterGirl says:

    Leon Wieseltier explains to us all how Nate Silver is the wrong kind of person, not serious, can’t feel the right kind of feels, and is the kind of lowlife who would piss in a bidet and eat his salad with his fish fork.

    That sentence is a thing of beauty.

  94. 94
    Linnaeus says:

    @Cervantes:

    It’s a real word, maybe a hundred years old (I first saw it in George Bernard Shaw). It means to criticize the view [*] that science is all-powerful, and that the scientific method can and should be used in fields other than the physical sciences.

    Sometimes it’s even narrower than that, e.g., Rutherford’s statement that “all science is either physics or stamp collecting.”

  95. 95
    Applejinx says:

    Heck, anybody familiar with furry fandom knows foxes are loose XD

  96. 96
    kc says:

    Oh, never mind.

  97. 97
    Cervantes says:

    @Linnaeus:

    Sometimes it’s even narrower than that, e.g., Rutherford’s statement that “all science is either physics or stamp collecting.”

    Yes.

    Now, did he say that before or after he was awarded his Nobel (in Chemistry)?

  98. 98
    Marc says:

    @The Ancient Randonneur:

    The climate change denialism is a huge red flag for me. There is some virtue in knowing what the numbers that you’re crunching actually mean, and Silver has subcontracted climate change work to a well known denialist.

  99. 99
    Gorgon Zola says:

    Some other commenters have noted Silver’s bizarre choice for climate coverage with Pielke. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It is hard to believe that Pielke will get away with some of the stat shenanigans he’s been accused of in the past. Something’s gotta give.

  100. 100
    eyelessgame says:

    I don’t see a fox’s face, actually. I see a sharpened pencil that’s stylized to look like a fox’s face.

  101. 101
    different-church-lady says:

    …the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted.

    I’m quite at a loss to understand why I’m supposed to be intimidated by what’s essentially poll aggregation. It’s like being intimidated by the National Weather Service predicting tomorrow’s temperature.

  102. 102
    Bottyguy says:

    I really feel that the 539 site is too click-bait oriented, sort of like HuffPo with spreadsheets.

  103. 103
    scav says:

    @Gorgon Zola: It’s the waiting for the playing out that is also important. The pre-emptive poo-pooing because of choice of logo or data-orientation or back-ground (“sports”) is entirely worthy and characteristic of the Village and their current low-rent opinion-shoveling obsession. There have been some red-flags raised, but the burning in and settling in will make it or beak it.

  104. 104
    different-church-lady says:

    @Bottyguy: 539? Do we have a Representative Without Portfolio roaming the country now?

  105. 105
    scav says:

    @different-church-lady: There you go, intimidating with facts and all . . . .

  106. 106
  107. 107
    Citizen_X says:

    @Cervantes:

    this is the time for expert opinion. Once the experts (and I’m not one of them) have reached some kind of a consensus about what the best course of action is…then figure out who is impeding that action for political or other disingenuous reasons and tackle them — do whatever you can to remove them from the playing field

    I agree with Silver here completely. So why, then, does he go hire a fucking climate change denier?

  108. 108
    Roger Moore says:

    @different-church-lady:

    I’m quite at a loss to understand why I’m supposed to be intimidated by what’s essentially poll aggregation.

    You aren’t the one he’s intimidating; it’s the traditional punditariat who are supposed to be, and obviously are, intimidated. They are justifiably worried that facts and numbers and stuff are going to replace Rolodexes full of carefully cultivated political insiders as the best available way of understanding electoral politics. If an outsider can explain stuff better than traditional insiders, what is left for people whose entire value is built around their insider connections?

  109. 109
    Cervantes says:

    @Citizen_X:

    I agree with Silver here completely. So why, then, does he go hire a fucking climate change denier?

    Michael Mann (Penn. State) had a good discussion (2012) of the “Climate” chapter in Silver’s book (for which Mann was interviewed).

  110. 110
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Bring out the ahn-woon!

  111. 111
    Jamey says:

    Maybe this is a Rorschach-test thing, but I see a Fox’s head AND a pencil-point.

  112. 112
    different-church-lady says:

    @Jamey: OMG! You held two thoughts in your head at once! Log off this website immediately before that precious ability is beaten out of you!

  113. 113
    different-church-lady says:

    @Roger Moore: That’s a lot of words to say “storytelling”. Clearly they’re afraid poetic license will be a currency in decline.

  114. 114
    cokane says:

    Critiques of Silver from Krugman and TP on the climate change are legit. However this doesn’t negate the solid work he’s done in explaining politics in a very effective way. As Silver said, and Leon denies, we need to raise the numeracy of the public. That IS the biggest problem. More of Silver and more of his legitimate critics will do this. Less of Leon will too.

  115. 115
    Roger Moore says:

    @different-church-lady:

    That’s a lot of words to say “storytelling”.

    It’s not just storytelling. Lots of people can tell stories. Stories from the punidtariat have extra cachet because they are relaying the official story from insiders who know the real scoop. People like Nate Silver are a real threat to that model because they challenge the idea that insider knowledge is especially valuable. If anyone who understands statistics can do a better job than the pundits, they’re in trouble, so they have an especially strong motivation to attack Silver and anyone like him.

  116. 116
    different-church-lady says:

    @Roger Moore: I guess I’m not seeing a big distinction between insider “knowledge” and insider “storytelling”.

    It’s a little like people who watch horror films with a literal mind: “Why do they open the closet door where the ax murder is? Why don’t they just leave the house?” Well, if they did, we wouldn’t have a horror film, now would we? The insiders are are the producers, and the mags and websites and TV shows are the writers — all of them are in on the fiction, they just have different roles.

    And Nate’s your annoying friend spoiling the movie by going going, “Uh, chainsaws can’t do that in real life…”

  117. 117
    catclub says:

    @Cervantes: “So why, then, does he go hire a fucking climate change denier?”

    Well, if he were very sneaky, because he can noisily and publicly fire said denier for abusing data.
    Also cancel his health insurance.

  118. 118
    matt says:

    Weasel says what about Fox?

  119. 119
    Linnaeus says:

    @Cervantes:

    Yes.

    Now, did he say that before or after he was awarded his Nobel (in Chemistry)?

    Now, I don’t happen to agree with the esteemed Mr. Rutherford….not sure when he made that statement.

  120. 120
    Roger Moore says:

    @different-church-lady:

    Does K Harris have any scandals besides Obama perving on her? I see her going for CA gov, maybe a national candidate next cycle?

    And I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the question the pundits are interested in is one of insider knowledge vs. outsider knowledge rather than one of solid facts vs. storytelling. They have a privileged position based on their (alleged) access to insider information, whether that information comes in the form of gossip, leaks, or what have you. Its value comes from the presumption that people on the inside have access to better, more reliable, and/or more important information than people on the outside, so access is everything. Nate Silver et. al. challenge that idea by claiming that better information is available based on improved interpretation of information that’s already available. I think it’s that insider vs. outsider perspective that gets them really riled up rather than a storytelling vs. analysis one.

  121. 121
    sm*t cl*de says:

    that’s not a fucking snout. It’s a fox’s face

    Language-of-Venery FAIL. A fox does not have a ‘face’. It is its mask or its front.

  122. 122
    smintheus says:

    @Cervantes: War is too important to be left to the generals. And the economy is too important to be left to Wall St. bankers. Silver’s commentary was profoundly dumb. It was worse than anti-democratic; it was naive.

  123. 123
    Caravelle says:

    @Gorgon Zola: Having Pielke on staff will diminish 538’s credibility in most of the evidence-based community (hopefully mostly limited to science subjects, no need to throw any babies out with the bathwater, but still), but firing Pielke will diminish its credibility too; in the evidence-based community for having hired him in the first place, and in the media community for the drama. It doesn’t look like there’s a perfect solution for them.

    As for why they did it, I suspect Silver might have that idea that “ideology” is bad, and therefore people ought to be hired from both sides of the political aisle. Combine this with his doubts on the reliability of climate science (as described in his book) and it makes some sense he’d hire a climate denier or crypto-denier. I wish it weren’t the case, but I’m not that surprised.

  124. 124
    different-church-lady says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I think it’s that insider vs. outsider perspective that gets them really riled up rather than a storytelling vs. analysis one.

    In the end we’re probably both right.

    Actually, in the end what really got Wieseltier riled up was that Nate dared to sneer at “pundit bullshit” and a thousand and few words were necessary to exhaust his displeasure, regardless of how little coherence those words had. We’re probably all putting far too much credence in the idea that there was anything but raw emotion behind his presentation.

  125. 125
    Cervantes says:

    @smintheus:

    War is too important to be left to the generals. And the economy is too important to be left to Wall St. bankers. Silver’s commentary was profoundly dumb. It was worse than anti-democratic; it was naive.

    You know, it was February, 2009. The stimulus program, bank bail-outs and/or nationalization, etc., were all on the agenda. You may think — you may have thought then — that Silver’s calling for a brand-new Administration (and its chosen experts) to be given some time to figure out what to do was “naive” and “profoundly dumb.”

    Let’s suppose you are right about that.

    Can you relate that judgment to Leon Wieseltier’s criticism of Nate Silver? (Thanks.)

  126. 126
    smintheus says:

    @Cervantes: What was dumb was arguing that we should stand back from that critical debate and cheer for whatever Obama’s team of “experts” came up with. As soon as that team was announced, days after the election, we knew we were going to get another version of the same old Wall St. hacks. So they were just about the last band of “experts” whom the public, especially leftists, should have deferred to; they needed pushback, not applause.

    Oh, yeah: The argument that Obama would make sure to fix the economy because he couldn’t afford to bungle it – that looks pretty dumb too. Sounds reminiscent of the panglossian predictions in summer 1914 that the diplomats would work out the tensions in Europe because they couldn’t afford not to.

  127. 127
    Debbie(aussie) says:

    @Chris:

    Wow! That was an excellent comment, Chris, thanks

  128. 128
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Cervantes: “Scientism” is a good word that has been, I think, irretrievably corrupted by abuse. We’ve all seen people adopting the mantle of SCIENCE!! to make bullshit oracular pronouncements, and it’s true that the people who make a big, big deal about how rational and scientific they are are often the least rational people around. (Good scientists never stop doubting the rationality of their judgment; that’s a key part of science.)

    But when a newspaper or magazine pundit starts going on about “scientism” it usually just means “something a scientist said offended me.” Move along, nothing to see here.

  129. 129
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Caravelle:

    I suspect Silver might have that idea that “ideology” is bad, and therefore people ought to be hired from both sides of the political aisle.

    If I recall correctly, Silver makes a big deal about how he has purposefully registered with no political party and, I think, even refuses to vote. He thinks this kind of studied neutrality is essential for somebody in his position. (Not many people agree.)

  130. 130
    Caravelle says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I guess to be fair it’s a stance that makes sense in the coverage of horse-race politics, which is what Five Thirty Eight did; the whole aim of poll aggregation is to figure out who is going to win, not who should win. The great thing about Five Thirty Eight is that they actually do this in a “pure”, evidence-based way, not in a “I’ll claim X is going to win because I think X should win”, and keeping away from any show of partisan bias is a decent guarantor of credibility in this case.

    It works a lot less well when it goes to covering actual policy, because reporting in a “pure”, evidence-based way on how a policy will work and what effects it will have inevitably leads to having a position on which policies should and shouldn’t be implemented. And this is the kind of thing it looks like New!FiveThirtyEight will be wading into.

  131. 131
    Cervantes says:

    @Matt McIrvin: I agree with you in general; but re Wieseltier, to be fair, I think you should probably at least look at his argument (assuming you have not).

  132. 132
    J R in WV says:

    @Mike in NC:

    Wild Guess: What is sloshing great tides of money? for $1000, Alex.

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