Correlation and causation

I swear to god Nate Silver is trolling. Here he ranks positive or negative blog posts about five thirty eight by Paul Krugman against one variable: whether 538 was independent, working with the Times or with ESPN. That is it.

Now Nate knows perfectly well why Krugman soured on his work. Other folks on the left have issues with his probably accurate projection that Dems will (probably) lose the Senate if nothing changes between now and November. Were that Krugman’s problem it would be kind of lame. But Krugman has been clear enough about his concerns that ignoring them in a post about his tone strikes me as churlish and juvenile. Like me Krugman thinks those easy scalps that Nate collected in the political arena let him think that he could find easy marks in any field of inquiry, illustrated first and most of all by hiring a glib climate contrarian named Roger Pielke, Jr. There do exist some fields of knowledge where the so-called ‘experts’ earn their pay.

So what’s going on? I am not psychic but I know a little bit about blogging, which means I also know a little about juvenile people with big egos (what? is there something behind me?). Need some cicks? Start a blogfeud. Nothing gets attention like a good personal conflict (example: Atrios good, Atrios vs. Tom Friedman transcendent). Now arrange a feud between two of the top quants “on the left” and you could sell tickets. Pissing off Krugman helps shed that partisan identifier, which I think Nate would consider inaccurate, it supercharges incoming traffic to ESPN’s new web property and it can be fun if a bit juvenile to do it with a touch of deliberately dim irony.






62 replies
  1. 1
    David Koch says:

    How many Divisions Nobel Prizes does 538 have?

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    Need some cicks?

    I don’t know what that is, but I now feel like I need some.

  3. 3
    🍀 Martin says:

    So what’s going on?

    Well, a number of years back I used to chat online with this Kos dude who went by the handle ‘poblano’. Turns out he’s now a high salary property running a pretty high profile, if small, media group that has been saddled with high expectations. Most people don’t make a trip that fast very well.

    Lex parsimoniae.

  4. 4

    I checked out the new 538, it is Slate with statistics. Team Krugman, here.

  5. 5
    Incitatus for Senate says:

    What the fuck happened to Silver? Did success go to his head? He seemed to go from insightful to moronic overnight.

  6. 6
    dmsilev says:

    To be sure, the difference in Mr. Krugman’s views could reflect a decline in quality for FiveThirtyEight. The web site has brought on almost two dozen new employees and contributors. And it has expanded its coverage beyond politics into sports, economics and other areas.

    Um, yeah, I think that’s Krugman’s view. In fact, I know that’s Krugman’s view, because HE SAID SO IN HIS POSTS. Apparently Nate Silver can add and subtract quite well but has forgotten how to read.

  7. 7
    cokane says:

    imma just get a big tub of popcorn for this. pretty sure krugman will feel forced to reply to such a nasty note. i mean, does silver really think krugman gives a fuck if he works for the NYT or not? it’s a weird logic.

    also on pielke. no idea who he was until the hullabaloo over his his hiring and postings at 538. checked him out and he basically behaves like a 14-year-old internet troll. it’s kind of embarrassing for 538 actually.

  8. 8
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I don’t know why everyone is acting like it’s big news and/or controversial that Dems have a tough election this year

  9. 9
    Emerald says:

    Me, I’m sticking with Sam Wang. I like his style LOTS better.

  10. 10
    Mike in NC says:

    @Incitatus for Senate: See “Todd, Chuck”

  11. 11
    azlib says:

    You have got to be kidding me. Nate’s post is really lame. Could it be Krugman was commenting on the quality of the work 538 does at any particular time. As you say, correlation is not causation.

  12. 12
    Violet says:

    It’s all about the clicks. And bonus points to Nate for using “tone” in his post title. Junior Villager, to be sure.

    As I posted before, with insightful posts like:

    Clinton Is Polling Like an Incumbent, And That Could Help Her in 2016

    how can they go wrong? “Could help her”? Wow. That’s some serious data-driven journalism right there.

  13. 13
    Sinnach says:

    Yeah, put me solidly in Team Krugman as well. This seems like an obvious and obnoxious attempt to punch a famous hippy to appear in the center. Yay centrism! Puke.

  14. 14
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Nate is getting raked over the coals in the comments at his site. Good to see, since that post is as lame as lame can be.

  15. 15
    cmorenc says:

    The problem the GOP has with taking the Senate is that once they get past low-hanging fruit such as the S.Dakota seat and possibly the WVa seat, they have to win a majority of the tossup seats in Alaska, Ark, Mich, NC and La, and not lose either of their vulnerable seats in Ga and Ky.

    I see the most likely outcome is the dems hanging on by 51-49, with 50-50 + biden or 52-48 majority as the next most likely outcomes.

  16. 16
    JPL says:

    The article that I read was about the climate change. The premise was that the cost of disasters was not rising because of earthquakes. Okay I simplified the analysis but really earthquakes.

  17. 17
    JPL says:

    @cmorenc: If it is 52 then the Senate is safe. I’m sure the repubs are courting Manchin and maybe Donnelly.

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    If you head to PBS, Atrios thinks that the Wanker of the Decade is trolling him.

    The Wanker of the Decade can’t change that status. Pathetic Villager trash, he is.

  19. 19

    My prediction, Ezra and Nate’s sites will merge and then either Google or Facebook will buy them, with the change under their seat cushions. Just like Bezos did with the Warmonger Post.

  20. 20

    @cmorenc: NC is a really contrarian state. we tend to elect Republican representatives and yet a Democratic governor, this recent election was an anomaly, we threw in a complete republican slate, congressmen, senators and governor and now the entire state has said enough is enough.

  21. 21
    Violet says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: I think they’ll merge as well. Although perhaps they’re a vanity project of a larger corporation already. Isn’t Vox “sponsored by” GE or something?

  22. 22
    the Conster says:

    Nate’s very young and it shows. Krugman the Nobel Prize winner is doing him a great service by mentioning him at all, which says way more about Krugman than it does Nate.

  23. 23

    @Violet: I haven’t been to the Vox website, I just expected better from Silver.

  24. 24
    chopper says:

    well, that specious pile of dreck does nothing to help nate’s image as a data-driven numbers guy.

  25. 25
    Violet says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Well, if you want a laugh, check out their graphics-tastic intro video, complete with Ezra sitting in some break room with a 20-year old computer in the background and Matt Yglesias in very loud suit. It’s sort of Slate with more hipster glasses. Nothing says “current” like an ancient computer.

  26. 26
    Marc says:

    Remember when the New York Times told Silver that he couldn’t challenge Joe Scarborough to a bet on the outcome of the 2012 election?

    It pains me to realize they may have been right. Silver’s always had a little bit of the internet troll in him along with the data-driven quant. Pity he chose to shed the wrong one.

  27. 27
    BGK says:

    Is anyone watching “All In?“ Jaysus Aitch Christ but that was surreal…

  28. 28
    Kevin says:

    So, was Nate trying to prove Paul Krugman correct with this post? Krugman specifically said that the data doesn’t speak for itself, you need to analyze it and tell us what it says. And Silver replies by posting a list of times Krugman agreed or disagreed with him, divorced of any context.

    That whizzing sound you hear is the air being let out of the 538 balloon.

  29. 29
    Marc says:

    @cmorenc:

    The problem the GOP has with taking the Senate is that once they get past low-hanging fruit such as the S.Dakota seat and possibly the WVa seat, they have to win a majority of the tossup seats in Alaska, Ark, Mich, NC and La, and not lose either of their vulnerable seats in Ga and Ky.

    Don’t forget Montana, which changes the calculus in the GOP’s favor. But I agree, they have an uphill battle in the incumbent races and may have real fights on their hands in GA and KY. McConnell’s campaign reeks of flop sweat and unforced errors, a good sign for November.

  30. 30
    cckids says:

    @BGK: I had it on in the background, and tuned in toward the end of . . .whoever that was. What was the beef with her? She was screechy angry at Hayes. And I truly cannot imagine that he was “trying to silence” her, I mean he isn’t Chris Matthews.

  31. 31
    Mike in NC says:

    @Litlebritdiftrnt: @cmorenc: GOP state House Speaker Thom Tillis has taken down his “Obamacare is a train wreck” TV ads and replaced them with “Hey, it took me 20 years to get a college degree”. Not sure what demographic that’s supposed to appeal to. Maybe he’s just hoping being a white male is sufficient to land him in the US Senate.

    PS – I haven’t heard a peep about Governor Pat McCrory in months. Is he hiking the Appalachia Trail or maybe vacationing at the South Pole?

  32. 32
    cmorenc says:

    @JPL:

    @cmorenc: If it is 52 then the Senate is safe. I’m sure the repubs are courting Manchin and maybe Donnelly.

    What will inhibit either of these northern blue dogs from switching is the rather dim GOP prospects for holding any slim majority they might win, even if Manchin or Donnelly did switch parties. What will additionally chill Donnelly is the rather chilly prospects for a moderate Republican against the genuine conservative article – he would for sure get a stiff primary challenger in 2018, in addition to strong chances of going back to minority status in 2016.

    This prediction of course does not at all mean that Donnelly and Mancin won’t make Liebermanesque pains in the asses out of themselves between 2014 and 2016. But that’s still light-years better than the crapfest the GOP would be able to throw at Obama his last two years in office if they are able to control both branches of Congress.

  33. 33
    the Conster says:

    @Kevin:

    That was my takeaway as well – Krugman is trying to educate him, and Nate is thinking Krugman is trying to school him a la Scarborough. Krugman is not Scarborough. Not all criticisms are equal.

  34. 34
    WaterGirl says:

    @BGK: What happened?

  35. 35
    Kevin says:

    @the Conster:

    Exactly. But Silver’s attitude, from his childish email to TPM (“I forgive you Paul”…who asked for forgiveness child?) to this weak, weak post, has shown Silver to be less than what he appeared.

    Maybe Nate should look around at more criticism. It isn’t just Paul Krugman. The left wing blogs who universally praised him have all been ripping his new effort. Why? Are they all mad at him about mocking columnists too? Please Nate, make a pretty bar graph to show how awesome you still are.

  36. 36
    Kevin says:

    @the Conster:

    Exactly. But Silver’s attitude, from his childish email to TPM (“I forgive you Paul”…who asked for forgiveness child?) to this weak, weak post, has shown Silver to be less than what he appeared.

    Maybe Nate should look around at more criticism. It isn’t just Paul Krugman. The left wing blogs who universally praised him have all been ripping his new effort. Why? Are they all mad at him about mocking columnists too? Please Nate, make a pretty bar graph to show how awesome you still are.

  37. 37
    Comrade Jake says:

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this, but Silvers contrarianism on climate science goes back a ways. Mann took him to task for getting a bunch of things in that chapter of his book wrong.

  38. 38
    Just One More Canuck says:

    looking at some of the headlines on 538 reminds me of headlines in The Onion

  39. 39
    the Conster says:

    @Kevin:

    Like I said above, Nate is very young and is acting like one of those newly minted Google millionaires who thinks their shit smells like ice cream. He’s so smart, but dumb – I get a sense that he’s somewhere on the high end of the autism spectrum like a lot of VERY successful young nerds, and he just isn’t capable of grokking what he isn’t able to quantify, like valid criticism v. taunts.

  40. 40
    RobertDSC-Power Mac G5 Dual says:

    I remember when Nate went to the NY Times, Al Giordano cautioned him about changing who he was. I think Al was right. Nate has really gone down the tubes.

  41. 41
    muddy says:

    @cckids: I was watching a re-run of Nature but this spurred me to go to the dvr (I need to be able to ff this sort of programming) and check this loonie out. I’m wondering if she’s intoxicated, she’s shouty and a bit disheveled. I haven’t seen it all yet, but just now she said that they raised the poverty level for Medicaid to 93K. “That’s a lot of money, Chris! That’s not poor!”

    Now I take a deep breath before unpausing, I can only bear to listen to a little, I must ff this loud squawking noise. The split screen, however, is fantastic. Poor Chris!

    ETA: no, it was 94K

  42. 42
    Trentrunner says:

    Chris Hayes is doing a spot on Nate right now.

  43. 43
    muddy says:

    Now we’re getting to it (8:10) Chris doesn’t know her! He didn’t grow up in a trailer park like she did! How dare he, like Harry Reid, try to undercut the voice of a woman and silence her because he disagrees with her. I swear I am quoting her! lol!! At this point Chris has given up and is just giggling to himself. Is it the end?

    No! Now she says that HE has made it personal. He says he has invited her on his show, how is she silenced. “How dare you attack me!!!”

  44. 44
    Joey Giraud says:

    I am not psychic but I know a little bit about blogging, which means I also know a little about juvenile people with big egos

    I come here to learn, and am almost never disappointed.

  45. 45
    cckids says:

    @muddy: Yeah, that was the part I tuned in for, and . . .WTF?? Who goes on TV and does that? It was a little like a Daily Show sketch. I can so see Samantha Bee in that part.

  46. 46
    kindness says:

    Why does everyone accept Democrats are going to lose the Senate? The odds of losing seats, big. Losing the Senate? I don’t think so. Democrats aren’t unhappy with Democrats (mostly). Democrats are unhappy with Republicans. Republicans, well they are unhappy with anyone who is sane.

  47. 47
    muddy says:

    @cckids: Right? That’s why I thought she was drinking! If she were an internet comment it would be a Poe’s Law kind.

    Long ago I was tripping and had the same feeling. Late at night there was a late-night interviewer, Tom Snyder. We were watching and the guests were from some punk band. Everyone (including the host) was so bizarre that we decided it was SNL making fun of it. Then we remembered it wasn’t Saturday. Ooo. I felt like that watching this lunatic.

    “What? That’s real? Oh noes!”

  48. 48
    Jamie says:

    It’s quite possible the GOP wins the senate. Mant people thought the GOP would win the Senate in April 2012, but they didn’t. Even Nate should know that predictions 7 months out aren’t as reliable as those made 1 month out. We don’t even know what the campaign will be focused on in November. A number of GOP candidates self destructed in the run up to 2012.

  49. 49
    PsiFighter37 says:

    I’m pretty sure most of the criticism about 538 isn’t leveled at Silver’s political analysis, but mainly that he found out he was good at applying statistics to one topic (politics) and thought he could stretch that thin premise to encompass a lot more than he really could.

    I think modeling the new site after Grantland (which is clearly the template for it) was a bad idea, and it was even worse for Silver to think he could start playing outside of the subjects he knows – sports (which is what he actually knows) and politics (which he is good on polling and has little grasp of historical or cultural context that encompasses the nuts and bolts of politics).

    He’ll probably end up as a glibertarian hero because of this, but as Scott Brown says, whatever, amirite?

  50. 50
    Heliopause says:

    Really I think this is just nerd humor and y’all need to relax.

  51. 51

    Maybe Nate did some analysis on whom to grift?

    I’m in the Wang column. Wait…….

  52. 52
    Kevin says:

    @PsiFighter37:

    The thing is, Nate wasn’t good at using stats for politics. He was good at using them for one thing – election forecasting. He’s decided that that makes him an expert at all things, political, scientific, sports. But it was a very narrow niche, and now I see why the NYT kept him on one beat and one beat only.

    As for Grantland, they have at least brought in a couple of writers sports fans are starting to find essential reading (Barnwell for NFL, Lowe for NBA). I don’t know that Nate will find anyone on that level for his site.

  53. 53
    Steeplejack says:

    We discussed this ad nauseam in depth on Sunday (“Odd Analysis from Krugman”).

    Good summation from Nylund:

    Basically, Krugman is saying that it’s bad for someone to conclude, “Since I know data, I’m an expert on any subject matter that I can get data for.” [. . .] His impression of the new 538 is that they fancy themselves experts on any and all things that they can get data for and are ignoring the years of strenuous research others have done on the topics.

  54. 54
    grillo says:

    @cmorenc: Additionally, as republicans they are nobodies. They will be seen as RINOs immediately, and they will wield no influence except whatever scraps they are able to pick up in a deal to change parties.

    Democratic contrarians have a great deal of influence. Republican contrarians had best keep their mouths shut.

  55. 55
    RandomMonster says:

    I am not psychic but I know a little bit about blogging, which means I also know a little about juvenile people with big egos (what? is there something behind me?). Need some cicks? Start a blogfeud. Nothing gets attention like a good personal conflict (example: Atrios good, Atrios vs. Tom Friedman transcendent). Now arrange a feud between two of the top quants “on the left” and you could sell tickets.

    Hi, my name’s John Cole, I’d like to piss off a few people by reminding them that any criticism of the veracity of Glenn Greenwald by otherwise moderate commentators or left-centric opinion-holders is just closet homophobic douchebaggery, with something to do with Dudebros and AmericaFuckYeah. Bonus points if the offended people actually genuinely like John, and like cat postings on Balloon-Juice.

  56. 56
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    I don’t think Krugman is pissed, he’s just telling Nate Silver where he thinks Nate Silver is getting it wrong. That’s what happens in academia. This is what the press doesn’t understand about Krugman and why they perceive him as too blunt and uncivil: punditry is his moonlight gig. He’s an academic and behaves the way academics behave. They expose their work to the academic community, receive criticism, evaluate whether that criticism is valid, and adjust accordingly. That’s how knowledge is advanced in most academic fields.

    Most punditry involves advancing an ideology, worldview, or the interests of some particular political constituency. They really don’t care about being wrong or right, which is why they’re wrong so often. They care about coming up with clever arguments to support the underlying ideology/worldview/political constituency. They don’t call each other wrong, they just respectfully disagree because they’re all wrong sometimes because no ideology fits every circumstance. Krugman doesn’t follow this convention – he’s about being right about something, or wrong about it, not about making his particular ideology adhere (or seem to) in all cases.

    Nate Silver isn’t about ideology either, he’s about prediction. He thinks crunching statistics alone can predict future outcomes. He may be right about this with respect to elections especially in comparison to those who use their “gut feelings” to predict who will win. Krugman is just saying he’d be better off combining that statistical savvy with actual subject matter expertise in a lot of cases. Also that relying on statistics alone sans that subject matter expertise might, in some circumstances, result in a major booboo. That doesn’t mean he’s pissed.

  57. 57
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Kevin: Silver actually started out applying them to sports; the election forecasting came later.

    But he wasn’t even outstandingly good at election prediction. He did well, but, as Silver himself will say, it’s because it’s fundamentally not that hard to do. He constructed a model that was far more complicated than it had to be, and actually introduced a lot of uncertainty that wasn’t even warranted by the polls, a sort of over-hedging. During the 2008 cycle, he was also tweaking the model constantly in ways that made it behave inconsistently from week to week.

    What he was good at, to a greater degree than competitors like Wang, was getting his website out there and providing content that kept people coming back to it. The constant tweaking may have actually helped, since it created the illusion of change even when the polling situation really wasn’t changing that much.

    Come to think of it, the hiring of Pielke and the climate-contrarian stuff is consistent with the over-hedging tendency: the basic strategy of modern climate contrarians is to claim there’s much more uncertainty than mainstream climate science will admit.

  58. 58
    Gorgon Zola says:

    “I’m not psychic …”

    Kinda cynical though, if you think Silver is really this jejune.

  59. 59
    Matt McIrvin says:

    …I should add, I think Silver’s projection of a Republican edge to take the Senate is a perfectly reasonable one, and no reason to get upset at him. He underestimated the Republican margin in 2010.

    But I haven’t seen anyone actually going after him for that reason.

    As for Sam Wang, his obvious Democratic sympathies can, I think, have a kind of file-drawer effect: in times that aren’t close to an election, he gets excited and posts more when he thinks Democrats are doing well, not as much when Republicans are doing well. But that’s less of an issue when the race is in high gear.

  60. 60
    JS says:

    When I want fact free silliness why bother with 538 Slate does it better without bothering to use tables

  61. 61
    JS says:

    When I want fact free silliness why bother with 538 Slate does it better without bothering to use tables

  62. 62
    sneezy says:

    “At his current pace, Mr. Krugman will write 425 more blog posts about FiveThirtyEight between now and the 2016 presidential election.”

    I’ll take the under on that. I expect the actual number of posts that Krugman writes about FiveThirtyEight between now and the 2016 presidential election will be far less than that.

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