The Right Path, Part II: Nate Silver and the Delegitimisation of Traditional Journalism and Objective Data


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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262 Responses

  1. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    1.) Pielke wasn’t just criticized by columnists and blog sites, but by actual climate scientists –

    If you want an article about climate change, maybe actually get a climate scientist to write it.

    2.) I have no problems with conservatives being on public radio, as long as they’re actually treated as right-wing columnists, instead of calm centrist grownups who know better than those crazy liberals that we just need to cut social spending because of the debt (ie. David Brooks).

    3.) People, especially those involved on sites like Daily Kos Elections (the elections subsite of DailyKos, which is far more data driven than the front page) were already criticizing Silver in 2012. But, they weren’t throwing out data, but rather looking at people like Sam Wang, who actually did better than Silver in ’12 using different kids of data.

    In all three of your cases, us liberals aren’t throwing out the data. We’re criticizing people who are ignoring the data to suit their Slate Pitch of an article, we’re critizing the mislabeling of people, perhaps to sooth corporate sponsors of various shows on NPR, and criticizing the specific data approach of one electoral guru in support of another. Who actually did better.

    Nobody, especially people on sites like DKE think the GOP is going to not gain seats in the Senate. But, there were certain statements said by Silver in his analysis of the Senate that seemed off, and only using public polls this early in the race makes all the percentages seem a bit off.Report

    • Avatar Mo says:

      I’m not a huge fan of David Brooks, but it’s pretty clear that they have him as the conservative equivalent of E.J. Dionne, which is perfectly cromulent.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I actually have a theory that I dislike David Brooks more than most liberals on the inertubes.

        My theory is based on the fact that I don’t anxiously await his every column and spend hours parsing every turn of phrase, and scanning the internet to find out what others have to say about it. I just never bother reading him, cause he’s a boring hack.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Isn’t this how new media works? Columnist A writes something and then there are a million people on the other end of the spectrum waiting to say how he or she is wrong. Or ideological allies waiting to add their comments and say “spot on” or “largely spot on?”

        I think the right-wing probably does the same with Paul Krugman.

        The issue with Brooks and Douthat is it seems that they are published exclusively to generate click-bait and concern trolling. The NY Times knows most of her readership is left of center and that Douthat will make people very angry and generate click-bait. Or as I call it, the all-troll economy.

        The same goes for Styles articles. People love to get mad at the Styles section for reasons I find perplexing.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I must not be most liberals then. I only hear about Brooks when other people complain about him. Or, much more rarely, praise him.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      rather looking at people like Sam Wang

      I just searched through the blog here and found zero references to Sam Wang. Just for the record. And there has been a lot of commentary about Nate Silver since the blog launch.

      I just find that to be interesting.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      OOC, what do you mean by this:

      “I have no problems with conservatives being on public radio, as long as they’re actually treated as right-wing columnists, instead of calm centrist grownups who know better than those crazy liberals that we just need to cut social spending because of the debt (ie. David Brooks).”

      How is a conservative to be treated, exactly?

      And as long as I’ve already copy and pasted, what public radio show is it that introduces Davd Brooks as its “centrist” commentator, or tells its listeners that liberals are crazy? Cause I’m thinking they must not have those shows in the Portland market.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      I have no problems with conservatives being on public radio, as long as they’re actually treated as right-wing columnists, instead of calm centrist grownups who know better than those crazy liberals

      I.e., as long as they’re delegitimized before they open their mouths.

      I’m not yet convinced by Todd’s argument. I’m not sure it isn’t based on sekection bias and some misrepresentation–i.e., Krugman’s critique is not, imo, fairly represented. But it seems Jesse is making a strong pitch to be patient zero.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      “If you want an article about climate change, maybe actually get a climate scientist to write it. ”

      If you want to have a writer about climate change in your organization, you have three choices:

      1) Hire a climate scientist.
      2) Hire a reporter who’s willing to put in some work.
      3) Hire a paid hack and wh*re whose job is to destroy truth.

      Silver’s choice was #3, and followed a very dishonest chapter in his book on climate science. What people suspect and worry about is that he’s following the ‘Freaknomics’ path there, where he ignores the experts and uses the pundits.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Pielke is nothing like what you describe. See my comment to Chris, below.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Have you seen ExxonSecrets?
        That’s done by a damn good analyst, but it’s not like he doesn’t do work for Republicans too.
        (and that little bubble popping didn’t take knowing a damn thing about climatology, just “following the money”).Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Did you just use the phrase “to destroy truth” in a completely serious and non-ironic manner?Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      “Pielke wasn’t just criticized by columnists and blog sites, but by actual climate scientists –

      This is important; Nate Silver formerly was ripping apart pundits and the more clueless hacks of journalism – but I repeat myself 🙂

      The clueless, hacks and frankly liars were against him.

      He has changed. The equivalent here would be as if Nate were hiring Dean Chambers to write a column.Report

  2. Avatar clawback says:

    The criticisms I’ve seen of the new FiveThirtyEight, and particularly of Pielke, seem valid to me. If you want to advance the thesis that liberals are on the same path as the right you might address the specifics rather than simply expecting us to assume that if Silver was right once he must be right for all time.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      And to ignore the actual criticisms. Also, to ignore the fact that Krugman has an excellent track record, as do climate scientists.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the nonliberal economists around here have alternative explanations that they claim also have an excellent track record. I do not claim to understand what the duck they’re talking about, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it is possible that we don’t have enough data to distinguish between the two models.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think Ross Douthat is a good writer. I just think he is wrong about a lot of things and seemed to be an example of concern trolling. But he is decent at prose! 😉

    I agree with Silver that the GOP has an advantage to take back the Senate this year unless the Akin and O’Donnell themselves which is a distinct possibility.

    I don’t think you are documenting anything new here. What you might be documenting is a fundamental part of human nature. If you think ideology is the enemy, I would like to see a series of posts about how we can overcome ideology. Were things better and less ideological in the past? Tip O’Neil might have worked with Reagan but Tip O’Neal decided to become a member of the Democratic Party for potentially ideological reasons. Ideology exists and probably does so for a reason.

    Nate Silver is probably right about the chances of the GOP retaking the senate this year. However, I feel like getting out the vote is a tricky combination of confidence and fear. You need to make your voters/supporters confident in victory but fearful enough that the other guys/gals might win. This is why the Democratic Party needs to reign down on Silver a little. They would pretty much be fucked if they admitted he was right.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      This is why the Democratic Party needs to reign down on Silver a little.

      Might I suggest exploring whether he’s weighting his polls correctly?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        As far as I know, the unskewed polls guy was not connected to the GOP.

        When was the last time you saw a politician say, we are probably going to lose this election?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Is your argument it’s okay to be full of shit, as long as everyone knows it?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Actively trolling the GOP is always fun.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        It’s not okay to DDOS someone’s poor server because you disagree with their election prediction. It is rather amusing that the DDOS was part of the research study design (aka he published the trolling).Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @tod-kelly — I think that, yes, from time to time it is okay to be full of shit if those who need to know know.

        Life’s complicated that way.

        But, yeah, I want democratic strategists to, internally, have a correct, unvarnished view of the electorate. I also want them to sell their ideas successfully, because my fucking life depends on it. Some small lies here and there, some massaged data presented in an interview — theses things seem to work, when done in moderation.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I don’t expect the DSCC to ever be telling the truth. If they do so, it is by pure happenstance. DailyKos has some investiture in telling the truth — but they’re rather blatant about what they want — to elect more democrats.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Do you really want coaches giving honest pep talks that say it doesn’t matter how hard you play, the other team is going to hand you your ass regardless?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, We’re Screwed”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        100% Honest Motivational Speeches by Private First Class William Hudson, combat technician, United States Colonial Marine Corps, was not a best-seller.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        When I was on the football team in middle school, our second game was against a goliath of a middle school that typically beat us pretty bad on the field. It was a home game, though, so the coach gave us a speech about how we don’t ever lose at home. I remember thinking at the time…

        “That’s unlikely to be accurate. Beyond which, their school is twice our size. A random distribution of talent would give them an extraordinary advantage on account of their significantly larger talent pool. It’s a good thing coach teaches social studies and not math…”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        It’s a good thing coach teaches social studies

        No, it’s not! Numeracy is crucial to social studies.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @will-truman “…when I came to, I was lying on the 40-yard line, and my left leg was lying on the 20…”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        If I can riff a bit on Will’s comment, I used to be plagued with students who wanted to be coaches. They knew to be coaches they had to get teaching degrees, and math and science were too hard, and art or music wasn’t their thing, so they chose the Social Studies Teacher Ed major and infested my classes. They sat in the back, didn’t take notes, and talked or slept until I booted them out. And they wanted to my kids’ teachers?

        Truthfully, the social studies track probably is the easiest of those, but in consequence, our state–and probably others–has a much higher bar for passing the state exam. And these guys–guys specifically–were not passing.

        So two years ago we upped the standards for being in that program, and those kids magically disappeared from my classes.

        Not all Social Studies coach wannabees are bad, of course. I’ve had some I really wish could get a job in our district, so my kids could have them as teachers. But in general I’m dubious of the Social Studies teaching coach. And for the record, the boys’ basketball coaches in my high school were the chemistry teacher and the art teacher.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        What’s a little frustrating to me is that going back to school and getting everything in order to teach social studies is actually something I am interested in. But my sense is that the saturation level is relatively high in part because of coaches.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Humph. Most of the coaches in my school were Science teachers (and most of them were decent). I think the baseball coach was Social Studies (but he was a good teacher). My high school really liked having good academics, though.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Maybe, but my sense is that it really matters what specialties you can have. Speaking only for Michigan, psych and econ are valued specialties for sosci teachers, but political science is not. I killed the poli sci teacher ed major at our school after consulting with local superintendents who agreed that it made candidates less desirable, compared to psych or econ. I decided we were selling them a bill of goods by letting them do that major.

        I’m not sure how much of that is Michigan specific and how much is a consequence of NCLB, which Michigan is deeply embedded in.

        And I can see you being a great social studies teacher. The kind I love to get students from.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:


        I think that, yes, from time to time it is okay to be full of shit if those who need to know know.

        I think that only works for so long. The leaders can spout bullshit to get votes from the rubes, but eventually the younger rubes grow up to be true believers in the bullshit and start running the show as if the bullshit were actually true. The modern Republican party appears to be having exactly this problem as a result of bullshit spouted by those in the know in the 80s.Report

      • @jm3z-aitch

        I killed the poli sci teacher ed major at our school

        Is that why you’ve started to anonymize your online name?Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        The modern Republican party appears to be having exactly this problem as a result of bullshit spouted by those in the know in the 80s.

        That’s the Alex P. Keaton generation. The Friends came next, followed by being friends on MySpace, Facebook, and twitter. I don’t know enough about popular media to know which character will be the icon for the children of the born-again Christians Karl Rove brought to political power; I didn’t watch much TV during the 2000s, and though I used the internet a lot, didn’t use it for social reasons. For TV, I’d guess it’s the Simpsons or Family Guy.

        In the future, those are the stories that the holy books based on our times will recount. (Unless, of course, EMPs wipe all the digitally-stored data out. Then there won’t be many stories, just a whole lot of plastic defining our spiritual values.)Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        The modern Republican party appears to be having exactly this problem as a result of bullshit spouted by those in the know in the 80s.

        Have you got an example? I don’t find this to be true at all. What Republicans were saying in the 1980s was that the left had been hopelessly naive in designing social service interventions, big government is not the answer, and the Soviet Union is a threat to democracy everywhere. All of those things were true.

        Of course you can convincingly argue that corporate tax loopholes and increased military spending constitute a whole other form of big government welfare and that our support for anti-Soviet forces ended up unnecessarily enabling lots of anti-democratic movements around the world as the Soviet Union was bound to collapse under its own weight anyway. That, however, only shows the hypocrisy of the right; it doesn’t change the fact that they were correct.

        The trouble that the Republican Party is having now is largely a result of the fact that they won all of those arguments, the center on economic and foreign policy issues shifted to the right (the center on social issues has shifted left, but the Republican Party of the ’80s were not the same culture warriors that they are now) and all that movement conservative activist energy ran out of legitimate targets and started going rogue.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I’m thinking about how we went from, for example, “Hey, it’s possible for tax cuts to increase revenue,” to, “Well, tax cuts are pretty unlikely to increase revenue, but there’s some mitigating effect so we’ll note that and push the idea anyway,” to, “This polls well, so we’re going to make sure that our voters believe that tax cuts increase revenue. Tax cuts are good, so this particular bit of bullshit is not really bad for the country.” Fast forward to now and you have piles of new Congressmen who grew up simmering in bullshit stew who actually think it’s totally true and a good basis for policy rather than something we just tell the proles to get them to vote for us. The transition started more toward the late 80s and was in full swing in the early 90s for that particular one.

        I think it’s a more general problem that we have to worry about. You can use heavy handed rhretoric to try to shift the Overton window and then have it slowly morph into an article of faith among your party faithful voters. But God help you if it sticks for a generation or so, because your next generation of leaders may actually believe it.

        I often wonder this about North Korea. Surely back at the beginning, there was all of the crazy propaganda for the little people, but Dear Leader and his staff generals knew better. Fast forward a few decades and I’m starting to wonder if they were able to raise enough people on a steady diet of reality that they’d have decent crop of sensible generals and staffers to choose from, or if the leadership has fully stepped into an alternate reality and forgotten where the door back from Narnia is, and only a few old geezers are around keeping things from going totally off the rails.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Another more recent example (past 20 years or so) is the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is a nonsense piece of theater that allows members of the minority party to grandstand and absolve themselves of responsibility by casting symbolic votes in favor of something that nobody actually wants. It’s a great “good vs evil” show for the party faithful, but it’s not really anything real. At least, it wasn’t.

        Now we have a bunch of people in Congress who grew up on a steady diet of debt ceiling grandstanding, and a frightening percentage of them seem to think that the debt ceiling is an actual lever of government that they can pull to affect policy rather than a doomsday button that they’re supposed to pretend they’re wiling to push to make themselves look serious.

        Good leaders lead by telling people what they’re going to do and why everybody should follow them. Bad leaders can lead for a little while by tricking everybody into following them, but the long term consequence is a populace that believes silly things and can’t take care of itself.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Yeah, a Ton of Reaganites turned into Progressives. Funny that, some people are able to recognize where power structures are being turned against the common man, and move to dismantle them. (Now, if the Republicans turn into civil libertarians, and stop being quite so racist-dogwhistling as Rand Paul, you might see some “true liberals” voting for the GOP again. I can’t say that would be a bad thing).Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @newdealer “I don’t think you are documenting anything new here. What you might be documenting is a fundamental part of human nature… Nate Silver is probably right about the chances of the GOP retaking the senate this year. However, I feel like getting out the vote is a tricky combination of confidence and fear. You need to make your voters/supporters confident in victory but fearful enough that the other guys/gals might win. This is why the Democratic Party needs to reign down on Silver a little.”

      So, out of curiosity, were you defending the right in regards to Silver in 2012, or were you critical of them? If so, can you help me understand why one case is strategic and wise, and the other is a bunch of bats**t crazy yahoos?Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I have no problem with politcians saying, “the only poll that matters is Election Day” or other such things. It’s when news organizations and pundits start treating the idea seriously. It’s dumb for Steve Israel in 2010 or whoever was in charge of the RCCC in 2006 to say, “the truth is, we’re kind of screwed guys.”Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Jesse gets it right.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        One difference is that the GOPers thought Silver was wrong because their own polling showed radically different voting patterns. It wasn’t so much that they were shouting Silver down as they thought they had better information than him. They learned that they didn’t.

        As to the larger topic, my prediction is that if Silver’s current numbers (60% for R taking Senate) stay the same or lean even further towards the GOP, Dems and Dem supporters will increasingly question his methods, objectivity or integrity.

        Just like they’ve done with Glenn Greenwald.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:


        It wasn’t so much that they were shouting Silver down as they thought they had better information than him.

        I don’t believe that this is the case, myself. Not when it comes to the shouters, anyway.

        The listeners probably believed that the shouters had better information than Silver.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I dunno, Patrick. Maybe you know more about this than I do, but just about everything I’ve read on the topic indicates that GOP insiders sincerely believed their turnout was going to be better than it was. There was some shouting, sure, but it wasn’t in a vacuum.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        A man can believe a lot of things that he knows aren’t true. It’s a delightful facet of human nature.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater I thought I read that their polling was accurate, they just massaged the numbers because they thought they had a ground game that gave them a leg up (and nobody wanted to tell Mitt that the massaged numbers had been massaged). They rationalized their lead, and ignored the numbers, and had this big soul-searching investigation into it all, public speeches about swearing to learn from their mistakes and all that.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Stillwater and zic,
        Trolling the GOP is always fun.
        And they make it so easy…Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      @will-truman and I have had many a conversation about the structural advantage Republicans have; governors, state legislatures, county commissioners, town councils, school boards.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Republicans make gains.

      But suspect Dems make gains in the House, too.

      @tod-kelly nice work. Totes OT. I noticed the 538 sniping. Mine would be that it’s good to keep the horse race active, it drives page views and interviews. Since it’s 1) probably true (at least right now), and 2) going to generate interest, it was a good business move on Silver’s part right at his launch. Encourages the Republicans to take him seriously, too; immediate buy in to their air time.

      But it’s the change that matters; it’s dynamic right up until the final call on election night.

      I wonder if 538 will go all Heisenberg. Is observer expectancy quantifiable?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Observer expectancy is always quantifiable.

        I know someone who’s worked with Krugman, and Silver, and Mann — hell, for all I know, he suggested getting Pielke on the site. I think you’re absolutely right, it’s a ploy to get more people to listen and generate some controversy.

        Pielke didn’t bother measuring almond prices, and I’m certain he didn’t bother measuring cotton prices either. Disasters aren’t always things you can point a finger at — droughts in particular.Report

  4. Avatar Aaron W says:

    I think the trends you describe are somewhat a product of political polarization, but more just a product human nature. None of us likes or wants to hear things that go against our wishes or pre-existing beliefs, which we tend to attach too much of our ego or identity too. And the media market has become more ruthlessly competitive with the advent of cable and the Internet. And markets are, if anything, very good at giving us what we want in a very efficient manner. Of course, what we want and what we need are often too very distinct things. The right wing media certainly has been much more willing to capitalize on these trends, perhaps.

    Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist, but I also don’t necessary think that all hope is lost on the right as you’ve described. Certainly during the 2012 election, the Republican party was living in some kind of strange fantasy bubble. Ever since the Great Government Shutdown Embarrassment of 2013, though, it does seem like the crazy has been throttled back quick a bit on the right. Not completely mind you, but enough to make me a little more optimistic. Certainly, some of the legislative proposals from the Republican party lately seem a lot more tethered to reality rather than some utopian (dystopian?) ideological fantasy.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      The difference, I would argue, is that until recently both sides of the political fence didn’t try to blow up the institutions people relied on for information. That one (and maybe eventually both) has successfully done so has long-term detrimental consequences to the whole — or at least that is my belief.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        It’s an interesting dynamic, to be sure. If we can agree that Fox News blew up the model, the decision to do so was based on the view that so-called “neutral” news sources were in fact biased in a liberal direction. Irrespective of which came first, the chicken or the egg, once the cat was outa the bag what was good for the goose became be good for the gander.

        Be that as it may, the idea that there was ever an unbiased news medium doesn’t strike me as very plausible. (In fact, I could go on and on about how that is not nor ever has been the case, even in the US. Tho the rejection of the reliability of exit-polling after Ws election was a real tipping point, it seems to me.) So to the extent it’s happening, it seems like a manifestation of several currents, one of which is a rejection of ideological neutrality in the presentation of news. All the news that’s fit to print!Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Keep in mind that Nate Silver’s stated purpose is to blow up – or at least show up – large segments of the established journalistic institutions people rely on for information – mostly of the analytical variety (which he regards as in many cases basically worthless). Though I’m not sure his assessment of the state of the established reportorial enterprise is that much better. (Literally not sure – in fact I have no idea. But I know that’s his view of analytical journalism in the main.)Report

      • The difference, I would argue, is that until recently both sides of the political fence didn’t try to blow up the institutions people relied on for information.

        This is where I see things differently from @tod-kelly . II believe that if you looked at most newspapers from about 120 years ago, especially those with a regional or local circulation but perhaps also some with national pretensions, you’d find most of them unabashedly partisan, aligning themselves with a given political party and going out of their way to present the facts (or even make up the facts) in the light most favorable to those whom they supported.

        Sometime after that, something happened, and, I’m told, journalism became more like a profession, with its own standards and its own sense of responsibility for getting the truth and serving the public’s right to know. And then we had more actual reporting and such beneficial (in my opinion) developments as the Pentagon Papers case and the Watergate investigation.

        That professionalism came at a certain cost. One was a sometimes too cozy relationship between reporters and the politicians who granted them access. If the story of the year was about to break and the president were to call the editor to delay publication because not doing so would be a bad thing, I imagine the editor would at least consider the request. Another cost was that some voices that perhaps ought to have been heard weren’t heard because they didn’t buy into whatever consensus the professionalization of journalism fostered. It’s not that those voices–largely fringe voices–were right, but they did represent a view that many believed and perhaps occasionally expressed a point worth engaging, in a similar way, in my opinion, that the Men’s Rights Movement sometimes has a good point, as Tod has acknowledged elsewhere.

        So I think the trend Tod is describing is not really a new assault on the information-giving institutions. Rather, I see it as the continuation of a struggle between tendencies in the information-disbursing system. Maybe there was a golden age of more traditional journalism that Foxnewsism has weakened, and I think it’s even more likely that a “movement leftism” is forming to counteract the “movement conservatism” that Fox represents.

        But I see this all as something that’s more to be expected and something with deep antecedents both in history and in human nature. It’s a similar phenomenon to George Orwell’s criticizing his fellow socialists for bending the truth in service to a broader goal of “justice.” In fact, this OP in particular reminds of what Orwell was trying to do, and I mean that as a compliment because he’s one of my favorite writer.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Syria’s done more to dial back the crazy, In My Not So Humble Opinion.

      It is ONE THING to shut down the government,
      but entirely another to go to war with IRAN.Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    Pielkie’s been around forever, and while he may not be a denier, he tends to come pretty close. What’s more, he’s largely hitched his wagon to the denier train. Criticisms of Pielke may have gotten more attention from people who haven’t been paying that close attention to the climate debates for years, but he’s been heavily by climate scientists and liberals for a long time, and one of the criticisms has been that he plays fast and loose with data because he has a conclusion in mind before he’s even looked at it.Report

    • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

      The Pielke criticism is mostly based on the fact that the statistical data he’s using is extremely flawed. The article itself is the exact sort of shit Silver decided to pan in his interview.

      The problem with quants in general is that they don’t really seem to have a good grasp of when data’s being abused, particularly in fields they don’t understand well.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        That’s interesting, @nobakimoto

        If you’ve ever the mind, a few other examples of this, please?

        And are there ways to test for abuse? Redundant data sets from different sources?Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        A lot of quants is properly correcting your data set. This requires an awful lot of domain expertise.

        Nob’s certainly correct that quants, as a group, can be oddly unaware when they’re being shown bad data… but probably part of that is based in the fact that quants, as a group, expect other quants to actually know how to correct their data set and assume that they’re doing it properly.

        Which is both a weird and entirely normal human reaction, depending upon how you look at it.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:


        Are some good takes on WHY people are unimpressed with the new 538. The simpler reason is: It’s not as rigorous as all the claims put out by Silver.

        On the bit about not useful statistical analysis.

        Basically the tendency, at least in economic and policy analysis is often that quants will focus on correlation between variables. Sometimes the problem is simply that they don’t know the exogenous factors that are causing additional changes to variables, due to the fact that they’re not thinking qualitively of the circumstances or situation. The only real remedy to that is honestly to have a good working familiarity (and not just numbers) of what we’re looking at. For political polling this is relatively easy to do. For other subjects, particularly things like social science based statistics, it becomes much harder.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

        Right, Patrick. My point is that quants are likely to fail smell tests for subjects they’re unfamiliar with, because there’s an innate assumption that the data won’t lie. When you work lies into the data and present it as truth, if you don’t have domain expertise you get caught hook line and sinker.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “The problem with quants in general is that they don’t really seem to have a good grasp of when data’s being abused, particularly in fields they don’t understand well.”

        The weird thing about this is that Nate Silver wasn’t a polling expert nor a voting patterns expert. What he did was to look at what worked and what didn’t, and to ruthlessly discard what didn’t (i.e., almost all punditry).

        In climate science, at least, he’s shown no evidence of having looked at what worked and what didn’t (or who was full of it and who was reliable), but immediately went over the hacks end of things.

        Has anybody seen anything by him which would indicate that he actually talked with climate scientists and checked out their work?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        He’s talked with Michael Mann (and hit the Creamery while he was up there, I hear). Dr. Mann was quite annoyed to see the chapter in Nate’s book.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        @chris I disagree with your interpretation, but I don’t have more than a marginal brief for St., that he’s not a denialist. I’m not claiming he’s right.

        @nobakimoto–If Pielke’s really so bad, surely you can do better than a wildly unobjective thinkprogress hit piece. Christ, I took a quick perusal and glancec at the WaTimes article referenced, and you’d never guess from that thinkprogress piece that Pielke was comparing climate models with recent peer-reviewed and published empirical data. And thinkprogresses’ defense of the practical value of models? “it is climate models that tell us that if we don’t stabilize near 450 ppm, the consequences for the climate and humanity will be an unmitigated catastrophe.” First, that’s changing the subject from the models’s accuracy to the importance of their predictions, which is a cheat. Second, that’s only a “practical” value if the models are valid, and what’s at question is the validity of the models.

        I stopped reading there, because my BS meter was already reading at dangerously high levels.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        Basically the tendency, at least in economic and policy analysis is often that quants will focus on correlation between variables. Sometimes the problem is simply that they don’t know the exogenous factors that are causing additional changes to variables, due to the fact that they’re not thinking qualitively of the circumstances or situation. The only real remedy to that is honestly to have a good working familiarity (and not just numbers) of what we’re looking at. For political polling this is relatively easy to do. For other subjects, particularly things like social science based statistics, it becomes much harder.

        That’s exactly what I thought when I heard about Silver’s plans for the new 538. He’s got an excellent statistical model when it comes to predicting elections, but economics and social sciences require a lot more in the way of in-depth knowledge of the subject if you’re going to present yourself an expert. You can’t just throw up some statistics and charts and say “okay, now we know what’s going on”. Even a lot of the statistical analysis done in academic journals of economics and social sciences is pretty facile.

        It’s not a bad idea to be doing that kind of analysis, but it’s a bad idea to assume that anyone doing it is an expert on the subject and the last word in accuracy, just because they work for Nate Silver.

        And Nate himself can’t be an expert in everything, which means that sometimes he’s likely to hire people who aren’t the best analysts or the most reliable sources, simply because he’s decided to branch out from “elections predictions” to “every topic under the sun”, and the latter is too broad an area for him to be well-informed about everything he’s hiring people to talk about.Report

      • Avatar Zane says:

        @katherinemw said “He’s got an excellent statistical model when it comes to predicting elections, but economics and social sciences require a lot more in the way of in-depth knowledge of the subject if you’re going to present yourself an expert. You can’t just throw up some statistics and charts and say “okay, now we know what’s going on”.”

        This is exactly right. That was my problem with the 538 article about Venezuela’s economic performance under Chavez. I can’t help but feel I’d have gotten a much better analysis of why things happened as they did from, say, the New York Times. In other words, the 538 article did give me a sense that Venezuela has done less well than Bolivia, but it didn’t help me understand *why* in any deep sense.

        There’s another issue–I’ve seen a number of headlines critical of Nate Silver and 538 recently. I haven’t actually read more than the headlines though. Are the Left/liberals/Democrats criticizing Silver due to his predictions on control of the Senate after election day? That hasn’t been a part of the headline criticism that I’ve seen.

        Is it possible that the L/l/D can accept Silver’s evaluation of election day chances while still objecting to other areas that they see as more problematic? Or is it all just evidence of delegitimization?Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


      R. Pielke, Jr. has consistently been misrepresented by certain segments of the AGW community, and your post is a nice example. First, you’ve carelessly confused Pielke, Jr. (who wrote the 538 piece) with Pielke, Sr., who’s criticized in the piece you linked. This kind of carelessness is common among their critics, in my experience.

      Second, disagreement with specific effects/claimed effects of climate change is not sensibly called AGW denialism except by those unwilling to brook any debate on the issue. Pielke, Jr. has not hitched his wagon to the denier train–that’s a scurillous slander that’s a consequence of other people repeatedly, and falsely, making that claim about him. But he does a) question some of the evidence for some of the effects, b) take seriouslythe question of whether the costs of adaptation or the costs of prevention are greater (that is, which approach has the greatest net benefit).

      On the first, he’s either right or wrong, but his critiques do not touch on whether AGW is occuring or not–he bluntly and unequivocally affirms it is (and as far ad ai can tell, is getting a little peeved at folks like you who keep falsely suggesting otherwise). On the second, not only would serious policy person would disagree, but the very argument assumes the reality of AGW.

      Pielke’s been repeatedly slandered, but he’s just a policy guy doing what policy guys do. It kind of pisses me off to see you repeating those misrepresentations about him.

      For the record, Pielke Sr. is a meteorologist who’s one of the ISI’s most-cited geoscientists, not just a whackadoodle, but who is critical of the IPCC findings, as he doesn’t think greenhouse gasses are the primary cause of AGW. Out-of-step, certainly, but AGW denier? But here is what he says about warming.

      As I have summarized on the Climate Science weblog, humans activities do significantly alter the heat content of the climate system, although, based on the latest understanding, the radiative effect of CO2 has contributed, at most, only about 28% to the human-caused warming up to the present. The other 72% is still a result of human activities!

      That’s arguing about the size of the effect, not the effect. Maybe it’s based on bad science, but then let’s criticize the science and avoid the false personal slurs, right?

      As for Pielke, Jr., he’s quite explicit about believing in climate change.

      Here is the necessary disclaimer to ward off those… who use the notion of “deniers” to shout down inconvenient voices: Climate change is real, humans have a significant impact on the planet, and mitigation and adaptation policies both make sense, as I argue in The Climate Fix.


      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Thanks for that correction. I’ve always been of a mind that the whole climate change debate exists at two levels. The first is whether or not AGW is real. It’s only after that that issues about what to do about it are at all interesting.

        Deniers – by definition, I think – reject that it’s real. (At least, they deny the A part of AGW.) So it sounds like Pielke Jr isn’t a denier. (So that’s good.) Lots of AGW beliebers think getting people to overcome their skepticism is a victory itself, tho, (and it is, on an important first level) but nothing clearly follows from that wrt policy or mitigation or anything else. That’s an open question, it seems to me. I mean, in the ideal case, a certain set of policies would be adopted and the problems would go away. Like magic! But as far as I know, no one has arrived at a determinate conclusion as to what those policies are, let alone figured out a way to implement them.

        Still, getting over the first hurdle is necessary to take the second hurdle seriously no matter how effectively we can jump it.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        as far as I can see, Pielke hasn’t added in half the human disasters that have been caused by global warming.
        He’s not looking at almond commodity prices (which have/will skyrocket, and will not come back down for a while — they’re removing the trees entirely, and they don’t grow back in a year).
        He’s not looking at cotton prices, or at the strife in Egypt.

        I know, these are harder to quantify — but the costs are very real. And I haven’t even started talking about maple syrup!Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        as far as I know, the most reasonable plan on the books for how to deal with global warming is genocide. [This is more a comment on many places failing to plan, at all.]Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yes, thank you for the correction. I admit I haven’t been paying attention at all to Silver’s new site, and this is the first I’ve heard about a Pielke being there. I apologize for confusing them.

        That said, denying the effects of global warming is effectively denying global warming, even if it is not strictly denialism.

        And the Sr has certainly been dishonest about his critics, as the linked post shows (and that’s just one of the posts debunking what Pielke has said about the Real Climate folks).Report

      • @chris The problem with this line of argument is that it creates a one-way ratchet – anyone who thinks that the effects of global warming will be less than the most extreme hypotheses can be termed as effectively denying global warming.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Pielke’s fivethirtyeight piece about storm damages increasing because of increasing weakth, rather than increasing storm frequency or intensity, is a good case in point. Michael Mann criticizes him on the grounds that wealthier societies can afford to build better, so damages shouldn’t be going up.

        “Pielke, in this case, continues to use an extremely controversial ‘normalization’ procedure when analyzing these data,” [Mann] told Climate Progress in an e-mail. “That procedure assumes that damages increase with population but it completely ignores technological innovations (sturdier buildings, hurricane-resistant structures, better weather forecasting, etc.) that have served to reduce societal vulnerability, thus likely masking some of the aggravating impacts of climate change.”

        That sounds plausible, but notice Mann is being speculative, providing a testable theory, not the actual data from a test. And Mann is a meterologist–the study of these types of outcomes is not his specialty.

        In response, Pielke pointed to his actual peer-reviewed findings.

        Pielke said he has considered mitigation data in previous work, but has found through four of his own research papers not mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article that there were no strong effects on the data.
        In one paper, for example, Pielke says that even though stronger building codes have been shown to be able to reduce losses from hurricanes by more than 40 percent, those types of codes “have only been implemented in recent years and in some cases vary signi?cantly on a county-by-county basis.” This means that stronger building codes are unlikely to change the results on overall loses, he says.
        His studies found that data on mitigation efforts had an effect on losses from U.S. earthquakes and Australian tropical cyclones, but not on U.S. hurricanes, tornadoes, or global floods, he said.

        There’s also this (from the same article):

        Dr. John Abraham, a thermal science professor at the University of St. Thomas famous for his formation of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, criticized Pielke’s assessment of the IPCC’s report. “You should know that we have already detected significant increases in Atlantic hurricane intensity, in extreme heat waves, large precipitation events and regional droughts,”

        I don’t pretend to an expertise in this area, but I found this from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluids Lab, from last December.

        It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane activity. That said, human activities may have already caused changes that are not yet detectable due to the small magnitude of the changes or observational limitations, or are not yet properly modeled (e.g., aerosol effects).
        Anthropogenic warming by the end of the 21st century will likely cause hurricanes globally to be more intense on average (by 2 to 11% according to model projections for an IPCC A1B scenario). This change would imply an even larger percentage increase in the destructive potential per storm, assuming no reduction in storm size.

        So in evaluating Pielke’s correctness on hurricane intensity, who are we to rely on, Abraham or NOAA? (I’m sure there’s a good joke in there somewhere.). I don’t know. But should I believe the claim of a finding of significant increased intensity is indisputable science, and anyone who disagrees is wicked and evil? Well, lord knows I’m pretty government skeptical, but NOAA’s a pretty decent agency, to the best of my knowledge, and I’m assuming Obama hasn’t pulled a Bush and tried to impose an anti-science orthodoxy on our federal science agencies.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        not really.
        I mean, would you think that someone was not considering BP’s oil spill to be a disaster, if they said there was only a 5% chance of it destroying all life on earth?
        (that’s about half of what the models said, actually, about “fixing” that oil spill).

        I just expect people to be honest about how confident they are, and what they’ll do if things are worse than they expect.

        …And I would like to revile those who choose genocide as the “most cost effective” way of dealing with the problem (First World Nation!)Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’d hope we’d hear the howls if Obama was doing that!!
        Thank you for providing the rest of the argument! I’m glad to see that Pielke did a bit of poking around with building codes…

        I am hopeful that we can mitigate the economic impact of global warming by revoking flood insurance. I’m certain you can understand the dramatic economic impact of that…Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        That said, denying the effects of global warming is effectively denying global warming, even if it is not strictly denialism.

        Well, you effectively framed that, didn’t you? What with keeping the word “deny” in there, and referencing “the effects of gloval warming” rather than “the claimed effects.”

        Really, Chris, that’s just too much bullshit. We’re still trying to figure out the effects of AGW–we don’t knowcthem all with certainty. One of the claimed effects of warming is increased storm costs, and Pielke makes a well-grounded (not dispositive, but well-grounded) case that increasing storm costs are attributable to growing wealth instead. That makes him “effectively” a warming denier?

        Don’t repeat what you’ve heard from others. Go read Pielke yourself and give me specific demonstrations of his “effectively” being a denialist.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        That’s exactly the problem, and it’s exactly what’s actually going on. It’s damned near impossible to have a reasoned discussion of the issue, because on the one side we have anti-science folks claiming there’s nothing at all happening, and on the other side we have folks who insist you be all-in with every claim or you’re actually in the denialist camp.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        are you familiar with the bunches of scientists who are really irritated with the IPCC for being too conservative with their estimation of the risks inherent in climate change?

        the IPCC is far from the most radical. it’s trying to be as data-driven (cough, conservative) as possible.

        That’s not to say you can’t disagree, but I’m trying to make sure we realize where folks stand.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        I’m going to go ahead and quote my friend James Tanner on the main problems with the article:

        Not to pile on, but’s not very good out of the gate. Several of the articles are startlingly innumerate.

        Leading the way is this extraordinarily sloppy piece from Roger Pielke, contrarian climatologist, in which he dismisses the possibility that climate change is causing measurably larger disasters by looking at the GDP-growth-adjusted reinsurance payout trend from ALL disasters…including earthquakes and tsunamis.

        Seriously – in his trend analysis dataset, there are four outsized trend-shaping datapoints, and two of them represent earthquake/tsunami combos.

        He only justifies this tactic by hinting that other folks are using an unadjusted version of the same dataset to make the opposing point…yet he doesn’t come out and clearly say that, and none of the three links he provides in the context of that vague assertion actually shows that.

        Even taking his argument at face value, his dataset only goes back to 1990; the existence or non-existence of an overall disaster cost trend over 24 years (again, this trendline is dominated by only four datapoints) isn’t nearly enough to support either the pro or con side of his argument.

        Plus he never directly addresses the plain fact that the *other* two outsized trend-shaping datapoints are Katrina and Sandy, both of which wreaked havoc after developing unusual storm strength over unusually warm ocean waters.

        Whether Pielke’s position ultimately has merit or not, this is a cheap strawman argument and a *classic* example of the kind of horrible data-flubbing not-journalism for which declares itself to be the antidote. Nate Silver needs some serious quality control, and pronto.


      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Tanner makes a substantially better argument than either Mann or Abraham, doesn’t he?

        Is he referring to the fivethirtyeight article or Pielke’s peer-reviewed work on this issue?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Also, it’s pretty clear that Pierke Jr has his own share of problems (such as his failures in understanding basic statistics). Granted some of the critiques are a bit brutal, but I think Romm’s got it about right at:

        He’s not really an honest broker. He’s not nearly as bad as some in the climatologist community want him to be, but there’s some serious and stunningly innumerate problems to his methodology and in general he’s got this tendency to claim to be a contrarian martyr, which just pisses people off.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Tanner was referring primarily to the 538 article.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @mark-thompson @james-hanley , there is a difference between disagreeing about the projected impact of climate change in the future and denying empirically observed effects now. What Sr. was doing in the link I gave up there is the latter, not the former. That is denialism, even if it isn’t strictly climate change denialism. And what’s worse, he accused the people who were reporting empirical findings of lying.Report

      • @nob-akimoto I don’t have a problem with Tanner’s criticism, though it’s worth mentioning that Pielke seems to have at least partially responded to it here:
        @chris I’m not interested in the senior Pielke’s actions, which are well beyond the scope of what Tod’s arguing about here, which is limited to the attacks on the junior Pielke.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        @mark-thompson , that’s cool. I was replying to James, who in addition to pointing out my error, made some points about what I was calling effective denialism. I’m definitely off topic, though, and James and I just disagree (though he was right to correct me about mistaking Jr. for Sr.), so I’ll drop it here.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        @mark-thompson, @nobakimoto

        The article referenced by Pielke. It was published in Global Environmental Change.

        This is not a denialist academic journal, to the best of my knowledge.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        paid for by Munich RE??
        it may be my experience with drug companies, but I will judge a bit more harshly anything that is corporate research. (granted, a good deal of that is their ability to function without IRBs…).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        My responst to Chris and Nob got misthreaded, above

        I strongly recommend taking time to read Pielke himself, instead of just his critics. It’s the only intellectually honest thing to do, and I think you’ll realize you can disagree with him without seeing him as a denialist or even in their camp. Especially you, @nobakimoto, as a policy guy, should be able to see where he’s coming from.

        In contrast, that thinkprogress piece is explicit about thinking AGW threatens the very existence of humanity. That’s a fairly big incentive to be less than perfectly charitable toward those who make any critiques at all.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Down below Barry references a Munich Re funded study claiming AGW is causing more losses. I think they’re cleared of paying fir oarticular results. And as a reinsurance group, I suspect their primary interest is discerning where their presumably increasing costs are coming from. They have different incentives than, say, Exxon, so just calling them “corporate” is kind of like lumping James Inhoffe in with the NSF because they’re both “political.”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I know it’s a bias. Just because it’s a bias doesn’t mean it’s not there. ;-PReport

  6. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I have to say, I don’t find this all that convincing–not least because it hangs a lot on the credibility of Roger Pielke, which has been criticized well before this (even during the time when liberals were supposedly coolly data-driven). As Noah Smith argues here, you can’t assume that Silver’s good work in election forecasting (including the Senate races in 2014) gives him a free pass elsewhere.Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    Well i could have told you a year ago that when Sliver made a prediction that wasn’t favorable to D’s, then D’s wouldn’t like it. I don’t think what paid political operatives say shows anything other then PR people are paid to do PR. We’ll have to see over the next few months how D’s react to the predictions of problems; do they do nothing but poo poo them or accept them as a real problem. I’ve certainly seen D’s who say they are in for trouble this election, even before Sliver’s polls. So i’m not sure the crap he has gotten shows as much as you think.

    The attacks and discounting of big time media is a widespread phenomenon that goes way beyond politics. How many websites push sports stats and info. There are a zillion of them and some are big time, they have taken the place of old style newspaper sports columnists. If there is a difference its that sports news has jumped on board with the stats and Internet revolutions. I can think of other examples where the old big media is gone or minimized; music, science reporting come to mind.

    ??? Wasn’t this second installment supposed to have something to do with people with developmental delays? Did i miss something? Has the Man got to you?Report

  8. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    And what of Paul Krugman, that defender of objective data from the political tests of punditry? Let’s just say he’s no longer a fan. At all.

    Krugman makes legitimate points. “Use FRED!”, meaning show your work. Links are very helpful on the internet and the Federal Reserve Economic Data site, or linking to specific sources, could help us all follow along and assess 538’s Ben Casselman’s claims. There’s a big difference between dinging an author for not citing sources readers can explore for themselves on the one side and making claims about an author’s sexual orientation in some sort of effort to discredit them on the other side.Report

  9. Avatar Will Truman says:

    It is pretty plain that when the poll data tells Team Blue what they do not want to hear, a whole lot of them will pick at the data. I am relatively certain that this will happen because it did in 2004. But what was truly remarkable about the 2012 was not that there was a lot of pushing back against the polls, disregarding the numbers, and so on. It was that people who were paid to know better apparently did not. I have a hard time believing that’s going to happen to the other side. I actually have a hard time believing it will happen to Republicans again any time soon. The partisans will partisan, the spinmeisters will spin, but it won’t be as complete a self-delusion.

    That being said, I consider pushback against the polls to be entirely healthy. The polls will get it right until they get it wrong. Unhealthy would be taking polls as holy writ because at some point the polls could actually shape the election. Where the GOP went so wrong was the degree of certainty they attached to their skepticism. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. And even if you think the polls might be wrong, it’s more likely (though not a certainty) that they will be right.

    The other thing I’ll mention is that over at OTB, I was one of the only people to believe that the Democrats will actually maintain control of the senate. Almost everybody else – the vast majority of whom are liberal – were telling me that I was wrong. So I’m not sure the degree to which “Doubt Silver!” has actually taken.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      FWIW, this overstates my disagreement to a degree. I do think that some of your criticisms are on target. Among other things, the next time the left gets displeasing numbers about a presidential election, I do think that the “poll-denialism”* will be much more organized than it was previously. It’ll probably be a little more widespread as the left itself is more organized into its community. But such is life.

      * – Which is a term I don’t actually like, since as I said some poll-skepticism is healthy. And I think it says less about the skeptic than others think it does.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      I actually have a hard time believing it will happen to Republicans again any time soon.

      $5 sez 2016.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        I think you actually won’t have to wait that long. There will be two or three states this year that people will become experts on, knowing the blue highways and byways to all the little towns and neighborhoods in despite the fact that they have never been more than one mile away from an international airport in that state, and they’ll be all full of reasons why the polls are wrong and their candidate is surely going to win notwithstanding what that bespectacled kid working for the sports channel says, go ahead and bet the farm on it Betty.

        I mean, someone’s going to hire Dick Morris to sit behind a desk and bloviate despite a prognostication success record at least two standard deviations worse than chance. You know that’s right.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I am not talking about “people” (or boosters), I am talking about the people who were actually paid to know better.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Dick Morris qualifies as a booster at this point. I wouldn’t actually expect him to know better. Or more precisely I wouldn’t expect him to care.Report

      • NobAkimoto NobAkimoto says:

        I don’t think Dick Morris or Karl Rove count anymore, Burt.

        That said, the main problem with the current predictions are that they’re working from really sketchy amounts of data and proxy measures. As Sam Wang likes to tell us, that’s just a path to a lot more headaches.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        It’s certainly true that Dick Morris ought not to need the mandatory disclaimer @tod-kelly jokes about in the OP. The caption “Dick Morris” ought to do that trick. A sub-caption reading “worse track record than the octopus who picks winners of soccer games,” however, might be appropriate.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Morris is shameless but I think Rove was actually quite embarrassed. Rove surprised me somewhat. I mean I knew what he was saying but was surprised that he actually apparently believed it with unwarranted certainty.

        What I’m really talking about though is that McCain’s people knew the score right down to Indiana and North z Carolina. They even thought Georgia might be competitive. Romney thought he was going to win. That was the shocking display of incompetence I don’t expect to see again.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Yeah watching Rove as it happened you could almost see the sweat beginning to bead. He was thinking about the donors I suspect; you could almost see him wondering if this was going to be his last paying gig for a while. It was priceless.Report

  10. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I know when I read British media that there are editorial biases. I can read the Torygraph, for instance, and filter accordingly. But whether it’s the Beeb or the Daily Mail or even Gods help us the Sun I do have a degree of trust that they aren’t just making s[p]it up. Well, maybe not the Sun anymore, but that’s largely the fault of its American sister publications, whose credibility is totally lost with me. Fox News has substituted opinion for journalism and polemic for entertainment for so long I can’t bear to have it on my television anymore unless John Stewart is actively lampooning it. I don’t need to tune in to see what he’s lampooning anymore either, because it’s been SSDD there since about 2006, an editorial philosophy dipped in the amber of viewer-market optimization.

    For a while I enjoyed the Keith Olbermanns and Rachael Maddows of MSNBC for their strong, unapologetic arguments countering the O’Reilleys and Coulters of the world, particularly on the neo-Puritanism that so repels folks like me. Still, at times they seemed to be too much the mirror image of the righties against whom they sought to rally — no concessions, we are so right on everything all the time the other guys don’t even have the moral standing to command even the respect of listening to what they have to say.

    But when Nate Silver came along, it was as though the heavens opened and angels sang. Here was data. Facts. Information, with a clear, intelligent explanation for why it was analyzed in a particular way, coming from someone who was frank about going where the data led, not massaging the data to lead it to a pre-designated conclusion. The closest thing I’d seen in a long time to someone trying to see the world as it actually is, and not as he wanted it to be.

    To see some recoil from Silver reporting that his examination of available data is somehow contra-orthodox is at one disappointing and affirming. Disappointing in that indeed it is a signal of a segment of the body politic withdrawing into a pleasant echo chamber. Affirming in that it suggests that what I read under Silver’s byline is indeed a depiction of the world seen through the most untinted lenses available.

    After all, our prevailing model in this culture is that of “objective journalism.” We aren’t yet at the place where you pick up the Guardian because you already know before plunking down your 50p that it’s contents are going to please you. Most people I know seek out news for the primary purpose of becoming informed, not indoctrinated. Not everything can be as data-driven as Nate Silver’s oeuvre but the philosophy strikes me as one to emulate.Report

    • Avatar Creon Critic says:

      Please do not read the Daily Mail. Ever.

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Excellent points Burt. I’m of a similar mind. I don’t follows Silver much, frankly, as my state votes reliably Democratic and I’m disinclined to get involved in hopeless causes, but the points Todd and you made can be more broadly applied as well. I think it’s a fair criticism that most mainstream journalism has a lot less “investigational” reporting and more “press release” reporting. Journalists “work with” elected officials to get stories, spike them, delay reporting them, etc. all in the interest of access. Few want to do a hard hitting analysis that would reflect negatively on their access.

      This was one of the reasons I embraced Fox News and similar sites initially. I know I’m getting a skewed viewpoint, but I could then turn to ABC and see the opposite skewed viewpoint, thinking that tease out the truth between the two. Sadly I realized it was harder to do and the propaganda from both just got too damn annoying. I literally was on a treadmill in a gym watching Fox on one TV and MSNBC on another as they discussed the SAME topic at the same time. Knowing a bit on the subject matter, I realized they were both full of BS. No one wants to see real news; they just want to watch hatchet men get their shots in on the other side and have their own views validated.

      That, perhaps, is one of the developments that disappoint me the most with our society.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      Burt, I’d quibble with one thing – Silver wasn’t analyzing the raw data, but the resulting conclusions of pollsters. What he did which was the most amazing was to go and see which set of conclusions had the most predictive power – the pollsters’ or the pundits collective ‘gut’. When the pollsters proved better, he used their results.

      So it’s more a matter of finding the best *information* (in the sense that Nate wasn’t doing his own polling, for example).Report

  11. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    Here’s Krugman in your link:

    “But I’d argue that many of the critics are getting the problem wrong. It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.

    Yeah, he’s on the same path as Rush Limbaugh, climate denying George Will, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, goldbugs, people who say being gay is a choice, one time primary favorite Michelle Bachman, one time primary favorite Pat Buchanan, birthers, … I’m too tired to even finish this point i’m making. It should be obvious.

    Hell, I’m too tired to even read the rest of your links. Including Krugman in the point you were trying to make is so lazy or dishonest or just plain out there that I have decided to not read and comment on nothing else you are going to say on this because you’re so off the rails that it would be pointless to proceed.

    This hippie is punched out. You win. You’re a great writer and a good guy, but this is just awful reasoning.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Said the guy who just yesterday left a comment indicating that he starts from the assumption that other people are all stupid or willfully ignorant.

      Tod provided a collection of lefty responses to Nate Silver’s new project and he included Krugman among those responses. He didn’t say that Krugman was like those people that you mentioned or even on the same path. He also made a point of saying that were the left is now is nowhere near where the right is now. I am not sure to what exactly your comment is a response.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Krugman made a simple point.
        it’s also a solid one — I can imagine James making it (since he seems to do the “think about what you’re saying” stuff around here).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Yeah, I think Krugman makes a pretty solid point as well. He’s talking about an important distinction between the collection and analysis of data and the uselessness of data in a theoretical vacuum. I have those worries about what Silver is doing as well. I mean, the model upon which he gained credibility – making predictions based on fine-grained statistical data – works well in certain fields where the governing theory is obvious and unambiguous. Eg., predicting election outcomes based on polling data, or predicting a players utility in winning games based on his past contributions on the field. Theories of political economy include many more variables (which isn’t necessarily a problem for Silver) which require some theoretical assumptions to even make sense of. So there’s a worry that Silver is gonna try to collapse the pure data/governing theory distinction in a problematic way. But we’ll see.

        What’s interesting about Krugman even addressing this is that by doing so, preemptively as it were, he sounds defensive about Silver’s project, which indirectly confirms Silver’s view that pundits operate in an evidence free bubble.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        My objection was to @shazbot3, not to Krugman. I actually agree with Krugman’s point; although, I think it is a bit early to make a fully substantive critique of FiveThirtyEight. Sometimes it takes a while to work out the kinks and for writers to find their beat and their voice.

        Also, Krugman doesn’t operate in an evidence-free bubble. He is just very selective of the evidence that he incorporates.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Krugman’s not one of those. You can look at his research to see that he tends to tailor it to “what’s going on right now” — he’s a good, insightful researcher that way. He’s done work on the liquidity trap, because someone needed to think about how the hell we fix this problem.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        What evidence is he not incorporating?
        *munches popcorn*Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        The liquidity trap is the perfect example. Krugman has done work on liquidity traps that supports his belief, as a New Keynesian, that fiscal stimulus is the appropriate policy tool and, as a progressive, that governments ought to be spending to support active interventions in the economy.

        Krugman certainly doesn’t reject monetarism (at certain times he is an outright monetarist), but when it comes to policy responses at the zero rate bound, he definitely underweight evidence of effective monetary policy because his intellectual and ideological priors lead him to favor fiscal policy.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        can you give some cites as to some counter-evidence?
        My brand of liberal would rather listen to Mises than Keynes…
        But I’m still seeing substantial evidence for the idea of a liquidity trap (this isn’t to say there aren’t other ways to get out other than using the government — but at the end of the day, a hammer’s a hammer.)Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      Sounds like someone’s angling to get cited in Todd’s next post, too!Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      Shazbot3: “Here’s Krugman in your link:

      “But I’d argue that many of the critics are getting the problem wrong. It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.””

      I’ve said it above, and apologize for being redundant, but *that’s what Nate Silver was originally doing*.

      He didn’t conduct his own polls; he took the results of professionals’ work. They are quite likely to be model-driven outcomes, with complex, model-driven weights and assumptions. I know a *little* about this (from listening to a few lectures by experts), and it’s far more complicated than I had thought, even after I had read Cochran (things have advanced since the 1950’s!).

      What he did which was unusual in the world of political punditry was to look to see which worked. He tested various experts’ predictions against the real world, and found that one set worked, and one set did not, where the sets were quite identifiable.Report

  12. Avatar North says:

    I think the post is excellent Tod though I’d join you in emphasizing that the condition on the left is highly preliminary as compared to the right.

    I’d go one further than you and also assert that there are some factors that the right possessed/possesses that the left lacks that joined with this unhealthy habit of partisans to magnify what I’d argue (along with NewDealer) is a predictable and cynical spinning of biased political operators into a true shit storm of disinformation.
    The left is lacking in the centralized organs that the right has. National Review, especially, doesn’t have a left wing equivalent (though God[ess?] knows there’re no end of left wing sites that wish they were). There’s nothing like having a central dogma organ to allow this partisanship to metastasize to a full ideology wide mass delusion.

    Also, though as a centrist my credit is bad on this, this liberal does not think that any of your articles amount to hippie punching- especially since most of your criticism targets here are centrist prognosticators or political operators of the Democratic Party aka the kinds of people our dear left wing hippies love to scorn.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      You can add to that list “the right can’t do computers… or polling”
      Makes ’em a hell of a lot easier to infiltrate.Report

    • Avatar Zane says:

      @north mentions “…factors that the right possessed/possesses that the left lacks…”

      I’m not meaning to upset anyone, but… Might those factors include a powerful contingent of conservative Christians who are focused on ignoring and discounting evidence that does not support their particular understanding of the universe/world/human nature? I’m thinking of evolution-deniers, young earthers, “homosexuality is a choice”-rs. If you’re willing to reject Big Evidence like evolution, mightn’t it be easier to reject little evidence like poll numbers you don’t like?

      Does the left even have an equivalent group of similar importance?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        That could be the case. You have to go really far out on the left in the United States to find people similar to the Fundamentalist Christians on the right. The 9/11 truthers and other conspiracy theorists on the left think very similarly to the Fundamentalist Christians but most these people wouldn’t be caught voting for the Democratic Party anyway. More troubling and most likely more numerous are the anti-Vaxxers, lacitvists, and other people on the left. Again, similar refuse to except evidence and much more likely to vote for a Democratic politician but less organized than Fundamentalist Christians since you can’t find them in church on Sunday.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Of similar importance? I can’t say the left does.
        That said, if you drop the similar importance caveat then you have anti-GMO mouth breathers, anti-vaccine idiots, lab busting animal rights zealots, 9/11 truthers, the whole contingent of the organic farming can feed the world kooks*, eco-extremists and others along those lines you have a large contingent of the left who match the conservative Christians for ignoring scientific evidence in favor of what they feel is right.

        *which isn’t to denigrate organic farming as a whole but to feed the world? C’mon.
        **They exist, there’s plenty of emReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @north, and these groups operate on the extreme spectrum of the left in any country but especially in the United States where the political structure isn’t that kind to anything more radical than mainstream liberalism when it comes to electoral politics. The left we’re talking about his limited in scope and power, happily ignored by most people. Although, they do refer to themselves as the base of the Democratic Party in their illusions.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I can very happily agree with that Lee.Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:


    As always, a clearly thoughtful, thorough, and well-written piece. However, I’m inclined to push back… at least a bit.

    First, let me say that I am a slight critic of Silver… or, more precisely, I am a slight critic of the new I’ve actually been on Silver’s bandwagon back when he was still doing baseball analysis. I’m more-or-less a believer in his methodology. I don’t have the mathematical/statistical chops to actually dispute or confirm any of it, but it seems to pass the smell test and he has an exceedingly strong record. But from what I’ve seen from thus far has left me a little disappointed. I knew that he was working with ESPN and the Grantland people, but I was hoping it wouldn’t simply be the latter redux with more math. Which is what it feels like thus far. I’m not quite sure I understand the push for long-form writing when it isn’t necessary. Both GL and FTE sometimes take magnitudes more time/space/words than is necessary. As someone with a limited attention span, it gets annoying. It also lends itself to relying more heavily on narrative, which can be problematic when doing more objective analysis. I’ve read a few pieces on FTE (none by Silver, mind you) wherein I found the writer seeming to have an agenda — even if it was just to make something dry more interesting — that I found offputting. BUT, all that said, I do like Silver himself and don’t have much reason to question his methodology or findings. I did read his piece on the Senate battle shifting from a coin-flip to a slight GOP advantage and thought, “That stinks.”

    I also don’t read enough political stuff to know how the left is responding. Most of my political reading happens right here at OT. So if the left is throwing Silver under the bus because they don’t like his results, that is a damn shame.

    But I’m going to offer pushback because I’m a little worried that you yourself are shoehorning things into a narrative. I understand the broader idea that you are pushing and don’t think you are without reason to think about it. But I’m still not sure I see the quoted responses from the left in this piece as anywhere close to what we saw from the right. Maybe that is my own bias creeping in — I certainly skew left most of the time — but I’m also on record as being fully willing to criticize the left or congratulate the right if it is warranted. What I saw in the right-wing response to Silver was a broad scorched earth policy. I even heard random people at work deriding him. I didn’t even know the left was critical of Silver until I read this piece. It seems like certain individuals on the left may be but anti-Silverism does not seem to have worked itself into the left wing dogma.

    Maybe these are all little steps that will culminate in the left going into the wilderness. But, thus far, I remain unconvinced.Report

  14. Avatar Barry says:

    Tod Kelly

    “I actually have a theory that I dislike David Brooks more than most liberals on the inertubes. ”

    David Brooks isn’t a liberal; he’s the sorta-liberal-looking guy who serves right-wing causes (in a ‘gentle’, ‘social scientist’ manner).

    The best description of him is that my first knowledge of him came from somebody pointing out that Brooks had flar-out lied in an anecdote about fancy restaurants which he used to illustrate a red state/blue state comparison. Which is he did by looking at two counties within a blue state. The debunking of that anecdote was following by a thorough ripping apart of his thesis and evidence.

    I’ve seen nothing to contradict that first impression.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      I think that Tod meant that he dislikes David Brooks more than most liberals on the internet dislike David Brooks, not that he dislikes David Brooks more than he dislikes most liberals on the internet.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I think you’re misreading Tod here Barry. He’s not saying David Brooks is a liberal; he’s saying he dislikes David Brooks more than most liberals on the internet dislike David Brooks.Report

    • I think you’ve rather woefully misinterpreted that sentence. “Most liberals” isn’t modifying “David Brooks,” who literally no one outside of the Tea Party considers to be a liberal. It’s modifying “I.”Report

  15. Avatar Barry says:

    “Yeah, Krugman’s critique is … more nuanced than most he makes.”

    People should go and read Krugman’s comments on Silver, and realize that he’s criticizing Silver for specific and dishonest things Silver’s done. He’s not excommunicating Silver for heresy. I’ve hit my limit of free articles, but search for ‘Tarnished Silver’.Report

    • It strikes me that he – and an awful lot of folks on the left attacking 538 – are incredibly quick to leap from simply disagreeing with analysis to concluding that the person making the analysis is dishonest.

      As for Pielke, it seems to me that a good chunk of the attacks on him emphasize that he’s not a climate scientist and then jump to the conclusion this means he’s not only wrong, but also dishonest.

      Attacking him for not being a climate scientist would be entirely legitimate if he was disputing the science. Except for the most part he’s not – he’s primarily disputing the economics, at least in the piece that’s come under the most fire so far.

      And if he’s wrong in his analyses, even to the extent that they enter the realm of scientific analysis, that doesn’t make him dishonest. If you want to accuse someone of dishonesty, you need to show some evidence of dishonest intention. Otherwise it just comes across to people outside your tribe as you being unwilling to engage opposing viewpoints.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Trenberth is citing a lot of cherrypicking going on. That may not be rank dishonesty, but it comes pretty close when you’re looking at science.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “As for Pielke, it seems to me that a good chunk of the attacks on him emphasize that he’s not a climate scientist and then jump to the conclusion this means he’s not only wrong, but also dishonest. ”

        Go read what the climate scientists say.Report

    • Avatar EB says:

      Nate Silver is a person. He is not the living embodiment of ‘data journalism.’ Krugman is criticizing him for failing to actually practice what he preaches, in specific cases. How @tod-kelly can interpret that as a criticism of what Silver preaches is beyond me.

      I would go even further–there’s nothing wrong with the IDEA of Unskewed Polls. Everybody should be examining everybody’s data, underlying assumptions, etc. I don’t think people were criticizing Chambers for having the temerity to question St. Silver, they were criticizing him for making such a hash of it, and letting his ideological preferences drive his methodology and conclusions.

      Forget who said it above, but it’s also important to separate, as Wieseltier does, data-answerable questions from normative or values-driven questions. Ironically, it’s pretty hedgehog-like to assume that since numbers work well in polling, they must work well for every other conceivable questions. (I was surprised by the reaction to the TNR piece, given that it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill recap of the is-ought argument).Report

  16. Avatar Barry says:

    Todd, at this point I’m going to call ‘liar!’ on you. Your example, after two vacuous preliminary posts, involve somebody who’s publicly immolating themselves, and (in all but 3 items I’ve seen) has been called out by liberals *for that specific reason*.Report

    • Avatar Dave says:


      Todd, at this point I’m going to call ‘liar!’ on you. Your example, after two vacuous preliminary posts, involve somebody who’s publicly immolating themselves, and (in all but 3 items I’ve seen) has been called out by liberals *for that specific reason*.

      Calling him a liar would be a very unwise course of action. Are you sure you want to do that?Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        Yes. At this point, his loooooooooooong-delayed example is that of a guy who’s taken a turn for the worse (not final, not fatal), and is being criticized for that.

        So far, the only other criticisms I’ve seen of him are some Democratic Party Committee’s complaints (IOW, professional political organizations not liking bad news), and an old, tired, washed up hack with literary pretensions (whatshisname at Even The Liberal New Republic) who basically wrote a ‘get off my lawn, you young brats!’ article. And it’s likely that that guy was hired by Martin Peretz, which makes him liberal in the same sense that Likkud is liberal.

        What Tod should have presented, and could have easily if his thesis was worth anything, was an example of somebody who *didn’t* shoot himself in the foot being reviled.Report

      • So because you find his analysis unconvincing, he’s therefore a liar with no integrity. I think you’re starting to provide a pretty nice case study for his next post.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I think it would be unfair to project Barry behavior on the left more generally. Calling people he disagrees with dishonest or liars is just one of the things that Barry does.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        I’ll be more blunt since it didn’t sink in the first time – you won’t call him a liar. We have a commenting policy. Disagree with him at will but the second you impugn his character, your comments get replaced with haikus.

        Speaking of character, unlike you, Tod has both class and my respect. You can learn a lot from a guy like that. Just saying.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @dave Hold up there.

        I went into this whole series knowing it was going to piss off a lot of regular readers. Hell, I’ve been pretty careful to take time to set the table because I knew this was going to happen.

        All of which is to say that for these particular threads, I don’t mind people venting. People can call me whatever they want (so long as it isn’t offensive to others) and they’re cool. No ref needed.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        I wasn’t cool with it at all but duly noted.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        Tod, you need your own sub-blog with its own rules and expectations…Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        The first rule of Tod’s subblog: no one reads Tod’s subblog!

        Second rule: Martinis for everyone.Report

  17. Avatar Kim says:

    Man, Tod, you made this too easy on us liberals. You could have EASILY found 50 posts on kos that wouldn’t look at a CATO analysis seriously because it’s not liberal (also, because it’s paid for by some folks that are not libertarian and enjoy witchhunts).

    That’s really where I thought you were going with this.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I try not to ever quote DK for being representative of anything. They’ve got like a gazillion bloggers over there, all of them doing their own thing. It’s a little too close to pulling comments from a chat room and declaring them representative of the DNC.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        From what I’ve seen of DNC meetings, that would in fact be accurate. A gazillion people doing their own thing and hopefully someone can somehow get the chaos to move in roughly a single direction, generally to cries of “Facism!”.

        The whole “herding cats” thing and “I’m not part of an organized party, I’m a Democrat” jokes exist for a reason. 🙂Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I don’t know if the trend’s lasted, but when I read and commented there, there was a real nurturing of people who did grass-roots political work. While dKos may not be representative of anything; I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that many of the D party elites of the future began cultivating the knowledge necessary to be a party elite there, back in the day.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Party elite? Maybe not, but it’s where party “veterans” hang out.
        (bear in mind, I get this from someone who’s worked with ALL the parties in Washington, including the Libertarians and Greens).

        Those are people who know how to vet — and teach — the candidates — and they’re the volunteers running the campaigns, and even more importantly, knitting together communities.

        Around here we have an “Independent Democratic Club” that gives a slate of folks they feel will be good for our ward. They’re good folks.

        Folks who haven’t hung around dkos much tend to think of it as “lefty liberals” — but it’s being run by former Reaganites, and more tends to represent the technocratic wing of the Democratic party.Report

  18. Avatar Kim says:

    Mark and James,
    Mann isn’t the guy on point for disagreeing with Pielke, that’s Trenbeth:

    “Pielke stresses economic data and dismisses the importance of loss of life. (For instance, he gives nary a mention of the over 50,000 lives lost to heat stress during the summer 2003 heat waves in Europe, which are discussed by Kintisch.) He makes “corrections” for some things (notably, more people putting themselves in harm’s way) but not others. Some adjustments, such as for hurricane losses for the early 20th century, in which the dollar value goes up several hundred–fold, are highly flawed. But he then uses this record to suggest that the resulting absence of trends in damage costs represents the lack of evidence of a climate component. His record fails to consider all tropical storms and instead focuses only on the rare landfalling ones, which cause highly variable damage depending on where they hit. He completely ignores the benefits from improvements in hurricane warning times, changes in building codes, and other factors that have been important in reducing losses. Nor does he give any consideration to our understanding of the physics of hurricanes and evidence for changes such as the 2005 season, which broke records in so many ways (5).

    Similarly, in discussing floods, Pielke fails to acknowledge that many governing bodies (especially local councils) and government agencies (such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) have tackled the mission of preventing floods by building infrastructure. Thus even though heavy rains have increased disproportionately in many places around the world (thereby increasing the risk of floods), the inundations may have been avoided. In developing countries, however, such flooding has been realized, as seen for instance this year in Pakistan, China, and India. Other tenuous claims abound, and Pielke cherry-picks points to fit his arguments. For example, a box titled “U.S. Extreme Events: Excerpts from a 2008 U.S. Government Report” presents six points related to changing extremes, but Pielke’s biased selection of those particular points from the numerous ones included in the report (6) completely changes the actual conclusions.”

    Even to me, Pielke’s cherrypicking of short impulse events, rather than longer term heatwaves and below normal temperatures stood out.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      He completely ignores the benefits from improvements in hurricane warning times, changes in building codes, and other factors that have been important in reducing losses.

      Trenbeth’s just wrong about that. So why should I take his criticisms seriously?

      If you start digging around, you’ll find that Pielke Jr.’s work may be among of the most consistently misrepresented in the whole field. When his critics start making accurate representations of his work I’ll take them a whole lot more seriously.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’m not certain he’s entirely wrong (though he is at least somewhat wrong). Trenberth is citing stuff like the Army Corps of engineers work in reducing flooding (certainly stopped the ones around here!). Pielke appears to have done some targeted research, and then generalized to a good deal. It is a fair cop if someone says, “here’s five pieces of data that disprove your point, that you didn’t study.”Report

    • …Except that he’s quite explicit that he’s only talking about “disasters,” which most people – and specifically most people in the audience for which he’s writing – think of as being “short impulse” events.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out that this is a highly limited and specific point. I do think there’s something wrong with suggesting that it’s dishonest to even make it.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        No, making tiny points is a good start to building up an accurate meta-analysis.
        Pielke could have strengthened his point by saying “I’m not looking at heatwaves, and coldspells that cause widespread but difficult to measure damage” [sidenote: measurements of construction worker activity would be an easy way to get that data. Though less accurate than insurance statements].Report

      • And because he didn’t, he’s therefore dishonest?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I’m not saying he’s dishonest. He may be, but I’d really rather withhold judgement on that. Cherrypicking facts without a good reason, simply to make a good story would be dishonesty, though. I’m not sure he’s doing that. But what Barry cites below is making the opposite point, and an honest man (at least if he’d read it) would have made the point that he’s running counter to other observations… (or clarified the points where the two datasets differ, as they seem to).

        I think it monumentally more likely that someone’s tweaked an article to cause a bit more controversy. Pielke could have put in his “I’ve looked at building codes” in a sources cited… Hiring of Pielke in general seems like a bit of a sophisticated troll (which I am enjoying, by the way. academic arguments are often fun).Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I think some people don’t understand how research is actually done. You never look at everything; it would be too unwieldy. You look at bits and pieces. Heck, nobody’s done a study that proves all of AGW–it’s the conclusion from truckloads of bits and pieces research.Report

      • I’d seriously appreciate it if y’all would stop linking the same exact two or three pieces from the same exact explicitly partisan website that also happens to be about the worst of the bunch when it comes to what Tod’s talking about. Not a single statement in those pieces supports a conclusion of dishonesty – all they show is that strong disagreement with Pielke’s claims exists.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        the one I cited was looking at Pielke’s twitter feed.
        So, um, yeah, that’s a bit trollish.

        No matter what you think of his research (which may be aces), it’s not terribly professional to call people you think may have messed up their research “zombies.”

        Pundits can get away with that crap. I expect (and demand) better out of scientists.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:


      “Climate­-driven changes are already evident over the last few decades for severe thunderstorms, for heavy precipitation and flash flood­ing, for hurricane activity, and for heatwave, drought and wild­-fire dynamics in parts of North America.”

      So concludes Munich Re, a top reinsurer, in a major new study that, for the first time, links the rapid rise in North American extreme weather catastrophes to manmade climate change.

      At the same time non-climatic events (earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis) have hardly changed, as the figure shows.

      Prof. Peter Höppe, who heads Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit, said:

      “In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate-change footprint in our US loss data from the last four decades. Previously, there had not been such a strong chain of evidence. If the first effects of climate change are already perceptible, all alerts and measures against it have become even more pressing.”

      The 274-page study, “Severe weather in North America” draws on “the most comprehensive natural catastrophe database worldwide,” though my favorite part is four words at the bottom of the back jacket:Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Well, I’d surely take the word of a liberal blog and an insurance company over NOAA.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Free market not good enough for you? ;-PReport

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        I was too cryptic there. I wouldn’t take the word of thinkprogress, but I wouldn’t automatically discount the reinsurer’s study they linked. I really just meant that we don’t know definitively on this particular issue yet.Report

  19. Avatar Barry says:

    Mark Thompson

    “And because he didn’t, he’s therefore dishonest?”

    In how many years of work? With rather powerful and rich interests ready to fund it?Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      It’s the article I quoted above, and it also has Pielke’s response. Mann makes a speculative argument rebutted by Pielke’s research, so point goes to Pielke, Abraham makes a point rebutted by NOAA, so whomever’s actually right, Pielke’s not exactly wildly out of the mainstream.Report

  20. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    For example, The Week now finds Silver’s brand of objectivity “hippie-punching,” and has declared a it a “danger.”

    How did “hippie-punching” come to be a pejorative?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Bush Minor.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      It’s probably because people forgot just how annoying hippies are. If we started referring to it as “hipster-punching,” the term would probably get back some of its new car smell.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Or the smell of artisanal pickles.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Well, most of the hippies are in their 60’s now, no? Punching old people is generally frowned upon.

        Hipsters, though, should be fair game.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Actually, I kind of like it when my readers accuse me of hippie-punching; it always makes me grin.

        I mean, I know they mean it in a watered-down, generalized “you don’t agree with us so this is the label you get” kind of way. But I like it to read it more literally, as in, “man, you hate hippies because you just don’t understand hippies the way we do.”

        And as an Eugene educated, Dead-and-Phish-concert-going, composting, -organic/free-range cooking PDX guy, the thought of kids from Texas or Silicon Valley or wherever putting down their game controllers long enough to tell me I just don’t understand hippies amuses me greatly. Kind of the way I assume Dennis must be amused when we white folks explain to him the way black people really are.

        Yeah, sure, they don’t mean it that way, but I enjoy reading it that way too much to stop now.Report

  21. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    I think Tod brings up solid points, but so does NewDealer with
    I don’t think you are documenting anything new here. What you might be documenting is a fundamental part of human nature.

    If I’m allowed to oversimplify, I think Tod’s narrative is that the right was once controlled by relatively intellectually honest people. Then, that ended, and they suffered. The left is now mostly intellectually honest, but they are becoming less so and here is some evidence.

    This is a good story, but I do wonder how much intellectual honest the left can sacrifice before we can consider them to have gone too far? Do they just have to be a little more intellectually honest than the right? We’d then have two intellectually dishonest sides with the better one winning. But I think most of those on the political left (i.e. the Democratic party rather than the philosophers) would happily embrace such a result.

    To make this good story great, does Tod have to show that the left is on a trajectory that will take them past where the right has already gone?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Yes, what Todd is documenting so far on the left is relatively ordinary but he has a point that the right was at once time reacting much this way as well and that they ballooned into the mass delusions they’re rolling around in now.Report

      • Avatar Rod says:

        These delusions are interesting, and may even be indicative of.. something. But to see a left as nutty and unrealistic as the current right, we would be seeing the election to congress of a sizable faction demanding nationalized healthcare, free college, a debt jubilee, cut the military 90%, eliminate the NSA entirely, a marginal tax rate of at least 95% on incomes over a million, a guaranteed minimum income (substantial), at least four weeks of paid vacation guaranteed, six months paid maternity leave, and be willing to shut down tne government and blow up our credit rating to get it.

        And that doesn’t even begin to address the racism, sexism, homophobia, slavery apologetics, and other general neanderthal nuttiness on display.

        I’m just not getting a clear idea of what equivalent nuttiness from the left would even look like in any plausible future world.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        We agree Rod and so does Todd. His whole thesis is that he’s highlighting the germinating seedlings on the left that have already grown into mighty oaks on the right. He repeatedly asserts that there’s no equivalence in degree between the two groups on the nut-o-meter.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        But is this a case of “Joe had a beer when he was young and became an alcoholic, so you should never have a beer”?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Do you not see a difference, James, between saying “I don’t like David Brooks,” and “newspapers, public radio, and fact checking organizations suck — discard them?”

        The difference to me is a fairly palpable one.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Yes, if the difference is actually there. I’m not yet persuaded by your documentation, as I noted furthe down the page.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        It doesn’t strike you as interesting, then, to note that all our readers who frequent left blogs are — even as they disagree with me and call me liar — expelling why trashing all of those things is good and right?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Or perhaps my analagous point is that disliking David Brooks isn’t necessarily a gateway drug for rejecting all fact-based information.

        Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing you’re necessarily wrong or that you can’t prove your case. I’m skeptical but open-minded, and I look forward to your subsequent posts.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:


        The truth is, I suspect, that if you’re going to individually carve out reasons for each example (that’s BJ for you; he’s a guy that talks about lit; that’s just human nature for ya) then I’m unsure that my providing more examples will do any good.

        Fish, go to any left opinion blog — mainstream or whatever — and do a search for NYT, Politifcact,, NPR, whatever, and see what you get.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        It doesn’t strike you as interesting, then, to note that all our readers who frequent left blogs are — even as they disagree with me and call me liar — expelling why trashing all of those things is good and right?

        Eh, I just rescanned this page, and I’m not picking up on much of that, and I think I’d be one who usuallly would.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Fish, go to any left opinion blog — mainstream or whatever — and do a search for NYT, Politifcact,, NPR, whatever, and see what you get.

        That’s a good recommendation, I’ll do it.

        In fact if your claim is correct, I think you’d enhance your persuasivenes quotient by detailing that information instead of using a few examples (because there’s always a few nutters out there, and because your inclusion of Krugman is not as well-chosen as some of your others). I don’t mean this snarkily. And of course I may be in a minority of folks who would find that approach persuasive. 😉Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Oh, lord, that was painful. I went to BJ and looked up FactCheck and PolitiFact. I see you point about them but a, still wondering if BJ is just a single beer or evidence of binge drinking.

        But, oh my God, somewhere between reading that Bush’s 2000 victory was a “coup” (the left don’t own copies of the Cobstitution?) and reading that Jan Brewer’s filibuster was “the bravest political act in history, ever” (take that, nameless Chinese guy standing in front of a tank!”), I had to resrain myself from forcibly defenestrating my IPad.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Jan Brewer’s filibuster? Did you mean Wendy Davis?

        Anyway, whether BJ is actually indicative of much depends in good part on how much the mentality spreads. It’s less interesting, to me, that it exists. Or even that it exists in greater volume than it previously did. But whether the increase threatens to engulf the enterprise on any level comparable to the GOP.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        As one of the lefties that frequently comments here, I’ve been watching this subthread with some bit of back patting.

        Because I don’t read BJ (never much liked the tone of the place), or dKos or any of a number of other lefty blogs, beyond following the occasional link. My daily diet does include the NYT, where I’m likely to read Douthat and skip Dowd, here, Mother Jones (I like MJ, btw,) TAC, Bloomberg.

        Being that we all like to think others are just like ourselves, I would naturally presume that most people pick out a variety of news sources. But it’s not really true, is it? Most of us prefer the comfort of confirmation bias.

        But I gotta say: it makes me feel icky; knowing I’m prone to it and witnessing it in others. Distaste for confirmation bias sits at the root of why I sort of agree with the general thrust of this series of posts.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        Ugh. No, they wrote Brewer and I got my politicians confused (probably insulting to them both). The reference is actually to Brewer’s veto of the discrimination bill in AZ.

        Which leaves me confused. Taken seriously it ups the ridiculousness into the statosphere. So surely it wasn’t serious? I hope, and am eager to believe.

        @zic, My dad once told me that he read widely on the issues because he subscribed to two conservative magazines.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        What is “BJ,” besides the obvious?Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        That would be Balloon Juice.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @zic — Oh. That place.

        I used to watch them a bit, but lost interest at some point. These days I don’t even remember what they were like.

        It’s an odd thing, however, I usually can’t get so comfortable on mainline leftist sites, not as a trans woman — which would perhaps surprise right-leaning folks, who think we’re all one big happy family working hard toward the gay agenda.

        Like, I wish!

        But leftist cis-dudes so often have this mile-wide chip on their shoulder about how they are just-so-perfect on social justice stuff, so when they fuck up and you call them out they get super mega defensive and it sucks a lot. And they’re just so smug and so sure they have it all figured out.


        Anyway, I prefer sites like this.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Do you not see a difference, James, between saying “I don’t like David Brooks,” and “newspapers, public radio, and fact checking organizations suck — discard them?”

        I think there’s also a world of difference between criticizing newspapers, public radio and fact checking organizations for lending too much credence to whackadoodle stories where they take two opinions one saying 1+1=2 and the other saying 1+1=11 and far too often splitting the difference with a “some say that 1+1=11 may not be scientifically accurate, however blahblahblahblah the Discovery Institute says xyz.”Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Also, Balloon Juice is the site with mastheaders who, when I was sent to talk to them about an immigration reform event (referred there by Elias AND dougj), basically accused me of wanting to get Microsoft some slave labor.

        …so, whatever.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        I’m not taking any position about Balloon Juice’s various positions and claims and defenses of claims and attacks on people and whatnot these days. (Like @veronica-dire I’ve pretty much gotten out of touch with the place at least since the election; when I check back it’s just boringly one-note at this point.) But I do think that the quotes you mentioned were certainly not serious in their specific wording but rather were conscious hyperbole; but likely they were serious in their general thrust. …I.e. not the bravest political act in history but still a brave act; not a coup but illegitimate in some important way (though I can see that one being more in earnest possibly). That’s kind of house style over there more often than not, it seems. At least, that’s how I read much of what they say.

        I can certainly understand thinking poorly of their tendency to sarcastic overstatement. And I’m not sure if that really addresses your issue: whether it’s more to do with the degree of the overstatement or the underlying view. (I.e. if they’d just said the 2000 election was somehow illegitimate, even if you disagreed, would you have the same reaction to the statement or is it noteworthy because of the “coup” claim?). But that’s the way I read much of what they say, I’d even say *most* of the time.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “It doesn’t strike you as interesting, then, to note that all our readers who frequent left blogs are — even as they disagree with me and call me liar — expelling why trashing all of those things is good and right?”

        tod, I’m certainly not saying any of that! It’s one thing to run a “fact checking” website that calls people out on blatant mistruths… but it’s a good thing to listen to most of the news media.

        I will say that fishgrease had better reporting on the BP oil spill than anyone else, but that’s because he’s an expert. If I say “Look at what kos is reporting” — it’s because you have an easier time pulling together citizen journalists thereReport

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      To make this good story great, does Tod have to show that the left is on a trajectory that will take them past where the right has already gone?

      No, he just has to show they’re on a trajectory that will take them some considerable distance toward where the right has already gone. And I don’t see it…yet.Report

  22. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


    OK, I got sidetracked on defending Pielke, Jr., but a comment on the actual topic here. So far, I’m not seeing it. The critiques of Silver, imo, just don’t do what you need them to do. They’re not rejecting “Silverism” because it disagrees with what they want to be true, but because it seems to have become “Silver-light,” diminshed quality. Maube that’s a cover for their true purpose, but you’d need to demonstrate that. I looked at a few of them. And it just didn’t look that way.

    Krugman’s just plain right (except for his misrepresentation of Pielke). I don’t often say Krugman’s just plain right, but the article he critiques doesn’t show its data, and doesn’t provide any substantive explanation, which is a shame because it referencing a helluva interesting factoid.

    I thought Stoller’s point–that Silver was less than forthright about not having an agenda–was both fair and well supported, and not an attack on the legitimacy of his work.

    Ok, balloonjuice is balloonjuice. And Wiesielter at TNR is silly to be asking “Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks?” ( I think it is). But does a “literary editor” really count?

    Maybe, but some of your examples seem squashed to fit your narative.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Wiesielter was oozing pure sour grapes at TNR. It was embarrassing and I say this as a TNR fledged liberal. The man had no criticisms to level so he just kvetched about nothing.Report

  23. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    Thank for the piece, Tod, it’s great… but I was expecting something on DD for your next in the series???Report

  24. Avatar Vikram Bath says:

    For the Krugman defenders out there, we have shots fired by Nate Silver!

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      A part of me actually thinks they planned this while at the NYT, to figure out how best to increase traffic.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      Wow. I’ve ignored this thing up to now because I don’t think that Silver’s new operation has done enough to establish a track record worth talking about critically or approvingly, but that response is some seriously weak sauce. An entire column implying that the key explanatory variable is “we’re no longer with the NYT so now they hate us” with only a passing mention that at exactly the same point in time, they hired a totally new staff and started working outside their original field.

      When you linked to that, I thought I’d see a substantive response to the issues raised. That used to be normal Nate Silver MO. If this is where fivethirtyeight is going, this is not a good sign at all.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        I think it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, a joke, if you will.

        That it comes off so defensive and weak doesn’t bode well for Silver’s own tone.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I thought it sounded like C3PO talking.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I very much took it as a humored response and did not take it as petty or defensive.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        That said, it’s not a good thing for 538 that @troublesome-frog took it differently.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        The last line:
        While it can be easy to extrapolate a spurious trend from a limited number of data points, the differences are highly statistically significant. At his current pace, Mr. Krugman will write 425 more blog posts about FiveThirtyEight between now and the 2016 presidential election.

        Definitely humor. Very dry humor.

        But perhaps a message that the biases of competing media outlets can be measured and reported on.

        There’s also the disturbing bit that 538 judged the responses as favorable, neutral, or unfavorable. No room for bias there.

        Definitely humor.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        @zic In the same spirit of dry humor, check out this response to the controversy from Crooked Timber.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @dan-miller that is a thing of beauty.

        All those pink ‘no statistical model underneath’ with an unfavorable rating.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I get that the actual analysis is a joke, but the underlying point still seems to be a snarky, “Awww, you don’t like me now that I’m not on your team?” The only other interpretation is that it’s all satire and he’s really admitting that his whole operation has gone downhill. That seems kind of unlikely. More to the point, how serious can you be if your response to a lot of reasonable criticism is a joke that mostly skirts the whole issue?

        Anyway, I think that Jon Chait has the right take on Krugman’s posts here. This is nothing new for him.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

      Also, tongue in cheek or not, it just comes off as spiteful and petty.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        This post is under the “DataLab” section, which is supposedly for their more preliminary findings rather than something they want to take full credit for. Of course, it’s not that obvious if you didn’t read the initial post that explained what Data Lab was.

        I’ve vaguely toyed with the idea of writing a post about what I find dissatisfactory about 538, but it’d take a lot of work to clarify my thinking. The short version is that it’s a really good idea that is as of yet poorly implemented. The site that actually does data journalism the right way is http://priceonomics.comReport

  25. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


    I really need to do a OT University post on the dangers of relying on computer models of physical systems. Especially imperfectly understood physical systems. I could have sworn I wrote one already, but I could not find it in the search, so I guess I need to.

    Back to Tod’s original point, in support of the idea, I will point everyone to outfits like FIRE, who daily struggle against the suppression of free speech by school administrators & faculty who are ostensibly of the $LEFT. I just read this morning that UW-Whitewater is banning recording devices from classrooms because a student released a recording of a pro-Union guest lecturer.

    I’ll also point to journalists like Balko (yes, I know I’m his personal cheerleader), who do solid journalism regarding the encroaching police state, but who are often marginalized because he once worked for an organization that was funded by Koch.Report

  26. Avatar Barry says:


    the nonliberal economists around here have alternative explanations that they claim also have an excellent track record. I do not claim to understand what the duck they’re talking about, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it is possible that we don’t have enough data to distinguish between the two models.”

    In some ways, we do. For example, inflation. Right now right-wing economists are walking backwards so fast that the ghost of Michael Jackson is jealous.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      It is my understanding, from long commenting on this board, that James and the other economists around here weren’t yelping about inflation. That inflation may eventually catch up — even Krugman doesn’t dispute.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “… James and the other economists around here…”

        I was referring to the various professors who predicted high- to hyper-inflation. For a quick look, search Krugman’s blog.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        my point is that a significant subset of the rightwing economists (apparently) wasn’t being total goddamn partisan idiots. That’s all.Report

  27. Avatar Kim says:

    I don’t think these look too far off from one another, honestly. Kos is a bit more positive on Georgia and Kentucky — but I don’t know if that’s inherent optimism or better reporting from boots on the ground.

    I’ve got less optimism about Michigan turning into NJ (the state that always hates the current pol, then votes Democrat because) — but it could happen.Report

  28. Avatar Kim says:

    comment in mod.Report

  29. Avatar Barry says:

    BTW, I’ve seen only two criticism’s of Nate’s current election forecasts, and both of them were tweets from the Democratic National Whatever Committee. IOW, PR guys for professional politicians.Report

  30. Avatar whereunto says:

    You’re so cool! I do not think I’ve truly read anything like this before.
    So great to find someone with some original thoughts on this subject matter.
    Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one
    thing that is needed on the internet, someone with some originality!Report

  31. Avatar Stillwater says:


    I wanna add a personal aside to this thread for the purposes of clarification. A while ago you (and lots of others!) and I got into a tussle about an (apparently) very subtle issue regarding various ways to frame and analyze politics and political issues and ideological commitments and whatnot. I’m still not certain whether you (or anyone else for that matter) ever understood what I was talking about back then, but the current debate about 538 and Silver’s proposed methodologies and purpose are very relevant to that point. My argument back then was that there is no “above the fray” view of politics and policy from which it can be analyzed and that adopting that view (or more precisely, one’s belief that they in fact are above the fray) leads to all sorts of question-begging problems when it comes to analysis and so on.

    Well, rather than repeat again what I’ve failed to communicate in the past, I’ll just quote some folks who are saying pretty much the same things (in part) in an effort to clarify the underlying point I was trying to make.

    Here’s a comment from Ryan Cooper at The Week which sorta captures the first basic point:

    What went wrong [with the new 538 roll-out]? One major problem has to do with ideology. In an attempt to focus solely on objective analysis, Silver is ignoring one of the hardest-won journalistic lessons of the last decade — there is no such thing as ideology-free journalism.

    I think that’s a crucial insight, myself, one I’ve argued to you personally as well as others on this site, and is important on a couple of levels. The first is that anyone claiming ideological neutrality is in fact (at least to some extent) blind to their own ideological priors, or they’re being dishonest. (I won’t get into why this is problematic since I covered that ground before.) The second is that your own thesis about the left’s drift-towards-irrelevance assumes that there was a thing called “objective journalism” which “the left” is now actively destroying – a view which begs a central question not a little bit.

    The second quotation is from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution:

    Technocrats who rail against the ideologies of others are often the most ideological people around, even if their biases do not line up with the political spectrum in the usual manner. Is there really such a thing as “just do analysis”? Is it not better to make the underlying value presuppositions more explicit?

    This comment – or criticism, really – strikes right at the core of what Silver claims to be doing at his new site: providing an above the fray, ideologically-neutral, non-partisan analysis of policy and politics and whatnot. Is the criticism justified? Well, I don’t want to get too far out in front of myself – or 538 for that matter – so it’s important to be clear that data driven analysis in the absence of a model to evaluate it within is very useful as a way to counter another person’s claims made from within that same model. But only that. Basically, pure data-analysis can only show that someone else is wrong, not who is right. And there’s value in that. But it appears that Silver’s goals are not limited to merely criticism and that he also wants to offer (what 538 thinks is) the right answer, which requires stating the presupposed ideological commitments explicitly so that other people can check his work.

    The relevance of all this to your overall thesis and the thesis in this post ought to be obvious at this point so I won’t ponderously connect all the dots. (I mean, it’s right there in the title to your post!) All this gets back to the kerfluffle we (meaning me and the rest of the people at the League) had a few weeks ago in an important way. There is no ideological neutrality when it comes to issues involving politics and political economy. Further, the idea that there is such a thing, when held and acted on by an individual, often leads to the belief that an analysis of other people’s views is “objective” when it’s really just an part of their ideologically driven theory.

    That isn’t to say we can’t talk about all this stuff, of course. Rather, it’s that the presupposition that there are objective criticisms of various isms usually beg more questions than they answer. Care is required. “Handle at your own risk.”Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @stillwater I appreciate the clarification. And it’s a good enough one that I feel the need to respond with one of my own. Be patient with me here, as my answer might be a little hard to follow and may not be what you’re looking for, because I simultaneously agree and disagree with you, Cooper and Cowen.

      Where I agree:

      As I’ve said before in our conversations, we all have ideologies whether we identify them as such or not. And because we’re human, we all have biases — and these biases surface into our conscious thinking without our being aware of them, even when we are trying hard to be “objective.” I’ll admit that I *do* disagree with everyone over in Nob’s threads, in that I actually do believe there is such a thing as objective data — Obama beat Romney 281-191, period, regardless of your political leanings or whether or not you ever knew the final score — but I also recognize that what that data means gets filtered by our un-objective brains.

      And I think you are 100% spot on when you say this:

      “Further, the idea that there is such a thing, when held and acted on by an individual, often leads to the belief that an analysis of other people’s views is “objective” when it’s really just an part of their ideologically driven theory.”

      Word to that.

      Where I part ways, at least with some:

      One of the loudest arguments against 538 on the left right now (though certainly not the only one, and not one I attribute to you, Still) is that because we are all biased, the very attempt to be objective is somehow lesser than the argument made with ideological leanings worn proudly on one’s sleeve. Further, it seems to be a growing trend among the left that such attempts at objectivity need to be subjected to delegitimization.

      As I said in this post, I think this is a very new thing, relatively speaking — I don’t believe I can think of anything similar to what the right has done to itself by embracing this idea so thoroughly in a liberal democracy. And I think this is dangerous. Look at the GOP presidential hopefuls from 2012. I’d argue that Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin is what has to happen when you go too far down that road of abandoning the pretext of objectivity. Or, to put it another way, IMHO the complete abandonment of any attempt at objectivity isn’t what fights Birthergate, downgrading our credit rating with debt sieving kerfuffles and an ostensive shut down of our entire legislative process — it’s what causes them.

      All of which is to say that even if the attempt to find objective data and perform objective reporting is somehow just a pretty lie we tell ourselves, I think it’s a necessary one in a fully functioning pluralistic society.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Sure. And your series will be a demonstration of that point. I get that and don’t disagree with your attempts to do just that. I mean, how could I disagree with you about the things you’re perceiving to be the case? That’d be crazy.

        The specific point about Silver – to sorta repeat myself – isn’t that objective data isn’t useful. It’s that objective data is only useful relative to a specific analytical model. Eg, Silver is entirely justified in critiquing the conclusions a person draws from a) their stipulated model given b) the objective data from which that conclusion is drawn. That’s an internal critique of the reasoning a person employs in forming their conclusions. But even then, it gets pretty dicey since – as Krugman and others (like Nob!) have pointed out – the use of objective data to justify certain conclusion within a field is usually complicated enough that those conclusions cannot be refudiated by mere number crunching. (Sometimes that happens, but it’s reallyreally rare.) It requires actually understanding the a vast amount of literature and competing models and whatnot.

        The broader point is that critiquing a person’s or ism’s views or commitments or conclusions from within your own theory is precisely the opposite of objective and is the definition of circular reasoning. Often enough this type of critique of others views is accompanied by a disclaimer by the person making it that they’re “non-partisan”, or “objective”, or “ideological neutral” or – currently – “data driven”. And *that’s* the central point I’ve been trying to make in all this. It’s one thing to say what you’re theory entails or what you’re views are. It’s quite another to critique what other people say based on your own theory. If any type of reasoning is circular and evidence free, that’d be it. (It’s the engine that drives conspiracy theories!)

        Now, it seems to me an open question at this point whether Silver is making this type of error or not and only time will tell. And I’ll sorta close the question a bit wrt what your doing since I think you’re doing something different – or trying to anyway. What you’re interested in, it seems to me, is more along the lines of what I described in the first paragraph, that is, providing an internal critique of lefty reasoning by noticing (and providing evidence for!) a trend in the direction of rejecting evidence-based internal critiques of certain lefty’s reasoning. And if *that’s* what you’re doing – internally critiquing lefty-ism – then I have no problems with the project. You know, present the evidence and let the chips fall where they may.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Also this: All of which is to say that even if the attempt to find objective data and perform objective reporting is somehow just a pretty lie we tell ourselves, I think it’s a necessary one in a fully functioning pluralistic society.

        Well, there is a sense in which it’s a pretty lie, but it’s not one we tell ourselves. It’s one we’ve been told by various reinforcement mechanisms and outright propaganda. And there is utility – great utility, I’d say – in believing the lie. But that ship has sailed, it seems to me. And it was only in port for a very short while, and maybe never even docked.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah, I agree that time will tell about Silver — both what kind of site he’s going to manage, and how successful it’s going to be both with other opinion makers and with actual regular readers.

        I confess that so far I actually find much of 538 a little boring.Report