When Two Wonks Go to War (Go to War, Go to War)

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 26 2014 7:44 PM

When Two Wonks Go to War (Go to War, Go to War)

84744887-professor-of-economics-and-international-affairs-at
You can do better than that, Nate.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

Paul Krugman has greeted the launch of FiveThirtyEight with disappointment and dread, and today Nate Silver slaps him right back. "For Columnist, a Change of Tone" starts with a great headline, and then ... well, it seems to underscore the problems Krugman and other former (and future, maybe) Silverphiles have with the new site's ethos.

Krugman, writes Silver, "has mentioned FiveThirtyEight four times in just nine days, all in negative contexts." When Silver was a colleague of Krugman's, FiveThirtyEight was mentioned favorably 15 times, neutrally five times, and negatively just once. Leaving aside the composition of this data for a chart-joke—a labor that required Silver to capture and classify every mention of himself on Krugman's New York Times page—it just doesn't follow. From post to post, Krugman's not analyzing the same aspects of Silver's work.

Advertisement

Case in point: On Nov. 4, 2012, Krugman took one last whack at the conservatives who doubted that Obama was winning the election. He showed readers a chart from RealClearPolitics' poll aggregator. "You can see right there why all of the poll aggregators—not just Nate Silver, but also Sam Wangelectoral-vote.comDrew LinzerPollsterTalking Points are showing an Obama advantage," wrote Krugman. "It’s not the political leanings of the analysts; it’s the polls. Again, the polls could be wrong, but they have to be systematically wrong by at least 2 percent to reverse this." Silver only appears as the most prominent of six data-watchers who are coming up with the same conclusion. Silver tags this as a "favorable" post.

Today Krugman approvingly linked to a criticism of FiveThirtyEight, saying it crystallized his own problem with the site. "For all the big talk about data-driven analysis," he wrote, "what it actually delivers is sloppy and casual opining with a bit of data used, as the old saying goes, the way a drunkard uses a lamppost." Silver tags this, fair enough, as an "unfavorable" post.

But it's hardly dealing with the same subject as the November 2012 post, is it? In one, Krugman was praising FiveThirtyEight for relying on data and ignoring pundit spin. In the other, Krugman is criticizing the new site for being glib and only using a "bit of data." In other public responses to Krugman (pre-dating and I guess inspiring this post), Silver suggests that the columnist is angry because "I've fired some shots at the New York Times editorial page, of which he's a member." That's awfully ungenerous given that Krugman keeps to-be-sure-ing his posts with the hope that FiveThirtyEight will improve.

Hey, so do lots of people. For now, the site's political vertical is offering too much one-chart wisdom about how some things that pundits are saying are basically right. The president's party suffers in a second midterm (though "history doesn’t always repeat itself"). Hillary Clinton's strong poll numbers and cleared primary field make her a strong general election contender ("history suggests possibly"). It's dull, which means if we readers were smarter we should have seen at least the high probability of a fight to enliven things.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.