Advocates of horse-race journalism on steroids may regard Nate Silver as the new gold, but not everyone is caught up in the media’s worship of Silver. Following are two skeptical takes on the Silver phenomenon. What are your thoughts?
In a well written piece, FAIR.org asks, “Has Nate Silver Ruined Campaign Journalism?” Michael Gerson delivers a spot-on quote:
“The problem with the current fashion for polls and statistics is that it changes what it purports to study. Instead of making political analysis more “objective,” it has driven the entire political class–pundits, reporters, campaigns, the public–toward an obsessive emphasis on data and technique. Quantification has also resulted in miniaturization. In politics, unlike physics, you can only measure what matters least.”
Monkeycage.org features, “Is Nate Silver’s popularity good or bad for quantitative political science?“ In response, Will Jennings writes:
“Nate Silver has done a lot for popularizing the art/science* of election forecasting. Broadly speaking I am pro-Silver, at least when the alternative is a vacuous punditocracy (which the UK suffers from at times too). There are reasons to be cautious about the hero worship accorded him, though. Successful forecasters can, paradoxically, start to become seen as infallible (anti-probabilist) sources of knowledge about elections. And when Silver calls an election wrong (due to data failure or a breakdown in his model), as he surely will if he stays in the game long enough, the scorn heaped on election forecasting will potentially do great damage to the political science profession and its standing. The pundits will jump all over the guy who has been making them look foolish and have their revenge. Indeed, Nate Silver has been wrong before: when it came to predicting the UK 2010 general election. After a fairly belligerent intervention on the merits of ‘proportional swing’ models over uniform swing, Silver’s model performed poorly in contrast to alternatives. A relative lack of knowledge of the UK no doubt was a factor. But still, even brilliant forecasters can get it wrong.
If you’re interested, my colleague Rob Ford’s response to Nate Silver about forecasting the UK 2010 election is posted here: