March 28, 2014
How's the much hyped new quant website run by Nate Silver, the former NYT election data guru, doing at the close of its second week?
I seem to be the only person in the world who has usually had mildly positive views of Silver. During the 2012 election, he did a good job of making up a spreadsheet with weighted averages of the 90 or so different Presidential polls out there. It wasn't exactly quantum mechanics, but it was quite sensible. Ironically, his final prediction turned out to be off by a couple of points, just like Republicans were hoping. Unfortunately for Romney, though, Silver underestimated just how much Obama would win by: 3.8 percentage points.
But Silver's forecasting error was ignored in a tidal wave of Democratic self-congratulation upon how the existence of Nate Silver proves Democrats are better because Science.
So now he's left the NYT to start a website under the ESPN aegis, casting aspersions upon most NYT columnists other than Ross Douthat, with the old guard denouncing him back.
How's his new website going?
Not bad, but not too exciting either. I haven't gotten interested in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, so their coverage of that hasn't been of interest to me. The other stuff seems okay, but so far it's not clear that having a website organized around a methodology (because numbers!) is some overlooked killer app.
The feature article today is by Emily Oster:
But Razib Khan of The Unz Review did that in Slate an entire month ago:
Mostly, Silver seems to want to do short pieces. For example, here's a baseball one
where Neil Paine made up a table of all the players in the league in 2009 based on their age and 2007-2009 performances who are the most improbable that they are starting 2014 on an MLB roster. That's interesting to only a small fraction of the audience who might be interested in, say, political forecasting, but it's pretty interesting to people who find it interesting. Having gone to all the work of ranking all the players in the league on this dimension, Paine could have easily milked his database for 1500 words of this and that, but instead he wrapped it up in a few paragraphs. Paine had so much good stuff that down in the comments he tossed in other factoids he'd uncovered like the players who are most surprising that they aren't in the league anymore. So why not put more good stuff in the original article, especially in this period when the website needs to be building its brand among influential people with long attention spans (e.g., me)? There will be plenty of time in the future to dumb it down for the short attention span masses.
Check it out and see if I'm overlooking something in my tepid response so far.
By Steve Sailer on 3/28/2014