On polling & punditry

This piece at the sports blog Deadspin by David Roher on the spurious attacks on poll analyst Nate Silver from the right, as well as from established Beltway pundits like David Brooks and Joe Scarborough, is must-read.

In particular:

In fact, we’ve reached the point in our screwed-up political media culture where the polling companies and forecasters—not the pundits, not the spokespeople, and certainly not the candidates—are the only people being evaluated rigorously on the substance of their arguments. If Nate Silver and Sam Wang screw up, their popularity will suffer as a result, and they’ll have to reconsider their models. Meanwhile, if Brooks, Jordan, Scarborough, Rubin, or Byers make another poor argument, they’ll continue to collect their paychecks as if nothing had happened. Likewise, the Curse of the Bambino stopped working long ago, and yet Dan Shaughnessy is still getting book deals.

Just like their colleagues in the sports section, the political pundits see the wrong kind of uncertainty in Nate Silver. They associate statistics with mathematical proof, as if a confidence interval were the same thing as the Pythagorean Theorem. Silver isn’t more sure of himself than his detractors, but he’s more rigorous about demonstrating his uncertainty. He’s bad news for the worst members of the punditry, who obscure the truth so their own ignorance looks better by comparison and who make their money on the margin of uncertainty, too.

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